Ron is a fellow MIT alumnus who went to Carnegie Mellon for his PhD, and subsequently has done three successful systems ventures. This story offers insights into his methodology.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go back to the very beginning of your story. Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of circumstances?
Ron Bianchini: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York in a very large Italian family. If you put a dot on my grandmother’s house at 35th Avenue and go out on a five-mile radius, you’d probably capture 30 to 50 Bianchinis.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do for college? Where did you study?
Ron Bianchini: New York city has a really good magnet school program. Anyone in the middle school takes an exam and then they rank all the kids in New York City. You get to pick one of the magnet schools. I made it into Stuyvesant High School. I commuted over an hour and a half each way. After high school, I went to college. I did my undergrad at MIT in Boston.
Sramana Mitra: You did? I’m an MIT grad as well.
Ron Bianchini: I will bet you that I was there way before you.
Sramana Mitra: When did you go to MIT?
Ron Bianchini: I graduated in 1983.
Sramana Mitra: You were 10 years before me. I was in the PhD program starting 1993. I started a company in 1994, so I finished my master’s in 1995. I left to do my company full-time. I did not go back to finish my PhD.
Ron Bianchini: After my undergraduate, I worked with my father who is on the research faculty at NYU. He was on an Ultra Computer project and I got involved in it. As a matter of fact, we have a father–son paper. It was pretty exciting. He has been at NYU since I was in high school. When I graduated from MIT, I knew I wanted to go on for a higher degree. I applied to MIT and a couple of other schools. MIT did the usual thing. They admitted me to the master’s program and in two years, I could apply for the PhD program. Carnegie Mellon said that because of my undergraduate thesis at MIT, they were going to let me skip the master’s program. They admitted me directly to PhD. It seemed like I was going to save two years my life. They made the decision very easy. I went to Carnegie Mellon for my PhD.
Sramana Mitra: What did you work on for your PhD?
Ron Bianchini: It was distributed compute and photon networks.
Sramana Mitra: I worked with Anant Agarwal on the AOI project. AOI was one of the first parallel computers.
Ron Bianchini: My dad was the Head Hardware Engineer on a project at NYU called the Ultra Computer.
Sramana Mitra: I think that was a bit before what we were doing.
Ron Bianchini: Yes, that was way before. It was the first parallel processor—a thousand AMD processing chips formed across a distributed network to get to a thousand memory banks.