Posted September 14th, 2015 by Jamie Hunter

‘Your time for innovation is now’ says 2015 Plenary Lecturer Catherine Lacavera

  • Catherine Lacavera

    “You’re not here to build a transcript, you’re here to build a career,” said alumna Catherine Lacavera to first-year U of T Engineering undergraduate students (Photo: Google).

Undergraduate students can expect to attend approximately 1,440 lectures during their time at U of T Engineering. Although most will be informative, not all lectures will feature an inspiring talk by one of the Faculty’s most esteemed alumnae.

On Sept. 10, Catherine Lacavera (CompE 9T7), director of intellectual property and litigation at Google, flew in from Silicon Valley to welcome this year’s incoming class with an encouraging plenary address at Convocation Hall. 

“You’re going to conquer engineering and you’re going to use it to innovate and optimize in any field of endeavour,” Lacavera said to the capacity crowd of future 1T9 graduates. “You’re going to make your work easier, and your life and the lives of others better.”

Lacavera told the students her plan was always to end up in patent law, but she chose to study engineering because it provides a strong foundation for any career. People know engineering is a challenging degree that provides a baseline education in math and science, as well as problem solving and design thinking.

Dean Cristina Amon, who also spoke to the students, emphasized that although the journey may not always be easy, there is an entire community of faculty, staff, alumni and fellow students who offer continual support and encouragement. She also told students there is a multitude of fun and dynamic extracurricular opportunities that complement their engineering courses.

“You will be able to pursue your interests and passions through more than 80 U of T Engineering clubs and teams and hundreds of University-wide activities, from the Blue Sky Solar Racing Team and the Skule™ Orchestra to student government and intramural sports,” Dean Amon said.

“Throughout your studies here, you will also experience the special camaraderie of engineering and make lifelong friends — something our global network of more than 45,000 alumni can attest to.”

Lacavera echoed Dean Amon’s sentiment, adding that many students may found startups together based on the relationships they form at U of T Engineering.

“Don’t forget to meet your co-founders,” she said. “They are sitting next to you. You’ll spend the next four years with these folks and you’ll have the opportunity to form friendships with them that will last a lifetime. Meet your classmates. Hear their stories. Learn from each other and help each other. It’s a small world and it’s getting smaller.”

Lacavera also encouraged the incoming class to embrace change and extend themselves beyond their comfort zones. She used her own professional experience as an example. In 2005, after spending nearly four years at New York-based global law firm White & Case LLP, she packed it in and moved across the country to Mountainview, California to take a position at Google.

She has now been at Google for more than 10 years, where she and her team handle one per cent of all patent litigation in the United States. In 2013, Fortune magazine named her one of its “40 Under 40” and called her “Google’s secret weapon in the smartphone wars.”

Success runs in the Lacavera family. Her brother, Anthony Lacavera (CompE 9T7), founder of WIND Mobile, also gave a plenary lecture to the first-year cohort in 2012.

“If my brother were here today he’d tell you that you have 80 years, give or take, on this planet,” Lacavera said. “He’d tell you that once you factor in sleeping, eating, raising children and the 1,440 or so lectures you’ll attend, you have about 20 years on this planet — or 175,000 hours — to do something truly innovative.”

But Lacavera ended her speech with a twist on her brother’s advice.

“I think your time for innovation is right now,” she said. “You’re already innovators. And you’re going to be innovating every day over the next four years here at U of T Engineering.”


Watch Catherine Lacavera’s Plenary Lecture:

Watch the Plenary Lecture Q&A: