Techiest Commencement Speakers

The Woz, Steve Jobs' biographer, IBM chair among those to share words of wisdom with new grads.

Demand for technology industry executives, innovators and others in the field as college commencement speakers seems to be off a bit this spring vs. recent years, but plenty of institutions known for their tech focus and not do have techie speakers this time around. Here’s a rundown of some of the bigger names (and here’s a look back at last year’s roster, which included Cisco CEO John Chambers, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer).

Speaker: Sam Palmisano, chairman, IBM

School: Johns Hopkins University

This marks a return home for Palmisano, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the Baltimore school in 1973 and went to work with IBM shortly after that, rising through the ranks to eventually lead Big Blue.

Speaker: Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy

School: MIT, Cambridge, Mass.

The 1998 MIT graduate rose from hedge fund manager to founder of the hugely popular Khan Academy website for educational videos that even Bill Gates uses with his kids.

Speaker: Steve Wozniak, co-founder Apple

School: Santa Clara College

Wozniak, who last year during a commencement address at Michigan State University told grads that almost none of the PC industry's founders had college degrees and said he was the only one who actually went back and earned his. He cited the influence on his life of his father, an electrical engineer, who pointed out the many choices available in life, including unconventional ones. With Woz, you never know what he might have in store for Santa Clara grads.

Speaker: Reid Hoffman, co-founder, LinkedIn

School: Babson College, Wellesley, Mass.

The co-founder and former CEO of the popular business-focused social network is now a venture capitalist at Greylock Partners, where he is helping startups get off the ground. He has degrees from Stanford University and Oxford University.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Speaker: Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter, “The Social Network”

School: Syracuse University

Sorkin made sure everyone heard about this little social network called Facebook via his Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Social Network” (he also won multiple Emmys for his work on “The West Wing”). He received at BFA in musical theatre from Syracuse in 1983.

Speaker: Walter Isaacson, biographer, Steve Jobs

School: Cooper Union, NYC

Isaacson’s book, including deathbed confessions and all, has spawned a zillion stories since its publishing shortly after Steve Jobs’ death in October. A movie is said to be in the works from Sony based on the book. Isaacson has also written biographies about Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger.

Speaker: Michael Olson, CEO, Cloudera

School: UC Berkeley, Computer Science

The CEO of the Apache Hadoop-focused enterprise cloud computing company earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from UC Berkeley and led Sleepycat Software, which created the Berkeley DB open source embedded database engine.

Speaker: Wendy Bahr

School: Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

Last spring, Duke University snagged Cisco CEO John Chambers as its commencement speaker. This year, Old Dominion has Wendy Bahr, the senior vice president of Global and Strategic Partners for the Worldwide Partner Organization for Cisco. She’s an Old Dominion grad, with a bachelor’s degree in communications.

Speaker: Bill Nye, the Science Guy

School: Harvey Mudd College

The Claremont, Calif., college graduates this spring will hear from not just an Emmy Award-winning TV personality in Nye (he is currently hosting three television series: “The 100 Greatest Discoveries,” “The Eyes of Nye,” and “Stuff Happens”). They’ll also hear from a children’s book author, VP of The Planetary Society and a guy who remains a licensed mechanical engineer in the state of Washington and has two patents on educational products: a magnifier made of water and an abacus that does arithmetic like a computer.

Speaker: Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, a micro-lending website

School: UCLA, Los Angeles

In 2005, Jackley co-founded the micro-lending site Kiva, which allows Internet users to lend as little as $25 to individual entrepreneurs, providing affordable capital to help them start or expand a small business. Kiva has facilitated nearly $300 million in loans among individuals in more than 200 countries.

Speaker: Bruce Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect

School: Westminster College, Salt Lake City

Bastian burst onto the computing scene by forming WordPerfect with Alan Ashton in 1978, and served as chairman until the company merged with Novell in 1994. Since, he has made a name for himself as a social activist focused on human equality. The computer programmer earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Brigham Young University.

Speaker: N. R. Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys Ltd.

School: Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, Calif.

Murthy’s global software consulting and IT outsourcing company, headquartered in Bangalore, India, registers nearly $7 billion in annual revenue.

Speaker: Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart Simpson

School: Ohio University, Athens, Ohio

OK, not really techie, but we figured you’d all want to know about this.

Other techie commencement speakers that we missed? Please weigh in via our comments section. Thanks!

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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