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Technology Answer Man

BU People: Aaron Caine gets creative to solve engineering problems

Aaron Caine (ENG’01, GSM’08) created a raft of custom applications while working for the department of electrical and computer engineering. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

When a University department wants to upgrade its technology or solve a logistics problem, off-the-shelf solutions may not be quite right. That’s where Aaron Caine comes in. When he worked at the electrical and computer engineering department at the College of Engineering, he often came up with innovative solutions, and now he’s applying the same skill as the senior technology and systems manager in the Office of the Provost.

During his five years at ENG, Caine (ENG’01, GSM’08) spearheaded a number of projects notable for their variety and complexity. One of the most visible is at the entrance to the ECE department office, on the third floor of the Photonics Building. Installed in 2003, the University’s first touch screen displays a directory of department professors, with office hours, e-mail addresses, and photos, plus lists of graduate students and departmental events.

The touch screen started out as a senior design team project. As part of the ECE undergraduate curriculum, teams of students solve a problem during senior year and present their working prototypes in the spring. Caine and Jeffrey Albro, a former ECE systems administrator, took over the touch screen project where the students left off.

“The touch system was one heck of a challenge,” says Caine. “It was the first [large interactive screen] anywhere to the best of my knowledge. No one really knew much about it [at the outset]. The companies we contacted didn’t know what we were doing and why. Now design firms create them.” Last year he helped the School of Education come up with its own touch screen, which is in the lobby of 2 Sherborn St.

ENG is one of several schools that restricts access to most rooms, so when the college wanted a system giving access to authorized personnel, Caine worked with ENG information technology staff to create Zaius — an online card access system that allows students and professors to request access to any restricted room. Students and professors swipe their BU identification card to enter clean rooms, computer labs, and experiments in progress. The key to the Zaius system is flexibility. Students are granted access based on course enrollment; professors can set the expiration date for this access and make other adjustments.

“Zaius was a very complex and enormous project,” says Caine.

Not all of his projects were as daunting. One of the first was a Web application so department office staff could view vacation and sick days and submit an online request for a day off. Other projects Caine helped create for ECE include a Web news content management system for staff; an online time-sheet system for students to log their hours; and an online conference room request system. He also built an online package tracking system for ECE.

Balancing deadlines and requests from various stakeholders on complicated projects requires excellent project management skills. Caine, who is enrolled in the M.B.A. program at the Graduate School of Management, says his classes complement his job.

“I consider myself lucky to be in a degree program that runs parallel to the challenges I face in work,” he says.

Catherine Santore can be reached at csantore@bu.edu.