Meet Chicago Booth’s MBA Class Of 2021

Simon Ayzman

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“Quiet, passionate, and analytical introvert who purposefully pushes his limits and explores the unknown.”

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve been a dancer for over 20 years, dabbling in ballet, ballroom, modern dance, and more.

Undergraduate School and Major: Hunter College, Computer Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Bloomberg, Software Engineer

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: As a software engineer at Bloomberg, I built a number of interesting products with some awesome people by my side, but I consider my biggest professional accomplishment to be the impact I’ve had as a Computer Science Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College. I’ve taught over 120 undergraduate students and managed four TAs over four semesters in the CS Capstone (CSCI 499) and Software Analysis & Design II (CSCI 235) courses.

The motivation to teach at Hunter (my alma mater) came from my own time as a CS student there, where I had noticed two core issues: a disheartening absence of a tech community and a lack of interaction with and understanding of the tech industry. I relished the creative potential that software engineering afforded me and sought to give others the freedom to pursue their own creativity through computer science. After graduating, I endeavored to share my knowledge as an educator.

I not only taught computer science fundamentals, but also provided relevance to the tech industry through technical interview training, the use of industry-utilized tools, the incentivization of active community engagement, and the mentorship of teams in real-world project building. I also employed upper-level students as TAs to deepen their knowledge of the material, to raise them up as role models and resources for students taking my courses, and to help them on their own journeys as future software engineers and computer scientists. Finally, I encouraged my students to give back to Hunter and to the wider community however they could.

Hunter CS has developed wonderfully over the last few years, in no small part because of an infusion of passionate staff and effective student-focused initiatives. I’m proud of the part I’ve played in supporting this growth and helping students excel. Herein lies my greatest accomplishment. Even while I’m away at Booth, I’m confident that the next generation of Hunter CS alumni will continue improving the community themselves.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? My Booth classmates have been extraordinarily accessible. During “First Day” weekend (Booth’s admitted students event), I could palpably sense the warmth and openness of the students guiding our activities. They tried their absolute best to answer our questions with honesty and realism, even while fully cognizant of the fact that they acting as salespeople for Booth. A non-trivial number of students expressed how cooperative Booth is and how supportive the students are of each other. They were making that clear through their actions, not just their words. Once I accepted Booth’s offer of admission and started integrating into the wider community, everyone’s continued accessibility and support were especially appreciated. The overwhelming checklist of everything I needed to get done slowly began to dawn on me. However, the community’s receptiveness to providing resources and answering questions about housing, health insurance, recruiting schedules, and more was clarifying and calming. I’m happy to know that I can come to my peers for anything.

What makes Chicago such a great place to earn an MBA degree? Booth is wonderfully situated in a great city, with tons of awesome companies and leaders nearby to learn from. There’s a burgeoning tech community here, too, which is right up my alley, and something I’ll take full advantage of. Plus, I’m always on board with a city that offers the convenience of late-night bites.

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? The key factor that sealed the deal was my (surprise) selection as a Distinguished Fellow. Deputy Dean Stacey R. Kole and Professor Harry L. Davis reached out to me with an interview offer for the program in mid-January, a full month after I had received most of my MBA decisions and had started weighing my options. It came out of the blue, and I was shocked that I was even considered for such an immense opportunity. Being a Fellow meant receiving a generous full-tuition scholarship and yearly stipend, and exploring the concept of leadership with a small, eclectic group of peers under the direction of Professor Davis. The Fellowship’s intellectual pursuit and its financial incentive were deeply compelling to me, especially within the context of one of the world’s best business schools. After interviewing during First Day and meeting a few of the current Fellows, my excitement about the program only grew. When I found out the following day that I had been selected, my mind was made up; Booth was going to be my home for the next two years.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? While I’m definitely looking forward to the Epicurean Club and the Booth Outdoor Leadership Development (BOLD) Group to indulge the food lover and the adventurer within me, I’m very excited to engage with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. One of my professional goals for business school is to build a foundation of entrepreneurship knowledge. My classes and my peers will undoubtedly play a part, but I’m most eager to make use of the Polsky Center’s programming, like the New Venture Challenge. The Polsky Center also supports groups like the Innovation & Design Club, which hosts a design thinking competition to solve real-world problems. It’s all giving me a lot to look forward to!

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? During my Booth interview, I was asked: “What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get to campus?” Up until that point, I had prepared my thoughts surrounding my short-term goals and my long-term goals, as well as why I was pursuing an MBA. This question took me somewhat by surprise because I hadn’t necessarily started planning my first semester at business school yet. I had to think on my feet. I answered from both a professional and a personal perspective. First, I would start with recruiting for summer internships; the software engineering cycle starts pretty early, comparatively. Second, I would make friends and build a network of peers. It felt like the most genuine response to a question that I hadn’t really prepped for.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After graduating from college, I knew that I would pursue higher education at some point. I needed time and experience to bring the reasons why into focus. Several years into my software engineering role at Bloomberg, I came to a crossroads where I felt like I had learned a lot and was ready to move on to another challenge. This prompt could have taken me down a number of different paths. One of my ambitions for the next few years was to become an engineering manager/team lead. I knew that I didn’t need a degree to accomplish this, especially given that I was already embedded in an engineering role with lots of room for growth. Nevertheless, I felt that a higher degree and a diverse class of peers had enough benefits that I could take the leap early into my career. I was also welcoming of the unknown twists, turns, and opportunities that graduate school would offer me.

I set myself three goals. First, I wanted to more formally and holistically explore how to build and grow businesses, specifically through entrepreneurship and product management – and more loosely through strategy, general management, venture capital, and marketing. Second, I wanted to increase my CS breadth in areas I wasn’t exposed to as an undergrad and in my professional work, so I could build depth in specializations such as Data Analytics and High-Performance Computing. Third, I wanted to build my network of interesting and diverse individuals outside of the software engineering world. Thus, one of the main things I looked for in a graduate program was an MBA and an MS in CS joint/dual degree option. All of the schools I applied to (with the exception of one) satisfied these criteria. I’m now a part of Booth’s MBA/MPCS joint degree program!

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell Tech.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Like I mentioned, the easy starting point for me was to find schools with an MBA/MS in CS dual/joint degree option. I mostly used Poets & Quants and the graduate program websites to do my hard research. The former was helpful in getting a holistic view across schools and gauging how they compared. The latter allowed me to get specific to see what each school valued. When possible, I attended school-specific events in the NYC area, both to meet prospective peers and speak with admissions staff. I didn’t plan on applying to very many programs, to begin with, especially since I had to do two applications for each university—one for each degree. It worked out in my favor because few schools even had the kind of program I was seeking. Finally, I relied on a dedicated team of advisors, family, and friends for support. They were instrumental in guiding me throughout the process and helping me verbalize my goals and my ethos of self. I will always be grateful to them.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? Early into my junior year of college – on some nameless night at 4 a.m. – I was staring intently at my computer screen. I was building a little side project of mine: I needed to automate the organization of my digital chess game files. I had been writing code for hours, but it kept crashing. I was having fun though, and the desire for sleep was nowhere to be found. Finally,, after tweaking a line of code and rebuilding the program one more time, I didn’t see red anymore. There were no errors! The program was working! Well, almost. I soon realized that there was a bug. No matter, I was close. There was light at the end of the tunnel. Seeing my idea and creative labor coming to life was exhilarating. I wanted to show my program to everyone, even though it probably interested me significantly more than it interested anyone else. It wasn’t my first program, but it reminded me yet again why I loved the creative art of computer science, brought to life through programming.

I had been struggling for some time to decide what I would pursue professionally post-undergrad. When I started college, my goal was to apply to law school. I had already squarely started on the path as of freshman year. I started studying for the LSAT. I joined the PreLaw society. With each new experience—law firm internships, networking events with real attorneys, private chats with law school students—I started realizing that maybe the law path wasn’t for me. I had the creeping suspicion that I had misjudged what my day-to-day would look like in law school and beyond. Reading and writing in huge volumes under time pressure would not make me a happy person, despite all the positive things that drew me to the law in the first place.

Thankfully, I was also following a parallel path in computer science during those first two years of college. By all indications, it was making me happy. I often joked to myself: did I want to become a Supreme Court Justice or a master software engineer? It must have been at that moment, deep into the night, toiling away at some silly chess-related program, that I decided to be a software engineer. Something clicked in me, and from then on, I devoted the remainder of my undergraduate time and energy to realizing that goal.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? Ten years from now, I’ll be an upper-level engineering manager at a company whose mission I care about. I will be leading and mentoring managers, who themselves will run teams of engineers and strategizing about important technology initiatives for the good of our company. Maybe in a couple of years after that, I’ll be the co-founding CTO of my own startup!

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