Today was one of those days that I really love my job.

I was at the University of Nebraska today, for three different reasons: a presentation to students on social networking in business; a customer meeting with the CIO, Walter Weir; and completion of a project we've been sponsoring in the Raikes School Design Studio.  All three were interesting, different, and enlightening.

Let's start with the project.  Those of you who attended Lotusphere 2009 likely met or heard about Nate Lowry and Matt Rosno.  These two were part of a project team that IBM sponsored in the Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.  Raikes is a special program at the University of Nebraska that combines business and technology....the kind of program I wish that my alma mater had twenty years ago.  These students are in demand, many of them coming to work for IBM as interns or new hires straight out of the program.  It was great to meet so many of them yesterday and today, and learn about their projects and interests.

As part of their work in the school, the juniors and seniors work on sponsored projects.  IBM sponsored this group to build two plug-ins for Lotus Symphony -- one to analyze MS Office documents and determine the fidelity of their conversion in Symphony, and the other to integrate Symphony with Microsoft SharePoint.  This was not just an academic exercise -- both of these plug-ins will be available soon on symphony.lotus.com.



Today's event was the completion of all of this year's sponsored projects, with companies like Microsoft, Mutual of Omaha, and others having sponsored additional work teams.  Some of the student projects (including the IBM team, of course) were very cool.  One team rewrote a Microsoft Access application on WebSphere.  Another team integrated social tools into an online banking experience.  Yet another had a super-cool visualization tool for company data and reports.

The students were a warm and welcoming group, even inviting me out when I arrived in Lincoln last night.  They were justifiably proud of their work, and even the teams I had not met were eager to show me what they had done.  This program has so many positive aspects to it -- multi-company teaming, project management, presentations, and software development using the agile methodology.  Today was the culmination, and they all put on suits, ties, and heels for the project completion presentations.  What most impressed me today was how independently they work -- the faculty and staff from the school were around (as was the school's namesake, former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes), but they kept to the background, as apparently they do throughout the project.

In the morning, I talked with a group of the Raikes program students about social networking in business.  Twitter CEO Evan Williams had been on campus a few weeks ago, so they already had some perspective on the topic.  Giving the same presentation I used last month at Bowling Green State University, we had really good discussions about how companies can differentiate themselves through use of social networking.  One thing I learned last night and this morning is how much better the students' worldview is vs. when I was in college 20 years ago -- at that time, Indiana University was promoting the need to learn languages like Japanese in order to engage in global commerce....now the students are commonly jetting off to China or Europe to learn about the world.  At the same time, they still have student interests....they showed me their facebook application that helps them figure out which bar in town is running what drink special, and determine which of their friends are there at any given time.  No offense, guys, but next time I'll pass on the kamikaze...

I also had the chance to visit with the University CIO, Walter Weir.  Mr. Weir has a pretty incredible life story, and I really enjoyed the time we spent chatting.  He's also an incredibly pragmatic CIO, and understands how to balance the tension between the "academic freedoms" world of a University with the need to manage the bottom line.

So, thank you to all my hosts and colleagues for making today a special treat at the end of a long week.  I have lots of catch-up blogging to do, with some significant news and updates around Notes/Domino stuff and the New York and Boston user group events.  Next week holds similar challenges, as I will be at Lotusphere Comes to You in Columbus, Toronto, and Indianapolis.  It all becomes worth it when cemented with an experience like today -- one I will absolutely never forget.

Image:Visit to the University of Nebraska Raikes Design Studio, and our Lotusphere Idols  Image:Visit to the University of Nebraska Raikes Design Studio, and our Lotusphere Idols  Image:Visit to the University of Nebraska Raikes Design Studio, and our Lotusphere Idols

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