Life after Harvard University: Michelle Lee’s Ivy League Journey to Silicon Valley
Three years ago Dublin High School Class of 2011 Valedictorian Michelle Lee wrote about her first year at Harvard University. Fast forward to today and Michelle has completed her undergraduate degree and has started her post-college career at LinkedIn in Silicon Valley (finding that there are great opportunities for non-engineers in the process). OneDublin recently caught up with Michelle in our latest Life After College series of articles.
OneDublin.org: Of the many courses you took while at Harvard, were there one or two courses (or professors) that really stood out?
Michelle Lee: “One class that really stood out was a course entitled Race and Technology, which focused on what role race has within the digital space. The class gave me a better sense of how these seemingly disparate fields intersect and left me with a desire to do my part in combatting digital racism. In today’s society, we often over-idealize technology and the digital space, imagining a progressive world online free of prejudice and racism. During this course, we had meaningful discussions about online racial communities, digital labor, and programs that aim to close the digital divide. The professor also incorporated non-traditional assignments, including blog posts and multimedia projects such as podcasts to enhance our experience.
“Another memorable class my senior spring was taught at the Harvard Business School, entitled Power and Glory in Turbulent Times: The History of Leadership from Henry V to Steve Jobs. Each week, we covered two leaders from history and focused on their values, strategies, and impact. We discussed how and why they became powerful, innovative figures in their respective companies, communities, and nations. It was an incredibly inspiring course filled with entertaining case studies and historical material. HBS utilizes the case study method, and so I walked away from every class with new insights and perspectives from my classmates.”
OneDublin.org: Looking at your LinkedIn profile you were very active outside the classroom. What role did extracurricular activities play in enhancing your college experience?
Lee: “Extracurricular activities were integral to my life during those four years. My freshman year, I performed with the Harvard Crimson Dance Team and planned a variety of class-wide events with the First-Year Social Committee. The Harvard College in Asia Program (HCAP) allowed me to spend my spring break in Seoul, Korea and make lasting friendships with Ewha University students (I was able to meet up with a few of them in Korea this winter break)!
“Early on, I also joined The Harvard Crimson, which is our student paper. I was a business editor for 3 years, working my way up from an Advertising Associate to Associate Business Manager. In the ads department, I engaged in sales calls and formed partnerships with clients ranging from our local mom-and-pop shops to national companies to corporate recruiters. As ABM, I oversaw professional development opportunities for our business board as a whole.
“I later joined Expressions Dance Company, our hip-hop company on campus, even though I had never really done hip-hop prior to college. Turns out, I absolutely loved it, became a director, and never looked back. Through Expressions, I was introduced to another show, Eleganza, in which fashion and dance intertwined in an elaborate production my senior spring. All of these extracurriculars kept me plenty busy during the school year!”
OneDublin.org: Speaking of LinkedIn, many people assume that tech companies are just for engineers, what did you learn about non-tech opportunities during your internship and current full-time role?
Lee: “I actually wrote a post about this on LinkedIn’s corporate blog after the conclusion of my junior internship. When I started out in college, I was convinced that the tech companies of the world (think LinkedIn, Google, Facebook) were off-limits for a non-engineer. Word on the street was that these companies had some of the most lucrative jobs and work environments, but I wondered if I could get there with my economics degree. Luckily, I applied my sophomore year to Akamai Technologies and received an offer for a marketing internship in Cambridge. The following year, I landed an internship with LinkedIn’s Global Sales Organization program in their New York office. The internship turned into a full-time opportunity with LinkedIn’s Business Leadership Program, their largest entry-level program for non-technical talent. For my fellow non-techies, make no mistake – there is a wealth of internship and full-time opportunities out there in the tech industry that accommodate a diverse set of backgrounds and fields of study.”
OneDublin.org: Describe a typical day at work.
Lee: “As a Business Leadership Program Global Sales Associate at LinkedIn, my day-to-day activities vary tremendously. The program itself is structured in 3 parts. We start in the world of Talent Acquisition, leveraging LinkedIn’s flagship product Recruiter to find and hire top talent in departments ranging from engineering to sales. Our second rotation is in Global Customer Operations, where we gain expertise in fielding queries from our free customers and corporate clients. The ultimate end role is in Sales Development in any of our three main business lines.
“Currently, I am a part of the Diversity in Sales team in San Francisco, focusing on increasing the source and hire rate of diverse, underrepresented minority talent within our Global Sales Organization. I also spend time working on Talent Tap, an internal program that matches employees with specific sought-after skills with executive-sponsored projects all over the world. These projects give employees opportunities for professional development, while creating leverage for LinkedIn. I also work with two other BLPers on a program to welcome new classes of BLP and facilitate their transition from college to the real world. And when I’m not working on any of the above, I enjoy planning events for my class and just recently co-planned a wine-tasting excursion to Napa Valley!”
OneDublin.org: What was your approach to ensuring you had a meaningful line-up of internships during your time at Harvard? What did you learn about what you wanted to do in the “real world”?
Lee: “My freshman year, I did not have a strong sense of what I wanted out of an internship so I applied to a wide variety of positions all over the country. I ended up interning with Nancy Pelosi in Washington DC, which was my first exposure to politics and the inner workings of government. While I learned a ton and had the chance to witness historic events like standing on the Supreme Court steps when the Affordable Care Act was upheld, I realized that politics was not the path for me. I switched my focus entirely sophomore year to try a corporate marketing role at Akamai Technologies, and I was immediately drawn to the fast-paced nature of the tech industry. Knowing that junior year internships are typically seen as less exploratory and more a decision of where you imagine yourself to be post-grad (since junior internships often turn into full-time roles), I applied to a global sales internship at LinkedIn. Even now, as I progress through my role, I am experimenting with different projects to learn what I want to do, how I can challenge myself, and what I can ultimately excel at.”
OneDublin.org: Regarding the “real-world” how have you found the transition to working full-time?
Lee: “It has been an absolute whirlwind graduating from Harvard and moving back to the Bay Area. I was extremely lucky to have my parents in Dublin to help me settle into my apartment in San Francisco after a summer of traveling abroad in Europe. I do miss being able to see my college friends regularly, but I was able to make it back to the East Coast for our annual Harvard-Yale game. I am also extremely lucky to work with some of my closest friends and we often refer to BLP as our second family. I would say the best part of working full-time is being able to work hard during the week and then have the weekends all to yourself to enjoy.
OneDublin.org: Looking back at your time at Dublin High School two questions: how did Dublin High prepare you for an Ivy League college experience, and what advice do you have for Dublin High seniors who will be heading off to college next year?
Lee: “I had an incredible support network at Dublin High School – my teachers, peers, guidance counselor and parents. I was also able to challenge myself inside and outside the classroom throughout all four years — through AP and Honors classes, leadership activities, and extracurricular clubs.
“For Dublin High seniors heading off to college next year, my advice is this — be open to change. I went into Harvard with a pre-determined plan of what I would do and who I would become. I never imagined I would switch from pre-med to econ, become passionate about working on the business side of my school paper, or gain some of my best friends in a hip-hop group. What I’ve realized is I may not be able to anticipate what comes my way, but it’s important to embrace the unexpected.”