Recently, Lauren Schmidt’s steps led her through the Sallyport at Rice University and toward her role as a project manager in DevDiv, Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise development division. Schmidt, who graduated with a BS in computer science, started her journey to DevDiv several years ago by building an impressive portfolio of software development and leadership experiences.
Through two internships working with Microsoft’s Visual Studio products, Schmidt learned she preferred project management to software development. She said, “I really enjoy the project manager role because I like thinking more about how our users are actually interacting with the product.” When people say they want a certain feature in an application, she is interested in identifying the underlying problem, as well as what programmers and designers can do to resolve it.
Schmidt said COMP 410, a course about software engineering methodologies, also helped shape her passion for project management. She took the class as a junior and said, “My official role was ‘Assistant Project Manager/Customer Relations’ and my responsibilities included relaying customer concerns to the class and asking the customer questions on behalf of the class.” Her role as the customer liaison focused heavily on presentations and demos, with appropriate task prioritization and close collaboration with team members working on different aspects of project. “The course really helped me understand what it takes to manage a team, what the different roles in the team are really doing, and what kind of perspective you should have on the system –depending on who you are in the team,” she said.
Her leadership experience as president of Sid Richardson College helped prepare her for the administrative challenges of her COMP 410 role. “The college presidents are really in charge of interfacing with administrators and voicing student concerns,” said Schmidt. Instead of leading projects, “the role is more about empowering other people to take on those projects and providing support where you can.” That experience taught Schmidt how to identify and leverage the strengths of the people she works with, and how to delegate tasks.
She began serving on her residential college’s executive board as Pub Night Chair her freshman year and accepted roles of increasing responsibility each year. Her final months as president included guiding her peers through an internal evaluation of attitudes toward alcohol and respect for each other, facilitating critical negotiations with several different university administrative offices, dealing with press coverage of incidents over which she had no control, and relying on her entire college to uphold self-imposed social restrictions.
Schmidt’s leadership through the storm revealed her capacity for making difficult decisions, accepting responsibility for the actions of her team, and setting a course of corrective action. Those experiences will help launch her career in project management for one of the world’s largest tech companies. “My undergraduate experience at Rice was a constant stream of challenge after challenge and I’m excited to apply both the engineering and leadership skills I’ve developed to problems beyond the hedges,” she said.
-Molly Reilly, Computer Science Assistant Publicist