Head of strategic initiatives for MobileIron
Early into my first year as a Stanford undergraduate I realized I wanted to by a Symbolic Systems major: the interdisciplinary synthesis of linguistics, philosophy, psychology and computer science was simply too wonderous to pass up. The major itself was natural — in fact, inevitable — preparation for the multidisciplinary focus of the d.school, and I spent the better part of my undergraduate career waiting until I became a Stanford graduate student (a computer science co-term) in order to take my first d.school classes. I had also concentrated in human-computer interaction within Symbolic Systems, and wanted deeper exposure to design thinking.
How did you hear about the d.school? Why did you come?
The official kickoff to the d.school occurred around September 2005 — coincidentally during New Student Orientation of my freshman year. The freshman believed they had the run of the campus before the other students arrived, so I accidentally wandered into the formal ceremony at Frost Amphitheater. Backpack in one hand, new bike in the other, I found myself in conversation with some former colleagues at SAP (where I had worked my first summer job), and was sold on the idea in an instant. The next four years were spent waiting to become a grad student!
What did you experience when you got here? Why was it meaningful to you?
Perhaps taking pity on a hapless freshmen, the d.school administration allowed me to occasionally sit in on a few classes as an undergraduate. One of my favorites was a 2007 seminar in Sweet Hall with David Kelley, Hasso Plattner, and Zia Yusuf in which students worked closely to make an impact on local communities with design thinking. This was nothing short of inspirational, and I was looking forward to a similar experience in my first bootcamp.
They say d.school would change your life — I discovered that goes without saying. The academic and professional content at the d.school is second to none. Perhaps more striking, however, was incredible strength and nurturing nature of the community. Here was a group of people who had made it their life’s work to understand successful failure, creativity, and the roots of inspiration itself. The staff of the d.school were in some ways students of the human condition — thus the school turned into a kind of safety net, a haven from whatever personal crises occurred in the outside world.
What are you doing now? How do you use what you learned at the d.school?
I’m the head of strategic initiatives at MobileIron, an enterprise mobility startup in Mountain View. At first blush the lessons of design thinking seem far removed from the sales-driven focus of enterprise software, but it seems like the whole world is beginning to recognize that d.thinking works in any context. My role is to conceptualize and execute “high value” tasks — initiatives that change the gear ratio of the company, allowing us to scale rapidly and efficiently. It’s a tall order in enterprise software, with its higher customer acquisition costs than consumer web. The role requires healthy doses of creativity and insight — and I regularly fall back to my days at the d.school, whether scoping our firmwide product strategy or getting creative with the channel model in sales.
Ten years from now the d.school will be widely credited with giving birth to the unstoppable movement of design thinking. The core tenets of the school — multidisciplinary teams, human-centric design, and radical empathy — will have gone from outlandish to axiomatic. And in that future, the d.school will not only thrive but reinvent itself anew, fostering even more change and inspiring a new generation of leaders in different and remarkable ways.