First Annual UVA Darden DC Tech Connect Conference Immerses MBAs in the Technology Sector
By Molly Mitchell
Darden recently took a key step in advancing its presence in the technology industry with the inaugural Darden DC Tech Connect conference. Almost 100 current Darden students and over 50 alumni gathered to network and learned directly from industry leaders on 13 October.
The event provided intimate access to some of the largest companies in tech through morning visits to Amazon and Microsoft and afternoon speakers from Meta, Google and Adobe, and more, at Darden’s DC Metro Grounds. A range of Darden alumni-turned-tech-industry-insiders provided big-picture insights in panels, gave practical career advice on roles and pathways, and engaged personally with Darden students eyeing a future in tech. The Tech Connect, hosted by Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology, was a watershed moment in the Institute’s growing focus on developing a stronger community for students, alumni, faculty, and employers around tech.
Highlights from the breakout sessions include:
De-Risking the Rest of Your Life
While big tech was well-represented, Darden students also benefited from the perspective of leaders in earlier-stage and smaller tech firms.
“Make sure that you end up viewing what you’re doing right now as de-risking the rest of your life,” said keynote speaker Conor Sibley (MBA ’06), CTO of Association Analytics and serial tech entrepreneur, in a fireside chat with Batten Institute Executive Director Omar Garriott.
“Now’s your opportunity to take risks and ask yourselves not only, ‘What kind of money do I want to make?’ but also, ‘What kind of opportunities do I want to create for myself, and what kind of impact do I want to have on the world?’” Sibley emphasized the near-universal applicability of tech knowledge in any sector, and the opportunity for big impact on the world and one’s career by exploring startups and lesser-known organizations.
This is the Conversation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) took center stage in a sophisticated and nuanced discussion on the future of tech moderated by Darden Professor Mike Lenox, the Tayloe Murphy Professor in Business Administration. Darden alums working for AI-focused companies unpacked their experience and extrapolated the possible future trajectories of the technology.
There was uniform agreement that any such future has generative AI as a foundational tool. “If you want to be in any sector of government or business right now, this is the conversation,” said Jake Castillo (MBA ’22) of C3 AI.
Panelists acknowledged the uncertainty and risks, but emphasized the need for students to be certain they understand the opportunities, challenges and capabilities of AI as applied to any career path. “It doesn’t really matter what job you have anymore. Someone is going to ask you what your AI strategy is point blank. And so, you should probably have an answer for that,” said Fareed Melhem (MBA ’10) of Medidata Solutions.
The Network Effect
The strength of the Darden network in the tech sector was a common thread throughout the day, and speakers emphasized the impact Darden connections have had on their careers. They universally urged students to take advantage of the opportunities that cultivating genuine relationships can provide.
At the networking happy hour on the roof of Darden’s Grounds, with a stunning view of DC behind her, former Executive Director of the Batten Institute and current Darden Interim Dean Jeanne Liedtka challenged the students and alumni gathered to continue pursuing opportunities at the leading edge of tech and to bring the innovative, ethical and collaborative skillset Darden is known for to those endeavors. “Collaboration is how we do things at Darden, and you can see the results: new ideas, new connections, and new opportunities — and a lot of learning from each other. “
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.
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