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Thursday, 29 September 2016 05:15

The force behind Splunk's $100m pledge and Academic programme

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At its seventh annual Splunk .conf in Orlando this week, Splunk pledged US$100 million over 10 years for non-profits and educational institutions and the global expansion of its academic alliance. iTWire asked how this came about.

Here at iTWire, we don't just like to report on the news, but also to drive into the why of the news. Simon Sinek delivered a famous TED Talk on the "why" being more important than the "how" and "what". To this end, iTWire spoke to Rob Reed, worldwide education evangelist at Splunk, about his driving beliefs behind education, IT curriculum, and non-profits, and just what transpired for Splunk to say it wished to make US$100 million available.

In his role, Reed has the non-trivial responsibility of making Splunk a part of the curricula and infrastructure at every higher education institution across the globe.

Reed came to the job with a deep background in technology partnerships and the business of education. Although he has worked in different IT roles at different companies over the last 15 to 20 years, it was a realisation at graduate school which never left him.

Reed taught during his graduate school years from 1993 to 1995 and it struck him that, in a general sense, technology moved faster than the content being taught to students. The speed at which industry evolves is faster than the average university's ability to change the curriculum. Reed reflected that what he was teaching was probably already out-of-date by the time he put his assignments and syllabus together.

This began his struggle since with the paradox of what a student, who is paying for education, should get out of that education? In a general sense, education is to deliver critical thinking and life-long learning skills. Yet, at the same time, there is a reasonable expectation it teaches specific technology tools. Teaching it ought to be better than hoping the students are motivated enough to take these tools up on their own.

These thoughts motivated Reed to wish to focus on what he can do to help students with their career, and in gaining knowledge, wherever he has worked. He describes himself as an advocate for students rather than industries and universities, as they have their own hierarchies and budgets, but students as singular entities don't have the bargaining power to say, "teach me what will help me when I graduate".

Reed was hired by Splunk because, at that time, the company had an approach to analytics that dealt largely with unstructured data, but this was not something largely covered in the academic world. Reed determined to put something together for academics, to aid computer science courses to know about non-relational data sources which have proven incredibly useful in the commercial space, such as the work by Google and Facebook.

"The concepts for these tools came from industry, not academia," he says, "so we have to put those ideas back into the curriculum so students have some understanding of the concepts and a cursory understanding of the tools - tools like Hadoop, Tableaux, and Splunk - which give a handle on unstructured data, and how these are used to add value."

In his role as worldwide academic evangelist, Reed determined Splunk needed a programme. He also recognised if an academic has to spend a dollar on something it will be a big hurdle. Thus, the licence had to be free because if not, it would be difficult to gain adoption anyway.

Yet, just making an academic license free isn't enough. "If you give somebody the ability to use something for free then that's great," Reed said, "but if they don't know how to use the tool then the licence is actually a drain on their time and a negative thing, and they may even have to pay to learn to use it."

Reed worked with the Splunk education, training and certification team who delivered high-quality and entertaining training resources with videos, quizzes and a module exam.

With these available, Reed, along with Corey Marshall who runs Splunk's non-profit programme, recognised they now had something a lot more powerful. They had the free license, and also the free scaffolding to help academic users understand what they can do with the licence.

"The only other constraining factor on someone using Splunk in a University or non-profit setting, if the financial constraint has gone, is brain space or mindshare. Making the e-learning free and the licensing free means if they know something about Splunk, now they have an ability to use Splunk and get under the hood and figure out the relevance to them so that hurdle begins to go away as well," Reed says.

Reed worked with Internet2 to pilot a university alliance programme, while meanwhile, Marshall was working to make his Splunk4Good efforts global.

Unknown to Reed and Marshall, Forbes.com was performing its own research and published an article, "Job skills that will get you the biggest pay rise."

This list included Splunk and stated, based on independent research, that if someone had Splunk knowledge and otherwise the same qualifications as their peers, the Splunk knowledge had potential to increase their salary by 14%.

Reed read this article and saw in it a great rationale to say, "Ok, not only do we have the licensing and the e-learning but we have some external data points we didn't go after to say now there is a reason for students to take advantage of the license and the e-learning for their own benefit."

The Splunk Pledge — the $100m over 10-year programme — ties this together, along with the global expansion of the Splunk Academic Programme.

More than that, Reed states Splunk is a publicly-traded company and public companies have a certain lifetime to try and do what they wish to accomplish. In this pledge "we wanted to say we are making a long-term and significant commitment to making these licenses and e-learning available to students and faculty, and via Corey Marshall, to non-profits also".

This offer is available to individual students, even if their institution doesn't subscribe to the programme.

As well as North American universities, Reed is in talk with academic institutions in the UK and with AARNet (The Australian Academic and Research Network) in Australia.

“Splunk is deeply passionate in our belief that big data can bring societal good. That is the driving force behind Splunk Pledge,” said Doug Merritt, president and chief executive, Splunk. “At non-profits, IT budgets typically average one percent - making it challenging to fully leverage technology to accomplish their mission. By committing to help nonprofits and educational institutions with resources readily available, like free licences and support, free education, and volunteerism by our staff, we can make a difference in the world.”

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.