Michael Fisher, former CTO of Etsy, has joined xLab as a technical advisor for several student projects. Fisher is currently working with three xLab teams on different projects, all with a common theme of decentralized credentialed data sharing.
What have you been working on with xLab?
This semester I am working with three teams on xLab projects. While they are all very different and challenging in their own ways, they share a common theme of decentralized credentialed data sharing.
The first is a project using data from health monitoring devices such as Apple watches to determine stress levels in order for Progressive Insurance managers to assist employees. The team is implementing this in a way that employees can retain ownership of their health data to ensure security and privacy concerns are addressed.
The second project is to demonstrate the viability of using machine learning to translate a college transcript into a digital Learning and Employment Record (LER) in order to accurately and authentically detail the individual’s skills and competencies gained through their work in the classroom. The solution requires storing and sharing verifiable, blockchain-anchored, digital credentials.
The third project builds upon considerable efforts in the standards community, particularly the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF), to create open standards and protocols for verifiable credentials (VCs) on the web. These standards form the backbone of self-sovereign identity (SSI), a new model for digital identity on the internet that empowers individuals to have ownership over their personal data. This work is being done under the auspices of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
When did you first become involved with xLab?
In 2019, I had to step back from teaching at Weatherhead because of my full-time role as the CTO at Etsy but I was interested in ways to stay involved with the school. My former doctoral advisor, Professor Kalle Lyytinen, suggested that I mentor an xLab team. The first project that I got involved with was with a team of students working on a project for Sherwin-Williams. I was very impressed with not only the practical application of the project but also the industry best practices that Professor Youngjin Yoo was sharing with the students. As I wrapped up my role at Etsy at the end of this past year, Professor Yoo offered for me to get more involved with xLab and I excitedly agreed.
What has been your favorite part about working with xLab?
There is a lot to like about the xLab projects, including the real-world nature of the projects and the practical guidance provided by the instructors such as Professor Yoo and Professor Ayday. However, my favorite part of the xLab projects is the cross functional makeup of the teams. Students from computer science, management, biomedical engineering, analytics, design, and many other disciplines are put together on teams to accomplish these projects. This is how very large, complex projects are accomplished in industry so having this experience as a student is sure to provide them with an advantage as they graduate.
What's the best part of being a CWRU alum?
As a double CWRU alum, receiving both my MBA in 2000 and my PhD in 2013 from Weatherhead, I have been associated with the school for many years and almost without fail when I mention my alma mater, people recognize the institution and are impressed with the world-class research that takes place here. The network of alumni spans the globe and friends of the school can be found near and far. There is a large group of individuals who care deeply about the university and the impact that it does have on the City of Cleveland. This shared interest has allowed me to meet a wide variety of interesting people and learn about their amazing and impactful work.
What are the other things that you're excited to be involved with at CWRU?
In addition to xLab, I am working as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) at the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship. Under the guidance of Michael Goldberg, the executive director, we are putting together an Entrepreneurship Speaker Series focused on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting the multitude of disciplines across the university and industry. Our speakers this semester come from backgrounds in political science, medicine, orthodontics and art history. They will be talking about a diverse range of topics from using AI to study text-based data to executive coaching with AI. This is sure to be a very exciting series and upcoming events can be found at StartupTree.
Fisher was most recently the chief technology officer of Etsy, during which time the marketplace grew from $3.3 billion to $13.5 billion in annual gross merchandise sales. He led large initiatives such as the migration from data centers to Google Cloud enabling the marketplace to handle the massive influx of traffic during the pandemic. The product teams launched personalized search results and innovative products like augmented reality and listing videos. Additionally they made significant improvements in search through the development of neural net and graph-based machine learning. Focused on scaling the engineering team, Fisher helped improve engineering velocity while growing the team by three times its size, opening an engineering office in Mexico City, and increasing the focus on diversity and inclusivity in engineering cohorts.
During Fisher’s tenure his teams delivered strong site up-time and reliability, established site reliability engineering teams and practices, and completed dozens of projects focused on improved developer experience.
Prior to Etsy, Fisher was a co-founder and managing partner of AKF Partners, a boutique-consultancy focused on helping companies scale. Fisher has also served as the chief technology officer of Quigo (acquired by AOL) and the vice president of engineering and architecture for PayPal, Inc. He served on active and reserve duty for nearly 10 years as a pilot in the U.S. Army.
Fisher has co-authored dozens of articles and papers as well as three books––The Art of Scalability (Addison-Wesley, 2nd edition 2015), Scalability Rules (Addison-Wesley, 2011), and The Power of Customer Misbehavior (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) that have sold over 25,000 copies and been translated to five languages. His issued and pending patents include video content association and the automated aesthetic optimization of content, products and advertising.
Fisher received a PhD and MBA from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, an Master of Science in Information Systems degree from Hawaii-Pacific University, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree from the United States Military Academy (West Point).
Fisher was an adjunct professor in the Department of Design & Innovation at Weatherhead for five years and now serves as an EIR at the Veale Institute of Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve.