After rising through the ranks to senior product manager for an Internet marketing giant, Ruth Sylvia decided it was time to put her career on pause and pursue an MBA.
She knew she wanted, on the one hand, exposure to a variety of industries, and on the other, a condensed program focused on tech and rooted in real-life experience. And she didn't want to leave New York.
“The fact that, at Cornell Tech, you could learn from real practitioners appealed to me," she said. The combination of industry engagement and the traditional MBA framework made the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA a perfect fit for Sylvia.
Now just a few months into her program, she is thrilled with her decision.
“I think my favorite part of going to Cornell Tech is the people and the projects we are introduced to," she said. “Just by being in New York City with a focus on tech, the program attracts people who are really open to learning new things. There's also a strong focus on solving real-life problems at companies."
Ruth's road to Cornell Tech
A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sylvia studied history at Colgate University. There, she remembers first hearing about Internet marketing during a digital art class—when she was a senior. This was the early days of YouTube and Twitter, and ut she was struck by the way her teacher, a conceptual visual artist, described the Internet as a tool that would change not only peer-to-peer communication, but also how companies told stories.
So Sylvia left Colgate with a burgeoning interest in Internet marketing. After working briefly on the West Coast, she relocated to New York City and landed a job with online marketing giant Yodle just as the company was ramping up for growth.
“It was an amazing experience," she remembered. “I started when they had 200 employees and 5,000 customers and left when they had 1,500 employees and 40,000 customers."
In the course of six-plus years, Sylvia rose steadily through the ranks; when she left, in early 2015, she was a senior product manager.
Her time at Yodle was followed by a short stint in product management at Audible. But she felt herself to be at a crossroads.
“Up until that point," she explained, "I'd followed one job to the next and never really took a moment to step back and gain exposure to a lot of industries. I started searching for MBA programs in New York City—and found Cornell Tech."
Life as a student
These days, Sylvia's life consists of shuttling between classes and projects. She is currently working on a "company challenge" in which she and four classmates (all from different disciplines) attempt to solve a real-world customer support problem.
The company in question? Google.
Google challenged the students to answer this question: "How might we use natural language processing and machine learning to improve the experience for customers who call Google for support?'"
So far, she and her team are exploring ways to replace customer service surveys with a program that allows computers to not only process speech but convert it into meaningful themes, identify sentiment, even uncover meanings the caller expressed but didn't verbalize directly.
“It has been so much fun to jump into something I've never done before," Sylvia said.
Equally exciting will be an upcoming trip this January, when she and a handful of other Cornell Tech students travel to Israel for their iTrek project. There, she'll tackle real-world business challenges facing two companies: Wiseye, a retail tech company; and Eco-Fusion, a healthcare app.
“We are just starting to talk with the companies now, but I honestly can't wait," she said. “It will be really neat to experience their world for a brief moment, provide value and then pop back out."