Gifts in Action: Alumnus Bruce Ge Finds a Way to Reflect the Impact Josep Torrellas Had on His Development

10/26/2022 12:04:37 PM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

When alumnus Bruce Ge left Illinois Computer Science upon graduating from the master’s program in 1999, he credited the development of two interconnected attributes that altered his path forward – allowing him to become the entrepreneurial business leader he has been for the past 15 years as founder of Talroo.

Gifts in Action graphic image with text and two headshots - one of Illinois CS alumnus Bruce Ge on the left and the other of Illinois CS professor Josep Torrellas on the right.
Illinois CS alumnus Bruce Ge (above left) was inspired to give to his former professor, Josep Torrellas, when thinking back upon his education here.

First and foremost, by leaving his home and coming to the United States to pursue his master’s, Ge learned to be truly independent. Additionally, he established a level of confidence in himself to trust his own skillset as he set out as an entrepreneur in the technology realm.

Ge traced the development of his confidence and the ability to operate independently to a few different influences – but he doesn’t consider any to be more important than Illinois CS professor, and his advisor, Josep Torrellas.

That is why he recently made the second of two generous $100,000 gifts directly to Torrellas’ i-acoma research group, which focuses on new processor, memory, and system technologies and organizations to build novel multiprocessor computer architectures.

“To me, the biggest question surrounding my life at that point in time was important: What was I going to grow into during a later stage of life?” Ge said. “Having that two-year period of study with Josep as a graduate student, established my confidence. When you have confidence, you increase your chances to succeed.

“Looking back, Josep also helped me establish a sense of independence. That changed the way I thought about problem solving. You can’t count on a group to take care of you. You had to take on the responsibilities yourself.”

As founder of Talroo – a data-driven job advertising platform – Ge’s independence came in the form of starting the company without financial funding.

Ge clearly found the right path forward for him and his company, as he currently employs more than 200 people. While he has been able to delegate responsibilities to many other talented individuals, Ge said the beginning was dependent on his own skillset and aptitude to deliver a unique product.

During those early moments, he had to write every line of code. There was nobody else to lean on or to take the pressure off.

Ge had to find the answers and deliver a product that set itself apart from others.

That process, he believes, is the true pursuit of an entrepreneur, and he felt as though he couldn’t have undertaken this challenge successfully without first experiencing Torrellas’ guidance.

“I think the biggest merit of studying with Josep is that he is open minded,” Ge said. “We had a lot of freedom to do what we believed was right. He didn’t argue with you. Instead, he would encourage you to prove it further. Maybe you were going to prove yourself wrong. But most of the time, you were going to prove yourself right. That is a great feeling.”

Torrellas, meanwhile, thanked Ge for the financial support, calling his two gifts significant in terms of what it means for the i-acoma research group.

The bulk of the funding will be used to bring more students into the group through research assistantships. Torrellas appreciates the generosity of past generations, as it benefits the current generation.

He also said it has been a wonderful experience to recently reconnect with Ge – whose business is now located in Austin, Texas.

On a recent trip Torrellas took to the state, he and Ge were able to have a meal together. Torrellas recalled his former student’s technical proficiency but meeting again reminded him of Ge’s open and friendly nature.

“It's been it's very rewarding to see how students like Bruce have grown from their time here to where they are now,” Torrellas said. “I know that he has been very successful with his startup company, and I enjoyed seeing how he grew in so many ways.

“And, of course, it's a point of pride for me to help with my students’ education and provide some form of guidance.”

That connection only furthered Ge’s natural inclination to give back, which precipitated his gifts to Torrellas.

“To me, the gifts were a natural process,” Ge said. “I’ve always thought that I wanted to thank those who have helped me grow into what I’ve become, and Josep is one of those people in my life – both as a person and as a friend. I wanted Josep to know that I was appreciative, first, and then I wanted to prove it to him that he made the right decision about me all those years ago.

“I hope the gifts can help impact students in a positive way, and I believe that happens when people interact with a truly great professor.”