Case Study:
Ashley Hathaway

Senior Developer Evangelist
IBM

Tell us what you do and what your work typically entails.

I am a Product Manager for the IBM Watson Developer Cloud and work with IBM’s machine learning and deep learning APIs. This means everything from image recognition software, to natural-language processing, and even robots! I spend most of my time with developers and work as a subject-matter expert for developer audiences. It’s highly nerdy and awesome. I have a lot of autonomy in my role but also have a really strong and incredibly smart team that’s always there for support and collaboration.

My work really differs quarter-to-quarter and even day-to-day which is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. I tend to work primarily across cross-functional teams and domains. I actually began my career as a developer and then designer, so I really like being able to bring different viewpoints and experiences from the table. I feel most creative now when I’m working with different groups, stakeholders, and users simultaneously. A good day to me is being able to understand on a deeper level and really empathize with different groups, understand what their goals are and where there’s overlap, and then work to reach success together.

How has the altMBA helped you level up?

To be honest I had zero expectation going into the altMBA program. I sorta/kinda/not really had some goals. I definitely didn’t have a declarative “I want to get to here” statement going in. After finishing the course though - I know exactly where I’m going. Maybe not the finite details, but I have direction. I’m confident in my decisions. Everything folds up to one common vision. I didn’t have that before. I found myself being more centered in my decision-making and more confident overall. Maybe even a bit more aggressive. Unapologetically me. It was literally like night and day to me at work and even in my personal life. I felt like I removed 6 layers of filters and was able to unabashedly speak from the gut- but in a heartfelt, honest, highly empathetic, and respectful way.

What’s the #1 thing you liked about being part of the altMBA?

That it hit me like a two ton truck. The first week I had a 1:1 with a coach and expressed that I was feeling pretty emotional and wasn’t really expecting that. This wasn’t just about P&L’s or learning fancy finance terms. She encouraged me that I was definitely in good company with that one and to keep pushing, and for some reason even though I’d never met that person and had really only spent a few hours with her in a video chat online I kept going.

The rate that you ship and the amount of ground you have to cover in the altMBA got me so uncomfortable that I ended up spitting out the things that were hidden away in my brain that I had forgotten about or put under layers of uncertainty. I produced more in those four weeks than I have in I don’t know how long. It certainly wasn’t perfect in any way shape or form, but it was honest and I can stand by every word. I didn’t have time to make excuses or filter. I had to go with what I knew from my experiences.

The real levelling up came when the altMBA group took real time to consider my work and then give me feedback. I would go in to read the comments in the morning expecting to take twenty minutes and yadda yadda yadda breeze by things, and then I would get feedback that would knock me on my ass. I would have to think about things for the entire day. It totally sucked! I don’t like being uncomfortable! But - I grew 3 feet in 4 weeks.

I absolutely didn’t realize it until after it was over, but just being as vulnerable as possible and open to all sorts of new things during the altMBA absolutely changed my life.

There were so many times that I would read something and think to myself “OHHH Crap. Now I have to go reconsider EVERYTHING.” But, I’ll tell you there isn’t a price you can put on that experience. That was the sound of my brain growing. Of me leveling up. It’s not pretty. It’s unshowered and sleepy. It’s my classmates seeing me in my pajamas. Again. Eating dinner in front of the laptop. Drinking another cup of coffee. But, for me to be that passionate about something and 100% bought in to a process is relatively unheard of. To stick to being that uncomfortable and going through that shitty pain is a testament to the change I was seeing in myself and how much I absolutely loved it.

What's something you approached differently recently because of what you learned during the altMBA?

I had a friend share some wisdom the other day. Some words that he lives by and I think about a lot now and strive to live by “be aggressive in your actions and humble in your experience.” I think that’s a great explanation of the type of behavior the altMBA has brought out in me and my work and I can see in my classmates as well. I don’t think it’s just one example that I approached differently. It’s the entire mindset. It’s everything from how I answer emails, to how I conduct myself on conference calls. It’s my personal goals. It’s a little silly to think that a few books and dozen or so writing projects over 4 weeks could have such an effect, but I’m very clear in what success means to me and feel confident making that success a reality.

The altMBA gave me a vocabulary to vernacular to look at the way we work. The decisions we make and why. The fears and perceived losses. Those human heuristics that tie us together and sometimes make no sense. Things are not “good” or “bad” now. There are implications to everything and reasons why the decisions that were made were made. Humans are messy and humans working together is a comedy. Being able to see and then express why--and then find strategies to make things better--that’s a real gift.

Any other comments or recommendations about the altMBA?

I have never seen a more diverse or instantly supportive group of people than the group the altMBA brought together. It made me realize just how homogenized my circles can be sometimes. We talk the same. We have our own lexicon. We tend to read the same things. Being a part of the altMBA was a breath of fresh air. It was more than just getting differing viewpoints, it was about connecting with and learning about someone who might be completely different with you, and then going through an experience like the altMBA together is truly a unique bond.


Apply for the altMBA

The program dates:

altMBA12/13 Summer: July 10 – August 8, 2017
altMBA14/15 Fall: October 2 – October 31, 2017

The application takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Application