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February 28, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: David Wood’s Unique Career Path Leads to Innovative Startup

It all started with a scientific calculator. Fascination with its programming capabilities put David Wood on a path that would take him from selling PCs at a local computer store as a teen to developing software and operating systems for a technology giant. The path took him from earning a bachelor’s degree from UCI in information and computer sciences (ICS) in 1985 to earning an MBA from the University of Washington and developing business models for Microsoft, to becoming a management consultant for clients such as Kaiser Permanente and Sony. The path veered into studies of music theory and composition, where he discovered similarities between composing music and writing software, recognizing the real-world impact of thoughts and ideas. So when he was frustrated by the time-consuming task of organizing campouts for his son’s Boy Scout troop, he already had the skills and experience necessary to develop his idea for a novel software solution into Eventene, a tech company focused on unified event management applications. Here, the recent ICS Hall of Fame inductee talks about how this unique path emerged, intertwining his passion and creativity with his technical foundation, business skills and desire to give back.

What first sparked your interest in computer science?
In 1980, as a junior in high school, I bought an HP scientific calculator to help with my math and science classes. While it helped with my trig and physics homework, what really fascinated me was its programming capabilities. Over the course of several months, I learned how to write dozens of programs for it and, in doing so, discovered my passion for technology. By midyear, I had decided to quit my yearlong architectural drafting class in order to take the first-ever computer programming class offered at our school. My architecture teacher spent an entire lunch period trying to convince me that switching classes would be a big mistake, but he was stuck in the past.

Later that same semester, I found a part-time job at a local computer store, The Byte Shop, which sold several brands of personal computers including the Apple II and Commodore PET. Home computers were still a novelty at that time and customers were curious how these machines might be useful. Only a year earlier, the first spreadsheet program for a personal computer, VisiCalc, had debuted exclusively for the Apple II computer. Through selling applications and computers, I saw firsthand their usefulness and wanted to pursue a career in computers.

What led you to UCI?
When it came time to apply to colleges, I discovered UCI through a personal connection. As luck would have it, an older friend was already studying as an ICS major at UCI. He offered to give me a tour, and I immediately fell in love with the campus and, of course, the computer lab! I applied to ICS, but the major was full, so I entered as a math major instead. I was glad for all the math courses I took along the way, but after two years of studying hard, I was thrilled to be accepted into the ICS department. And it certainly paid off as I graduated with a B.S. degree and was able to go on to work for Microsoft and other pioneering tech companies.

You also have an MBA and studied music theory and composition. How do these three areas complement each other in your everyday life?
After a year writing software for a Silicon Valley startup, Microsoft hired me as a software engineer to join the team developing international versions of their applications, Word and Excel. A few years later I joined the operating systems group developing OS/2, which would later evolve into Windows NT, and then eventually into Windows XP in the early 2000s.

David Wood in 1987, sitting in his office with his father, who was visiting him at the Microsoft campus in Seattle. Windows 1.0 is running on the PC in the background.

While working on the product side of the company, I was fascinated to learn more about the other half of Microsoft that focused on sales and marketing. With Steve Ballmer’s endorsement, Microsoft sponsored me to earn an MBA at the University of Washington. After graduating, my career ventured into product marketing and business development. I was able to leverage my technical background alongside my new business skills to develop business models for Microsoft, helping them sell their server products into the telecommunications industry (AT&T, Baby Bells, MCI, etc.). This was right around time the internet was exploding in popularity, in the mid-90s.

After departing Microsoft in the late-90s, I took a few years off to study music theory and composition at the University of Washington. I had always been fascinated how music affects the mind so deeply and wanted to learn how to compose it. What I found were stark similarities in the creative process of composing music and writing software. Both feature a unique syntax and language to mold original ideas from nothing into real and impactful products.

My ICS degree provided technical foundation, my MBA added business skills, but my music education injected creativity and passion into my work.

What were some of the challenges you faced in taking an idea and building your own startup?
The idea for the product occurred to me while volunteering to help organize campouts for our son’s Boy Scout troop. The effort required insane amounts of time and effort each month. Even though I had spent years working at Microsoft and in management consulting, planning these regular troop events presented a novel logistical challenge that remained frustratingly unsolved. To get started, I used the tools I knew: spreadsheets, emails and texts, but I quickly discovered the process was taking too much time and effort.

In 2015, I set out to solve the event planning challenges. I started by sketching a solution using a series of storyboards for common event planning scenarios, much like how films are developed. Once I had worked out the solution for the original transportation problem, I expanded my design to handle the planning logistics for a wider variety of event types. By breaking down events into a series of parts, each with distinct arrangements of people and places, I arrived at a broader solution. However, for this solution to be immediately helpful, the technology needed to do the heavy lifting by sending out individualized email invitations, automatically tracking responses, assigning roles and generating reports.

It’s an arduous journey from idea to product launch, and I knew I was facing a multiyear mountain of challenges. But I was confident in my product designs. In 2016, I founded Eventene, focused on producing cloud and mobile-based software to simplify the complexities in planning events and to save event organizers time and energy. It’s been a long road, but now we’re coming up on our four-year anniversary and recently launched Version 3.0 of our web app.

Today, my biggest challenges involve raising capital, growing revenue, supporting our customer base, developing new partnerships and maintaining a relentless pace of innovation in a highly competitive market.

How has your ICS education helped you throughout your career?
As the technology industry has evolved rapidly over the decades, I have been able to keep pace because of the solid foundation I received from my UCI studies. While I had wished for more practical knowledge right after graduation, UCI’s focus on theoretical teaching has proved to be far more valuable over time.

Can you share any memorable ICS moments or tell us about a favorite or influential professor?
One memorable moment was arriving my first day into the ICS computer lab and noticing the punch-card machines stacked up in the corner waiting to be hauled away! So glad I just missed that era of computing.

I enjoyed learning from all my professors, but Dan Hirschberg stands out for his intellect, guidance and support. My favorites classes were design and analysis of data structures and algorithms, system design, and artificial intelligence.

What motivates you to volunteer your time to your community, both as a board member of the Western Los Angeles County Council for ScoutsBSA and on the ICS Leadership Council?
My motivation to volunteer is my desire to give back to organizations I care about and which can have a lasting impact on youth. I volunteer for our local Boy Scouts Council in Western Los Angeles, which serves over 10,000 youth. It’s incredibly rewarding to see so many young boys and girls experience the outdoors, and learn life and leadership skills and generally how to be nice to one another.

David Wood and his son in Joshua Tree for an outing with Boy Scout Troop 223.

For similar reasons, I enjoy serving on the ICS Leadership Council and helping UCI ICS continue to grow and thrive for each new generation of students and graduates.

What was your reaction to learning you were being inducted into the ICS Hall of Fame?
I could hardly believe it! It’s such an honor to be recognized by UCI. When I look down the list of previous inductees, I’m in awe. I look forward to contributing to the UCI community for many years ahead.

Any words of advice for ICS students?
The most valuable skill I learned from UCI was setting in motion the endless desire to never stop learning. We’re all fortunate that the internet makes it so much easier now to discover new resources, generate ideas and find answers to so many of life’s problems. Hopefully, you’ll quickly find interesting work after graduation that aligns with your passion. But in any case, try to learn something non-work related every day, stay active physically, develop deep and meaningful relationships, allow art and theater to refresh and motivate you, and cultivate a hobby that takes a lifetime to master.

Shani Murray


Alumni Spotlight: David Wood’s Unique Career Path Leads to Innovative Startup

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Media interested in interviewing ICS faculty, students or alumni should contact Matt Miller at (949) 824-1562 or via email at matt.miller@uci.edu.