My Professor Became My Career Mentor

“Professor Hargadon, through his effective and engaging instruction, opened my mind”

As a kid, my parents called me “GoGo” because I was both really determined and really fast. Both characteristics have endured to this day, and, like most things, have been a help or a hindrance depending on the context. 

In fact, my determination—i.e. my stubbornness—has driven me to explore and thrive in roles at some of the riskiest, most uncertain companies: Early-stage tech startups. 

One of my first jobs out of college was at an early-stage San Francisco-based startup, Lexy, Inc., which specialized in short-form audio clips. You know, those quick bursts of news, entertainment and celebrity gossip we sometimes call podcasts. Unfortunately for us, we were far too early—people didn’t really “get” it yet—and the company ultimately closed two years after I began working there.

Luckily, I wasn’t deterred and quickly joined another startup. There, I experienced the stability of a Series B company, which was still far rockier than the average Fortune 500 corporation. In my eight years at the company, we:

  • Acquired a competitor in what was deemed a “friendly takeover.”
  • Engaged in a massive site cleanup and redesign in response to Google’s infamous “Panda” update.
  • Transitioned from a single-site to subdomains, to a multi-site structure composed of “vertical sites” like pethelpful.com. 
Cami Harris MBA 22 and Professor Andy Hargadon walking outside UC Davis' Gallagher Hall
Camille Harris MBA 22 says her career moves and versatility as an employee finally made sense in Professor Andrew Hargadon's (right) class.

This experience opened my eyes to numerous possibilities and excited my curiosity. 

Exploring New Ventures and an MBA

Determined to work at all the startups, I eventually sought another gig. 

I joined another small company, where I really grew my product marketing and Quickbooks skills, among others. Because we were so small, everyone seemed to do a little bit of everything. But that made us scrappy and helped me branch out and dabble a bit in machine learning. 

Four years and two more startups later and I found myself still uncertain about where I wanted to work. It was March of 2020 and I was unsure what value I would add to a company given my broad, generalist background. 

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

I decided to pursue my MBA, and transform my business skillset. 

I chose UC Davis’ Full-Time MBA program, and fall 2021 was the first time I heard from Professor Andrew Hargadon. I was listening to a thought-transforming first lesson on how the use of penicillin was only possible because of the work of scientists before Alexander Fleming

Professor Hargadon had my attention. Through readings, lectures, videos and other activities in his Management of Innovation course, Hargadon systematically debunked the so-called “great man” theory, which elevates founders and inventors to near-celebrity, or deity status (e.g. Elon Musk). 

Hargadon’s lessons never denigrated or diminished the intellect or core capabilities of founders like Musk, rather they provided a new framework with which to evaluate the “recipe” for success of modern and historical innovations. 

Hargadon genuinely empowered us by methodically deconstructing and delineating the complex systems that, for example, enabled the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, Google searches and the television. If Steve Jobs could build the most profitable stores in the United States with zero background in retail, surely we could accomplish something great or drive innovation if bolstered by experts, advisors and knowing what not to do from prior competitors.

Closing the Gap

Do you remember where you were when everything fell into place? I do. 

Cami Harris MBA 22 showcases her new position with VentureFuel alongside Professor Andy Hargadon
Harris (left) shows a logo on her phone from her new company, VentureFuel, alongside Professor Hargadon.

It was in Hargadon’s class that everything started making sense. My career moves over the years, serving as a Swiss army knife in human form—it all began to seem less random and more valuable, especially when I learned I was one of the few people in my class with that degree of startup experience. 

As the quarter progressed, I developed a coherent story about my background, one that melded my seemingly disparate work experiences. In doing so, I released many negative feelings and discharged the voices from my past that questioned what exactly I was doing and made me doubt myself. 

I began appreciating my boldness and curiosity and realized each was an asset. I finally understood my, to use a marketing term, unique selling proposition. I also learned to trust myself and my choices, even though it’s sometimes lonely or scary. Indeed, showing up and authentically sharing my work history and enthusiasm for startups paved the way for my attainment of a full-time role after graduation as an innovation analyst at VentureFuel

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” – Robert Frost

Although I have not seen Good Will Hunting, I do know it involves an awakening catalyzed by a college professor. That scene has played out in real life for me. 

Professor Hargadon, through his effective and engaging instruction, opened my mind in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. His enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship, bolstered by a firm grounding in traditional business concepts, provided the perfect laboratory for a new schema with which I could view my unique startup background. 

Thank you, Professor Hargadon, for helping me find my way.