Along the Merrimac River, which spawned America's industrial revolution 150 years ago, today's technological rebels are quietly building their own academy to churn out tomorrow's corporate captains in the international computer fray.
The Wang Institute, a graduate school in computer sciences named after one of the region's new breed of electronics moguls, Wang Laboratories Chairman An Wang, open in September tohelp meet an acute industry-wide demand for budget-conscious software scientists.
The problem with many academic institutions, say Wang and many of his corporate compatriots along "Hitech Highway" - Rte. 128 in Massachusetts -- is that degree-fresh scientists are trained in traditional research theory and they often do not have the kind of practical blend a professional school could instill.
"I've been hearing complaints for years from managers who can't find people withthe proper training to run projects," says the Shaghai-born, Harvard-educated Wang, whose family provided an initial endowment of nearly $3 million to begin planning the school more than a year ago.
"MIT is doing a good job locally, butthey are more academic than professionally oriented," he adds.
Says John W. Poduska, president of Apollo Computer inLexington, Mass., and a member of the Wang Institute's National Academic Advisory Committee: "We're not trying to compete with an MIT or a Stanford. They're the clarions, the oracles. Those who want to stay in pure research go to those schools. But those who want to slug it out in the real worldwill go to Wang."
"We will produce a special breed of catwho will have the administrative and technical ability to infuse discipline into a project without stifling creativity," says Yo Yugo Gagliardi, who is taking a leave of absence as a professor of computer engineering at Harvard to become the institute's first dean.
Industry insiders long have decried soaring imbalance in supply and demand for technical experts, especially those with managerial talents. Some, like the University of Rochester's Jerome A. Feldman, who coauthored a study on the status of experimental computer sciencefor the National Science Foundation, called it a "crisis."
Indeed, U.S. production of advanced degrees in computer science actually has declined in the face of fantastically attractive offers for simple bachelors degrees in industry, said Kent Curtis, head of the computer science section of the NSF.
While undergraduate programs nationwide are strainingto keep pace with rising applications, 650 faculty positions at universities around the country remain unfilled, Curtissaid.And only a fraction of the 200 Ph.Ds awarded this year will return to the classroom, severely hampering the ability of colleges to expand computer programs.
The problem is particularly sharp in this region where the old textile mills that shaped the first industrial revolution have been replaced by modern-day high-technology bunkers from which to launch a second manufacturing rebellion. In fact, New England now leads the nation in production of minicomputers.
AMassachusetts-commissioned study by Technical Marketing Association predicts a requirement of 6,500 to 12,000 new technicians here within the next five years. And the state's High Technology Council, a private lobby, projects a 25 percentdemand increase among local high-technology firms for computer scientists and electrical engineers.
Enter the Wang Insittute, which initially will offer a masters degree in software engineering to a seminar class of 30 to 40 students from around the nation who will work on actual industrial projects as well as study theory.
Although the graduating class is not large enough to take a significant bite out of thecomputer industry's personnel problems, school officials say that because the students are being trained as project leaders, their impact will extend over several hundred others.
Students, all of whom must have a bachelors degree at least and two years experience in the field, will study at a 200-acre campus formerly used as a monastery. The opulent redbrick gothic-style main building will be outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment donated by Wang Laboratories, Prime Computer, Digital Equipment Corp. and others.
The school will provide a terminal for every two students. Professors for the most part will be part-timers from local high-technology firms familiar with the latest scientific developments.
The University of Rochester's Feldman predicts Wang-typeinstitutes could begin springing up in such areas as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where electronicshas become a major industry.
Agrees Curtis of the National Science Foundation: "A lot of people in the industry are watching the An Wang Institute to see if it is successful --so they can copy if it is."