CornellNYC Tech, the applied sciences campus slated for Roosevelt Island, isn’t wasting anytime establishing its ties to the tech industry. On Monday, Larry Page shlepped out to Chelsea (sans Google glasses, sadly) to announce that Google would gift the campus with 22,000 square feet of office space. And today the school named Greg Pass, Twitter’s first-ever CTO, founding entrepreneurial officer. It’s a much more heavyweight hire than your run-of-the-mill entrepreneur-in-residence.
Former Twitter board member Fred Wilson, for example, has lauded Mr. Pass’ considerable virtues as a technological leader, architect, and recruiter. A serial entrepreneur, Mr. Pass was also cofounder and CTO at Summize before it was acquired by Twitter and started serving as an advisory board member at Obvious Corp after stepping down from Twitter last year. Before playing a pivotal role in scaling Twitter, he spent years as a system architect and software engineer at AOL.
In his new role, Mr. Pass will spearhead efforts to collaborate with the tech sector and work closely with Dan Huttenlocher, the dean of the new campus, to help the academic program “reflect an industry perspective,” the school said in a press release. “They couldn’t have made a better choice than Greg Pass to help establish the DNA of innovation from the beginning,” added @Ev.
“I think that my main attraction that I’m drawing from Twitter is my hiring experience there,” Mr. Pass told Betabeat by phone. “Half of my job, over the course of the three years, is putting the team together. That included interviewing probably a 1,000 engineers and hiring hundreds of them.” Leading that effort helped him realize, “how great an impact entrepreneurial engineers had on the company.” Scaling the team was a challenge, he said, “So when this unique opportunity came up to give back to my profession in a more fundamental way–trying to figure out creative ways to cultivate this type of entrepreneurial engineer that is providing a lot of value to tech right now, I really couldn’t say no to that.”
Mr. Pass, a Cornell alumni, has also been involved with Cornell’s efforts from the get-go. “Even when I was still at Twitter, I was helping advise the proposal phase,” in terms of strategy, mission, and ideas for partnerships, he told Betabeat by phone. “Especially after I left Twitter, I became more and more invested in the project.”
His roots at Cornell also go deep. Twenty years ago, Dean Huttenlocher helped sponsor Mr. Pass when he worked as a researcher in Cornell’s Robotics and Vision Lab. He commercialized his research on image search technology as cofounder of the startup ToFish, which was acquired by AOL.
At the campus, Mr. Pass said his focus will be on helping engineers, “develop entrepreneurial skills within the academic program,” whether that’s in terms of project work with tech companies or student and faculty research. To stay more nimble as an academic institution, Cornell has opted to focus on hubs like “health informatics” and “the built environment.” Part of his work will also involve, “how to select hubs going forward as times change and industries change.”
Mr. Pass has never lived in New York City before and will be moving here next month. “I don’t see myself as bringing a West Coast sensibility,” he said. “Every city has its own unique character and its own leading sectors and its own brand of creativity. So I think to each city its own. Part of challenge is going to be to fullfill New York’s promise, not to transplant some other city’s promise.”
Will he be moving to Roosevelt Island? “Roosevelt Island won’t open for five years,” he said of the campus. “I’ll be somewhere in Manhattan, probably downtown, not too far from the Google building to make my life easy.”