Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Achal Shah, Yale SOM

Achal Shah

Yale School of Management

“Lifelong learner excited to be at the intersection of business, technology, and New Haven pizza.”

Hometown: Delhi, India

Fun Fact About Yourself: I successfully did the “moonwalk” for the first time when I was 15. It kicked off a passion for dancing that continues to this day.

Undergraduate School and Major: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati; Computer Science and Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Amazon, Technical Program Manager

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?
Very simply, my mission is to be a business and technology leader where the work I do is meaningful to me and useful to society. One such problem, which is close to my heart and critical for the betterment of society, is healthcare access. Over the long term, I want to build a technology company that can partner with governments, hospitals, and patients to expand access to affordable healthcare. With its mission of educating leaders for business and society, SOM has the ideal combination of culture, community, and resources to help me grow as the kind of leader I want to be.

What word best describes the Yale SOM MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far and why?
Humility. All the students and alumni I’ve interacted with so far are passionate about what they do and come from or have successful careers. At the same time, everyone is genuinely interested in learning about each other, supporting each other, and celebrating each other.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Yale SOM’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I was drawn to SOM’s emphasis on imparting a variety of perspectives. Most formally, this is in the form of an Integrated Core Curriculum in the first year that teaches about business organizations from the point of view of their stakeholders (e.g., customer, investor) vs. traditional business disciplines (e.g., finance, marketing). More generally, this variety of perspectives comes from interactions with a global and diverse peer group. As someone who has mostly worked in engineering roles, it is very important for me to get this exposure.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Yale SOM? Voices. It’s a weekly tradition at SOM where two or three speakers (students and sometimes faculty and staff members) share their personal stories in an intimate gathering. We’ve only had a few such events so far, but each time I felt a strong connection to the speaker, and I’m looking forward to similarly getting to know the other members of the SOM community.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Expanding Alexa’s “self-learning” conversational AI technology to 14 international markets across 8 languages.

For context, before SOM, I was in the Alexa AI team in Seattle as a Technical Program Manager. The team had built technology that allowed Alexa to automatically learn from its own mistakes and consequently get better at handling users’ requests. When I joined the team, the technology was operational only in the U.S., and I was tasked with the product/project management for expanding it internationally. Over the next year, I worked with engineering, science, and business partners spread across the world to successfully launch the technology in our target markets and languages. This was a big accomplishment for me, since it was a huge, cross-functional project and very rewarding as I got to learn from so many different perspectives.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? COVID-19 has been hard. Yes, it is a reminder of the uncertainty in life, but to me it is also a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of communities. Professionally, I’m encouraged to be more relentless and take on more risks in the pursuit of my goals. Personally, I was able to reconnect with many people I’d lost touch with, and I’m now more conscious about making the effort to regularly reach out.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation?
Right now, my goal is to grow as a leader and learn how to run a business. While my experience at Amazon was incredibly rewarding and I learned a lot, I believed getting an MBA was the best way for me to work on three key areas—understanding the (many) aspects of running a business that I had not been exposed to, formally training my leadership and soft skills, and developing a broader network beyond the technology industry. As for post-graduation plans, I’m still doing coffee chats and exploring SOM’s career coaching resources to settle on how I can best set myself up to build a technology company over the long term.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, MIT, Wharton, Booth, Columbia

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Yale SOM’s MBA program? Talk to SOM students and alumni. I spoke to many before and during my application process and got the chance to attend an in-person event as well before the COVID-19 lockdown. They were all very responsive and helped connect my story with SOM resources and facets beyond what I’d found online. By the time I was submitting my essays, I knew that SOM was a great fit for me, and perhaps that interest shone through.

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