By now, the story is well known of how the Pittsburgh area economy went from riches to rags, back to riches after the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, and then reinvented itself as a health care and service-based economy. The impact of UPMC, PNC, BNY Mellon and a host of other health care, financial, and service-based businesses has been studied and touted for years. But in all the jubilation over the city’s turnaround, one segment of our economy sometimes doesn’t get its time in the spotlight often enough. That segment is technology.
Technology may not get as much attention because so much of what is being done here in Pittsburgh is very specialized or requires more than an average understanding of math or engineering. As a result, our eyes glaze over from lack of comprehension. But you don’t need to be Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates to appreciate the wonders being developed and put to work right here in Pittsburgh.
Much of the success that has happened here can be traced back to quality education. Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have been on the forefront of educating professionals and developing programs to meet the challenges of the future and anticipate developments that we didn’t even know were on the horizon.
Carnegie Mellon was once known as Carnegie Tech, but when they changed the name, the university certainly didn’t abandon its commitment to technology. Today, CMU is one of the leading institutions in robotics, engineering, and computer science. Its Robotics Institute was established in 1979 and was the first Robotics department in any U.S. university. In 1988, it began to offer the world’s first PhD in Robotics. Presently, there are only two other universities offering a PhD in Robotics, attesting to how out-in-front of the field CMU has been with their technology vision. In addition, CMU’s School of Computer Science touts the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and Institute for Software Research, while its Biomedical Engineering program requires a capstone design project which addresses pressing health-related concerns. And among other things, you can even study game design at the university’s Entertainment Technology Center. CMU’s College of Engineering has established a campus in Silicon Valley to bring its resources and expertise to the heart of the technology industry.
Only a few blocks from the CMU campus in Oakland, the University of Pittsburgh also has acclaimed computer science, engineering, and biomedical programs. Its Center for Bioengineering was founded in 1987 and often works in conjunction with the hospitals in Oakland as well as with CMU.
Adding to Pittsburgh’s “brain gain” are two-year schools such as Pittsburgh Technical Institute and the region’s network of Community Colleges, which help to prepare workers in highly specialized technology fields.
While it’s optimal to have a plethora of those educated in technology, they need jobs when their academic careers are concluded. Many have found work here in established companies, but many have become innovators and entrepreneurs.
What’s been going on here has garnered notice from others outside the region. Google set up shop here in East Liberty’s Bakery Square and Disney Research, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo, and Intel have also opened facilities here.
The atmosphere in Pittsburgh is favorable for technology too. The Pittsburgh Technology Council is poised to help tech companies grow in the region. It assists companies to succeed and fosters them in every phase of development from concept to connecting with the right talent.
It seems the only thing holding the region back from becoming the Silicon Valley of the east is a lack of skilled and educated workers. The demand for technology workers is vastly greater than the pool of workers. If we can grown our own technology workers here and attract more innovators, Pittsburgh may one day be the east coast counterpoint to the west’s Silicon Valley.