Android Co-founder Talks to Students

Alumnus, Google Ventures Partner Rich Miner Gives Career Tips

Android co-founder and alumnus Rich Miner ’86, ’89, ’97, left, with student Andrew Ambrosino.

Android co-founder and alumnus Rich Miner ’86, ’89, ’97, left, with student Andrew Ambrosino.

04/30/2013
By Edwin L. Aguirre

Wearing a plain white button-down and well-worn blue jeans, he almost looked like any old post-doc or faculty member — except for his $1,500 space-age eyewear.

Rich Miner, co-founder of Android and now a partner at Google Ventures in Cambridge, walked into a packed auditorium in Ball Hall sporting Google Glass — a hands-free, head-mounted computer being developed by the Internet search giant that displays information on a tiny screen and allows one to interact with the Internet via voice commands.

Miner was on campus April 11 to talk to students and faculty as part of the speaker series of the UMass Lowell ACM computer science society.

A student in the audience asked him what it was like having Google Glass stream information constantly in front of his eye.

“It’s delightful,” said Miner, who is one of the company’s testers for the device. “In fact, I just received a text message from my nephew while giving this talk. This is an incredibly transformative and innovative communications platform — we’re going to see an awful lot of inventors and startups creating products for it.”

A Home-grown Entrepreneur

Miner earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1986 and his master’s in 1989 from then-University of Lowell and his Ph.D. in 1997 from UMass Lowell. (You can read the feature article about him in the Alumni Magazine's Summer 2011 issue, page 44.) 

He successfully co-founded several innovative, leading-edge technology companies, including Wildfire in 1991, which developed a voice-based personal assistant and was acquired by Orange in 2001 for a reported $142 million, and Android, which Google acquired for a reported $50 million in 2005.

At Google Ventures, the company’s venture-capital division, Miner and his partners plan to invest more than $1 billion in promising enterprises over the next five years. To date, they have invested in more than 150 companies in various fields, including mobile technologies, gaming, consumer Internet, databases and life sciences. 

In his talk at UMass Lowell, Miner discussed his 25-year career and fielded questions from the audience, which consisted largely of students majoring in computer science and business.

He described his work at the University’s Center for Product Enhancement and how it laid down a solid foundation for his future endeavors. He also told students how his mentors — computer science Profs. James Canning, Tom Costello, Georges Grinstein, Jesse Heines and the late Pat Krolak — inspired him to pursue his dreams.

Miner advised students to find mentors they would want to work with and to dive deeply into whatever projects that interest them, projects that would “put fire in one’s belly.”

He discussed the challenges of building a startup company and identifying technologies that people would want or need. He also emphasized the importance of having a creative team and being a team player.

“Do something real, beyond the classroom, textbooks and traditional coursework,” he told the crowd. “Build things that people would want to buy, consume or use.”

A student asked him what his biggest failure was.

“I may have invested in companies that didn’t succeed, but that’s the nature of this game,” Miner said. “I don’t focus on failures — I embrace them as learning experiences.” 

Building Student Confidence

“UMass Lowell ACM is so grateful that Rich Miner took time to speak to students,” says computer science major and organization president Andrew Ambrosino.

“I think computer science students were most interested in Android and business students were certainly engaged by his work creating and funding startups, but everyone was thrilled to gain some insight into the process of innovation from someone who has been so successful,” says Ambrosino. “This talk should breed confidence in students’ ability to go out into the world and make something happen. That’s our mission.”

Adds biology sophomore Meghan Burke: “Rich Miner was an extremely knowledgeable and informative speaker. Even though I’m not a computer science major myself, I learned quite a bit about having a startup and moving forward with my career, adapting and evolving with the changes and problems that occur along the way.”

Burke notes that for her, the most significant take-away message from Miner was the importance of surrounding one’s self with the right team and the right mentor.

“His career tips apply across the board, to any majors,” she says. “This was an amazing experience for everyone.”