Why don’t I collaborate with academics?

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company.

I read a lot of RSS feeds and I’ve spent time placing each feed into various categories and boards. One category is “Developer Blogs”, of which I’ve been reading from many active blogs published from developers like you (and I’m always looking for more).

However, I notice that many of the blogs are written by people in the industry and not academics. Why is this? Mainly because academics don’t write blogs. They write academic articles and get them published in journals. I follow a bunch of journals and can see what is being published.

My IEEE Journals collection of feeds

Reading through some of the publications, it is clear that academics are very well-versed in their fields. They work on some genuinely interesting areas of innovation.

Blog posts written by professionals on the other hand are admittedly pragmatic. Many are just answering how to do X with Y, integrating two pieces of technology together (and I’ve done this myself).

If I could pick someone to work with, I’d probably pick someone from academia. They ask big questions and spend their time trying to come up with the answer. That seems far more interesting than using a few APIs. But that’s not what happens in practice. Academics write in journals, professionals write in blogs, and the two tend to stay isolated from each other.

In a few areas, like machine learning, the two are blended. But when do you read academic work in web development, or voice technology? I notice a lot of code written by academics is not good quality. It seems like if you could bridge that gap you could productize plenty of innovative research, which would be a great way to boost everyone’s impact.

Many companies have started from basic research projects, but putting a bunch of engineers on a random piece of research may not be the best use of resources. Engineering time is expensive, and it’s not worthwhile to ask them to do something which might not have clear value for your company. Unless the research is done in-house, trying to collaborate externally may be difficult or raise IP ownership questions.

While engineers are asked to do objectively valuable work, is it meaningful work? Tracking down reference material to help a big company use your SaaS product can give you a hefty contract, but it isn’t particularly interesting or challenging. I think engineers would much rather tackle new ideas even if there’s no guarantee of a payoff.

As you can tell, I’ve answered my own question. I don’t collaborate with academics because the work I do is actually much different from the work they do. We may be in the same field, but at different ends of it. That’s the difference between academia and industry.

In the end, there’s not really anything I can do about it. But I do wonder sometimes, what could a better path forward look like?

Social Media Expert -- Rowan University 2017 -- IoT & Assistant @ Google