The Art of Selling Science and Technology

“Name the most famous person from your hometown.”

This was the icebreaker that one of my college professors employed on the first day of class — state your name, where you’re from, and your hometown celebrity.  (I’ve played the “name game” at many a group event, and have yet to see something more effective than this. So much easier to remember “Keith from Toledo, Ohio — where Katie Holmes was from” versus just “Keith.”)

If you were to ask this question to young Filipinos today, people like theater vet Lea Salonga and boxing champ Manny Pacquiao would probably top the list. While I have tremendous respect for our entertainers and athletes, I’d love to see our local inventors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists become household names as well.

One such person at the intersection of all those fields is Diosdado “Dado” Banatao, who spoke at an event I attended in Manila back in 2011. Currently based in Silicon Valley, he has been hailed as the “Father of Semi-Conductors” and the “Filipino Bill Gates.”

Dado grew up in Cagayan Valley Province, where he walked barefoot along dirt roads in order to get to school every morning as a boy. Hard work and determination allowed him to graduate at the top of his class and eventually go to Stanford University to get his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He went on to invent technologies that lowered the cost of building the personal computer, making it more compact (he consolidated the design from 150 to 5 chips), more powerful, and more affordable. These inventions constitute an estimated 30% of every PC in the world today.

He went on to spearhead technology that enhanced and sped up computer graphics for the PC, develop the local bus concept for the PC, and make the military’s GPS (global positioning system) technology accessible to consumers. Today, through his work as a venture capitalist and philanthropist, his time is spent less on inventing and starting companies, and more on discovering and helping the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs. As he said in this interview, he firmly believes that “[w]e are natural engineers and… born to create.”

At the forum I attended, Dado spoke at length about how investing in science and technology was the way forward for the Philippine nation. Consistent with other interviews he has given, he was adamant that the country could compete with the rest of the world if we fostered a culture of science and technology in our youth.

So how do we develop this culture and raise a generation of Dado Banataos? There are several ways, but the primary lever is education.

One pioneer that Philippine educators could learn from is US-based Ioannis (pronounced “Yannis”) Miaoulis, who has made it his lifetime mission to get children interested in technology and engineering. I watched him address the Engineering graduates at my cousin’s commencement ceremony at Boston University back in 2010, and it was probably the first speech that made me sit up and pay attention to the topic. (For instance, who knew that the only protagonist on American primetime TV who was an engineer was yellow — not Asian, but literally yellow. Homer Simpson, nuclear engineer.)

A Tufts and MIT graduate who came to the US by way of Greece (sidenote: I hope the people of Athens and Massachusetts include him in their hometown heroes list), Dr. Miaoulis has championed reform across all levels of the Massachusetts education system for decades. He successfully increased the number of female students and faculty and more than doubled research initiatives as Dean of Engineering at Tufts University, and later spearheaded the introduction of engineering  into the science curriculum at all Massachusetts public schools. He currently serves as President and Director of the Museum of Science in Boston, for which he led the creation of the National Center for Technological Literacy.

Ioannis has testified before the US Senate and House committees, served on the NASA Advisory Council, and acted as a frequent keynote speaker at various conferences nationwide. This doesn’t surprise me at all, as he shared a lot of great insights in his BU speech — more than I will ever be able to incorporate into a doodle. (This video clip summarizes his pithy views on the topic of teaching kids about “the man-made world.”)

After hearing both these fantastic speakers, I kept thinking that I’d love to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between these two. Furthermore, more minds and institutions in the Philippines* (and around the world!) should be devoting time to the causes these men passionately champion.

The cartoon below is a quick sketch of some highlights of their talks, my way of trying to draw more attention to the topic… pun not intended. Credit for the content goes to Dado and Iaonnis, but any errors in transcribing and interpreting their speeches are my own. (This barely covers it, so I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in hearing more to click on the links at the bottom of this entry.)

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Credits:

Banatao, Diosdado. Keynote Speech. Joint Event for Various Alumni Networks, Manila Polo Club. Makati. June 15, 2011.

Miaoulis, Ioannis. Keynote Speech. College of Engineering Commencement Ceremony, Boston University. Boston. May 16, 2010.

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* With the Philippine Department of Education’s controversial decision to drop Science as a standalone subject for Grades 1 and 2 at public schools nationwide (and not in favor of adding a Technology subject as a replacement, either), I think it’s fair to say that they are taking a different stance from Banatao and Miaoulis at this point. More on that decision and the DepEd’s response here.

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More on Dado Banatao here:

His inventions in more precise terms, for the techies out there:

  • The first single-chip, 16-bit microprocessor-based calculator
  • The first 10-Mbit Ethernet CMOS Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Chip
  • The first system logic chip set for the PC-XT and the PC-AT
  • The first Windows Graphics accelerator chip for the PC

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More on Iannis Miaolis here:

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