Q&A with Alumni: Tyreke White
January 7, 2020
Meet Tyreke White (MS '18), MS&E alumnus and Program Manager at Microsoft.
Prior to his current role, he worked on the Enterprise Services side of Microsoft as a Consultant. Tyreke graduated with a master’s degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford. His area of concentration was Energy and the Environment.
“I have always been good at collaborating with others, which is another thing that I developed during graduate school. For instance, let's say you've come into a meeting—being able to put everything aside to hear and understand what everyone in the room is saying, and taking all those pieces and bringing them together in the process of making a decision, are important skills to possess.”
Why did you choose MS&E?
I was looking at various programs at the time and contemplating the possibility of either going to an engineering school or business school. Through my research, I found the MS&E program, which was an excellent combination of both. It was perfect because I wanted to remain technical while simultaneously learning more about business, thus increasing my acumen. In a nutshell, that’s why I chose MS&E.
What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?
Being an MS&E alum means using what I've studied in my work and in my everyday life, as well as staying in touch with the people I met here at Stanford, while at the same time creating new connections. Most importantly, it means continuing to grow and learn wherever I go, which is what MS&E teaches us.
How did your time at Stanford impact what you do now?
I took many courses at Stanford, and I was involved in multiple extracurricular activities, plus trying to have a social life on top of that. As a result, I was always stretched thin. And in my [current] role at Microsoft as a product manager, I am also still stretched thin. Being in MS&E taught me how to manage my time more efficiently, and create that work-life balance.
And I'm still in contact with people from the program and connected with most of them on LinkedIn. It's nice because we can continue to collaborate, exchange ideas, and grow together online and sometimes in person.
Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?
My advisor, John Weyant, was such a great advisor and mentor. He was well-connected in the department and across the university, and extremely multidisciplinary. He helped me embrace a learning and growth mindset, and enabled me to learn a multitude of things, exploring without fear.
And the course that stuck with me was MS&E 280: Organizational Behavior: Evidence in Action taught by Professor Bob Sutton. I find myself passively using the materials taught in his course. For anyone who works in organizations, specifically a large one, you can quickly observe pitfalls or some of the inefficiencies described by Professor Sutton. That course showed us how to navigate this, and how to advocate for yourself and on behalf of others. I have a leg up in my current position, because MS&E 280 framed the way to work in a corporate environment, and how to be effective within an enterprise. In that course, we went over things as small as promotions and how people are rewarded, to things as big as what team intelligence means. How does the intelligence of the collective push an organization forward? And those ideas and questions have been really helpful, especially in this role where everyone has different personalities but you’re all working on the same product and need to drive success as a team.
Can you tell me more about the work you're doing now?
I am primarily a product manager on the Python developer tools team within the developer division. We build tools that developers use around the world, and I work on the python extension for Visual Studio (VS) code and the python developer experience within VS. The work that I partake in varies day-to-day, and that's what I enjoy the most. Our team does everything, from UX and customer research and competitive analysis to building demos to going to conferences to evangelizing our products. Every day I am embarking on a new adventure.
There are a lot of meetings, a ton of work, and collaboration with engineers and other product managers to push the product forward. Daily, my time can be invested either in writing specs, analyzing and understanding customer data or working with PMs to figure out how my team can partner with theirs on the same product. Every day there is a lot of work and collaboration with multiple people and groups. That's why work-life balance is so essential to my role: at work, I’m heads-down, focusing and preparing for various meetings or projects, or even for conferences. But once I’m home, I decompress and disconnect from everything.
If there are one or two things that have enabled you to be successful in your career, what would it be?
The first thing that's top of mind and most important for me is the ability to multitask and being able to context switch as quickly as possible when appropriate. It is a skill that I started honing as an undergrad and finally figured out in graduate school during my time at Stanford, precisely because I was involved in several activities.
The second thing is working with people; I have always been good at collaborating with others, which is another thing that I developed during graduate school. At the end of the day, it's not about you, and it is not about your teammates, it is just about the success of the product. So, if someone has an idea that is better than yours, it is okay to throw the other notion out. This ability is something that I mastered in the MS&E program through group projects that brought so many different personalities together. If you're able to admit when you're wrong and when others have better ideas, it makes things exponentially better. The two skills that I described above are the most impactful and illustrate the role of a product manager.
What advice would you give to a current MS&E student?
The biggest advice that I would have to give is to take courses and to explore things that interest you. Obviously, there are courses you need to fulfill MS&E requirements but also feel free to take classes purely for fun. For example, you might take an accounting or a machine learning course, but make sure you are also taking courses because you are genuinely interested. I have seen many people mistakenly taking courses just because others were taking them. As an example, I took an environmental journalism course in my second year in MS&E, which did not count for my track. It just counted for my intellectual curiosity. That course provided me with something interesting to talk about during job interviews. It was not just about, "can you solve these coding questions?" When assessing culture fit, it was talking about all the things I was interested in, including things that I had read and written about. These are the things that I think made me stand out as a candidate.
Also, networking is crucial. It is a word that comes up over and over again in industry. I found out about my current role because I had several friends who are in Developer Division at Microsoft, and they were able to share some information about the team I was interested in joining. Other opportunities have come up just through pure networking. Grow those connections with advisors, colleagues, and people in or out of Stanford. Wherever you can network, please do it because it is going to make your life easier later down the road.
Can you offer some words of wisdom for MS&E alumni and students interested in pursuing a career similar to your own?
Leave your ego at the door, and always have an open mind.
My mother also provided some words of wisdom during my undergraduate and graduate career: it's okay to fail. You fail fast to learn faster. The quicker you fail, the quicker you can turn that around into something successful. Those three things are what you need to be successful in a product manager position, but also in other roles where you are working with people in a fast-paced environment.
Is there anything you would like to say before we end?
Enjoy your time at Stanford. The working world—while it is fun—is very different from school in the sense that school has an end date. You take the exams, you have summer breaks, and you return, refreshed and ready to do it all over again. There are always those definitive points so that when something is not going well, you know it will all come to an end. Contrary to that, in the working world, you own your schedule and your success.
Realize that while things have definite endpoints in school, in the working world, there are not, and you need to start learning about ways in which you can begin preparing for that.