In this interview from the SCS
Alumni department, Phil looks back on his undergraduate life at Carnegie
Mellon, gives an insight into his current work and provides valuable advice
to SCS students.
Philip Bronner focuses on enterprise and education
software companies for Novak Biddle, a venture capitalist company.
Prior to joining Novak Biddle, Phil as he prefers to be called,
was founder of a media technology company. In addition, he served as a
management consultant with McKinsey & Co. in New York advising high-tech
clients on corporate strategy. He also worked as a software engineer at
IBM where he worked on the OS/2 operating system. He serves as a director
for portfolio companies Approva and Logic Library and is a board observer
at NEW Corporation and 4GL School Solutions.
Interesting story. I was in the pre-college program which annually invites about 300 students to Carnegie Mellon during the summer between their junior and senior year. It is a 6-week program which introduces the student to Carnegie Mellon life. That was my first introduction to Carnegie Mellon, after which I applied to the School of Computer Science. I was really impressed with Carnegie Mellon’s focus on computer science.
What was your favorite class and why?
I do not remember… I just remember long hours in the computer cluster. I am sure that hasn’t changed. The other thing I remember is how prepared I was for my first job. I went to IBM after school and it shocked me how much more programming experience I had than new hires from other schools.
Who was your favorite professor and why?
Peter Lee, great guy. I do not remember what class he taught but remember he was brilliant, very nice, and could take the most complex subject and make it easy to digest. He founded a company a few years back that I took a look at and it allowed me to reconnect with him.
What was the best thing about living in Pittsburgh?
Interesting… I was not a fan of Pittsburgh, but this was Pittsburgh circa 1988-1992. It has changed a lot since then. I currently live in Washington DC which I enjoy a great deal. What I did like about Pittsburgh/ Carnegie Mellon was the community that you develop on campus. Since the school is small, it allows you to really get to know a lot of people really well. There are people that you see every day, some that you know, and some that you don’t. This familiarity is taken for granted when you are in school. I really enjoyed that. Carnegie Mellon really fosters a sense of community. After you graduate, you will not feel that again. Many people you will not see again. Carpe Diem!
What opportunities do you feel you had at Carnegie Mellon that you wouldn’t have had at another university?
SCS provides you with a deep technical background that can be leveraged in multiple areas. Most other programs are not as rigorous. In the long run, this helps tremendously.
How do you think Carnegie Mellon helped prepare you to meet your professional challenges?
As a venture capitalist, I evaluate technology companies every day. My CS background allows me to feel VERY comfortable with a broad range of technologies. I would not feel as comfortable without my experience at Carnegie Mellon.
What do you believe has been your greatest achievement?
Dylan Alexander Bronner, my son. He was born September 9, 2003.
What advice would you have for incoming students in the field of computer science who were worried about the difficulty of their program?
Advice… As a Carnegie Mellon freshman, you are one of the brightest minds in the country. As such, you can handle the workload and in the end, it will pay significant dividends. My advice here is “Try not to worry about it too much…”
Take liberal arts classes and take them seriously. They are much more important than they seem. The further one gets in his/her career, the more important they become.
Enjoy yourself! In a lot of ways, college is the best time of your life. Although the CS program takes a lot of time, make sure you have fun.
Try new things. College is the time to experiment.
Carnegie Mellon has one of the best fine art departments in the world. Take advantage of it!
The advances in the field of computer science have led to a digital revolution. We’ve seen the birth of the personal computer, the fruition of Moore’s law, the rise of the Internet, to name a few. What do you think we’ll see next?
Now that we have sequenced the Human Genome, significant advances will occur in healthcare over the next ten years. The nexus of IT and biology will create significant advances in the future. I recently read about an experiment in which a semiconductor was attached to a monkey’s brain and that monkey was able to control a robotic arm with its thoughts. That is pretty cool…
Describe your current position and its roles and responsibilities.
I work at a firm with six partners. We each work collaboratively in each area.
- Meeting with smart people in the IT industry to learn more about evolving
trends, identify new talent for my portfolio companies and identify new
and interesting companies.
What research projects are you currently working on or completed recently (e.g. describe your work? What is it? Why is it important? What impact has this project made or will make in the field of computer science, technology, society etc.?)
I am currently considering an investment in a company that provides embedded
software used inside of a cell phone. If this company is successful, it
will dramatically decrease the time to market smart phones. In addition,
it will allow for new and interesting features. We have not committed
to the deal, but it is the deal I am most interested in right now.
Interviewer: Tina Carr, Director SCS Alumni Relations