Professor leverages corporate experience to help students

Meet Jeff Gilles, a professor and so much more. He is a professor at Seattle University’s Computer Science department.
Jeff is a part of the wonderful higher education system in the Seattle area that is producing talented, capable young people for the vibrant local tech sector. There is a reason why so many Silicon Valley powerhouse companies recently have been opening offices around here – access to an educated, tech-savvy workforce.

For his students, Jeff brings more than just his academic experience and background. He had a long and prosperous career in the corporate world prior to landing on Seattle University’s campus. In fact, it was his job at Oracle that moved him and his family to Seattle from Iowa 22 years ago.

Later, Jeff turned into an entrepreneur by starting his own technology-based training company, Clarity, in 1992. Three years later, Clarity was acquired by ARIS and Jeff and I ended up working together.

Jeff joined ARIS as Vice President of Education and played various strategic executive roles leading up to the company’s IPO in 1997. “The whole growth thing was fun,” he said. “Having a part in helping new offices grow in New York, Washington DC, Denver, Dallas and others was very satisfying.”

Jeff had a vision for online training back in the late 1990’s. He knew that the internet would eventually be a popular platform for training. He spearheaded ARIS’ efforts in this field before the company was eventually bought by Ciber.

Jeff left ARIS in 2000 and enjoyed retirement for a little less than year. Apparently, his wife, Glenda, didn’t enjoy his retirement quite as much and asked him to get a job. Having solidified his golf swing during his mini-retirement, he looked for a job that would keep him in the tech field but would not be a huge time commitment — like ARIS had been. The opportunity from Seattle University in 2001 seemed perfect.

“The students today are much more web and technology-savvy than even a decade ago when we were at ARIS,” he said, explaining that this allows him and his students to focus more on interesting applications of computer science rather than just the rudimentary elements.

Jeff has especially worked hard with the senior projects, which involve a group of students working with a local sponsoring company on a defined project. At first, the students are really confident that they can do what the projects require, he said. Then, as the project moves on, the complexity of working together and solving business requirements become somewhat overwhelming for them. Inevitably, the students pull it together and come up with interesting and effective solutions. “That’s been the most gratifying part for me,” Jeff said of working at Seattle University.

Local companies, such as Boeing, Areva, Mckinistry, among many others, participate in this program to help young students gain useful experience, as well as a way of recruiting new graduates.

Recently, my company, ZeroDash1, hired two of the recent graduates from his program. So far, we’ve been impressed with their knowledge as well as work ethics. I can see why nurturing such blossoming young minds could be so rewarding to this former corporate executive.

Looking forward, however, Jeff is pondering retirement again. But Glenda needn’t worry, he plans to stay out of the house playing music and golf. Jeff currently plays guitar in a 9-piece Swing Jazz band, Easy Street. The band will be playing at Tulas on August 31st from 3:00 TO 7:00PM. He promises fun times for all those who attend.

Jeff has always had a passion for music since his glory days in a high school rock band. He plans to get involved in a couple of other “duet projects” later this year.

As for golf, well, he has been my golf buddy for some time now (I mentioned our golf outings in a prior blog). Jeff’s quick wit and dry sense of humor makes a round of golf fly by. Nonetheless, we remain highly competitive when it comes to winning skins from each other. That is why, it is not so much Glenda who is worried about whether Jeff may retire any time soon… rather it’s me, his golf partner who can’t afford for Jeff’s game to get too much better.