Given the low unemployment rate in tech, and the challenges in attracting top talent, it’s no wonder that more tech companies are turning to academia for the biggest brains they can find. Take Uber, for example, which recently poached much of Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, or Google, which has enlisted a number of academics who specialize in everything from artificial intelligence to robotics. Persuading academics to join the commercial world at either an established tech firm or a scrappy startup presents some challenges. Many researchers and professors want to make their findings public, an impulse antithetical to the strategies of many tech companies, which feel the need to keep research safely hidden until it results in a finished product—and even then, the “nuts and bolts” of a particular process or technology may end up an industrial secret to the end of time. A tech firm could always offer enough money and perks to effectively override any possible counterargument. A more effective strategy, however, may lie in persuading the reluctant academic that their work will ultimately benefit millions of people. How many researchers, for example, have joined Uber or Google in the earnest expectation that they can help make the world a better place by creating safe, reliable self-driving cars? Those recruiters pursuing academics may need some assistance from the client company in identifying the necessary skillsets, because (depending on the job) they can sometimes be quite esoteric—when it comes to artificial intelligence specialists, for example, does the firm want someone who specializes in neural networks, control theory, or both?
Nick Kolakowski has written for The Washington Post, Slashdot, eWeek, McSweeney's, Thrillist, WebMD, Trader Monthly, and other venues. He's also the author of "A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps" and "Maxine Unleashes Doomsday," a pair of noir thrillers.
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