Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up just outside Atlanta. I was a nerd in many senses of the term. I got a high school letter for the math team. (I never got the letter jacket to go with it.) But, I was also a chorus nerd - I was in the madrigal choir, dressing up in full regalia - and a community theater nerd, playing various Cratchet children in the annual production of A Christmas Carol (though never Tiny Tim).
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I went to Carnegie Mellon University, because it was a great school, but wasn’t just a tech school. I loved hearing music from the practice rooms echo across campus as I walked home from my labs. I studied electrical and computer engineering, but my heart was always in signal processing. The math is intense, and getting your brain to think in both time and frequency spectra was loopy.
I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do coming out of college, but since I was a good student and enjoyed TAing a class, I thought I should stay in school, get a PhD and become a professor. When I finished up in Pittsburgh, I went straight to MIT to start graduate school.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
I realized pretty quickly that I hadn’t considered the research responsibilities both of graduate school as well as becoming a professor. I had a conversation with my advisor that went something like this:
Me: What is it about speech recognition that gets you up in the morning?
Advisor: It’s such a hard problem…
Me: <nodding emphatically>
Advisor: I’ve worked on it for 25 years, I could work on it for 25 more.
Me: <thinks to myself “that sounds like a life sentence”>
I left graduate school the next year (technically it was a leave of absence, but I doubt they’d have me back at this point), looking for an opportunity to have an impact but on MUCH shorter timelines. I joined a management consulting firm.
I loved working with smart people on tough projects. I had the opportunity to work in Australia for a couple of years (highly recommended). But it also felt like it wasn’t quite what I wanted.
I found myself in engineering leadership at a startup after a few other stops along the way, and it just felt right. I was back working with the technical folks I’d learned with in college, but I could bring the business acumen I’d developed in consulting.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I’m the VP of Engineering at Reprise. I define my role as being responsible for the People, the Process, and how we work with the Product team. I have had the privilege of building the engineering team here at Reprise, and I’m so proud of what this team has accomplished.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
Definitely not. It felt like a slow series of steps. At some points, it felt like it would be the slowest process of elimination to figure out where I belonged. But at each step, I learned more about what motivates me (team) and what orgs I fit well in.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
Listening, enthusiasm, authenticity, and an eye for detail. I’m not even close to the most technically proficient member of the team, but I know how to get things done - how to organize technical resources to get the best outcome. I care about the members of my team, and I’m always trying to find the solutions that best suit my team’s needs and meet the needs of the business.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
The answer is the same: the rate of change is both challenging and rewarding. I love being in a small agile organization that is growing. There are new problems to solve every day. The challenge isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding to solve.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Before having kids I competed in triathlons. When I can find the time, I still love getting out on the bike or going for a run (swimming laps is still not my fave).
How do you manage stress?
I picked up the ukulele as my pandemic hobby, and it’s been an incredible stress management tool. It requires so much focus, that I can’t really think about anything else.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
One. More than that and I can’t sleep.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I listen to a lot of podcasts, mostly for fun. I enjoy Reply All, One Bad Mother, Throughline, and The Memory Palace.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
You don’t have to have it all figured out. Start with something that seems right-ish and keep learning and iterating from there.