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Switching gears: Highlights from the 2020 Tech Elevate Program.

By James Sainty, LBS Elevate Class of 2020

Coming into the MBA, my focus areas were venture building, product management and product marketing. To successfully transition from my previous role in business development and marketing, I needed to better understand the tech ecosystem, gain experience working in multi-disciplinary product teams and augment my tech skill set. The LBS Tech Elevate program was set-up to help MBA’s in exactly my position, so getting accepted into the program was a great opportunity to upskill and hone my efforts. Below is a small collection of highlights.

At LBS, a big part of the battle is knowing which of the hundreds of events, workshops, company meet-ups, fairs and talks to attend. It’s not unusual to find two or three happening at the same time on a given night, or for the popular ones to reach sign-up capacity before you know about it. The Elevate team was brilliant at distilling the important tech-related events on and off campus, making sure we knew about them early and booking us in. For all the inspiring speakers, thought-leaders and workshops LBS put on, there were still some key gaps for those of us wanting to work with tech teams, and Elevate was quick to understand what we needed and fill the requirement. For instance, I was keen to get a better grasp of the tools and programming languages required to build great products. But what to focus on? The programming languages and tools one works on are dictated by what is being built and the stage of the development lifecycle and we were getting a lot of mixed opinions on what to focus on. Elevate responded by getting my cohort and I onto a well-reviewed external course on understanding the full stack in mobile and web programming. We got a thorough overview of the latest technologies in web and mobile, the trade-offs between programming languages (Ruby vs. Python etc.), how to build apps in a single code-base for both iOS and Android and familiarity with the best development tools (Github, AWS etc). It was a great introduction to the stack and gave me much more confidence in understanding what’s happening in the engineering department.

To get some hands’ on experience and apply some of my learnings, I was really keen to participate in LBS’s annual hackathon, and I was lucky that Elevate secured me a place. HackLBS brings together tech, design and commercial talent to create MVPs over the course of an intense weekend of collaboration. I worked with the phenomenal CargoFul team, made up of a full stack developer, a data scientist/ back-end developer, MBA consultants and financiers. We worked day and night to create a minimum viable solution to the highly fragmented and inefficient Mexican logistics market. I worked as the bridge between the commercial and tech teams, focusing on the UX and co-created a working prototype from the perspective of shippers, truckers and companies. It was incredibly enjoyable and inspiring to see what’s possible when you bring together talented motivated individuals with different skills and perspectives. The most gratifying outcome is that the CargoFul team is building on the weekend’s output to create a fully-fledged business!

Working on data with autonomy is essential in product marketing and management roles. My cohort and I were therefore pretty keen to get to grips with SQL, the dominant database language. Elevate put our cohort into a SQL bootcamp where, over the course of the day, we learned how to structure complex queries off a live e-commerce site.

We were very fortunate to have a day-long workshop delivered by Sophie Matveeva, a tech founder and journalist, learning best-practises around building products, working with tech teams in sprints, and some invaluable lessons from mistakes she’d made in the course of building In general, it was useful for knowing how engineering departments operate, understanding how updates are integrated into active code, and how the discrete units in development teams work together.

Aside from the upskilling, collectively my cohort and the Elevate team make up an invaluable inner community within LBS. Week to week, there are peer-to-peer interview preparation sessions, interesting resources being shared, and always a handful of like-minded people on hand to join me at workshops and tech events around the City, all of which serve to drive momentum and motivate.

Writing this in the depths of the Covid-19 crisis, the job market and economy are suffering. But from crisis comes opportunity, and while the future is far from clear, I’m now in a stronger position to build impactful technology solutions in the wake of the pandemic thanks to LBS and the wonderful Tech Elevate team.

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