Yannis C. Yortsos has served as dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering since 2005, a tenure that has seen the emergence of the Silicon Beach tech cluster and a resurgence of the aerospace industry in Los Angeles. Viterbi’s undergraduate and graduate students – numbering 2,700 and 5,600, respectively – as well as the $192 million the school spends annually on research, played a significant role in those growing industries and companies over the past decade, according to the dean. Yortsos predicts many waves of technological innovation will follow and expects engineering skills will be even more vital for professions and corporations of all types.

The Business Journal’s Garrett Reim recently sat down with Yannis C. Yortsos, veteran dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, for a talk about disruption, diversity and the role of educational institutions and other parts of the startup ecosystem when it comes to local innovation and industry. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.

There is this famous phrase by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz that states “software is eating the world.” How do executives without engineering backgrounds successfully lead businesses in such a world where all companies are becoming technology companies?

You have to surround yourself with people who have a very good understanding. Obviously, chief technology officers are key to any company. It’s not only all companies are becoming technology companies, many disciplines are becoming technology disciplines. You have to be very open to (mindset) growth in different ways.

What’s the most practical way to connect with USC or another university for a business owner or executive in Los Angeles who wants to keep a finger on the pulse of technology?

Of course, continuing education is a common way, in which people can take weekend courses to become up to speed. Many companies support research agendas of individual faculty. We have centers that companies can come in and support them. By supporting them one of the things they get in return is the ability to see what’s going on, what kind of research is conducted, as well as form relationships with the faculty and students. This is probably one of the most active research (hubs) in computer science in the country. We had the largest number of federal expenditures in this area a couple of years ago. When people talk about computer science they usually talk about Carnegie Mellon, but actually if you put together (our various schools) we are as good or better than CMU –that’s my competitive side.

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