Even as a child, Laura Teclemariam sought to understand the merging of stories and technology—by pulling apart and examining a VHS tape. Now, as a lead product manager for game publisher Electronic Arts (EA), she works daily at the intersection of play and platforms, content and code.
She is motivated by a desire for children and people from around the globe to see themselves in her products. To do this, she wants to play a greater role in shaping content and saw earning her business degree from the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program as the best way to prepare for this.
Deciding to commit came down to asking herself, "Am I worth this price? I eventually figured out that I was, that I belonged here, and that the ROI of getting an MBA degree from Berkeley Haas was going to be there," she says. This was confirmed in one of her early classes; "You actually do the financial return on investment calculation in your first finance class, so it gets proven out," she says.
Finding balance between product management, parenting, and earning an MBA
Laura also had some concerns about how she would balance work, family, and school, ultimately realizing that planning is paramount. "If you really want to have a balanced life, you have to look at your support network and start to lean on it," she says. Prior to starting school, she let people in her professional and personal life know about her goals and plans and asked for help. "I invested in making sure I had infrastructure in place so my family could be supported when I was in class on the weekends and when I was away for the week-long immersions."
Laura has three daughters, the youngest of whom she gave birth to while in the program. "It's hectic at times, but we plan together and make sure we spend time with each other, whether it's a meal each day, or on Sundays, which we try to reserve as family time." She's also made her family part of the Berkeley Haas experience. "My kids come to to campus. They hang out with me. They're studying with me. My youngest daughter, she is the 'class baby'. All my classmates think of her as their daughter as well, so it's been a wonderful experience."
The EMBA's residency structure let's you focus on school—or weave in family
As she researched MBA programs, the EMBA schedule seemed like the most viable to Laura, as a senior executive and working mother. "I needed the flexibility to work around being a traveling manager and also my kids' activities and being at home," she says. "The executive program and its residency element was perfect for me."
Berkeley EMBA students come to campus about every three weeks for a three-day block of classes and stay together in a nearby hotel. With this schedule, Laura either uses the time to focus fully on school or to make her family part of the experience. "My daughters and husband sometimes come on Friday or Saturday to hang out for dinner. They talk with my classmates. They bring hot chocolate. They have movie night in the hotel," she says. "Depending on your preference, you could try both; where you appreciate the focused time away and where you really interweave your family and your classmates together in the residency experience."
Making Laura's juggling act possible are her husband, mother, and EMBA classmates. "My classmates and study group really are my family away from family, offering to pick up my lunch for me when I'm headed off to nurse or sharing notes from a club meeting I couldn't attend."
Taking what you learn back to work
Back at the office, that ROI started to come almost immediately as Laura has been able to apply her learning at work. "I came from an electrical engineering, computer science background, so I had no business finance background, but taking finance classes helped me understand the investment needed in a lot of the projects I was reviewing. It also helped me understand the kinds of key decisions I would need to make in growing a new product line and how those could impact the bottom line."
Laura knows going back to school, later in one's career—and perhaps with a family—can seem daunting, but advises: "Think about all the things you didn't do in life, and don't let not applying to Berkeley Haas be one of those. Apply, put your best foot forward, and if you get in—go. It will the best thing you ever did."