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Exploring Technology and Public Impact Through the HBS/HKS Joint Degree Program

29 Oct 2020

This post was originally published on the MBA Voices blog.

If the past two decades have demonstrated technology’s potential, one of the challenges of the next ten years will be defining its boundaries. How can new technologies benefit people and societies in equitable ways? How can companies -- increasingly central to the development of frontier technologies -- responsibly manage innovation without sacrificing profitability? What is the role of government in mitigating harms and establishing safeguards??

I came to the HBS and Harvard Kennedy School MBA/MPP joint degree program interested in exploring these questions related to technology’s public impact. Along the way, I’ve been able to develop my understanding through both coursework and extracurricular offerings at Harvard.

My background in the tech industry

Before HBS, I worked at Google, where I started in the rotational Associate Product Marketing Manager (APMM) program after my undergraduate degree. I spent my first couple of years at the company in the San Francisco Bay area and London in roles across the Marketing organization, including working on brand, reputation, and social responsibility initiatives. In my last several years at Google, I transitioned to a role focused on developing the company’s marketing and communications strategy around artificial intelligence (AI). I later spent several months on rotation with Google’s Public Policy team, where I helped to develop and socialize the company’s positions on responsible development and use of AI.

Through those experiences, I was exposed to the ways that technology can help people in big and small ways and how companies can powerfully mobilize people and resources. But I also became convinced that technology is no panacea -- particularly when it comes to frontier technologies, where innovation is ongoing, implications are still being understood, and social or regulatory guardrails do not yet exist. That understanding inspired me to apply to the MBA/MPP program to develop further expertise in technology policy and management.

After the first year of the joint degree program, I spent the summer on Lyft’s Public Policy team. In that role, I developed and analyzed Lyft policy positions on future of work and emerging technology issues such as machine learning, data sharing, and financial technologies.

Connecting with the tech community at Harvard

Leaving Google was hard: my time there was incredibly formative, and I had a supportive community of mentors at the company. However, at Harvard, I’ve found a number of groups focused on exploring questions of technology and public interest.

Last year, at the Kennedy School, I was a Research Assistant for the Technology and Public Purpose Project, which works to ensure that emerging technologies are developed and managed in ways that serve the overall public good. At HBS, I work with the Harvard Project on Workforce, which is based at HKS but partners closely with the HBS Managing the Future of Work Initiative. I help lead a project called Skillbase, which aims to connect adult learners with free online education to help them access better jobs.

More broadly, I’ve enjoyed connecting with other people interested in technology and innovation through clubs, the HBS Digital Initiative, and the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at HBS. There are so many people here who are technology industry alums, interested in the sector, or starting their own venture, and that energy has been really exciting.

My tight-knit HKS/HBS joint degree cohort

Academics and extracurriculars aside, one of the best parts of the joint degree experience has been the cohort of fellow “jointee” students. It’s a very tight-knit group. One driver of that closeness is shared experience: we go through the three year academic experience together, including a joint-degree seminar taught by HKS and HBS faculty that extends across the first two years. More importantly, though, it’s a profoundly diverse group committed to public service and interested in exploring how public, social, and private sectors can collaborate to create societal impact. I’m grateful to be part of the group, and the jointee community has been an enriching and personally sustaining part of my experience at HBS and Harvard.