Developing Opportunities to Inspire Curiosity
Engineering Major, James Madison University ‘18
Azure Cloud Infrastructure Consultant, Microsoft
I have always been curious.
Growing up in Ethiopia, I could be found taking apart and assembling my toys to learn how they worked. After moving to northern Virginia, I watched videos and read instruction manuals to take on maintenance work around the house. I also started developing interpersonal and communication skills early on, thanks to working at my mother’s farmer’s market stand and store. I knew what I wanted to be: A philanthropist, a leader, an entrepreneur. In other words, an engineer.
James Madison University’s (JMU) project-based engineering program helped it all come together. The program built on my natural curiosity and passion for learning, fostering a broader mindset. My time at JMU opened doors by providing an opportunity to work on eight different projects, participate in leadership roles through the Madison Engineering Leadership Program, and be a Stanford University Innovation Fellow, which helps students embrace human-centered design.
s an undergraduate student, I also created an e-portfolio to help share my projects and passions with potential employers. When Microsoft reached out to me while I was still at JMU, I used my e-portfolio in the interviews, showing instead of just telling what mattered to me.
And it worked.
Of the two positions I was offered, I chose the consultant role. I wanted to keep working with a team to create new solutions. Here, it’s about clients, not code: Researching customer needs and working with them to develop the right solutions.
I am grateful for the foundation of learning I had in my early years, and for working with brilliant mentors while at JMU who helped me overcome challenges and keep growing.
Poking Holes in Design: How to Ensure Value Creation
Computer Systems Engineering Major, Arizona State University ‘19
Academy Solutions Engineer at VMware
During my Entrepreneurship and Value Creation class at Arizona State University, many of my notions about “good” product design were totally upended.
While I had exposure to a variety of problem-solving scenarios in previous classes, the concept of creating value was new to me. I had never faced the prospect that my innovative solutions, even though “correct,” might not be accepted by the public.
I learned that creating value in design means listening to others through customer interviews, in addition to thinking critically. I don’t mean thinking critically in the traditional sense. I mean to literally think about the design in order to critique its value. We need to go after our design decisions with forks and knives so we can poke as many holes as possible. Once the holes are found, they can be fixed, and our pitch becomes more and more evidence-based. This insight inspired a newfound zeal for customer discovery and collecting feedback. My attitude for this work drastically changed. I wanted to step into the customers’ shoes and justify the value of design through their eyes and their internal struggles. This approach also allowed me to understand competitors from the customer’s point of view.
This knowledge helped me get my job as a solutions engineer. The hiring process included a presentation for hypothetical clients who had little-to-no background on what solutions they wanted. I focused on the philosophy of customer discovery and included questions for the clients about their pain points. Instead of presenting predetermined solutions, I was a customer advocate. After the presentation, the interviewers shared that I was ahead of their new graduate training. I doubt I could have landed this great job without the practice I gained in value creation in FSE 301 – Entrepreneurship and Value Creation.