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Living life at a fast tempo: Austin McGee ’07

Austin McGee, a 2007 graduate of Sonoma Valley High School.

Austin McGee, a 2007 graduate of Sonoma Valley High School.

Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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An appropriate music score for the movie of Austin McGee’s life would be a marching band set to a fast tempo. McGee graduated from UC Berkeley with two degrees and now balances an impressive job at IBM while playing a pivotal role in a start-up that hopes to help solve the global water crisis.

It is exhausting even just listening to all that McGee has loaded onto his plate since graduating from Sonoma Valley High School in 2007.

A robotics fan as a middle schooler, McGee took that interest to the next level by choosing to attend Cal for its excellent engineering program. He spread his time between electrical engineering and computer science coursework, while still finding time to play trumpet in the university’s renowned marching band all four years. Perhaps still not busy enough, in his junior year he began to take his music even more seriously and started trumpet lessons with the lead trumpeter at the San Francisco Opera, which led him to join the University Symphony Orchestra. While most students who are on track to finish their double major early might watch TV and drink some beers, McGee decided to get a simultaneous bachelor’s degree in music.

What makes being so busy so much fun for McGee? Following his passions, and that is the advice he has for current students. “Do what you love. It doesn’t matter so much where you go to college – craft your own experience and make it awesome. If you’re passionate about whatever you’re doing, you’ll do great things with it,” he said.

Looking back, McGee thinks that being in Cal’s marching band and orchestra taught him as much as his coursework. “I learned about being part of a team, leading a team and channeling hard work into constructive self-improvement,” he said. “It was an incredible time commitment and I spread myself a bit thin through college (and just in general, it’s a bad habit),” he said, “but I think that’s actually something that makes me who I am.”

It is no surprise that McGee made the most of his summers in college as well. He traveled on his own through Europe after his freshman year and landed in Madagascar, where he did an eco-tourism volunteer program studying the fosa, the largest mammalian carnivore endemic to the island.

But it was a summer internship the next year that really shaped McGee’s future. After his sophomore year, he interned at a software company called BigFix that was acquired by IBM shortly thereafter. The product he was working on became the IBM Endpoint Manager (a product that manages and secures groups of PCs and mobile devices whether they are personally or corporate-owned). After graduation, McGee was offered a job as a software engineer on the product at IBM’s office in Emeryville.

Some days, McGee is doing computer coding, working on system security or doing system design. Other days, he is working on road mapping the technical design and direction of his product. “I enjoy the technical challenges that we’re faced with regularly,” he said. “On our team are some of my closest friends – and working with them to craft innovative solutions to difficult problems is really
invigorating.”

Outside of work, McGee lives in Cow Hollow and loves bouldering and rock climbing on weekends. In addition to playing on a co-ed soccer team, he ran his first half-marathon last November and has finished four more since then.

Because one demanding full-time job could never be enough for McGee, he is now also passionately involved in a social responsibility start-up that aims to help solve the world’s global water crisis. He is helping to develop a hardware device to wirelessly monitor usage patterns and upkeep requirements of hand-pump wells in rural areas with limited access to clean water. Called WellDone International, the organization was founded in 2007 with the goal of drilling a well in a single village in Ghana. Since then, it has gone on to implement more than 75 clean water projects across the developing world. McGee loves to travel and tested WellDone’s infrastructure monitoring device through Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. The organization has a blog at welldone.org/blog and is currently fundraising to gain public support for sustainable clean water solutions for communities in need (donate or learn more at igg.me/at/momo).

“I love that we as an organization are dedicated to doing interesting, innovative things with technology while making them freely available and using them ourselves to do good in the world,” he said.