“I am a theatrical stage manager turned robotic software program manager—a multidisciplinary herder of cats.”
Hometown: Boulder, CO
Fun Fact About Yourself: Every year between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, I try to bake a pie every weekend, with the goal of producing the best possible pie for Thanksgiving dinner. Since my husband doesn’t like pie, my coworkers ate most of my practice efforts last year. Hopefully my SOM classmates will be similarly obliging.
Undergraduate School and Major: Williams College; majored in Political Science and English Literature
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Software Program Manager, iRobot
The Yale School of Management is regarded as a purpose-driven program. What is your mission? How will your MBA at Yale SOM help you fulfill that mission? I have been privileged to work on some amazing products—best-selling Roombas, fast-growing start-ups, and Broadway shows. I’ve learned that working with other people to make something is a profoundly fulfilling human experience—except when it’s not.
Tech start-ups and theatres are notoriously chaotic environments, where employees are expected to believe in the mission of the organization and do whatever it takes to get the job done. I’ve seen this dynamic turn toxic, as employees are expected to be heroes over-and-over again and leaders don’t address the conditions that make all of those heroics necessary. If we are going to make careers at tech start-ups accessible to people who aren’t young men with no obligations outside work, we must start questioning how much of that chaos is truly necessary and how much might be avoided if we pushed leaders to make better decisions and innovate rather than burning out their employees.
I want to approach this problem at the intersection of product strategy and organizational design—help leaders make good decisions so their teams have what they need to build amazing things. My mission is to help companies deliver awesome products and do so in a way that serves their employees as well as their customers. An SOM MBA will help me approach these problems with quantitative rigor grounded in empathy. I know I will carry that strong sense of purpose and ethics with me wherever my post-MBA career takes me; I consider it the most valuable part of my SOM education.
Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I am really excited about the integrated curriculum. In my six years in the working world, I’ve come to appreciate the elasticity of my liberal arts education; by far the most valuable thing I learned in college was how to apply lessons learned in one subject area to something completely different. Given the number of unexpected turns my career has already taken, the integrated curriculum appealed to my desire for more interdisciplinary thinking.
What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? With the caveat that I haven’t gotten to spend much time with them yet (thanks COVID!), I’d say that most of the SOM students I’ve met are driven but practical. Yes, these are people who are very passionate about something—but they’re people who’ve committed to learning the practical skills that will help them drive the change they want to see. These are not pie-in-the-sky dreamers; they’re here to get things done!
What club or activity excites you most at this school? During Welcome Weekend, we got to attend a session called “Voices”—essentially a club where SOM students share stories about themselves. I loved the tone the speakers took; during the MBA admissions process, I often felt like I was seeing the most polished, professional versions of everyone I met, and this event where people were raw and vulnerable was such a breath of fresh air. I’m excited to hear from more of my classmates.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The first project I got to work on at iRobot was the Smart Mapping feature on the Roomba i7. It was a project manager’s nightmare—fixed launch date, critical feature, and lots of uncertainty because we were inventing new technology. The team was divided physically and metaphorically—half were from the academic R&D organization in California and half were from the traditional product engineering group in Massachusetts. Because we were all so excited about the product and the technology, everyone overcame their differences, pulled together, and focused on getting the product ready to ship. My official role was that of Scrum Master. Because things were so hectic, I got to “be the glue” and wear lots of different hats depending on what the team needed. On any given day, I’d present a project plan to executives, run a stand-up for the team, coordinate the deployment of a new test software package, and then rushed home to test that new software on the Roomba in my apartment. I learned more about computer vision than I ever thought I’d need to know. I even convinced some of the engineers to read Jane Austen novels.
The i7’s launch was a huge success, and the Smart Maps feature was a big part of that. The team had such an amazing sense of camaraderie and accomplishment; they were all so excited to start building the next thing together. I’m proud of what we produced, but I’m prouder of that team bond. Also, I still use this feature to clean my house every day. That’s a nice bonus.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I’m at a point in my career where I get most of my energy from learning new things. I’ve loved working in tech—at iRobot in particular—but I knew I didn’t want to spend the next few years of my life making more Roombas. An MBA expands my options in terms of new challenges to explore.
What other MBA programs did you apply to?
University of Michigan (Ross)
University of Virginia (Darden)
What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Tell me about a time you failed.”
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I talked to as many people as I could—current students and alumni—from all the schools in which I was interested. I learned a lot from my classmates at Williams, and I’ve learned a lot from my coworkers at iRobot, so I wanted to make sure I’d have thoughtful, interesting classmates at business school. I asked about social life as well as academics. I was lucky enough to be able to visit all of the schools to which I applied, and I tried to gauge what the campus was like on days when students didn’t have to be there for class. At SOM, I felt like I connected with everyone I talked to. The clincher was my interview—my interviewer and I spent most of our time talking about pie. This unpretentious sense of whimsy and fun made me very sure that SOM was the best place for me.
What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? When I was twenty-two, the only thing I wanted to do was work in theatre. I was an introvert who’d attended seven schools before entering college, and working on plays and musicals was a key source of camaraderie and purpose. By the time I graduated from Williams, I’d spent most of my summers pulling fifteen-hour shifts in dark theatres, and I loved it. One year into my life as a working theatre professional, however, the work that had once made me happy now left me burnt out. I was lucky—I never had trouble finding work, and my family could help me financially—but I was still so unhappy that I started looking for something else to do.
Almost on a whim, I accepted a Scrum Master position on the engineering team at SimpliSafe, a home security start-up. I knew nothing about scrum, engineering, or home security, and for the first few months, I couldn’t understand three-fourths of what my coworkers said. However, as I tried to sift their intentions out of the technobabble, I soon realized that the things they were complaining about were the same things that had bothered my theatre collaborators: they were under deadlines and they didn’t have what they needed to get the job done. That, at least, I understood. It was such an exciting time at SimpliSafe—we were trying to triple the size of the team and launch two new products at the same time. I filled in anywhere I thought I could help, and the team seemed to really appreciate that.
After a few months, I realized that my love of theatre had never been about the art. It was about belonging and making things with other people – and I had that in spades at SimpliSafe. I was surprised by how well I could thrive at a tech company, and I started to wonder where else I could thrive. That curiosity and hunger for new experiences eventually drove me to apply to business school. Working in tech as a non-engineer who’s never written a single line of code also forced me to pick up foreign concepts quickly, and I think that will serve me well in business school and beyond. If I could pick up the basic principles of how robots use gyroscopes to navigate, hopefully I’ll be able to get through finance!
What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? More than anything else, I am looking for an employer who will provide opportunities to learn. I hope to learn as much during my first few years post-MBA as I do in business school.
DON’T MISS: MEET YALE SOM’S MBA CLASS OF 2022