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BC GradTech: A Week in the Life

They come less often these days, but I still occasionally receive emails to the tune of “I’m not a coder, can I still join the BC Grad Tech Club?”  I respond explaining that we are devoted to preparing our members for jobs in the Tech industry but that these include all disciplines including business development, finance, HR, marketing, and more.  While professional clubs such as the Finance Club, the Consulting Club, and the Marketing Club seem to be pretty intuitive, our own is less apparent.  While this ambiguity has allowed us to pursue a wide and meaningful agenda of activities, it has perhaps made it difficult to understand what it means to be a member.  As a result, I thought I would share what one recent week looked like for me.

Monday, Feb 16

It’s President’s day and a BC holiday.  While there won’t be any classes today the Tech scene rolls on.  I read my weekly email for VentureFizz, a great source of information about Boston Tech, looking carefully for any events our club members should attend or for jobs that might be a good fit.  It would not be uncommon to have a speaking event on a normal Monday but today is a university holiday so I turn off my computer and head out to enjoy the day.

Tuesday, Feb 17

It’s snowing today but the BC Startup Job Fair has already been rescheduled once so we keep it as is.  As I head to campus on a shuttle that promises a snail’s pace at best, I tweet a reminder to club members.  In the startup world especially, it is all about networking as Bobby Gooch reminded us, and we need to mobilize our folks.  I chat with early stage startups, later stage firms, and a slew of incubators and accelerators, at once looking for good fits personally and for opportunities to pass on to the club.  There are a lot of good options and I exchange cards with a number of folks.  I will need to follow up soon, but at present I can’t as I have to rush to Fulton Hall for a meeting.

StartupFair

I slip into the conference room just as my watch hits 3:30.  Google student Ambassador Arev Doursonian is already sitting there and we open up our computers to Google Adwords.  This month’s Digital Marketing targets the popular SEM tool and we begin hypothesizing about the best ways to drive traffic to our site.  The meeting lasts close to an hour and I leave knowing a lot more about the service than I did when I walked in.  Hands on, experiential opportunities to test hypotheses and learn by doing.  That is what this initiative is all about and a week later, we are making some serious progress.

Wednesday, Feb 18

Nothing on the calendar today!  Even with a lighter courseload this semester, days like this are rare and worth taking advantage of.  I cross a number of items of the to do list, one of which is updating bcgradtechclub.net.  I start with the events page but quickly move to the homepage.  For such a dynamic organization it is pretty static and the image is a year out of date.  I replace the image with one from our recent visit to Google Cambridge and then rename the page to “About” in our menu.  I opt to replace the landing page with our blog to better represent the dynamic nature of our organization.  We saw a lift from 1.7 pages per visitor to 2.4 after the change!

Like all Wednesdays, I also send out the Grad Tech Weekly Update.  This week’s emphasis?  Code & Coffee, BU’s Tech Conference, and an opportunity to try out some Google wearables!

Thursday, Feb 10

It’s Thursday evening which means one thing, Product Team Meeting!  This one is particularly special because we have been working for months to identify needs, develop concepts, and test our hypotheses.  We finally have something we are ready to start working on and we have developers joining us for the first time!  We take stock of where we are at and make a plan for the future.

For me it’s off to class and then straight to Landsdowne Pub to support one of our members, Jackie Ouellet!  In addition to being a full time MBA and an Uber driver, Jackie is running the Boston Marathon for charity.  It’s great to see so many Eagles out to support her.  Some even do so vocally…in the form of live band karaoke!

karaoke

Friday, Feb 20

It’s 12:50pm which means I am currently brewing a French press full of coffee to fuel us up while myself and others work our way through CodeAcademy’s intro to Python course.  I blast Pandora “Don’t Stop Believing” Radio and crush lists and libraries.  Normally our weekly Code & Coffee event lasts two hours but today I have to leave early to join a mixed group of MBAs and Undergrads at Highland Capital’s Cambridge office for TechTrek Boston.  It’s an awesome event and I learn a ton!  As you’ve probably come to expect…I blogged about it.

Saturday, Feb 21

As a second year MBA, I am used to evening classes.  Maybe that’s why I am still groggy after being up for an hour and a half.  I wait for the shuttle bus that has replaced the green line, pressed against a mountain of snow where once there was a sidewalk and crossing my fingers that I don’t get hit by the passing cars.  Cold and traffic notwithstanding, however, it is going to be a great day!  BU’s Tech Club is hosting their annual TechConnect conference and the theme is Product.  I have worked with these guys before and seen many of the presenters speak in the past.  I know it’s going to be a great event!  Fast forward a few hours and I am enjoying a post conference beer and chatting with some of my Terrier counterparts.  The conference was awesome and I learned a ton.  I congratulate them on a job well done and fail twice at getting the green line shuttle to stop for me at Blanford St, I hail a cab and head home.

Meghan

Sunday, Feb 22

I do nothing Tech Club related today…at least not that I can remember.  We all need a day of rest after all.

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

BC Visits BU for TechConnect 2015!

techconnect-website

Big props to our friends at BU for putting on an awesome TechConnect Conference this year!  The theme was Digital Crossroads: Products and Ideas and featured an awesome array of speakers that really complemented each other and meshed with the conference theme.  It is a ton of work to pull something like this off so my hat is off to Jaymie and her team for a job well done!  A single post is not enough to do justice to the amazing amount I learned, but I’ll do my best to share a couple thoughts from each speaker I saw.

Bruce McCarthy-Effective Product Roadmapping

I have seen Bruce speak several times now at various Boston Product Management Association events and I am always struck by his enthusiasm and desire to help others.  It’s always a pleasure and I always learn something new.  In this case, Bruce emphasized the importance of your product road map telling a story about the value of the product.  He went into detail and shared a lot of knowledge but I will sum it all up by listing the Dirty (Bakers) Dozen common pitfalls of Product Roadmaps:

  1. Being Too Agile
  2. Planning Based on Your Gut
  3. Over or Under Estimating
  4. Not Having Strategic Goals
  5. Inside out Thinking
  6. Trying too Hard to Please
  7. Focusing on Features
  8. Not having a Buffer
  9. Playing Catch-Up (to competitors)
  10. Not Getting Buy-in
  11. Being too Secretive
  12. One Size Fits All
  13. Not having a Story

Want to hear more?  Check out Bruce at ProductPowers.com

Meghan Keaney Anderson-Product Launches

Like Bruce, I have met Meghan a few times before.  Not only is she Hubspot’s Director of Product Marketing, but she is also a BC Alum!  Meghan combined her deck on product launches with real examples from Hubspot to demonstrate her points in a highly effective and meaningful way.  She summarized the role of Product Marketing as coaxing the meaning out of the Product.  She shared with us her Golden Rule of Product Marketing: It’s never about the product, it’s about the person using the product.

Meghan

While I won’t share everything Meghan talked about, one of the biggest take home messages for me was how thorough and methodical an approach good product marketing requires.  Meghan follows a step by step process, ensuring that each necessary element is taken care of, tested, and resonates with customers.  She maintains a product marketing menu of all the different tasks, tactics, and channels they could use for a launch or activity and then selects which are the best for any given time.  Likewise, for a launch event, Meghan and her team actually have everything planned down to the minute or even the word of a keynote.  They maintain a command room at the event to facilitate a smooth launch!  All this effort and preparation can seem overwhelming, but it is crucial.  While there is certainly a lot there, according to Meghan, not all product marketing was created equal.  “The key is good positioning.  If you get that right, everything else is easy.”

C. Todd Lombardo-Ideas Lifecycle

C. Todd runs the InnoLoft at Constant Contact and had both an awesome presentation and a superbly aesthetically pleasing deck.  Most people are familiar with the concept of an MVP or Minimum Viable Product from the Lean Startup approach.  C. Todd suggested that before and MVP, you should pursue an MVC or Minimum Viable Concept.  Unlike an MVP, this doesnt even have to work, only to do a good enough job demonstrating the concept to get a sense of what it does.  He used IDEO’s Elmo Monster Maker prototype as an example. At this point you can test with 5 to 7 customers to get a sense of whether it is worth pursuing an MVP.  C. Todd suggested doing design sprints, or few day deep dives into a problem using the Define, Understand, Ideate, Build, Test cycle repeatedly.  He talked about the importance of being a “Designtist,” a creative designer that nonetheless approaches their design using the scientific method of testing hypotheses over and over to arrive at the right ends.  It’s a messy process and certainly not too straightforward.  C. Todd suggested that it is more like the design squiggle than a straight line.  “If it feels too linear, you are probably not doing it right!”

Ctodd

The other thing I really liked about C. Todd’s presentation was the concept of Job Stories.  We are all familiar with user stories and the amount of Jira tickets I have written stating “As a salesperson, I need to be able to…” could fill up more than a few Excel spreadsheets.  Job stories are different in that they lend context to the request and are thus more powerful.  They take the form “When (situation) happens, I want/need to (action), so I can (benefit).”  This format forces you to think about whether you are really addressing the pain point and makes it hard for anyone to misinterpret intent.

C. Todd left us with a few key take-aways that I will reproduce here:

  • Your opinion doesn’t matter
  • Talk to customers. Listen.
  • Check your assumptions. Again.
  • Think like a designtist.
  • It’s not failure if you learn.
  • F*** It, Test it.

Allen Murray-Agile Methodology

Allen is an SVP at Mobile Device Management company Apperian and his session was perhaps the most fun all day, not only because he is charismatic and approachable and I learned a ton about small aircraft flight, but also because we did the marshmallow challenge.  For those unfamiliar, it involves working in groups to form the tallest possible tower using spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow on top.  MBAs typically perform terribly at this, while kindergartners do much better because the task lends itself well to trial and error and iteration and not advanced planning giving the time limits and lack of expertise in most participants (architects as the exception do quite well when planning).  Happily, we outperformed most MBAs and even kindergartners but learned that most of our assumptions were ill founded.  Allen used the activity as a jumping off point to talk about effective teams and Agile product development.

Marshmallow

Key Take-Aways from Allen’s Session:

  • Diversity in Teams matters, need leadership, facilitation, and specialization.
  • Incentives magnify outcomes.  With the right team, great things are possible but incentivizing a team without the right skills will only magnify the failure
  • The crowning moment in your professional career is when you see your customers truly satisfied with something you have given them.
  • If you can manage four things you will be successful using Agile:
    • Visibility
    • Adaptability
    • Business Value
    • Risk
  • Declaring work done is crucial to a successful scrum cycle.
  • You are not working on a technology, you are working on a business problem.
  • Must create dynamic on teams to want to improve.

Dan Cobb-Creating a Culture of Innovation

The final keynote of the day came from EMC SVP Dan Cobb who was slated to talk about creating a culture of innovation.  To be honest, to me his talk was a bit of a let down.  Dan spent the majority of the time educating the audience about EMC and essentially making a pitch for the company.  As a BC MBA, I am very familiar with EMC as they are a top recruiter on campus.  Nonetheless, Dan did hit on some points that I found very interesting.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Big companies must balance innovation and disruption
  • Innovate through internal R&D and aquisitions
  • When you aquihire you must empower the talent to stay on.  EMC does this by involving its acquisitions in future M&A decisions.
  • 3 Major Keys to Innovating Successfully:
    • Develop a brutally candid view of the world.
    • Align innovation agenda with strategy
    • Institutionalize feedback loops and then step back to listen, partner, engage, and measure.
  • EMC is “absolutely, positively, the most paranoid place in the world” and that is a good thing.
  • Innovation is a strategic means to an end.

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club