From NASA to IBM

Published 01/24/2020 in Alumni Features
Written 01/24/2020

We visited Kristle McCracken MS ’03 at IBM in San Jose, California to hear about her path to fulfilling her childhood dream of working at NASA, and her life after that dream job.

We visited Kristle McCracken MS ’03 at IBM in San Jose, California to hear about her path to fulfilling her childhood dream of working at NASA, and her life after that dream job.  The IBM campus in San Jose has a large open courtyard with bright colorful chairs and couches that make the space great for an outdoors lunch or a casual meeting.  We sat there to know more about Kristle’s story, starting from her choice of major and what a B.S. in Symbolic Systems has meant.  Kristle said she changed her major multiple times and even though she graduated with a B.S. in Symbolic Systems, her initial thoughts were to major in either Mechanical Engineering or Aerospace. 

For her Masters Kristle pursued a degree in Human-Computer Interaction and she spoke about how she has always been fascinated by human-computer interaction and the logic behind Computer Science.  Although she never set out to be an engineer she worked as a web developer during her gap years after Stanford.  Kristle knew that she wanted to go into the tech sector and she recognized the importance to being able to speak the language and understand the domain, even if you will not be developing full-time.  Having that experience was helpful although getting a job was hard.  “It was crushing,” she explained after applying to 35 jobs and when being invited to tech interviews they were intimidating, full of riddles and logic puzzles.  But things always work out and her first job not only provided her with experience but also the opportunity to begin building her network. An added bonus at her new job was finding a mentor who quickly stepped up to help with soft skills development including, negotiation and communication to get stakeholder buy-in. This is something Kristle will always be grateful for.   

“Dreams change over time and working for NASA was a dream that was evolving.”  Kristle’s opportunity to complete her graduate work at Carnegie Mellon opened a door to work at NASA as a generalist on Research + Design.  She got to work on really cool projects like supporting the International Space Station and her 8 years at NASA helped her realize that she didn’t want to be a generalist.  “I never really felt like an expert,” she mentioned and followed that by saying that she wanted the opportunity to specialize in research. 

When she began looking for jobs again, Kristle was much more particular on what she was looking for, and that included a good supervisor.  Her supervisor at IBM, who recently left unfortunately, and her team were a big draw.  IBM houses a community of diverse experts.  She learns from people with a wide variety of research backgrounds – academic research, anthropology, statistics and cognitive science.  For just about a year she has been working on Design Research at IBM where she figures out what customers need and want so that the team gets the right design of the final product to be delivered.  “Once you figured out the right design, you think about how to make it better and you work on multiple iterations of the product to make the design right.”  Kristle says this is stimulating and she is currently working on a new Cloud Pak which will be an analytics platform for all data and analytic needs of an enterprise.  Organizations will be able to access all of their data sources in one place, improving data governance within the organization and accelerating the journey to AI. 

Kristle is happy in her new place.  We did make a pit-stop at the snack cart and appreciated seeing that she is well taken care of in that aspect.  She encourages young Scholars to pursue opportunities in the tech sector not just because of pay but also because the work brings a great sense of satisfaction and happiness.  For Kristle, happiness comes from relationship building.  Working with others and collaborating is what brings her happiness, something she experiences every day in her new dream job.  Kristle welcomes speaking to other Milken Scholars who are interested in learning more about her work, her studies and overall, her experiences as she has navigated through her career. 

Congratulations Kristle for being a leader in your field.  We look forward to hearing more about your future accomplishments!

KM 2.7


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