Ross, David

Article

Speech

Please note: Speeches appear in the language in which they were delivered.

It is such an honour to give this speech to the University of Ottawa Engineering Faculty graduating class of 2017!

Receiving an honorary doctorate for my work in engineering and business will be one of the highest honours of my life.

I did some research online before by watching some of the greatest convocation speeches of all time.  I learned from the masters, such as Steve Jobs, President Obama, and of course another famous recent honorary doctorate: Will Ferrell.   The bar is high out there and I don’t want to let you down.

So now I will proceed to tell you my entire life story...   Okay, how about just a few of some of the relevant parts to set the stage for what I really want to talk about?

I graduated - ages ago - in 1991 after completing a four-year computer engineering degree - in only seven years.  I’m proud to say that I managed to do this without failing a single course!  I had to join the CO-OP program to add one year, switch from Math/CS to Engineering to add another year, and then finally take another full year off, after extending a 4-month work term for my father’s company to 16 long months.  Rejoining third-year calculus after a 16-month break isn’t easy!

Things almost always take longer than you expect, and that’s especially true if you’ve decided to go into a field where you make things that have never been made before.  You are moving into uncharted territory.  Standing in front of all of you today, I’m fairly certain many of you are going to dedicate a chunk of your life to creating entirely new things and products.  That’s what I’ve been doing for my career as well.

I’ve had the privilege of helping to build what was once my father’s company from maybe 25 or 30 people to almost 700 today.  Again, it only took me 25 years.  But I’m getting faster now and I’ve managed to also buy 12 companies in the past 8 years.  In my case, all of this technology has been in the area of making products for high-end, live video production.  Products for television news, sports, big stadium screens, broadcast trucks, YouTube, Yahoo, and Facebook, and major events like the Oscars, Grammys, and the Emmys.  I even have my own Emmy now, and I’m proud that our major concert customers, like Beyoncé and Bono, now even ask for our products by name.

For more than a quarter century, I’ve watched television go from analog, to digital, to HD, and now to 4k.  It’s painful to see a product that you killed yourself bringing to market, years later, covered in dust and dirt - abandoned in a stairwell: old, worn out and obsolete.

When you look back at the work you did a few product generations ago, you remember the excitement you felt.  What you were working on then was new, exciting, and revolutionary.  But today, it looks like old junk, not quite right, and sometimes even comically antique.

That’s what you’ve signed up to do.

Centuries ago, everything was done one at a time - by hand, using inferior tools and technology.  The most amazing jewel-covered crown from centuries ago lacks the regularity and precision of most of the things you can buy at the dollar store today.  We have become a civilization of master builders, and you are now one of those master builders.

When you’re designing your next great thing, you will be taking advantage of new technologies that have just become available, and building on what has come before.  And while you are doing that, you’re setting the stage and raising the bar for what will come next.

You’re not building patios, you’re not exactly making art, and what you’re designing may have elements of fashion, but it’s not fashion.  You are going to build things for people to use, to make their lives better, in ways that they have never had before.

When you think about it, you are going out there to build the ongoing foundations of our civilization itself.  Even if you’re going to write a software module for a life insurance company.  Yes, I know that might be hard to believe, but that’s part of our civilization too!

There’s an endless number of things to create and improve, and it takes an enormous army of people like you to make it happen.  To get this done, you will stand on the shoulders of giants, and you in turn will be the giants that the next generation will stand upon.

So be proud of what you make, and do a good job.   Because everyone else in the world has to use it!

Thank you very much.

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