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September 15, 2011

Advice for Innovators: Take Action, Never Give Up

Written by: John M. Cioffi, IEEE Fellow

What advice would I give to other innovators?

My best recommendation is: don’t give up on something unless you’re convinced yourself that you’re wrong—that what you’re working on doesn’t make sense either technically or economically. Others surely felt that way about DSL technology, but I never did. And in the end, copper-based DSL technology did become a reality. The pioneering work we began twenty years ago at startup, Amati Communications, now accounts for approximately 98 percent of the more than 360 million DSL connections in the world today.

When I started my research, there were already nearly a billion phone lines worldwide — phone lines that had taken a century to deploy. The estimated cost in labor and time and money to replace those lines was incredible, somewhere in the trillions of dollars. And even if they could all be replaced, it certainly wouldn’t happen soon.

For me, making a positive impact on society was one of the primary reasons I became an engineer—and also why I became an entrepreneur. If you truly want to make a contribution as an engineer, you can’t sit on the sidelines writing papers and developing ideas in an ivory tower. You need to put your ideas into action, because if you don’t, there is a good chance no one else will.

I am pretty certain that if I hadn’t taken leave from Stanford in 1991 to start Amati Communications, nobody else would have. And if Amati had never formed, it’s safe to say our work would have never been selected as the U.S. standard for Asymmetric DSL in 1993 and that Texas Instruments never would have bought Amati, which it did, in 1998, for roughly $450 million in cash and stock.

I take great pride in the fact that the number of DSL connections is rapidly rising in the developing world, connecting more and more people so they can benefit from innovations like online education and remote medicine. I feel that same sense of contribution with my current company, ASSIA, which is developing management solutions to increase the speed and reliability of DSL and deliver a better experience for both providers and customers.

I do have one final piece of advice: if you believe in your dreams and make them a reality, the world will get the message.

April 20, 2011

IEEE: Engineers are the Solutionists of Tomorrow; Solving Complex World Problems through Technical Innovation

PISCATAWAY, N.J., 20 April, 2011 – Members of IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association and engineers from across the globe are in a pivotal role to deliver societal solutions – that make a difference; that benefit humanity. They are representative of tomorrow’s Solutionist: identifying problems and solving them with technical innovations and solutions that matter.

To open the dialogue on engineering’s role in bringing about innovation for a better tomorrow, IEEE created a new microsite, IEEE Solutionists ( – featuring global thought leader perspectives in engineering and technology. This site hosts a series of articles from IEEE Fellows, including Mr. Norm Augustine, Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, Mr. Vinton G. Cerf, and Dr. John Cioffi, where they offer insight on how engineers can drive technical innovation; evolve perceptions of engineers globally; show how education impacts engineering; and why it’s important for engineers to follow their dreams to change the world, among other topics.

IEEE Fellows are stressing the urgency to keep competition and innovation vibrant in order to create new solutions that address world-changing challenges in energy, healthcare, sustainability, and security, while producing life-changing opportunities to ensure a better quality of life. Some of the topics highlighted on the IEEE Solutionists site include:

Engineering Innovation: Making Education and Best Talent Top Priorities

  • Norm Augustine, IEEE Life Fellow and retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, noted in a January 2011 Forbes article, “Scientists and engineers are celebrities in most countries. They’re not seen as geeks or misfits, as they too often are in the U.S., but rather as society’s leaders and innovators. In China, eight of the top nine political posts are held by engineers. In the U.S., almost no engineers or scientists are engaged in high-level politics, and there is a virtual absence of engineers in our public policy debates. Why does this matter? If American students have a negative impression – or no impression at all – of science and engineering, then they’re hardly likely to choose them as professions. Already, 70% of engineers with PhDs who graduate from U.S. universities are foreign-born. Increasingly, these talented individuals are not staying in the U.S – instead, they’re returning home, where they find greater opportunities.”
  • In an April 2011 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Vinton G. Cerf, IEEE Fellow and Google’s chief Internet evangelist explores how “Young people should understand and experience the thrill of science and discovery. We need to help them do real science, not just read about it, through collaborative tools that help mentors and students to interact through programs such as the IEEE’ Children learn best by seeing and doing, not by memorizing.” He also noted, “It’s also important to reintroduce to the American culture a higher regard for engineers and scientists. Our successful scientists and engineers should be made more visible and their voices heard more often. Most important, however, is the need to refresh and invigorate interest in and regard for science and engineering in our youth.”

Promoting Engineering: Be Passionate and Follow Your Dreams

  • As Dr. John Cioffi, an IEEE Fellow and CEO and chairman of Assia discussed in a February 2011 Forbes article, “Making a positive impact on society is one of the primary reasons to become an engineer – and also to become an entrepreneur. True engineering contribution does not arise solely from writing papers and making presentations, but requires a simultaneous effort to realize ideas in practice. If you don’t develop these fine ideas into realistic implementations, there is a good chance no one else will either.”
  • In March 2011, IEEE Fellow and Xerox’s chief technology officer and president of the Xerox Innovation Group, Dr. Sophie Vandebroek stated in BusinessWeek, “We must share more frequently how rewarding it is to be an engineer. Every day I get to work with passionate people who are envisioning and then creating the future—today: engineers and scientists who are making the planet a better place by addressing important issues such as climate change, health care, hunger, and more.”

“Engineers hold a powerful role in delivering societal solutions that can inspire technical and non-technical communities to innovate for a better future,” said Dr. Moshe Kam, IEEE president and CEO, and Department Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Drexel University. “We are driving a cultural change in how the world—and especially our youth—think about engineers, as providers of valuable solutions that impact daily life.  These solutions raise the standard of living, preserve finite resources, and protect the environment.”

In a compelling video titled, “IEEE Solutionists – Engineers, Exciting a New Generation of What If,” IEEE showcases how engineers are crossing engineering disciplines and industries to apply computing, technology, math and science to solve complex world problems. The video encourages viewers to think about how the 1.6 million engineers worldwide are behind some of the greatest innovations and inventions of modern times. This video can be found on the IEEE Solutionists site, or on IEEE’s Solutionists YouTube page.

For more information on IEEE, or to speak with one of IEEE’s featured Solutionists, please contact: