Darden Students Tap Into Well-Connected Network of Alumni on the West Coast

By Mary Shea Watson

As about 25 University of Virginia Darden School of Business students sat in Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, listening to a panel of seven alumni working at the global technology giant, an interesting topic arose: “What does a strong network look like?”

As it turns out, the Darden students were in the midst of experiencing the answer to the question.

The First Year students were part of a West Coast swing offered to introduce them to the thriving technology, startup and venture capital ecosystems there. Through Technology Treks to the San Francisco Bay and Seattle areas, as well as the Darden Connect program in the Bay Area, students visited dozens of companies and met over 100 Darden graduates of classes ranging from 1972 to 2019.

Rongwu Liang (Class of 2021)

Rongwu Liang (Class of 2021)

This year’s Connect and trek participants included Batten Scholarship recipients, candidates for the MBA/Master of Science in data science dual-degree program, and current and aspiring entrepreneurs. First Year Rongwu Liang was “amazed” by Darden’s alumni network on the West Coast.

“Even three time zones away, Darden has a strong network. Whether in established tech giants or lean startup-style new firms, you name it, you can find Darden graduates excelling there,” Liang said. “They’ve formed such a close-knit community on the West Coast. They talk with each other frequently, and know what’s happening in one another’s lives. You can see their willingness to contribute to Darden wherever they may be.”

Trekking to the Global Center of Technology and Venture

Organized by Darden Career Development Center (CDC) Senior Director of Technology Careers Jenny Zenner (MBA ’03), the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle tech treks offer First Years a unique look inside technology companies ranging from midsize disruptors to established global giants.

Zarina Khan

Zarina Khan (Class of 2021)

“Unlike investment banks, not all tech companies are eagerly opening their doors to 40-plus visitors, and reasonably so. This time of year, recruiters are on the road doing their jobs at campuses, so by and large we rely on our alumni to host us for trek visits. Fortunately, our alumni come through,” Zenner said. “My goal is to have meaningful visits. This year delivered.”

Zenner noted that students heard a succinct overview of digital marketing from Ashish Sharma (MBA ’07) at Rakuten, learned core product management duties from Caroline Rose at Walmart eCommerce (MBA ’19) and heard behind-the-scenes stories from Qualtrics Chief Technology Officer John Thimsen, who was previously the fifth employee at Amazon’s Echo division.

First Year Zarina Khan called the treks “pivotal” in affirming her desire to work in technology after graduation. “Hearing from Darden graduates at top tech companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft showed me how what I am learning via the case method and what I am gaining from being part of Darden’s vibrant community will contribute to my success for years to come.”

Direct Connect to the Epicenter of Innovation

Now in its second year, the Connect program offers select First Years interested in early stage companies, venture capital or launching their own ventures the chance to meet with founders and investors across a range of industries and investing stages. Organized by Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Director of Strategic Initiatives Robyn Swift, Connect was launched to create access to venture capital and startup sectors considered by many to be a difficult professional path for MBAs to gain a foothold.

“Connect provides a window into the lives of founders and funders who share experiences that help our students begin to picture their own professional paths,” said Swift, who is based in the Bay Area. “There is no single formula or prescriptive model for MBAs entering the venture ecosystem, but there are learnings from those who have come before that inform students about the skillsets and the network they will need to develop for long-term success.”

Many students in the Connect program spend their summer internship as Batten Technology Venture Fellows, Mayo Center Investment Fellows or in the Batten Venture Internship Program.  First Year Michael Bojanski entered Connect with significant entrepreneurial experience but lacked venture capital knowledge. He called the experience “eye-opening.”

“Each day was packed with amazing company after amazing company, and I came away with 25-plus fantastic contacts in the Bay Area,” Bojanski said. “I also formed deep connections with my fellow classmates, and as several entrepreneurs stated on this trek, forming a network with other founders is key to success.”

A Growing Purpose-Driven Network on the West Coast

The technology sector and the West Coast had a strong draw on Darden’s full-time MBA Class of 2019. Amazon hired the third largest number of graduates (13), and 17 percent of the class accepted roles on the West Coast. As Julia Smith (MBA ’19) points out, nearly two dozen of her classmates now call Seattle home, landing the Pacific Northwest city as the third largest destination for the Class of 2019, behind only New York (61) and Atlanta (26). After graduating in May, Smith joined Qualtrics as an enterprise customer success principal not long after the experience management company’s $8 billion acquisition by SAP.

“It’s great to have moved to a brand new city and feel like I already have friends,” Smith said during an evening event co-hosted by the CDC and UVA Club of Seattle with more than 100 Darden alumni and students in attendance.

In San Francisco, 20 alumni from the Class of 2019 now call the area home, making it another popular choice for Darden’s most recent graduates.

Oren Root (MBA ’10), VMware director of product management, spoke to Darden’s growing strength in the San Francisco Bay Area. “You and your Darden network will get you your next job,” he said. “Darden is different that way. You’re with 300 people who are your friends. You know them. People will bend over backwards, no matter your class year. That’s why I give back.”

About 50 Darden alumni and students attended a Bay Area Tech Trek panel on data analytics and technology industry insights with Darden Professor and Google Visiting Researcher Casey Lictendahl, Ziff Davis Senior Vice President Jason Sinnarajah (MBA ’07), Splunk Data Trust Manager Merera Shakar (MBA ’12) and GE Digital Vice President Akanksha Manik Talya (MBA ’09).

Sinnarajah praised Darden’s unique education experience as a major differentiator for technology companies hiring MBA talent. “You’re able to articulate and defend your decisions. That’s how you differentiate from Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate Business School. The Darden education is different.”

Alumni and students gathered at an evening event in Seattle.
Professor Casey Lichtendahl led a panel at an alumni and student event in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Bay Area Tech Trek included a visit to Google headquarters.
Darden alumni at Google sat on a panel to share their insights with current First Year students.
The Seattle Tech Trek included a visit to Microsoft headquarters.
Darden alumni at Qualtrics sat on a panel to share their insights with current First Year students.
The Seattle Tech Trek included a visit to Starbucks headquarters.
Darden alumni at Walmart eCommerce sat on a panel to share their insights with current First Year students.
The Seattle Tech Trek included a visit to Amazon headquarters.

Below, find the full list of alumni hosts and companies participating in Darden’s San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle tech treks and the Darden Connect program in the Bay Area.

  • Adobe: Erin Bryne (MBA ’18), Karen Okaka (MBA ’18), Paloma Begoechea Romero (MBA ’18)
  • Amazon: Antonio Com (MBA ’05), Barun Chakrabarty (MBA ’12), Rajesh Mathew (MBA ’07)
  • Autodesk: Paige Van Buskirk (MBA ’10)
  • BlueRun Ventures: Jonathan Ebinger (MBA ’93)
  • DocuSign: Krista Manka (MBA ’13)
  • Electronic Arts: Scott Allen (UVA ‘07)
  • Expedia: Sean Cheng (MBA ’13), Umang Choudhary (MBA ’08), Jonathan Harris (MBA ’12), David Riley (MBA ’09), David Shepro (MBA ’10)
  • Cathy Friedman (MBA ’86)
  • Facebook: James Freedman Aponte (MBA ’06), Brian Cramer (MBA ’13), Katelyn Dewey Reams (UVA ’11), Andrew Johnson (MBA ’17), Kartik Krishnan (MBA ’13), Eddie O’Neil (UVA ’01), Oscar Rodriguez (MBA ’10), Kris Subhash (MBA ’15)
  • Frisco Brandy: Charlie O’Connell (MBA ’08)
  • Glynn Capital Management: John Glynn (LAW ’65), Jackie Glynn (MBA ’93)
  • Glassdoor
  • Google: Jackson Castleberry (MBA ’09), Benjamin Lin (MBA ’13), Rami Ibrahimi (MBA ’19), Anastasia Root (MBA ’10), Jacqui Snell (MBA ’19), Alan Sung (MBA ’15)
  • LendStreet: Jerry Nemorin (MBA ’08)
  • LiveRamp: John Shaughnessy (MBA ‘07)
  • Makena Capital Management: David Burke (UVA ’88, LAW ’93)
  • Microsoft: Matt Attaway (MBA ’14), Peter Bergen (MBA ’17), Patricia Cayo (MBA ’09), Vidhur Srinivasan Chari (MBA ’18), Michael Christison (MBA/MSDS ’19), Ashish Singh (MBA ’19), Hongwu Wong (MBA ’14)
  • Okta: Aaron Yee (MBA ‘12)
  • Playground Ventures: Larry Lenhart (MBA ’90)
  • Qualtrics: Julia Smith (MBA ‘19)
  • Radar Partners: Andy Bugas (MBA ’86)
  • Rakuten: Ashish Sharma (MBA ‘07)
  • Rippleworks: Tim Kunihiro (UVA ’93)
  • San Jose Sharks: Jonathan Becher (UVA)
  • Satsuma Pharmaceuticals: John Kollins (MBA ’89)
  • Square: Joseph Woodlief (UVA ’14), Anna Xie (UVA ’14)
  • Starbucks: Amy Appleby (MBA ’16), Paul Diamantopoulos (MBA ’09), Lesley Short (MBA ’13), Ximena Velez (MBA ’19)
  • T-Mobile: Hector Arcaya (MBA ’99), Lisa Hillman (MBA ’12), Stephen Wang (MBA ’11), Arnav Verma (MBA ’19)
  • Tableau: Brad Robinson (UVA ’03), Evan Slotnick (UVA ’16), Tina Xie (MBA ’11)
  • Uber: Dell Dailey (MBA ’14), Rohan Gupta (MBA ’07), MJ Keller (MBA ’19), Kimaya Karmalkar (MBA ’19), Lansing Lee (MBA ’09), Katherine Salisbury (MBA ’17)
  • VMware: Oren Root (MBA ’10), Nikhil Shetty (MBA ‘18), Baker Woods (MBA ’15)
  • VSCO: Whitney Hagan (MBA ’18)
  • Walmart eCommerce: Gal Avrahamy (MBA ’15), Paige Hurlbut (MBA ’18), Miguel Gomez Ramirez (MBA ’19), Caroline Rose (MBA ’19)
  • Ziff Davis: Jason Sinnarajah (MBA ’07)
About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Molly Mitchell
Associate Director of Content Marketing and Social Media
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia