News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 30, 2012

Lessons from Google

Rose prof brings high-tech lessons back to class


Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — What did you do this summer? It’s a common conversation starter as students return to campus and tell of their adventures. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology mechanical engineering professor David Fisher usually has exciting stories to share, too — and these experiences even turn into learning opportunities for his students.

Fisher has spent a few summers at Apple Inc., and this fall returns from a year’s sabbatical at another technology icon, Google Inc. Why? “It is fun and I love it,” he says.

That, in fact, ties everything back to his role as a professor at one of the nation’s top technological institutions. “All Rose-Hulman students are going to get a job,” he says, “but one of the things I like to do is help them get a job that they’re really excited about.”

One way Fisher does this is by sharing what he’s learned in the high-tech world. Lessons from two summers at a startup robotic colonoscope manufacturer in California helped him form Rose-Hulman’s new multidisciplinary robotics initiative.

Starting in 2008, he spent three summers at Apple, helping develop the Apple-Nike interface that lets an Apple iPhone or iPod link with a sensor built into certain Nike running shoes.

That became the basis for a class that taught students to use iOS, the operating system that powers the iconic iPhone and iPad. Another new class focused on Google’s popular Android operating system. The result: “Students can go to a career fair and show employers an application they made,” Fisher says.

Now, more exciting educational frontiers have been opened from Fisher’s 15 months at the “Googleplex” in Mountain View, Calif., assigned to the Google TV project. He hopes to lead a web development class this fall that draws upon his Silicon Valley experiences.

Fisher brings back more than just nuts-and-bolts tech know-how. Insights he can share about how tech companies operate may be even more valuable — how do companies brainstorm, what are their product design techniques and how they track and resolve product bugs?

“You think these companies are magic,” he says. If so, he’s learned some of the tricks.

The Rose-Hulman 2000 mechanical engineering alumnus is clearly thrilled to spend time inside the world where he’s sending students. Future moonlighting options may examine the thrills and learning experiences in tech entrepreneurship: “I’m interested in startups, and seeing what it is like fending for yourself.”

And, you can bet it’ll turn into another educational opportunity for his students. “I get really excited about the new tools I learn while in industry,” he says, “and I can’t wait to share that knowledge with students. I know they’ll love this stuff.”