When Mary Bui-Pham completed her Ph.D. in chemical engineer-ing at the Jacobs School (’92), she never dreamed she’d be known as "the fixer" at a major online media company. Now, she is the Chief-of-Staff for Publisher Products, a division of Yahoo!, Inc. that includes Yahoo.com, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, Tumblr, Flurry, and Polyvore. "I manage all the day-to-day operations for Publisher Products. If there’s a football game on and something glitches on the Sports app, I imme-diately get a text from my siblings in Chicago about it. Chicagoans are always on top of that!"
What has your career path been like?
I received my Ph.D. in chemical engineering from UC San Diego in 1992, and then went on to do two postdocs. During that time, I was doing com-putational modeling of flames, and we had a big multi-lab/university project that was going to be part of Supercomputing ’96…the no-tion of distributed computing was very new at that time. I realized that in the labs, we have more Ph.D.s per square foot than anywhere else, and we’re great at doing research — but not at technical project management. Nonetheless, that was the role in which I found myself, since there was a need for someone to organize and manage projects. Because of that, I took a job at NetGravity, which later merged with DoubleClick and then Google.
Do you feel like the skill set you possess was nurtured at the Jacobs School?
Absolutely. I was trained to use data to make decisions. My time at the Jacobs School also taught me perseverance; months of grueling work
taught me that there’s no problem that’s not solvable. That’s how my brain works now — I’m not afraid of big problems.
The Jacobs School is all about innovation and investment, and that story is more compelling now than it’s ever been. I can’t wait to see how the Dean’s Experience Engineering initiative will prepare students for the real world. The more prepared they are, the more valuable they will be, and nothing beats experience in that respect.