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Meet the Carnegie Mellon Tepper MBA Class Of 2020

Brian Porter

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Inquisitive individual striving to uncover physical patterns that are unseen but for combing through data.”

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: I appear in a Red Hot Chili Peppers music video that aired in the US and internationally. For a brief moment in time I was constantly stopped by strangers who recognized my face from the video.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Southern California — Music Industries

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Sense360 (startup) — Data Analysis and Product Development

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest accomplishment thus far has been the creation of an app that helps people optimize their lives for maximum wellness. The process of building the app in addition to its impact have been truly meaningful.

A childhood friend and I built an early version as a side project that works by sending text messages to individuals asking them one simple question, “Are you happy?” Users respond back, “yes” or “no” and over time they can see, on a map, where they report to be happy and, conversely, where they do not. We don’t have tons of users, but many of the early adopters have reported that the service has allowed them to be more present in their daily lives.

Encouraged by the positive impact of the early product, I decided to take two months between work and the beginning of school to build out a more feature-rich mobile version of the app and convinced a group from ArrDude.com — a professional development group for young individuals striving to become technical experts in areas of software engineering — to help. These young intellectuals have historically struggled within the traditional educational model, but flourish in case-centric environments where their brilliance shines through.

During the two months, we worked tirelessly in a windowless research facility wrestling with the nuances of backend architecture, cloud hosting systems, and the latest Javascript syntax. I was humbled and amazed as I watched these young professionals grow from inexperienced developers, having never built an app for production, to entry-level full stack engineers who had created a fully functional mobile app. I also saw growth in myself as I relayed best practices that I had learned in my professional career and honed my own development chops.

Directing the project and aiding in the professional growth of these young professionals has been one of the most rewarding times of my professional career. Together, we have worked to build an app that helps people live happier and more productive lives while fulfilling that mission for ourselves in the process of building it.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Visionaries. My future peers have diverse backgrounds and skillsets. Yet, they all recognize the need to question the status quo and use previous and current business conditions to extrapolate what the future of business will entail. I believe this kind of mindset will empower my peers to think big and proactively create their own opportunities based on long-term goals rather than make decisions on a reactive basis.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? I chose Tepper because I want to be among like-minded individuals who are interested in building a better future through cross-disciplinary collaboration. Carnegie Mellon houses thought leaders in most major fields and CMU makes a significant effort to connect them as reflected in their decision to place all seven colleges under a single roof via the Tepper Quad.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? GEC (Graduate Entrepreneurship Club)! This club is open to members of all CMU graduate students and encourages individuals to think outside the box, combine disparate skillsets, and collaborate on putting novel ideas into action. The creative energy and optimism of the members in this club is almost palpable. I am looking forward to both benefiting and contributing to this fruitful ecosystem where production cycles can be fast-forwarded through productive feedback and rapid iteration.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I have had the honor of working with extremely skilled and intelligent people throughout my career, especially at my previous company, Sense360. I noticed that a large majority of individuals there had graduate degrees and employed skills that enabled them to contribute to the company in ways that I could not. For example, I watched the CEO as he navigated the turbulent waters of the startup world, creating a positive work culture, obtaining series A funding, and deciphering market needs. If I honestly reflected on my capabilities, I realized that I needed to expand my professional toolkit if I wanted perform at the same level.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? My goal to build a sustainable company drove my decision to seek an MBA. The statistics suggest that I will fail before I succeed in attaining my goal. They also suggest that I will need excellent mentorship and a supportive network. A good MBA program delivers solutions for all these dilemmas in that it provides a safe environment in which to fail, offers mentors that have already succeeded in markets that I wish to participate in, and consists of peers that share a similar desire to succeed but who have a vast variety of skills and backgrounds.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Yale SOM, UC Berkeley Haas, University of Indiana Kelley, Vanderbilt Owen

How did you determine your fit at various schools? My main priority was that the MBA program have a tangible path to various technology companies. I researched this by looking at partnerships between educational institutions and the companies that I could see myself working at. I also looked at faculty skillsets and confirmed that they had experience in the areas that I wanted to focus on. Finally, I looked at employment percentages by industry to ensure that MBA programs of interest had a consistent flow of alumni going into areas and companies where I wanted to go.

On a related topic, I needed my MBA program to have a healthy number of startups formed by alumni. I looked at online publications for this information and ranked schools by how many startups had been founded from the program as well as how much external funding they had received. I also looked at resources like Crunchbase to view the types of companies coming out of each school and gave higher marks to schools who had spawned companies that I viewed as innovative.

Another priority was collaboration between disciplines. I measured the number of companies formed by alumni of the school that had founders from different disciplines. For example, I noticed that there were quite a few partnerships from the Tepper and Heinz school for Carnegie Mellon. I did not put a comprehensive list together but viewed this more on an anecdotal basis. I took other measurements of collaboration by questioning the current student base. If the current student body reported collaborating with other schools/disciplines I would note that as a plus in that schools favor.

Another important priority was student sentiment. I needed a student culture that valued collaboration and connection — a culture that bought into the rising tide analogy. This was easier to grasp than I first expected it might be. I would initiate conversations with current students and if they referred me to other students in the program with similar interests to mine then I assumed the school had a culture that I would do well in.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? Upon entering middle school, I struggled immensely to fit in with my new peers. Over the year, I became more-and-more convinced that something was wrong with me so I withdrew until I was isolated from nearly everyone, opting to spend lunches alone with a book rather than at a table with my classmates.

The next year, a lifeline was throne to me in the shape of a Black Sabbath album and I instantly felt both connected and empowered. It felt like Ozzy was singing about my personal experience and, for the first time in over a year, I didn’t feel alone in my struggle. Now realizing that others might also be dealing with this same sort of issue, I committed to helping myself and others through the same medium that had given me hope – I would learn to play guitar.

I dedicated myself to the craft, playing every moment I could. While other kids went to the mall or played video games, I practiced. Over the years, music allowed me to open up and give others a portion of what it had given to me. My freshman dorm peers would regularly schedule free lessons to learn songs to play at parties or to impress a special someone in their PSYC 101 class. One friend communicated that an original song of mine, “Still Turning,” had helped him cope with his brother’s cancer diagnosis. These instances ingrained in me the importance of making a positive impact and guide my decisions to this day.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? Post-MBA, I plan to continue my work in the life-hack arena by establishing a central data set for understanding wellness and using analytical methods to decipher the data and help people to live happier and more productive lives.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I see myself utilizing new data and analytical techniques to unlock the potential of the human mind and body. I am a big fan of operating at peak efficiency and want to use data and technology to push the boundaries of what we think humanly possible.