Jack Welde

Jack Welde

Applied Science/Computer Science '91

Jack Welde is an Applied Science/Computer Science Penn graduate from 1991. He runs the Product division at eMusic, the number two digital media retailer behind iTunes. At eMusic, he is responsible for transforming the member experience, including a great user interface and embracing the tenets of Web 2.0. He's acted as CTO and COO for a number of entrepreneurial startups, and he also served as a US Air Force pilot for 9 years.

Q&A with Jack:

What kind of skills do you use?
I'm mostly focused on management on a day-to-day basis. This includes setting priorities, balancing short-term priorities with long-term growth, executing against our business model, improving the eMusic product and member experience, and general staff development. My background in CS is useful in that eMusic is a completely virtual retailer; just about all product development is related to the website or integration with the website. It's very helpful to have a general CS background when translating marketing requirements into technical specifications; understanding, in general, what it takes to implement certain features or functionality; and in generating new ideas to improve the product.

Why did you major in CS?
I'm very creative, and software development always fulfilled my creative needs. It was also clear, when I was at Penn, that CS was going to be a hot area for decades to come: GUIs were coming into their own, the pre-web Internet showed great promise for information sharing, and computers were becoming more and more a part of everyday life. It's a decision I certainly don't regret.

What makes CS at Penn different from other universities?
For me, it was the people. Certainly, you learn all the theoretical knowledge that you need to have a successful career in software development. But the Penn CS folks were clearly going to be the leaders of the industry, and that has proven true. Many of my friends and colleagues from Penn have become opinion leaders in software development, have started and developed successful companies, and continue to push the industry to the next level.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
CEO of an innovative, technology-focused company doing $100-$250M in revenue.

How have you changed since graduating from Penn?
I went to Penn on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, and spent 9 years flying airplanes with the USAF. But more importantly, the military was a fantastic leadership and management experience, and I've carried those skills over to civilian life. I was co-founder of a successful startup company right out of school, with two fellow Penn classmates, but I've become even more entrepreneurial since leaving the military. While I still love the creative aspects of software development, I've learned that I get (just about) as much creative satisfaction out of managing a development effort, rather as on hands-on coding.

In what ways do you collaborate with co-workers and team members in your job?
I'm focused on the management of software product development. Collaboration includes idea generation, surfacing customer needs and marketing requirements, and ensuring that those requirements are captured in appropriate technical specifications -- and ultimately make it to market. Ongoing innovation is an important part of any development effort, and it's only as good as that which reaches the market.

Is there a class or professor in CIS that has made a particularly strong impact on you?
Professor Max Mintz had a definite impact on me, and my future. First, and foremost, he is an amazing teacher. He liked to say that his mathematics course was probably the first "true" mathematics course we ever took; much more about a core understanding of mathematics, and less about the mechanics of doing math problems. Needless to say, I found it to be a real eye opener, and a real challenge -- as many of Professor Mintz's students have also experienced. But he also proved to be a terrific advisor and mentor, and helped me to work through some real challenges and come out stronger on the other side. I'm very thankful for Professor Mintz's guidance and encouragement.

What advice do you have for the CIS Department to improve the educational experience of our students?
So many opportunities exist today for real, hands-on, practical CS application. With the advent of the web, open-source software, and services like Amazon Web Services, it's completely possible for a Penn Student to launch the next YouTube, Flickr, or Facebook from his or her dorm room. That practical experience is the perfect opportunity to try out the theoretical foundation that Penn provides, by using the fundamentals to solve real, day-to-day challenges in a practical setting.

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