Published On: August 20th, 2018|6 min read|

As CDTM is celebrating its 20 years anniversary, we pass its story in review and reminisce about how it has started and evolved.

The stars align

Through the Münchner Kreis, Arnold Picot, Professor for Business Administration at LMU and Jörg Eberspächer, Professor for Electrical Engineering at TUM, were confronted with the challenges that the increasing dynamics of digital technology brought to product development and the management of businesses. They realized that traditional thinking in disciplinary boxes of engineering and business would not give the required answers and the curriculum of these faculties were too focused in order to produce effective managers of digital technology.

Inspired by the United States, the hotbed of the digital revolution, Andrew Kelly, a senior advisor and “bridge builder”, who had worked intensively with executives from the telecommunications industry, realized that German students were educated to narrow-mindedly and that they would benefit highly from the campus experience of studying at a renowned international university. Eventually, the introduction of Manfred Broy to Kelly and Picot as well as  many other links to MIT led them to form a “delegation from Munich” to travel to Cambridge to discuss opportunities of cooperation between the US and both Munich universities.

Was CDTM born on a plane ride?

The trip took place in spring 1997. In the course of the delegation’s stay, two outcomes emerged that were important for CDTM’s future. First, MIT was open for cooperation and evaluation of exchange opportunities. Second, and more importantly, the realization and understanding of a “center” emerged within the delegation: a place where students from different backgrounds could interact, which was a platform for companies to get in contact with talents and state-of-the-art research, a location that transported a true campus feeling and experience.

Soon after the trip, everyone was contributing resources to get CDTM started: rooms and staff for a “campus” had to be found, a student selection process at different faculties had to be initiated, and an international exchange program had to be fixed. Additionally, an agreement was reached that several students would have the opportunity to be sent to MIT in the following years.

With regard to infrastructure, CDTM was a true startup: Without formal financing, resources in the beginning were pulled together from wherever possible. The CDTM could take over space at the inner-city campus, as the faculty for Mechanical Engineering that had just moved to TUM’s campus in Garching. Since neither the professors nor Andrew Kelly had the time to actively take over operations of a newly established center, they contributed additional resources by dedicating current employees from their institute to set up the first basic processes at CDTM.

Analogue communication: how the first students arrived

The first marketing campaign as well as the recruiting process of the first intake had little to do with digital technologies. However, printouts stuck to the blackboards of participating chairs and some posters in the hallways of the affiliated faculties were sufficient to draw enough attention to the new-established program in order to be able to select a group of almost 20 students.

From the very beginning, students actively participated in decorating their new “campus”. Maybe it was at that time and with this extraordinary non-academic effort that the often proclaimed “Center Spirit” was born: to not only be a consumer but a co-creator of one’s educational environment, to be a builder of the “Home for Your Ideas”.

First selected CDTM seminars started, students visited regular classes from the “opposing” discipline in spring term 1998, and in mid-1998, the selection of the first crop of students that would be going to MIT in January 1999 was finalized.

The center organization takes on form

It soon became apparent that more resources were needed to realize the original idea of the project. It became clear that to grow CDTM, a dedicated management team had to be found. While there had been first success with fundraising from industry for scholarships and courses, it was clear that more sustainable financing would be provided from the universities.

In early 2000 and in a joint effort, the management of the Munich universities could be won to complement the resources of rooms with a position for a doctoral student. He would combine the roles of teaching and managing the CDTM at the same time, a role of all following generations of doctorate students that would in the consecutive years work for CDTM, the Center Assistants.

In the following year, Trend Seminar and eLab – two of the three main courses the CDTM curriculum still consists of – were established. As CDTM should be developed further, the operative role of active students in the following was institutionalized in form of Task Forces. This form of a bottom-up organization is quite unique and has turned out to be a key reason why CDTM has always surprised with its breadth of activities and strong identification of the students with the institution.

Another big step forward was taken in 2001 when a formal contract was developed to establish the CDTM as an official institution of both Munich universities. The contract put the ongoing informal cooperation on firmer foundation and ensured that resources were sustainable and specified many organizational features of CDTM that are still in effect: the Board of Professors and the rotating appointment of Scientific Directors who supervise the management team.

In the year 2001, for the first time, a large project financed by industry and federal ministries allowed CDTM to apply its interdisciplinarity not only to teaching but also to research on a larger scale. It also meant that CDTM could finance a complete team of doctoral students. This form of self-financing in combination with providing a platform for companies to conduct interdisciplinary and applied research has carried CDTM since that time.

The acceptance to ENB: formalization and increasing recognition on state-level

Between 2002 and 2005, CDTM steadily improved: Managing Product Development (MPD) was added to the core curriculum, CDTM moved to larger and more prominent premises in Luisenstraße, and additional cooperations with UC Berkeley and other universities were established. In 2003, CDTM applied for the state’s Elitenetzwerk Bayern (ENB) and its proposition of an “Honors Degree in Technology Management”, including the establishment of a complete, two-year curriculum was selected as one of the first programs of the initiative.

CDTM community value: priceless

Comparing CDTM back then with CDTM at the age of 20 – what has changed? The comparison with a teenager becoming an adult seems remarkably striking. Most importantly, the CDTM community has grown up and grown together. Every few weeks, social events at the Center – both public and internal – draw hundreds of attendees. The annual CDTM Homecoming Weekend in particular has turned out to be one of the cornerstones that have led to rising community engagement.

What’s next? The CDTM manifesto and values

It would not be CDTM, the “Home for Your Ideas” full of co-creators and innovators, if we now rested on our laurels. As a meeting place for highly motivated and talented students from different disciplines, who are passionate about digital technology and strive to put their ideas into practice to shape the world of tomorrow, the CDTM is constantly surrounded by an inexpressible source of energy. A source of energy that makes us feel constantly challenged but never left alone.

Until today, more than 900 “Centerlings” have co-created a global network of innovators that take responsibility to shape our society in the digital era. To continuously connect, educate, and empower the innovators of tomorrow, the CDTM will always be a “Home for Your Ideas” yet has developed further into a breeding ground for sustainable innovations that address the evolving challenges of today with the technologies of tomorrow.

And it all started on a plane ride from Boston…

Related stories