"In order to lead you need people to follow you. You have to present the vision, communicate the vision, shape the vision with those who are being led. Then they will follow you towards a shared goal and a shared achievement." - Professor Randy Katz
I’m happy to introduce Professor Randy Howard Katz, the Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Berkeley and the United Micro Electronics Corporation Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. He is a pioneer who helped develop many of the wireless tools and fast, reliable, computer storage, we take for granted today. Katz is well known in the computer industry for his development of RAID computer storage systems in the 1980s with Professor Emeritus David Patterson, and then graduate student Garth Gibson.
Short for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks, RAID storage today is a $25 billion per year industry sector that allows the storage of data in multiple places across an array of many small, parallel computers for quick retrieval and protection against loss or corruption of the data. He is also known as the scientist who brought the nascent internet to the White House. In the 1990s, he set up the email accounts of former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, and built the original whitehouse.gov site, which has been the main portal into executive brunch ever since. Katz has also helped shepherd other innovations into common usage, wireless computing, wide area wireless networks for mobile devices, cloud-based applications and cloud storage and ways of managing and protecting computer networks. He currently is involved with the RISElab – Real-time Intelligent Secure Execution — where he collaborates on projects that use machine learning to control complex infrastructures like buildings, energy, and transportation systems. He is focused on exploiting "serverless computing", a way to harness lightweight, low cost, stateless virtual machine images typically found in cloud computing environments to perform long-running data-intensive computations.
He has published over 250 referee technical papers, book chapters, and books. His textbook "Contemporary Logic Design" has sold over 85,000 copies and has been used at over 200 colleges and universities. He has supervised 43 Master theses and 31 Ph.D. dissertations (including one ACM Dissertation award winner and eight women) and leads the research team of over ten graduate students, technical staff and academic visitors.
His recognitions include thirteen best paper awards (including one "Test of Time" Paper Award, and one selected for a 50 year retrospective on IEEE Communications publications), three best presentation awards, the Outstanding Alumni Award of the UCB Computer Science Division, the CRA Outstanding Service Award, the Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award, the Air Force Exceptional Civilian Service Decoration, the IEEE Reynolds Johnson Information Storage Award, the ASEE Frederic E. Terman Award, and the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award.
Katz has also had a profound impact on engineering education at Berkeley and has been recognized for his dynamic teaching and mentoring with numerous honors, including the campus' Distinguished Teaching Award. He has been a frequent instructor in the freshman seminar program, teaching courses on the history of communications technologies.
Katz is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has also been inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame. He was awarded the IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal in 2010.
He received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, and his Master and Ph.D. degrees from UC Berkeley, all in computer science. Katz lives in San Francisco with his wife, psychologist Zoi Eliou and his two rescue dogs, Benji and Lulu. He is an avid Giants fan and amateur actor and playwright, a voracious reader of fiction and history and enjoys board games.
This episode is produced by Adriel Yong.
[00:05:03] Jeremy Au: Well, Professor it's good to see you again from my freshman year.
[00:05:06] Randy Katz: Yes. It's wonderful to see you again, Jeremy.
[00:05:09] Jeremy Au: I still remember at the time that you dressed on and shared about the history of information technology through the wars and different decades and it was such a blast.
[00:05:20] Randy Katz: That was one of my favorite classes to teach. It really gave me an opportunity both to communicate my passion for history, my love of the field of information technology and also, as you can attest, a little bit of theater, in the way that we organize those class lectures.
[00:05:37] Jeremy Au: It was so engaging, and it was such a breath of fresh air. Often, people asked me for examples about UC Berkeley education and I wish I told them about my economics and other classes, but I often shared about your class because it was so fun. Actually, I just looked forward to that class all the time.
[00:05:56] Randy Katz: It's sort of wonderful that I've been able to, through the information technology of Facebook, track your career through, going to Harvard Business School and your recent marriage. Congratulations. You just returned to Singapore just in time to be locked up in this global pandemic. Nothing like perfect timing.
[00:06:15] Jeremy Au: Your journey has been such an inspiration for many people. Could you share with us about your leadership journey?
[00:06:22] Randy Katz: As I reflect on my career, I'm near to the end of it then to the beginning of it. So I have the luxury of being able to look back and think about what I have learned and what I've experienced over four decades One of the things that is really important to understand is how leadership in an academic environment is very different than in a business environment.
[00:06:45] In my career I've been able to start by being involved in decision making in my department. I was on the committee to admit graduate students and then I was chair of that committee. I was on the committee to recruit new faculty and then I was chair of that committee.
[00:07:01] We'll talk about the time I spent in Washington on secondment to our Department of Defense where that was an opportunity to lead a research community. And then I returned to Berkeley in the middle 1990s and I was the Department Chair of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which is the largest department on the Berkeley campus.
[00:07:22] So that's a very important, influential role, with excellent faculty. We have, 500 graduate students, 1600 undergrads. It could be a college of its own. And now in the role that I have at the university now as the Vice Chancellor for Research, I'm leading the research enterprise of a major American public research university. Our research budget is in the range of $800 million a year budget, so it's almost like a large corporation. I am responsible for how our university supports that enterprise and ensures that it's done in the most efficient and effective manner. And it's a tremendous challenge doing all of that.
[00:08:04] Jeremy Au: You personally set up the email systems for the White House, President Bill Clinton and VP Al Gore. That's incredible. What was that like?
[00:08:16] Randy Katz: That's a really interesting story and worthy of a podcast, probably of its own. I was working in Washington; I had decided to go and work in the Clinton administration because I was so excited about the vision that President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore presented. I went to work, took a leave from the university in a part of the Department of Defense that does advanced research projects.
[00:08:38]And over the President's Day weekend, which in the United States is in the latter part of February, we got a call at the agency, any volunteers to come in over the weekend and help the White House assess its computer systems because "They're a mess!"
[00:08:52] Everyone else says, "well, it's President's Day weekend. I think I have plans." So, I said, " I volunteer". Over a span of months that led to an opportunity to really help bring the internet to the White House. At the time it was called the NSF net, and to set up the mail accounts for the President and the Vice President and set up the first website for the White House.
[00:09:14] If there's technical people listening to your podcast, it actually was the first open source implementation of an internet firewall. It was the result of that project, because we knew that hackers would try and break into the White House's website.
[00:09:28] Jeremy Au: How did you personally get started in your journey? Talk us through it.
[00:09:33] Randy Katz: Jeremy, I'm working on a paper with, two colleagues. One is Alfred Specter, who is Chief Technology Officer now of Two Sigma Investments, which is a very prestigious hedge fund in New York. And the other co-author is Eric Schmidt, who is the former CEO and Chairman of the Board of Google of course. The reason we are working on this paper together is we were graduate students at Stanford and Berkeley at the same time. Eric at Berkeley with me and Alfred, I first met him in an internship I did at IBM in 1978. And we're really fascinated by how our careers have intertwined and the way in which we keep bumping into each other across the span of 40 plus years. In reflecting on how our careers have grown and the field of information technology over 40 years, we feel like we are very blessed, being at the ground floor of the rise of a tremendously pervasive, gigantic, impactful of so many people's lives, of the field of information technology.
[00:10:35] I can't quite even explain to you, Jeremy, how as a 12 or 13-year-old kid, I decided I wanted to be a computer programmer. In 1968, I wasn't anywhere close to a computer. I mean, I might've seen one in a movie, but I didn't even really know what it is.
[00:10:52] But for some reason the bit was set in my mind. That was really kind of appealing to me. and I was fortunate in the schools that I went to in my junior high school and high school had really excellent opportunities for kids in the late 60s, early 1970s. We had access to computers.
[00:11:21] When I went to college in 1973 to Cornell University, they really had a fantastic computer program. I have to tell you my parents had convinced me that when I went to Cornell, I would study medicine. Within the first few weeks, I said, "Forget that! I always wanted to do computers. This is really amazing. I'm going to do more of that." That's how I got into a field that was about to explode in growth. It was mainframe computers and a handful of companies.
[00:11:48] Look where we are today, where everyone carries a computer in their pocket, in their cellphone and uses laptops and all of that. Just an amazing thing.
[00:11:56] So when I graduated with my Ph.D. from Berkeley after Cornell, I decided I wanted to work in industry. So, I spent a year in the industry, and I realized that I really miss the academic environment. Within a year, I went back to teaching. I actually began my teaching career at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and I was drawn to the opportunity to do both research and teaching. Simultaneously, I wanted to work with students. I wanted to move forward the balance of knowledge.
[00:12:26] An opportunity came for me in 1983 to return to Berkeley, which is a dream and it didn't take me very long to say yes to that offer. I have really been at Berkeley for the last 37 years as a faculty member which is a mind-boggling amount of time to be in one place.
[00:12:41] But within that environment, the leadership opportunities keep coming. In addition to your teaching and research, you got to run the place and be part of that. The way the university works is: Everybody kind of rolls up their sleeves and does some jobs. You need people to serve on committees.
[00:12:59] After you learn how the committees work and what they do, usually someone like the department chair will come to you and say, "Randy, you know I need someone to lead this." Usually it isn't a thing you can really say no to. And wise department chairs will give you small steps. A relatively easy committee will be something that some will ask you to do early.
[00:13:21] And then a really hard committee, like faculty recruiting or graduate admissions, they'll ask you to be chair of that when you have more experience where you demonstrated you can actually organize a group to work productively together. You can make decisions. You can set a vision. You can share that vision. You know all of those traditional leadership things. You do it on a small committee, like worrying about how to allocate, how to support the instructional labs.
[00:13:49] And if that works, they give you a little bigger committee. And if that works, a little bigger committee. And before you know it, you're department chair, and now you're running what amounts to an enterprise of a hundred faculty, 500 graduate students, 2000 undergraduate students.
[00:14:04] And now hopefully you've built up a knowledge base and a confidence in yourself that you can set a vision, communicate a vision. When you have to, at the end of the day, you are responsible for making decisions. You collect inputs from many places and then you have to say, "I have enough information. I don't know exactly what is the optimal choice to make, but I have to make a choice. I'm going to do it."
[00:14:29] One of my awards is actually from Singapore. I was on an advisory group for Singapore for almost 15 years. That was always a very enjoyable opportunity to meet the very highest levels of government administration in a very unique part of the world.
[00:14:46] They asked for our advice, and often they acted on that advice. We would come back in a year and they would tell us the progress they made. So, this is having influence. Influence is very, very important. It's something that you gain satisfaction from, but it also is helping the world move forward.
[00:15:06] Increasingly as you do things like that, there are more opportunities to do it in your service life, in your academic life, in your professional life. Over time, you build up the skill set to be successful at that, otherwise they stop asking you to do these things.
[00:15:22] Jeremy Au: What an amazing journey. Why is leadership so important?
[00:15:27] Randy Katz: As a professor, our careers are evaluated by three metrics. One of them is, of course, your research excellence. Another one is your teaching excellence.
[00:15:37] But service is a very important element. it's almost part of the job that you will do service. And at the right point in your career, you will be leading that service that you're doing.
[00:15:50] There's an expectation that you will use your expertise to make the university a better place for all of the students, the faculty, the staff. That you will use your expertise to make your country a better place. That you'll use your expertise to help your research discipline and the community around it go forward.
[00:16:10] As an academic, you are very frequently presented with opportunities to lead. There are so many opportunities, maybe serve on a committee in your department, help organize a conference or serve as an expert to the government.
[00:16:24] You can't say yes to all of them. But you will say yes to some of them. If you're intentional and you take it in steps, you start to develop your leadership skills. You start to understand what it takes to communicate your ideas to other people, how to work with groups, to do more than you could do yourself.
[00:16:44] You have an academic department, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Berkeley. You might think that this is a team. Well, it's not a team because it's really a lot more like a league. Every faculty member is like their own team. And so how do you lead something, which is you're more like the commissioner of baseball. In the case of university departments, it's really a lot of independent authorities. And so, you really have to influence them to get them to work together. It's not an environment which is very hierarchical. It's not like a traditional kind of corporate structure.
[00:17:20] One of the greatest challenges of pursuing leadership in an academic environment is you must also consult. In order to lead, you need people to follow you. So, you have to present the vision. You have to communicate the vision. You have to shape the vision in collaboration with those who are being led and then they will follow you towards a shared achievement that you want to have. Whatever the vision is, it's developed collaboratively and together.
[00:17:51] This is a little bit different than traditional business, but maybe not so different because in the 21st century, in the kind of expectations that younger people have about the work environment, they expect to have a say. They're not going to work in the same company for 40 years like I have.
[00:18:10] So ow do you motivate them? How do you get them to want to stay working for you? You have to engage them. You have to collaborate with them. You have to craft a vision which is compelling to them, as well as where you want to take your company. It's not about the leader running the department or the university, it's about how that person has limited authority, but is using their influence to get a common good done. It is in substance about committees, not about charismatic leaders.
[00:18:43] Jeremy Au: What hurdles did you personally face and how did you overcome them?
[00:18:48] Randy Katz: I know it may be a little hard for you to believe, but I'm actually an introvert. I'd be very happy to be left alone in my room playing with my computer, reading some books.
[00:18:58] One of the great challenges for me personally has been to really develop the skills to put myself out in front. In order to make the world around me better, I couldn't just live in a room by myself, that I had to bring other people along with me with that vision.
[00:19:15] Despite stage fright and being afraid and not really liking to have a lot of interaction with people, I would have to overcome that if I really wanted to have influence. Teaching is a great place for you to develop these kinds of skills because three times a week you have to get up in front of a class and present a concept and work with the students.
[00:19:35] In those committee environments that I talked about, again, if you're going to lead the committee, you have to be in front. You have to do it. And you know, some of my interests in things like theatre actually come from a way of testing myself to develop those skills, to stand in front of an audience, to not forget your lines, to really work in an ensemble.
[00:19:57] I think all of those are ways in which I've done it for fun, but I also did it to help enhance skill sets that are complements to my natural proclivities to equip myself with a better leadership skillset.
[00:20:12] Jeremy Au: Well, what was it like to take your first acting class?
[00:20:15] Randy Katz: I have been doing acting for a while, but I did take a class that was specially designed for teachers at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and it was a wonderful class.
[00:20:27] One of the things they teach you is voice control. Another one is physical humor. Some of it is public speaking, how to hold yourself, and also how to be spontaneous, how to be fluid in your movements and in the way you think and in the way you react. It's almost like improv, and I know you have an interest in some of that.
[00:20:48]Taking it, of course it's very scary because you're putting yourself out of your comfort zone, but it equips you with these skills that help you be agile in the way in which you think and be comfortable with your body and your body movements and your facial expressions. And certainly, for being a teacher, being able to really understand how your voice is an instrument and how you can use it to project, to influence, to interest is so incredibly important.,
[00:21:18] I actually think all leaders should think about what they can learn from disciplines like theatre because a lot of it is about communicating and influencing and affecting people.
[00:21:28] Jeremy Au: Who are your role models in real life?
[00:21:32] Randy Katz: I would say I have two different kinds of role models. One is a figure from history who I really admire tremendously, is Abraham Lincoln, who was the President of the United States during a very stressful time for the American Civil War. He, despite many setbacks, was able to hold the country together and create and craft incredible policies. Just as the light was at the end of the tunnel, he died tragically in an assassination. Being able to keep moving forward in the face of adversity is a very admirable trait of Abraham Lincoln.
[00:22:09] Today, actually in the United States is the 75th anniversary of the Victory in Europe day 1945. There's a lot of speeches of Winston Churchill that are available on the internet right now. That's a kind of person who can use his vision, his language to move forward an entire society and that's very admirable.
[00:22:29] But I also have some role models who are a little bit closer to my family. My mother was the youngest of five surviving children. My grandmother had many children who didn't make it out of childhood. My four uncles were born in Eastern Europe and the family came to the United States.
[00:22:48] Despite not having a lot of education, they all did extremely well in their careers. In sort of building businesses, my oldest uncle did that. One was a very successful politician in New York City. One was a very successful accountant. In those days, you could learn your trade by apprenticing instead of going to school and getting an MBA or a law degree.
[00:23:11] My mother was much younger than her youngest brother and she was the only child who was born in the United States. It was a close family They really kept a close eye out on her and of course on her children as well. Because of that age gap, when I was born, I was almost like their grandchild instead of their nephew and they were always engaged in my growing up years. They helped me pay for going to college. They provided professional advice throughout my life. I really admire them tremendously for what they were able to achieve and the sense of family that they had throughout their lives.
[00:23:48] Jeremy Au: Amazing. What support or resources available for others considering a similar journey to yours?
[00:23:55] Randy Katz: We're going to talk about one of my favorite books, "Influence Without Authority". When I was first going to work in Washington, I was seeking one-minute manager type books. And I came across this book and it was one of the most influential business style books that I came across because it had so much good advice in it. It was written by Allan Cohen and David Bradford, and it's a book that I have read several times in my life and I reviewed it again when I became Department Chair and I've reviewed it again when I became the Vice Chancellor for Research.
[00:24:27] Every few years, I feel I need to go back and read it again to remind myself about how to effectively lead by a collaborative, consultative approach rather than a hierarchical, dictatorial approach Because it's how you really lead in academic environments. Influence without authority. That title really captures the environment that is academic and even 21st century business. It isn't about do this or I will fire you. It's about done this because we both agree it's important to do. So, there are things you can learn from books. That's one takeaway.
[00:25:06] And then the other one is really to seek mentorship. Starting with my PhD advisor, we talked about the research I was doing, but he gave me tremendous career advice. And in various stages in my career, my academic career, my career in government, I've always found people.
[00:25:26] You shouldn't be shy about this. You should be prepared to ask people for advice. You'll be surprised that most of the time, they are very willing to provide that advice and to take you aside and to ask you, how are you doing and how can I help? In my current job as Vice Chancellor for Research, I put together a little kitchen cabinet of people who have had my job in the past or similar kinds of jobs who can give me advice. I enjoy getting together with them on a regular basis to just, " You know I have this problem. I can't quite figure out a good solution to it. What do you advise as a way of approaching it?"
[00:26:00] Jeremy Au: Randy, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
[00:26:03] Randy Katz: And thank you for having me. It's wonderful to see you face to face, even though we're thousands of miles apart after you took that freshman seminar tens of years ago from me, but in a way, I feel connected to you because we've been following each other through the miracle of Facebook for a very long time. And again, congratulations on your recent marriage.
[00:26:24] Jeremy Au: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
[00:26:26] Randy Katz: Thank you for inviting me to do this.