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Staying on Top of Technology

Paul McBurney, PhD

July 2014 | by Ted Stephens III '02, '04

When Paul McBurney, PhD, sold the GPS location and tracking technology company he co-founded in San Francisco in 1999, he found himself on the cusp of a brand new world.

The 1984 St. Ambrose engineering physics graduate immediately dove into developing a new company, GopherHush, which will help users shop for the best car insurance rates, or get deals based on how they shop.

As he did so, he also took a step back to hone skills he believed were critical to his new venture.

"What I really wanted to do was re-educate myself-to learn the business side of my work," he said from his home in Palo Alto, Calif. "I have taken courses from the Silicon Valley Forum on customer development. I've engaged in discussions on the lean start-up movement, which asks how to found a company very inexpensively and efficiently."

In other words, he took time to invest in himself.

With the ever-evolving technological landscape, earning any degree is often just the start of the learning process. Through a number of different means, McBurney and other St. Ambrose alumni are finding ways to continue to learn long after their years in formal higher education are over. It's an education after the education.

Perhaps no one understands the value of an always curious mind more than David Bloom '08. His homework procrastination one evening while a student at St. Ambrose led to the discovery of a security problem within the then-new Google Docs, and, eventually, to an internship at Google. Bloom since has quickly risen through the ranks in the "Valley," and today works as a software engineer in California.

"I do worry about how to keep up with rapidly changing advances in the field," Bloom said. "But I also think that the foundational skills one gains early in life can always be of service. To me, it's not about all the ‘stuff' that is changing as much as it is about whether or not you have the foundation. I am able to build on that through collaborations with other software developers-and by constantly listening to my intuition."

For Randal Higgins '10, life-long learning also means listening to his customers. As the owner of TouchMint, a mobile application development company based in Tempe, Ariz., he is constantly getting feedback from his end-users-comments that have helped him turn a hobby into a successful technology start-up.

"A few years ago, I had a job as a network engineer, and was playing softball in the evenings. I wanted to keep track of my stats, so I built an app to do that. I threw it up on the Apple iStore, and it did fairly well," he said. "I started getting support emails, and what I quickly learned was parents were using the app to keep stats for their kids, so I began to adapt and design the app to their needs."

Higgins since has created stats apps for several sports. An off-handed comment from his wife, an occupational therapist, about how she would have benefited from an online study tool for her National Boards led to the creation of "an app for that" too.

Recently, he launched his first game in the iStore.

"It's my job to keep ahead of other developers, and to be in tune with what customers want," Higgins said. "Independent developers like myself often don't know about changes companies like Apple will make until they are announced, and we have to be malleable and quick to adapt."

There's an app for that, as well. It is called life-long learning.

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