Course Spotlight: Tech Innovation Strategy

Michael Graf is an MBA2 who spent his summer internship at Facebook. Prior to Stern, he worked at J.P. Morgan Chase as a Reputation Risk Associate. He serves as Co-President of OutClass, an Orientation Leader, a Leadership Fellow, and a Graduate Ambassador. Michael is working towards specializations in Strategy and Leadership & Change Management. He enjoys crossword puzzles, snowboarding, and reading historical fiction.

This fall, I finally had the opportunity to take one of my favorite classes at Stern, Technology Innovation Strategy. I had been looking forward to learning from Professor Melissa Schilling since I made the bold decision to pursue my post-MBA career in Big Tech. As a career switcher from the financial services industry, I wanted to add new skills to my toolkit to better understand and contribute to the fast-paced changes in the tech sector. I was specifically interested in Professor Schilling’s lectures after I heard her speak on NPR about lessons we can learn from the world’s most famous innovators, from Elon Musk to Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. 

Technology Innovation Strategy is a half-semester class that flies by in six short weeks, so I knew I had to make the most of each three-hour session. Our first class focused on sources of innovation, where we explored some of the serial innovators that Professor Schilling spoke about on NPR. I was excited and surprised to learn that while we aren’t all born with genius, we can make use of certain techniques and management practices to cultivate innovation. Teams that can lower the price of failure when brainstorming ideas and providing autonomy to independent contributors – and even a dose of caffeine – can facilitate creativity and allow us to engage in unstructured thinking. I was inspired to make some small changes in my routine, like setting aside a half hour before tackling a group project to go for a walk to set the stage for associative thinking, and jotted down the big takeaways to carry with me when I return to work full time. 

A later class on technology platforms and dominant designs helped me think critically about decisions made by Facebook’s Gaming team, who I had the opportunity to work with during my summer internship. I learned that certain industries – especially in the technology space, like video games – benefit from a dominant design, a standard that defines the majority of the products in the marketplace. Dominant designs exist because they exhibit increasing returns to adoption, meaning the more a technology is adopted, the more valuable it becomes. In the video game industry, the more users who adopt a certain system, like Nintendo or Xbox, the more likely it is the other users will also adopt that platform. I began to understand why the team spent so much time trying to attract the best and most popular streamers to the platform and investing time in designing tools to incentivize streaming on Facebook, rather than a competitor. The value of Facebook Gaming to users increases with the number of streamers and ultimately the number of other viewers as well. Facebook’s Gaming team thoughtfully went to great lengths to advertise, through headline placement on its website, when a new high-profile streamer had agreed to use the platform. This way, users perceived growth in others adopting the platform, which actually led to increases in adoption.

Not only do I now feel well equipped to understand the strategies behind technology development, but I also feel confident in my ability to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of tech collaboration, deployment and innovation when I return to Facebook as a full-time employee. Professor Schilling’s class equipped me with an academic framework for thoughtfully dissecting the short- and long-term consequences of choosing innovation projects, working quickly or methodically towards a new technology with a partner organization, and even how best to license or trademark advancements. These skills have set me up for success for a career in Big Tech and I can’t wait to put them to use!

Summer Internship Series: Facebook

Michael Graf is a rising MBA2. Prior to Stern, he worked at J.P. Morgan Chase as a Reputation Risk Associate. This fall, he will be serve as the Co-President of OutClass, an Orientation Leader, a Leadership Fellow, and a Graduate Ambassador. Michael is working towards specializations in Strategy and Leadership & Change Management, and enjoys crossword puzzles, snowboarding, and reading historical fiction. 

NYU Stern’s “Summer Internship Series” sheds lights into Sternies’ internships. Posts are written by rising MBA2s who are currently working at their summer internship.

Today is my last day as an Integrity Program Manager at Facebook. While you might expect that I would be focused only on off-boarding and saying goodbyes, I am actually spending my last few hours in this role working closely with a data scientist to implement my summer project into our team’s product review process. 

My three months at Facebook have been rewarding because of the responsibilities my manager and team have entrusted me with. I was tasked with defining what Integrity ‘success’ looks like for product launches: essentially, asking how Facebook can measure the likelihood that a new product will allow for problematic content like spam, fake accounts, or abuse. More importantly, I was asked to define the effectiveness of our Integrity teams at reducing or mitigating the prevalence and effect of bad content. 

I was initially overwhelmed by the ambiguity of my project and the challenge of tackling something so huge while navigating a new industry and company. Facebook defines success as having impact, and without a background in tech, I wondered how I could present and execute innovative solutions in a few short weeks. I spent my first week furiously googling engineering and coding jargon to simply understand my coworkers. I also questioned my ability to design a solution that would be applicable to the variety of spaces that Facebook works in. How could I create a process that worked for Groups, Dating, Fundraisers, and Gaming? Facebook is a vast platform and risk presents itself in so many different ways.

While these dynamics were obstacles, I came to view them more as opportunities. The wide scope of my project gave me a foot in the door with integrity teams across Facebook. I met with and learned the pain points of teams tasked with protecting the user’s experience with ads, News Feed, and Stories, among many others. I turned these diverse relationships into a working group to receive weekly feedback on my idea for a comprehensive risk assessment for teams across the company. Additionally, I leveraged my background in risk management to recommend additional use cases for the risk assessment, including identifying integrity gaps, surfacing high risk product launches, and tracking risk reduction. This framing helped my project land with leadership and connected my work to our team level efficiency goal for the year.

I also drew from my coursework at Stern to drive home my initiative and the quality of my work product. I recall hearing Professor Pettit’s voice in my head during a team-wide meeting my first week, “Don’t wait to lead,” as I built up the confidence to share my opinion on the value of risk quantification. I knew from his class, Leadership in Organizations, that leadership can be achieved at any level. By highlighting the value of risk quantification in comparison to the team’s status quo (even in my first week!), I built credibility and inspired my teammates to believe in the value of my project. I am grateful to Stern for equipping me with a toolkit to approach a challenging project in a new industry with confidence.

With the incredible support of my team and engagement from cross-functional partners, I designed a quantifiable risk assessment for all new end-user products on Facebook. My team of seventeen committed to adopting my plan, and I had the opportunity to pitch my solution to integrity teams across Instagram, Oculus, and Messenger. 

The combination of my coursework at Stern, my background in risk management, and my willingness to assert my ideas and ask for feedback enabled me to execute my ambitious project plan. I am thankful to my colleagues for giving me runway to explore a huge challenge for the company and believing in my ability to make an impact.

 

Summer Internship Series: Amazon

Asad Farooqi is a rising MBA2 and is interning over the summer as a Product Manager at Amazon. He serves as Co-President of the South Asian Business Association at Stern (SABAS), and holds leadership positions in the Arts, Culture, Cuisine (ACC) and CannaBusiness clubs. He is specializing in Strategy and Product Management and hopes to continue working in tech after Stern.

NYU Stern’s “Summer Internship Series” sheds lights into Sternies’ internships. Posts are written by rising MBA2s who are currently working at their summer internship.

After a busy but extremely fun and memorable first year at Stern, this was supposed to be the dream summer in Seattle. Instead, I am writing to you from my apartment in NY, out of which I have been rolling out of bed and onto my desk to ‘dive deep’ at Amazon over the last five weeks. Even with a remote start to the internship experience, this has been one of the most educational and fascinating work experiences I have had to date. After slowly adjusting to a completely new way of work vis-à-vis COVID-19, it has been interesting to spend most of the day having unfettered focus for my assigned projects. It gives me a lot of time to really reflect and apply all the little nuggets of wisdom that I have gathered from Stern and my previous work experiences and leverage them in the work I do on a daily basis.

As a PM working with the Amazon Renewed team (refurbished items), it is my responsibility to evaluate performance metrics that measure the quality of products, and determine composite metrics that can capture a wider extent of the customer experience. This involves getting into the details of what constitutes an ideal customer experience and working backwards to determine how much of that experience can be quantified and captured to uncover ways to drive improvements in quality. Working through such a project requires interacting with multiple stakeholders across Amazon, as well as learning how to leverage data analytic tools and business processes to answer questions more effectively.

My experience at Stern has given me a more robust understanding of fundamental business concepts like statistics and strategy and has also taught me to become a better leader and take ownership of my work. The project scope was the only thing communicated to me at the beginning of the internship, along with a note that “we’re looking forward to your leadership over the summer.” Having taken some invaluable courses over the last two semesters, I felt fully prepared to work through the uncertainty and uncover interesting insights along the way. Some days are long, and some are longer. I did not realize how quickly day turns to night when you’re sitting in your room and working away, but that is also a testament to the engaging nature of the work itself. There is always that ‘a-ha!’ moment during the week, when you’ve figured out a particularly challenging roadblock, and that usually serves as motivation to keep on thinking about the work for the rest of the day.

There is still time left in the summer for a bit of rest and relaxation before the semester begins again. With NY having gone through the worst of the crisis (fingers crossed), we are all looking forward to being able to convene in-person soon. The sense of community has not diminished during all this time. All of us are constantly in touch, sharing our summer experiences and joking around as much as we can since we are all excited about returning to campus in any capacity in the Fall. We hope to see you all here soon, and please do feel free to reach out with any questions that you might have about Amazon, recruitment, Stern, NY, or anything about business school in general.

Summer Internship Series: Apple

 Najma Yakob is a rising MBA2 and is an Operations Product Development Intern at Apple. Najma serves as the Co-President of Stern Women in Business and as an Orientation Leader and Career Mentor. She is specializing in Business Analytics, Strategy, and Sustainable Business and Innovation.

NYU Stern’s “Summer Internship Series” sheds lights into Sternies’ internships. Posts are written by rising MBA2s who are currently working at their summer internship.

I’m halfway into my virtual summer internship with Apple and I can confidently say that I did not expect to be here a year ago. I’m on the Operations Product Development team and my focus for the summer is on scaling Apple’s current efforts to transition its manufacturing supply chain to 100% renewable energy.

Prior to Stern, I worked at a small tech company focused on renewable energy, and then in consulting helping electric utilities buy and sell renewable energy. I knew early on that I wanted to go back to the tech industry because I loved the culture and I enjoyed working on dynamic teams with flat reporting structures. As a result, I was lucky to secure a role that capitalized on my prior experience as most tech companies prefer to recruit individuals who can quickly contribute to their role.

The most surprising thing about my internship so far, the virtual part notwithstanding, is how much I do feel like I’m part of the team. I’d never worked with MBA interns before so I wasn’t sure whether I would own a few transactional tasks but for the most part be relegated to the background. To my pleasant surprise, I’ve been given direct ownership of some high visibility initiatives the team is working on and although this has raised the stakes for me, it’s also been gratifying to feel like I’m working on something that actually matters. I’ve been lucky to be placed in a small and somewhat specialized team which has allowed them to give me support and attention that would not be possible in a larger team. All in all, I’m really enjoying my experience and am looking forward to what the next few weeks will bring.

Regarding the virtual experience, it’s definitely easy to get caught up in what could have been and the unrealized dreams I had of a summer in the Bay Area getting to know my fellow interns and experiencing the west coast. Doing the internship from the comfort of my Brooklyn apartment has been both easier and harder than I initially anticipated. On the one hand, I’ve been more readily able to channel the confidence and experience I’ve gained in just my first year in the MBA. Certain tasks that I would have been unsure about prior to Stern feel easier and more achievable. On the other hand, it’s been more work than I would have expected to put myself out there in order to make connections and get things done. Where I would have more easily met people in passing in the hallways or during social events, it’s been a valuable learning experience to proactively invest time and effort into remotely meeting new people.

For those unsure about what next summer or even what the next year will look like, I can confidently say that I’ve developed a deeper ability to be patient and take each day as it comes this year. As a planner, it’s been frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking to let go of the big ideas I had for my time in business school. However, I’ve also learned to be grateful for the fantastic experiences I’ve had and the great connections I’ve been able to make with my classmates and my co-workers. I highly recommend keeping an open mind and being as flexible as possible. I often reflect on the fact that a career is a journey and each moment, whether positive or negative, is building towards a bigger picture that we can’t yet see. Believe in yourself and hold on to the idea that everything will work out as it should!

That Non-Traditional Recruiting Life

Hey everyone!

Today I wanted to share my unique recruiting experience at Stern. For those who haven’t read my past blog posts, I am a career-switcher who has chosen to recruit in a non-traditional industry (entertainment to be exact). “Non-traditional” at Stern is a very broad category that is generously labeled as anything that is not banking, management consulting, or marketing.

Hollywood Sign

My early adult life in one sentence = I went to high school, went to West Point, and went straight into the military for five years. I had 60 days of freedom between my last day in the Army and my first day at Stern. I knew before LAUNCH that I had a big challenge ahead of me: with zero entertainment experience on my résumé, how could I possibly prove to the entertainment industry that not only was I passionate about the industry, but also qualified to work in it?

Some criteria I gave myself:

1. Leave no stone unturned: Knowing my target industry helped me focus my time and energy. I researched into every area of entertainment in order to whittle down where I found the best fit. When I applied to Stern, I had two companies that I could picture myself working for. 6 months later, when I actually started applying for summer internships, I ended up applying to over 12 different companies.

2. Listen to those that have come before you: Coffee chats with the MBA2s are an amazing way to get an honest and thorough first impression on the industry you want to recruit for. I found that not only do the second-year Sternies offer great advice on how they succeeded, but also gave helpful advice on what they would have done differently if they were in my shoes again.

3. Build a diverse network: I realized early on that my network should not only be comprised of MBA2s (re: #2), but also a variety of Stern alumni and non-Stern connections. There are a number of opportunities to meet Stern alumni in your industry thanks to events and panels hosted by OCD or the school clubs. Networking outside of Stern took more time and effort, but it was a great way for me to get a second-opinion on areas I was doing well in or areas I could improve in.

4. Think outside the box: Besides declaring my academic specialization in Entertainment, Media, and Technology, I found that immersing myself in entertainment during my free time helped me understand the industry better. I attended entertainment conferences around New York City throughout the year (the Stern Entertainment Media and Technology Association is a great resource for these events). Also, in addition to being a full-time MBA1 student, I am a part-time intern this spring at an entertainment media company in order to build some more experience before the summer.

5. Be patient:  By end of January, almost all of the MBA1s recruiting for traditional industries knew where they will be going that upcoming summer. The entertainment industry doesn’t even begin interviewing until February-March. Just because a company had not contacted me by February did not mean that they were not interested. Even with interviews, the recruiting process is not standardized, which can be frustrating because it is hard to compare opportunities. I was getting asked to come in for first-round interviews at Company A the same week that I was going in for final-round interviews at Company B.

And now …  I am excited to share with everyone that I have accepted an offer with Showtime Networks for a summer internship! I am thrilled and so humbled with how everything turned out this spring. I firmly believe that being at NYU Stern was pivotal in successfully landing my summer internship.