Audrey Kim '09
Position: Product Manager for Financial Planning Company
Field: Finance & Consulting
Thesis Title: “Japan’s Changing Credibility in the London Bond Market (1904-1914)” Awarded the Hoopes Prize
During my first History 90 tutorial, Prof. Ernest May told us that before reading any book, he always (quite literally) judged its cover. Before wading into a specialist’s compendium of nitty-gritty detail, he advised us, one should always understand at a high level what the book is trying to achieve, and how the author proposes to persuade you that she’s right. Prof. May’s advice was particularly helpful because this mental blueprint (the book’s thesis and its supporting arguments) massively simplified the exercise of evaluating each of those elements on its merits, and understanding how each contributed to or undermined the book’s overarching mission.
This is what I do every day at work. As a Product Manager at LearnVest (we sell tech-enabled financial planning), I hear all sorts of arguments from all sorts of people. Our designers will pound the table on behalf of a particular color palette. Our engineers are in a constant, passionate search for the most flexible but robust data platforms. Our financial planners will spend hours debating what, exactly, composes the ideal retirement strategy.
If we let all of our specialists fight without end about the technicalities of their fields, we’d never get anywhere as a business. So, as a Product Manager, I moderate these debates. It’s my job to speak just enough of each specialist’s language to understand the crux of his argument and relate that to our company’s overarching goal (to serve more clients better and faster). I also often need to consider these arguments from the position of all the other parties involved (including the user!), and weigh the impacts that a change might have on everyone else. In short, my job is to cut to the very core of an argument without paying overdue credence to minutia, and evaluate that argument in a variety of contexts. I certainly hope that Prof. May would have been as delighted as I am that lessons learned from historiography can come in so handy in the world of a top tech start-up.