Jen Burge ’04 is used to the Mark Zuckerberg question. A software engineer at Facebook for the past five years, it seems everyone who hears where she works wants to know if she’s met the 30-year-old billionaire and Facebook founder. “I see him around campus occasionally,” she usually replies, referring to the social media company’s sprawling California headquarters.
Being at a high-profile company where the boss is famous might be what intrigues others but for Jen the thrill comes from being able to apply her computer science skills in a way that helps the stars in her own life. “My favorite thing about my job is getting to work on a product my friends and family use every day,” Jen says. “I enjoy knowing that the stuff I do helps so many people stay connected with the people they care about.”
Those people are not only staying connected; they are also making purchases, and lots of them. Last year, worldwide business-to-consumer e-commerce sales amounted to more than $1.2 trillion. Helping drive this economic engine are Stonehill graduates like Jen – developing the code, creating the products and formulating the strategies for some of the top companies in the industry. From giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and eBay to innovative up-and-comers such as BlueSnap, Stonehill grads are making their mark on the e-commerce landscape.
Ingrained With the Desire to Dig Deeper
“Stonehill is where I learned the foundations of all my computer science knowledge,” Jen says. “It’s also where I developed an appreciation for digging deeper into things and really understanding them. Sometimes I see people fix some symptom of a bug and move on, without really grasping what actually was happening. I always try harder to get to the root cause, because that usually leads to a better fix.”
When Jen was at Stonehill, she was the College’s first student to earn a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship grant, which provides students with a three-year annual stipend in support of an advanced degree at any accredited U.S. university. (Jen chose Duke University, where she earned a master’s degree in computer science). She was also a Clare Boothe Luce Scholar, a scholarship program specifically for undergraduate, female students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs.
At Facebook, her team is working on making the registration process for new users faster and more reliable. One thing she really likes about working at the social media giant is that its culture emphasizes skills that were at the very core of her Stonehill education. “What matters [here] is ‘can you think, can you solve problems, can you communicate those solutions to others, and can you translate those solutions into working code?’”
And she’s one of many Stonehill graduates who can confidently answer “yes” to each of those questions.
Brett Peters ’96, the senior engineer on Microsoft’s Office 365 team, is another. The computer science alumnus credits Stonehill with giving him a head start in a competitive field. “The degree I got and the skills I developed at Stonehill let me jump in and be productive right away,” he says.
Ryan Curtis ’10, now a software engineer at Amazon, had a similar experience and credits his professors and Stonehill’s extensive internship opportunities. “I wouldn’t be at Amazon if it weren’t for my internships,” says Ryan. “That’s what broke me into this field.”
Ryan, whose work at Amazon centers on the Kindle Fire HDX, says his appreciation for his Stonehill experience grew even stronger while taking summer classes at a college closer to home. “They just didn’t compare to Stonehill,” he says of those summer courses. “The thing that separates Stonehill’s computer science faculty from other schools’ is that they’re passionate about the subject and that comes through in their classes. They’re friendly and accessible, and invested and involved in student success.”
Professor Ralph Bravaco says he hears regularly from former students and loves learning of their successes. “Our program is small, but it’s ranked nationally and our students are accepted to the top graduate programs in the country,” says Bravaco, chair of Stonehill’s Computer Science Department, which some call a hidden gem at the College. “And we have a 100 percent placement rate in every type of company in the industry.”
Creative Thinkers Who Embrace Innovation
Computer science majors aren’t the only ones from Stonehill who are finding success in the Internet economy. Corinne Sherman ’11 says the classes and internships she experienced while pursuing a marketing degree in Stonehill’s Business Administration Department paved the way for a dream job at eBay, where she is an analytics and marketing specialist. “As I continue to grow as a social analytics expert, I am forever thankful that my Stonehill marketing degree allowed me to be a true innovator and specialize in this field,” says Corinne, who was recruited by eBay after an internship at PayPal.
She recently became one of seven eBay analysts selected globally for the company's prestigious Analytics Leadership Development Program. She also led a team that built the company’s first social commerce dashboard and is developing other innovative solutions, one of which was patented under her name. (She currently has nine patents pending in social commerce field).
“I’ve always been fascinated by how and why people buy,” says Corinne. “I majored in marketing because it allowed me to better understand consumer behavior and ultimately, to begin training myself for how I could capitalize on consumer insights to better understand a person’s experience, interaction or purchase behavior.”
Corinne and other recent grads finding success in this industry are following in the footsteps of Stonehill alumni who have been making their mark in the field for decades.
Ralph Dangelmaier ’88, has been on the cutting edge of the e-commerce frontier for 25 years. He recently became CEO of BlueSnap, an e-commerce payments provider, after a private equity firm bought it for $115 million and says he is excited about the industry’s future. “About three quarters of U.S. merchants who sell online today do not sell globally,” he says. “At BlueSnap, we want to change that.” Ralph is leading the company in developing cross-border service platforms to help merchants expand quickly and easily across the globe. “In 10 years, half the world will use phones to pay for everything,” he predicts. “I really believe we’re in the middle of an incredible evolution.”