Anna Simmons graduated from the Joint MBA/MPCS Program in 2021. She speaks with us about her experience participating in the New Venture Challenge, her role as a product manager at Okta, and her advice for those considering the Joint Program. 

What interested you in applying to the Joint Program after being admitted to the Booth MBA Program? Did you have previous CS experience?

My career before joining the Booth MBA program had been catered around exploring the intersection of business and technology.

From my previous roles, I found I really enjoyed how technology and business met in enterprise software, but wanted to change functions to work on building products myself as a product manager. I enrolled in the Booth MBA program to help me hone skills like strategy, finance, sales, marketing, growth, and stakeholder management that would be important to being a good product manager.

However, product management sits in between business and technical stakeholders, which is why I wanted to improve my technical skills to be able to collaborate more effectively with technical teams, as well as really think about how I can leverage new technology to create innovative products.

I had some computer science background through introductory courses in undergrad, and some exposure working in software implementation, but the MPCS was a great opportunity to really deepen this knowledge.

What was one of your favorite experiences as a Joint Student?

It is hard to narrow to just one because I really enjoyed the program end-to-end, but I’d have to say Cloud Computing was my favorite course and most directly applicable to my current role as a product manager at a cloud-based software-as-a-service company like Okta.

In the course, we were able to build our own cloud web application on Amazon Web Services while learning so much about the applications and theoretical underpinnings of cloud technologies to inform the architectural, design, and implementation decisions for my application.

This really gave me a strong foundational understanding of the technology powering the products I work on today, and helps me understand and communicate with the engineers that I work with. It was also genuinely really fun and satisfying too as each part of the application came together.

During your time in the Joint Program, you participated in the New Venture Challenge through Polksy – and you and your team won fourth place! Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

The New Venture Challenge was such a rewarding experience! The challenge itself allows students to turn ideas into businesses. I was a part of a team of five fellow Booth MBA classmates working on a new company, Resette, that my classmate, Whitney had been ideating and starting working on earlier that year.

We built Resette, a direct-to-consumer combination skincare/makeup company designed to help customers wear less products and benefit more through our customized matching process to find their ideal 4-in-1 skincare serum, moisturizer, foundation, and SPF formulation.

As part of the challenge, I was in Steve Kaplan’s “Developing a New Venture” course as well where we had in-depth sessions on presentation skills, financial modeling, and legal considerations in a new venture that we leveraged to start the business, build a business plan and refine a product pitch. Throughout the course, we were able to meet with venture capitalists, private investors, and entrepreneurs who helped critique and improve the ideas and businesses during the presentations, as well as connect us with others in the industry who helped us get started and find a co-manufacturer for our product.

I was specifically brought onto the team because of my computer science background to support the technology and product side of the business which included building our matching algorithm, website and setting up all technology tools. As a direct-to-consumer product, we are able to reach our customers directly, which gives us a lot of control over the experience we provide our customers, but also means the website and digital experience is extremely important to the brand.

We focused on providing a customized yet simple experience for finding the right formula, and I had to evaluate what this means from both a business and technical perspective– evaluating different website hosting and building options as well as designing our matching algorithm, evaluating the inputs we should be gathering, such as photos and skincare needs, with the algorithm to process and provide a match.

We were able to win 4th place, which included $96,000 in investment, that Whitney and Veena have now used to turn Resette into as they continued the business post-MBA on their own as co-founders. I may be biased, but I definitely recommend checking them out– I use Daybird every morning and am so excited for them to continue to grow.

How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?

I have been a product manager since graduating from the program, working on a fairly technical product at Okta. The skills I gained through the MPCS coursework have really helped me to be successful in this role. I’m able to collaborate with the engineers on my team, better understand technical users of my products, and really understand the solutions we are building.

Additionally, from my experience in the New Venture Challenge and the broader Joint MBA/MPCS program, I have a better understanding of early technology companies and the ecosystem around them and how I can contribute. At Okta, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a brand new offering which has been like a startup within a larger company and I’ve definitely leaned on my background to help us launch our product successfully.

Would you recommend the Joint Program to recently admitted Booth MBA students? If so, why?

For prospective MBA students considering the joint program, I’d definitely recommend thinking about your future career goals and what you’re trying to get out of the program to assess if it’s worth the additional time commitment. During an MBA, there’s so many different ways you can spend your time, and it’s important to really think about how you can best use your time in school.

If you’re interested in working in a technical or technical adjacent role, I think it’s a phenomenal program that you can really cater to the skills and topics that will be most interesting and useful for you. I know other MPCS/MBA classmates with little computer science background, and those with several years of professional software development experience alike, were able to cater their studies and take away valuable skills from the program.

For me personally, without hesitation, I would definitely choose to do the program again– I got everything I was hoping for, and more!