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Geek by accident: New head of CMU center stumbled into software career

Thursday, November 01, 2001

By Stephanie Franken, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

William Guttman didn't begin his career as a computer guru. He was an expert on the international economic system, not on software code.

But yesterday, Guttman was named executive director of Carnegie Mellon University's new Software Industry Center.

In a world of ever-increasing specialization, in which people build careers or companies by finding their niche skills and exploiting them, Guttman was tapped to operate the new center on a different premise: It can be rewarding to venture outside a specialty into the most unfamiliar territory, to take problem-solving quests wherever they may lead.

The Software Industry Center, or SWIC, brings together a hodgepodge of intellectuals and industry leaders to educate one another and look at the computer software industry with fresh eyes.

"The idea is to look at how the industry works and explore how it can work better," said Guttman, who was co-chief executive officer of Strip District-based software firm printCafe Inc. before he became executive director of the center and a distinguished service professor at CMU.

Beyond advancing technology, the center will seek to find new and better business models for software firms, examine the effects of globalization on the industry and analyze why certain regions succeed in attracting the best workers, or fail to do so.

And it aims to attain world prominence. "If everything works out, people will think of Pittsburgh when they think of software," said Ashish Arora, an associate professor of economics and now research director for SWIC.

To accomplish these goals, SWIC needed an executive director with an unusual set of skills, he said.

"Most of us have had fairly traditional academic careers," Arora said of the CMU professors, including himself, who launched SWIC. "But a center such as the one that we're envisioning had to be strongly connected to the industry and the real world."

And Guttman, who has a Ph.D. from Oxford University in international relations but wound up running a software company, could bridge that divide, Arora said.

After graduate school, Guttman worked as an economist and special adviser to the U.S. Department of State, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

By the late 1980s, he was working as a management consultant to large companies.

It was during that phase of his career that he began to observe an interesting pattern in his work.

"We would finish a strategy project, and people invariably said, 'Let me show you my computers. I don't know what's going on with them,' " he said.

Guttman realized that computers and computer software weren't simply a part of a business; in many cases, they meant everything to a business.

By 1996, his ambitions to help companies operate better brought Guttman into new territory: He would become a software company entrepreneur. He started nth Degree Software in Bellevue, Wash., and in October 1999 merged his company with a Pittsburgh firm, Prograph Systems, to form printCafe Inc.

Located in the Strip District, printCafe makes software that helps printers and their customers streamline projects. The firm, which now employs 380 nationwide and 125 in Pittsburgh, said Tuesday that it had reached operating profitability after seven consecutive quarters of revenue growth.

Its co-founder, Marc Olin, credits Guttman for much of that growth. "Bill had a very clear vision of what we were capable of accomplishing, and he was able to communicate that vision" to customers, investors and employees, said Olin, president and chief executive officer.

It's the same vision that Arora expects Guttman will bring to the new center, which was formed in April with grants from the Sloan Foundation, the Pennsylvania Technology Investment Authority and other sponsors.

And Guttman, who will teach classes as well as direct the new center at CMU, views the new position as a way to continue what he does best: come up with ways to do things better.

"It's self-regenerating. You can build an organization in which you're always at the edge -- but you add something of value as a result of former experiences."

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