Carlyn Strand Sylvester (MBA 2016) leads a small team at Netflix focused on creative testing and innovation for the streaming service’s global paid digital and acquisition channels, with an emphasis on growing the Netflix audience through brand, product, and content marketing strategies. Previously, she held roles at Glossier, Spotify, and YouTube. Carlyn received her B.A. from Stanford University and currently lives in Los Angeles.

What was your career plan when you arrived at HBS?

In my role leading up to HBS, I had been working at YouTube as a producer of entertainment programs with and for YouTube creators and advertisers. I really, really loved that job but I eventually hit a place where I wanted to be more involved in some of the higher level strategic decision-making (i.e. the kind that determined the existence of those programs in the first place). I also started to wonder if one day I might want to start something of my own.

That said, I did not *gasp* have a career plan when I arrived at HBS. But I knew I wanted to work with creators and content in one way or another, and I knew I wanted to continue working in online entertainment/media as opposed to traditional channels. I promised myself I would stay true to that.

What were some of the most helpful resources you tapped into while you were an MBA?

I was heavily involved with the Entertainment and Media Club (EMC) and the HBS Show both my RC and EC years. The EMC, in particular, was an impactful way to spend time getting to know others, both current students and alumni, in the industries I was most passionate about. Coincidentally, there was also a lot of overlap with the Tech Club (of which I was also a member) given the entertainment and media industry evolution into the digital space.

Who in your time at HBS was influential in helping you think about your career after HBS?

I went in thinking that what I needed most from business school was a better (read: basic) understanding of “harder” skills like accounting and entrepreneurial finance. I left HBS realizing that what I had actually needed most — and found — was my voice as a leader and future manager.

During my first semester of RC year, I recall my Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) professor telling us that Lead was one of the classes MBA graduates often carried with them the longest. At the time, I remember wondering if that was perhaps a bit self-congratulatory, but in retrospect this has certainly been 100% true. There’s a reason everyone always remembers the Erik Peterson case.

I ended up spending the second semester of my second year with that very LEAD professor working on an Independent Project (IP). At the time I was directing and executive producing that year’s HBS Show; my IP evolved into a reflection of the intersection of business and art, as well as my experience navigating both creative and business leadership. I learned a lot about myself, flaws and all, that semester.

I also credit my Authentic Leadership Development (ALD) discussion group for some of the most stimulating, vulnerable, and raw conversations I had while in business school. In a world in which your professional and personal lives are inextricably linked, the ability to be your authentic self in life and subsequently at work is a game changer.

How has the HBS alumni network impacted your career?

From a purely business perspective: I ended up meeting my first boss at Spotify through an EC acquaintance who had worked there as an MBA intern the previous summer. I was also kindly introduced to Glossier (and the woman who ultimately ended up hiring me) by a friend from HBS as well.

From a more personal perspective: My friends from HBS are some of my best sounding boards. As I’ve grown and advanced in my career, I’ve made mistakes, faced difficult decisions (both personal and professional), I’ve seen success. And whenever these things happen, I always have someone I can talk to. To have a community of peers who face the same challenges, wins, and ups and downs has been one of the most valuable vestiges of my time at HBS.

What is something in your current role that surprised you?

Throughout my career, I have always worked at the intersection of business and creative. I’ve worked very closely with and/or managed creatives, but because I’m not technically skilled (as a motion designer, visual designer, video editor, etc.), I think I always sold myself a bit short. I knew I was creative, but was I truly “a creative”?

For the first six months of my time at Netflix, while I worked to hire a team, I had to spend that time essentially acting as a very hands-on, interim creative director for much of our output. I was surprised by how much I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, I was still thrilled to later hire experts to partner with me and really up level the work, but I did build some creative confidence in those six months that I hadn’t been expecting to build.

What type of person thrives working at the intersection of tech and organizations?

Someone who has the ability to navigate grey in a constantly evolving environment. Someone who has the ability to challenge the status quo and innovate.

What part of your role is different from what you imagined it might be?

So much! I moved from New York to LA about 11 months ago for this job at Netflix. It was a brand new role with a remit to build a brand new team. There were certain parameters and goals for the role, but it was ultimately mine to own and shape (which was part of the appeal). In retrospect, taking this role was a bit of a risk! What I didn’t know far exceeded what I did know. Note: The risk has been well worth it.

What is the best advice you could offer to incoming MBAs interested in the tech community?

My favorite tech roles to date have all been ones where I felt strongly about both the company culture and the people I worked with. A job description or company can look great on paper, but if the culture isn’t one you believe in or the people don’t bring out the best in you, the reality can be disappointing. Conversely, a job or company that may not initially have sounded interesting can sometimes surprise you. The digital and tech community is far-reaching and ever evolving...take your two years at HBS to explore and find your niche.