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MLT Rising Leader Spotlight: Erin Teague – Forging A Path For Women in Silicon Valley

Erin Teague, a 2008 MBA Prep Alum and 2010 Harvard MBA, is the Director of Product Management at Yahoo. Our final 40 Under 40 in Silicon Valley spotlight, Erin shared her journey from engineering to forging a path for women in Silicon Valley.

Tell us about your academic and career path before joining Yahoo?

I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, in relatively close proximity of the big three U.S. automotive manufacturers, which gave me early exposure to engineering as a discipline and viable career path.  Freshman year in college at the University of Michigan, I took an introduction to computer programming class and I liked being challenged to think in the context of building software. Consequently, I decided to major in computer science / computer engineering and pursue a career in software development.

Every summer in college, I interned at a different company in a different sector. My final summer, I interned at Morgan Stanley, where I worked to build web-based algorithmic trading apps. Building a brand new product inside of a very large company, in a lot ways, is like working at a scrappy start-up. Upon graduation, I accepted a full-time role on the same team as a software engineer designing algorithms embedded in electronic trading applications. By the time I left Morgan Stanley, we were trading $10 billion a day.

That experience, was tremendous in helping me to understand the value of an MBA.

If you think back to your MLT experience, what stands out as helping you achieve your success?

The most impactful element of the program was the relationship I had with my coach, Holly Jackson. She believed in me almost more than I believed in myself.  My five-year business school reunion just passed, and it’s amazing how far away the application process seems now.  I remember submitting my HBS application on the deadline day and subsequently emailing everyone who had been helpful throughout the process. Holly was at the top of that list and her response was, “It’s just a matter of time.”  I was so humbled by that.

How has your Harvard MBA helped propel your career?

Having studied computer engineering in college, my education was very depth-oriented, meaning I learned a lot about engineering but I didn’t  learn much else of interest, specifically the functional areas of business. That’s what was appealing to me about business school.

Harvard Business School really honed and sharpened my leadership skills, helping me to understand organizational behavior and structure; how you motivate people, run a team and manage change through difficult times. I gained real confidence and fundamental skills in terms of how to lead.

For me, the case method was an ideal way of learning. Everything learned is wrapped up in a real-life experience, in which we were challenged to put ourselves in the protagonist role of each case.  Everyone has a different perspective. Your performance in class was not based on how well you build a financial model. It was far more important to understand the decisions made based on the output of that model. That experience is consistent with my day-to-day life now: how do I convince everyone on my team, all the stakeholders of the product, that the fundamental product decisions we made are the right ones?

Can you describe what you do as Director of Product Management at Yahoo?

A product manager at any software company works with a team of engineers and designers to build a product. I work on the Yahoo Fantasy Sports product, which comprises the fantasy product, the daily fantasy product and the sports product. These products exist on four different platforms, web, desktop, iOS and Android. I’m responsible for user growth: acquiring new users, activating those users, and then re-engaging those users over time. The things that I think about day-to-day are all the “W questions,” What is the problem that we are fundamentally trying to solve with the feature that we want to build? Why is that important? Who are we solving it for? What are the other players in the space doing? What will distinguish our feature set? The final “W” question is “when?” I’m constantly partnering with my engineering and design counterparts to think through the “how?” So how are these features going to be built? How is it going to scale to reach millions of users? We work in partnership to think about the overall user experience.

How important of a role has mentorship played in your career?

I can’t overstate the impact that mentors have had on my life from high school through today. I am constantly leaning on people in my life who I consider to be mentors. Folks who I consider to be mentors are people who I might have a relationship with beyond a mentoring relationship. It becomes a little bit less structured at this stage in my life and becomes really about building relationships with people who I believe I can learn from. A lot of people who I consider to be mentors also look to me for different things. Whether it be insight around a specific product or piece of technology. So it’s an opportunity for me to give back to them as well.

What advice would you give women interested in rising to senior leadership in Silicon Valley?

The biggest thing that is really interesting and kind of the biggest value is the element of uniqueness. We’re working on products that are touching billions of people every single day. That means the consumer group for the product that you build is incredibly diverse. So having a room of people who represent your user base, who are working on that product is more important now than it’s ever been. The more diverse the team is who’s building this product, the better the product outcome will ultimately be. And recognize that and embrace that as a woman, that you have a unique voice in this room on these teams. Specifically for social products, women tend to be at the forefront of the user group and the early adopters. So it’s important to have voices in the room that specifically understand those user cases. And when that doesn’t happen, it’s reflected in the product and the product experience.

How do you feel about winning the 40 Under 40 award?

The 40 Under 40 recognition is incredibly humbling for me. It’s not something that I take for granted. One thing that happened during the ceremony that was really powerful: there is someone who a lot of the 40 Under 40 honorees look up to who we consider to be the godfather of Silicon Valley, his name is Ken Coleman. He’s a prominent executive at major companies like Silicon Graphics and HP and extremely influential in terms of pushing the barriers of diversity in Silicon Valley.  He’s a board member of MLT. So it’s like two generations removed of Silicon Valley and that to me was incredibly powerful. I have to do the best work that I can do to pay homage for people who paved a way for me to be in the position that I’m in today and to also pave the way for those who come behind me.

What’s next for you?

In terms of what’s next, I’m having a great experience at Yahoo. I’m really passionate about the work that I’m doing. I am proud to be on a team with an amazing leader. Our CEO is a woman who is incredibly brilliant and as smart of a CEO as I’ve ever worked for. I think that opportunity alone, to work for a really incredible and influential woman in technology who understands technology, who has a software development background, who’s leading an incredibly impactful company is invaluable. So I hope to continue to have an impact in the products that I build and have an influential leadership role in the sector.