Alumnus Shares Lessons Learned as a Founder
For the first time in our history, an alumnus of the Raikes School was the featured speaker at the annual Corporate Advisory Board Speaker Series. Cody Ebberson (cohort 2000) and his wife Reshma Khilnani were panelists in a Fireside chat moderated by Tricia Raikes on start-ups, diversity, innovation, and culture in Silicon Valley.
Following his graduation from the Raikes School in 2004, Cody was hired by Microsoft and shortly after was invited to be one of the founding engineers on the Microsoft Virtual Earth team. Cody credits his experience as a team leader in the Raikes School’s Design Studio for helping him secure a lead position at Microsoft within his first year. Another highlight of Cody’s time at Microsoft was meeting his now wife, Reshma Khilnani.
After three years at Microsoft, Cody left to attend Harvard Business School where he earned his MBA in strategy, technology, and entrepreneurship. Next came roles at 24/7 Radiology, an international teleradiology provider where he spent time in the Philippines and India, and Numenta, an artificial intelligence research and development group. Finally, in 2012, Cody and Reshma started their own company, MedXT, a firm providing big data and analytic solutions for medical imaging groups. MedXT was acquired by Box in the fall of 2014, where Cody and Reshma are now senior engineers.
Reshma earned her B.S. and M.Eng from MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She held roles on the product team at Facebook and Microsoft, and is an alumna of YCombinator. Reshma was featured in a Fortune Magazine article naming her part of “Box’s big data triple threat” and has become one of the leading voices on behalf of women in IT. During the discussion, she described the benefits and disadvantages of being a female in tech. As a tall woman in enterprise software who held the role of CTO, she knows people don’t often forget her – which can be a definite benefit. But, she also knows it’s important to be thick-skinned and focus her time and energy on her business(es) and those people who are excited to work with her regardless of her gender.
Tricia Raikes did a marvelous job as moderator, steering the conversation with these young tech stars around a wide array of tech-themed topics. In addition to sharing their own compelling life stories, Cody and Reshma discussed risk taking, the role of mentorship, networking, and breaking down barriers to getting into and thriving in the technology industry. “I was thrilled when Cody and Reshma agreed to come back to speak with us,” says Dr. Steve Cooper, Executive Director of the Raikes School. “It was a real pleasure to get Cody and Reshma to share their experiences, and what they have learned as they've gone on from college to becoming very successful tech entrepreneurs.”
With the second half of the Fireside chat devoted to student Q&A, there was no shortage of opportunity for current Raikes School students to get advice from these veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Sharing some of her own experiences as both a mentor and mentee, Reshma encouraged both men and women in the Raikes School to look for mentorship from members of the opposite sex. Seeing colleagues as colleagues, and being comfortable having a professional relationship with a member of the opposite sex not only presents the opportunity to see things in a different way but also removes stereotypes about what an engineer should be. The role of culture in creating a positive environment for anyone to work in technology was discussed with several lessons shared about how Box conducts interviews and encourages employees to interact and learn from each other. A key takeaway was the importance of creating a welcoming environment and being open to learning from the experiences of others.
Another dominating theme in the discussion was risk taking. Cody shared the value of being willing to take risks in life by sharing his experience of moving to a foreign country and starting a business there. When asked about techniques to mitigate risk, Cody’s advice was to not worry. Some of the best experiences in life carry the greatest risk as well as the greatest reward. Both Reshma and Cody agreed that, for the students in the audience, now is the best time in life to take risks, as most students don't yet have significant responsibilities. Recognizing that it can be scary, they said that some of the best outcomes they had seen in their careers came from getting past the fear and "going for it". Cody told the students that the worst thing that can happen is that you might fail, and once you realize that failure isn’t so bad, you become free to really succeed.
Students left the session energized. We have set the bar quite high in terms of expectations for next year's speaker(s)!