TMMBA Alumni Profile: Colleen O’Brien (TMMBA 2016)

Colleen O’Brien (TMMBA 2016)

Technology Management MBA (TMMBA) alumna, Colleen O’Brien (TMMBA 2016), has always been one to make the most of her opportunities. From excelling in film education as an undergrad at Harvard University to rising the career ranks at Microsoft Corporation, Colleen has a proven track record of success.

While in the TMMBA Program, Colleen took full advantage of resources that helped build her professional network and grow her business acumen – including participation in both the Foster Board Fellows Program and TMMBA International Study Tour to Japan in 2016.

“During the program my confidence, understanding of business concepts, and access to business vocabulary all increased dramatically, and I started seeing and defining business opportunity and strategy myself.”

Her hard work in TMMBA – both inside and outside of the classroom – paid off. Before TMMBA, Colleen held tech roles that narrowly focused on communications, including media and marketing jobs. Today, Colleen works in a broader business management role at Microsoft that helps define strategy for the 14,000-person organization.

What is Colleen’s next endeavor? She has taken on an exciting new project – Producer and Co-host of the Women in Business & Technology Podcast. This Microsoft podcast showcases interviews with prominent women in business and tech (along with their male allies) and covers programs that promote inclusion in the workplace. With a growing subscriber base and a mission to empower women in their careers, Colleen is seeing, yet again, the fruits of her labor pay off.

Read about Colleen’s experience in the TMMBA Program and her work with the Women in Business & Technology Podcast:


Why did you choose the TMMBA Program over other MBA programs?
I chose TMMBA because I didn’t want to pivot into a new industry. I love working in technology and see long-term career opportunity in this field. TMMBA provided me with access to the amazing network of tech talent in the greater Seattle area and allowed me to take advantage of my employer’s tuition reimbursement benefit while I stayed at my job.

Colleen and classmates in Japan for the TMMBA Study Tour in 2016.

What were your goals when you entered the program?
My goal in pursuing my MBA was to secure a bit of career insurance. My background is in film production, and while I have many years of successful roles in tech under my belt, I was always nervous that my nontraditional educational path into the industry might cause a future hiring manager or recruiter to discount my candidacy.

This career insurance is also very important to me as a woman with aspirations to someday start a family. I don’t want any parental leave that I take to throw me off my career track, and an MBA is universally understood as a measure of the great value that an individual has to offer. My mom really motivated my strategy to pursue the degree sooner rather than later. She taught me that education is a great equalizer, and has been such a great coach at each stage in my academic journey.

What key skills did you acquire during the TMMBA Program that have influenced your career success?
The team-based learning approach of the TMMBA Program helped dispel the importance of being a know-it-all. Prior to enrolling in the Program, I was nervous that my dispassion for statistics would be an academic and career limitation. But our group work demonstrated the value of curating a dynamic team bringing different skills to the table. I certainly wasn’t the teammate coaching others through Poisson binomial distributions, but when it came to choosing a media mix that would best achieve our marketing perception goals, my team leaned on me to have a strong point of view. I no longer aspire to know it all, but instead to stay curious, and rely on the experts around me as advisors.

On the Women in Business & Technology Podcast

How did your Women in Business & Technology Podcast come to fruition?
I met my co-host, Sonia Dara, when we were both students at Harvard College. She started her role in marketing at Microsoft two years after I began my career there, but she ended up in an office right across the hallway from mine. I know that Sonia is strongly committed to getting more women into the technology industry—specifically into leadership positions—so when I was tapped to help produce and host this show, I knew she would be a strong partner in the effort.

We’re very aware of our privilege as technology workers at Microsoft, and our goal with the show is to scale some of the access that we’ve had to resources, communities, mentorship, and inclusive thought leadership to other underrepresented people building ambitious careers.

                                   Colleen and her co-host Sonia Dara

What’s been your biggest lesson learned thus far with the podcast?
The podcast has been a true intrapreneurial pursuit. It’s not a part of my job description, but it’s a passion project that has helped me get access to leaders, pitch budget owners, and learn a ton about inclusion in the workplace; it’s a startup that Sonia and I manage within a larger company. Producing the show has offered this gigantic lesson of how difficult it is to start something from scratch. My entire career has been at Microsoft, and I’ve relied so much on institutional knowledge to navigate my day job. But the podcast has offered me a taste of entrepreneurship; I have an entirely new appreciation for the work that my former classmates who have started businesses do every day.

What’s your number one recommendation for women trying to enter the tech sector?
To all the women reading this—the industry needs you! Network to build inroads at companies before you apply, and don’t discount your experience if you don’t have a computer science degree on your resume. Technology becomes more ubiquitous every day, and it’s critical for companies building products for global customers to have a representative workforce informing those products.

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