Sarah Feldman (MBA ’15) has led technical analytics programs at several pre- and post-IPO companies including Tesla, Lyft, and venture capital firm Institutional Venture Partners. While at Rady, Feldman founded the RadyX Technology Conference, landed a summer internship developing VR technology at Sony Playstation, and says she gained the leadership and finance skills necessary to advance beyond her B.S. in Computer Science to managing multi-billion-dollar analytics programs upon earning her MBA. Here, Feldman shares how the Rady School coursework, alumni network and staff propelled her success.
How did you land your MBA internship at Sony PlayStation?
I utilized Rady’s career services to the fullest. I signed up for all Rady interview practice sessions while in school. In the Career Connections office, there were shelves of interview preparation literature such as “Cracking the PM Interview,” which I made sure to read. … I made a list of companies and types of roles where I would add the most value as an MBA intern. I narrowed down the list by attending the Rady Executive Speaker Series, San Diego Tech Meetup groups, and discussions with the brutally honest FT2015 and FT2014 cohorts. After further researching companies by reading articles on Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance, and TechCrunch, I would email Rady alumni with well-thought-out questions about culture fit and their company’s products.
During the Bay Area Trek, I was able to meet with Rady alumni at Tesla, Cisco, and Google, and attend company presentations. I asked pertinent gaming industry questions at the Sony PlayStation presentation, which caught the attention of the Sony internship recruiter, who asked me to interview for three different internships where she thought I would be a good fit.
During the interview process, I utilized my knowledge of Computer Science courses on Matlab, OpenGL, Computer Vision, and video game creation to address the technical interview questions. With the new lessons from Rady’s leadership and finance courses, I was able to demonstrate financial knowledge of discounted cash flow statements, leadership best practices, and product management.
I landed competing internship offers at Cisco and PlayStation. I could add the most value assessing and planning product launches for the gaming industry, so I accepted the PlayStation offer.
I led development for PlayStation VR (a then-secret and stealth project to launch Virtual Reality products). I was fortunate to work cross-functionally at Sony and present to the CEO at the end of the summer.
How did you land your first tech role after receiving your Rady MBA?
During my first Rady Bay Area Trek, I met an alumnus who was working at Tesla Motors. We were both passionate about innovation in tech and we stayed in touch after my MBA internship at Sony PlayStation. When the Rady alumnus decided to change roles at Tesla, he offered to help me take over his original responsibilities. He connected with the Tesla hiring manager about the quality of Rady MBAs. After a few rounds of interviews, I was offered the role.
At Tesla, I created global supply chain analytics platforms and data. I utilized the R and statistics skills I learned through Professor On Amir and Vincent Nijs’ classes to build global analytics models. I leveraged similar linear regression principles when creating supply chain analytics in my role at Tesla. These were later featured in Elon’s Model 3 launch event, which was pretty cool to discover in a few online articles. During his presentation, Musk coined the dashboard an “ICBM Map.”
I enjoyed my time working at Tesla, but realized I needed to have better work life balance for my life goals. Having a personal life was key for me. This led me to start a charity organization focused on athletics in my free time, and eventually leave Tesla for a different industry altogether.
How did you transition from Tesla to venture capital firm Institutional Venture Partners?
During my finance classes at Rady, I enjoyed the precision of creating financial statements, algorithms, and elaborate excel macro sheets with the purposes of evaluating the financial health of companies. Naturally, I featured this certification on my LinkedIn (as Rady Career Connections recommended for a career change). After I spent some time job hunting, an executive recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn, inquiring about a role in an established venture capital firm. The firm had investments in Uber, Twitter, Dropbox, and Snapchat. They later offered me the role of Senior Manager of Analytics. I was in awe, as venture capital was a seemingly impossible industry to enter.
At IVP, I worked closely on analytics and excel valuation tools, weighing-in on pitch meetings for autonomous vehicles, and attending executive VC events with the likes of Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington and NBA player Kevin Durant. I even worked with the financials of the corporate board of directors’ books. It was everything I had imagined and more. I was able to leverage my VC Finance Class, DCF Certification, and startup valuation knowledge from the MBA program.
Why did you leave venture capital to work on autonomous vehicles?
I felt [something missing] in my daily work without the hands-on aspect of creating, strategizing, launching, and scaling tech products. Helping to advise on funding was fascinating, but I realized I enjoyed being part of a team that is ‘making a product’ more than anything.
I had a few experiences working and advising in the self-driving car sector while at Tesla and IVP, and I co-founded the Self-Driving Car sector of Women Who Code. At Tesla, I worked on ad-hoc behavior analytics reports for the Autopilot team in addition to supply chain analytics. During my time at Tesla, I also purchased a Model S with Autopilot.
The ease and pleasant nature of driving in Autopilot, a Level 2 autonomous vehicle, convinced me that this is the future of transportation. While Tesla is leading the consumer market for Level 2 autonomous vehicles, they are not alone in the quest to create an autonomous future. A colleague of mine from Tesla, and now Lyft, recommended Lyft’s Level 5 division. I saw a great fit for my skill set and made the jump to join the future of autonomous transportation.
What work did you do at Lyft?
I led data infrastructure, simulation software, and testing hardware in the loop, V&V and strategy for Lyft’s autonomous vehicle. An incredible aspect of autonomous vehicles is how many different technologies are combined to create self-driving vehicles. At a high level, a car must know where it is in the world in relation to everything else, and plan what it will do next. The underlying technology, including machine learning algorithms, compute, and simulation software, has been fascinating to work on and build. In many cases, the well-organized quantitative analysis course at Rady helped me understand some of the underlying computer vision and machine learning involved in creating a self-driving car.
How did your Rady MBA prepare you for Lyft’s IPO, and what was the day of the IPO like?
The MBA program prepared me not just to understand Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to build and read balance sheets and cash flow statements, but also to understand the landscape of the financial markets. Until recently, the IPO landscape was desolate, as a result of the 2007/2008 market collapse and the following financial levers and regulation.
In an advanced behavioral finance course at Rady, my team worked with stock market data to predict market performance for a given month. This was an extension of the common statement, which we proved accurate, that “Monday’s market will predict the market performance for the rest of the week”. Despite these stellar lessons in financial market behavior, I did not expect to be part of a company listing itself on the market in an IPO. However, my lessons at Rady prepared me well for this experience.
On the day of the Lyft IPO, as a Program Manager in Lyft’s Level 5 Autonomous Vehicle Division, I awoke at 4 a.m. When I drove to the office at 5 a.m., the freeways were ghostly empty. I arrived at the Palo Alto office early for the 6 a.m. NASDAQ bell tolling for Lyft’s televised IPO. The room was filled with my enthusiastic coworkers, celebrating the ringing of the bell. For those who followed the series of large tech unicorn IPO’s, the rest is history.
How do you suggest others learn more about autonomous vehicles, since many companies are in stealth mode?
Take strides to learn about open source libraries for machine learning like TensorFlow. Look into Udacity’s Degree in Self Driving Cars. And of course, stay up to date on regulation.
What’s next for you?
I recently left Lyft’s self-driving division, and have just accepted a new role at a search company. The charity organization that I founded (Silicon Valley Ice Skating Association) will be hosting its first Tech and Ice crossover event on January 11th, 2020, “Robots on Ice.”
In the meantime, if you have any questions about Rady, please be sure to reach out to the wonderful Rady admissions team! I feel very lucky to have chosen such a great school to attend for business school, and keep in touch with classmates. The alumni network, Rady Career Connections, fellow students, and professors have been a delight to work with and guide me throughout my career.