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HBX Business Blog

HBX Staff Spotlight: Anna Vallee

Posted by HBX on May 25, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Anna Vallee in HBX Studio

We sat down with Anna Vallee, a Research and Teaching Associate on our content team, to talk about her role at HBX and to learn what goes into designing and developing new courses. 

Anna Vallee in Cap and Gown
What is your academic background?

I received a B.A., Political Science from DePaul University and a Masters in Education Policy and Management from Harvard Graduate School of Education. I was also in the very first group of HBX CORe students in 2014...Go Pioneers!

What is your role at HBX?

I assist in the design and delivery of courses. I started working with Professor Jan Hammond on the Business Analytics course in October 2016.

Any former CORe student will understand how awesome that was – like working with a celebrity after watching their film! Collaborating closely with Professor Hammond on student support and course delivery showed me how much her commitment to education comes out in everything that she does.

What projects are you working on right now?

After getting my feet wet with course maintenance, I moved into development in January and am now building out new courses for HBX. My current project is a cross-Harvard collaboration around K-12 school leadership and management.

The role has involved a lot of work with the Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School, and it has been rewarding to make contributions at the intersection of my interests in business and education. The work that we’re doing certainly fulfills HBX’s mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world wherever they are; good principals and school leaders have a monumental impact on a child’s future.

Anna Valle with the Red Sox Mascot, Wally the Green Monster

What does your typical day look like at HBX?

Trick question…there is no typical day during the course development process! At any given time I can be found in meetings, writing up a storm, collaborating with faculty, or preparing for filming. I’d compare the work to something between writing a book and making a movie.

The process is incredibly creative and collaborative, and working with the HBX team makes it lots of fun! My favorite part is being in the studio and watching the faculty bring the material to life.

How has HBX shaped your academic interests and plans for the future?

I’m on the fence about whether I’d like to go back for more schooling. Regardless of my decision, HBX has helped me shape and solidify my career trajectory and professional interests. Before coming to HBX I was at another edtech firm, and I’ve found that I really enjoy the energy of a technology startup that’s coupled with the mission of a non-profit.

Anna Vallee eating a lobster

What's you favorite things about living in Boston?

I grew up in the landlocked region of the Midwest near Chicago. The people are really nice, but the seafood is terrible and the land is flat, so I never learned to ski.

Since moving here three years ago, I have fully embraced the New England diet with open arms and an empty stomach. I could eat a lobster roll a day if given the choice (and the budget). Skiing…well, I’m working on it. I’ve been told I’m a natural at cross-country, but I’m probably a hazard to others going downhill.

I also enjoy watching New England sports teams, albeit only about once a year. If I could choose any game at random, it would be watching the Celtics play. The players make the movements look so fluid and poetic - it’s almost a dance! 

What's your favorite hobby?

I’ve dabbled in watercolor and ink illustration and I’m starting to learn Japanese this summer in anticipation of a trip to Tokyo.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Karaoke. I’m pretty sure all of my friends are tired of hearing me sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” by now. 

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

Staff Spotlight: Liz Hess

Posted by HBX on March 14, 2017 at 10:51 AM

Liz scuba diving

We recently had the chance to sit down with Liz Hess, the Senior Managing Director of Product Engineering and Development at HBX. Liz is a self-described serial intrapreneuer, technocrat, and ed-tech enthusiast who has been with HBX since day one.

What do you do at HBX?

I oversee how our learning platforms and course experiences are designed, built, and delivered. I work across several streams of work including course development and delivery, user experience architecture, software development, quality assurance (QA), and synchronous course production (HBX Live) to facilitate learning using technology.

Liz on a boat holding two lobsters

What does a normal day look like for you?

Solving problems, coaching people, talking to customers, reviewing content, and tuning operational resources — I am constantly working across many teams to help people make connections and leverage each others' expertise, creativity, and energy.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I attended the University of Pennsylvania where I studied Art History. I later went on to earn a Masters of Higher Education from The Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have also had the opportunity to participate in technology-specific training as well as executive education programs on business, finance, and innovation.

How did you become interested in education and technology?

My first job out of college was working at an auction house where I was responsible for managing a gigantic paper-based general ledger documenting daily sales. I had heard about IBM’s software called LOTUS 1-2-3 and wanted to implement it. Lotus 1-2-3 was a spreadsheet program, and I was convinced it would be a more efficient and effective way to manage and track our sales.

I asked the company’s treasurer if we could try using the software and she said no — so on my own time, I built out the ledger in LOTUS and quickly thereafter won the support of the treasurer to replace the paper ledgers across the company. I really believe that technology has the power to dramatically change the way we work and live for the better, so I was determined to have a career around it.

Several years later I started working at Harvard University in the intellectual property office and began to see the power of technology in academic research, teaching, and learning. Over time I was able to shift my focus at Harvard to working full time in this area.

Liz with flowers grown in her garden

How did you become involved in HBX?

I’ve worked at Harvard for 24 years and across six different roles — all of them involving faculty and their interaction with technology.

In 2014, while leading HBS’s effort to leverage educational technology, I was asked to staff a small group of HBS faculty who were asked by the Dean to make recommendations on how HBS should be thinking about distance learning. Those recommendations turned into HBX, and my special assignment soon turned into a full-time role at HBX.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Working with the HBS faculty and HBX team to continue to innovate. We have done a lot to leverage technology to facilitate new learning models, but there is more we can do to improve teaching and learning, increase student engagement, and build community. Technology moves so fast that there is always some new challenge or some approach we can leverage.

What’s the coolest things you’ve done at HBX?

Where do I start? It is difficult to name one thing. Pushing the button to turn on the HBX course platform at the initial launch of Disruptive Strategy, walking into the HBX Live studio to see the technology working for the first time, working with the team, faculty, and school leadership to grow the organization... if I had to pick one thing, maybe it is a simple as coming to work every day.

Favorite book?

River of Doubt by Candice Millard.

Liz scuba diving next to a fish

What are your hobbies?

Extreme gardening, ocean conservation and exploration, shark advocate.

What else should we know?

I was the 5,067th person to have a Facebook profile. Kind of cool considering there are over a billion users.

What’s your personal motto?

It changes from time to time but in the past few years some comments from Diane Nyad, a long-distance swimmer, have stuck in my mind; "never give up,"  "you are never too old to chase your dreams," and “it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team."

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

Staff Spotlight: Cody Signore

Posted by HBX on January 6, 2017 at 11:22 AM


We sat down with Cody Signore, one of our Senior Multimedia Producers, to talk about his experience filming and producing our newest HBX course, Negotiation Mastery: Unlocking Value in the Real World.

Who were the most interesting people you met while filming Negotiation Mastery?

All of them were fantastic. Betsy Broun, the Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, was great to talk to and her perspective on dealing with business and art was really interesting – how do you put a price on someone’s creativity? Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and CEO of The Black Swan Group Ltd., told some fantastic stories. Many people we filmed talked about the importance of compromises, and then you have Chris who says that you can’t compromise. After all, you can’t say, "give me two hostages, and you keep the rest." Everyone we spoke to had interesting perspectives and we really experienced the differences in cultures and opinions from around the world.

How is it trying to negotiate with Professor Wheeler?

Ha, it was good! You know you're going to lose any negotiation with him, but he's a fantastic person, so I didn't have to worry. We learned a lot from him and those lessons informed how we presented information. He teaches the importance of empathy and knowing what the other side wants. We learned from that, anticipated what questions he would ask, and prepared answers to them ahead of time. It really raised the bar for us in terms of both production and creativity.


What was your favorite location you traveled to for Negotiation Mastery?

London and Dorset in the United Kingdom. Dorset is a small town with incredibly friendly people, and it's so peaceful. After the first three days we were there, we realized we hadn’t even seen a police officer! We did see a lot of sheep though.

Tell us about what it's like filming course content.

We try to get symbolic city shots from everywhere we go in order to give students the feeling that they are traveling the world with us. When we went to DC, we only had one day, so everything was really compressed. In a four-hour span we saw everything on the National Mall, circled the White House, and then went back to the airport. That’s pretty much how it went in every city we were in! There is so much that goes in to planning for these trips, as well as carrying and keeping track of seven bags of gear as you're moving around different cities.

How long it takes to edit a 30 second clip of content?

About an hour, give or take.

What do you like most about seeing these courses come together?

From the multimedia perspective, it’s an interesting task and difficult in some ways. Our videos are like a five hour documentary - one that you’re trying to launch, monitor, and plan for in a quick amount of time. It’s only been nine months since I was brought onto this project as a producer, and the course is launching next month! It has been satisfying to see all the pieces come together, from planning with different teams, to seeing concepts come together in animations, to seeing the videos, music, and all other aspects of the course work together to give the student an incredible learning experience.


What's the best advice someone has ever given you?

A teacher of mine when we were in film school told us, “The only reality is through the view finder.” No one else sees everything that is outside of the frame of your shot. They only see what you’re showing them. I thought this was fantastic because a single frame can say so much, and I think about that a lot as we pursue creative things here.

The other one is to always carry a Sharpie and a pen!

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Collaborating with everybody and trying to take that small idea and make it into something big, interesting, and accessible.


Finish this sentence: When I’m not at work, you can find me...

With my family and/or doing something creative.

What was your first job?

I worked at Party City as a seasonal employee for Halloween. I was there with some of my friends from high school, so it was quite an experience!

If you could travel anywhere in the world (that you haven’t yet been) where would you go?

I would love to go to Iceland.

Best book you’ve ever read?

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Favorite subject in school?


Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight, Negotiation

Reflections from an HBX Summer Intern

Posted by Chris Larson on October 4, 2016 at 10:45 AM


Robert De Niro and I have a lot in common – we are both a little old to be interns. But, like in the movie, my internship at HBX was a fantastic experience. Since I was completing a MSc in Russian and East European Studies and then beginning an MBA three months later, I figured an internship at HBX would be a great way to spend my summer. Luckily, HBX thought so as well!

I decided to pursue an internship with HBX for a few different reasons. First, it was an opportunity to work at Harvard Business School and second, I was looking to gain experience working for a larger organization (I had started my own small business, but I don’t count that as formal working experience). In addition, I got paid (which was an extra bonus!), I was able to work in areas that I wanted to (marketing and product management), and I love Boston. To be honest, it couldn’t have worked out any better.

While I said that Robert De Niro and I have a lot in common, I am about half his age (that’s just a clarifier). Still though, while my fellow interns were (at most) 20 years old, it didn’t stop me from forming meaningful relationships with them and my with other coworkers. I became good friends with my fellow interns and coworkers, playing Checkers and Sorry at lunch every day (yes, HBX has board games), and grabbing dinner sometimes as well. I even played tennis once a week with a coworker (unless he bailed on me), and will stay in contact with a number of others. I felt welcomed from my very first day and I loved the atmosphere – it seemed far less stifling than I had imagined an office being. On top of that, everyone was willing to meet with me, introduce me to their specific fields, and help me understand what they do. Because of this, I was able to gain insight into the different facets of HBX and how they all work together, which I consider one of the greatest things I gained from my internship.

Another thing I loved about my time at HBX was that I felt like I was given meaningful projects that actually made a difference. Over the 2 ½ months I was there, I worked on changing the messaging of email workflows, ran the Instagram account, and helped design and carry out a variety of projects. I was also given a range of types of tasks: from more data-heavy to research-heavy to creative-heavy projects. I learned how to use Excel better, conduct market research, and craft messages. The unique part about all of these projects is that I had a say in them; it wasn’t just my colleagues giving me tasks that they themselves didn’t want to do. I felt like I added real value, and that was something I was not expecting from a summer internship.

On top of being given meaningful projects, I had access to CORe and Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen for free. I was allowed to work through Disruptive Strategy at work and have been doing CORe at home in my free time. I feel like these have given me a better foundation of “the language of business” that most certainly are beneficial as I begin my MBA.

And then there was being in Boston. Who doesn’t love Boston? Having spent time here before, I knew that I wanted to get back if I could. While here, I went whale watching, took a trip to Maine, went to a Red Sox game, and ate some of the best food in the country. I had an opportunity to sit down with the Creative Director of HBX, speak with the videographers and photographers for HBX, and explore what a career in creative might look like. My time in Boston has not only provided me the work experience I was looking for but also opened doors to other exciting opportunities.

All in all it was the perfect summer – a meaningful internship at a world-class institution with incredible staff in my favorite city.


About the Author

Chris Larson was an intern at HBX for summer 2016 who worked with the marketing and product management teams. His background is in all things Russian, but he is interested in business and just started his MBA at Oxford University.

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

HBX Staff Spotlight: Emily Bottis

Posted by HBX on September 13, 2016 at 11:01 AM


We sat down with Emily Bottis, User Experience Architect, to talk about her role at HBX and to learn what goes into designing and developing platform features.

What do you do at HBX?

I am the user experience architect. I work across the teams at HBX to design and improve the digital learning experience of our students.

What does a normal day look like for you?

Every day I create and review new feature and enhancement requirements and design. I regularly meet with the software development team to discuss how we translate these designs into code. I also typically meet with the course development team to discuss and design new interactive course features.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I attended Brown University and studied Organizational Behavior.

Any hidden talents?

When I'm not chasing my kids around, I am into photography, writing, and I play ice hockey!

What is your favorite food?

I love anything Indian or Middle Eastern, and I am a vegetarian.


How did HBX start building the platform?

First, we had discussions with the faculty members about how they wanted to build their courses. Through these discussions, we decided that we wanted the courses to be real-world, interactive, and social. Based on those goals, we envisioned the ideal platform, making sure to incorporate the Harvard Business School teaching methodology which meant using the case study method.

What's a Teaching Element?

Teaching elements are small units of learning content that exist in the course on what we call the concept pages. Examples of teaching elements are spreadsheets, videos, and drag categorization.

Tell me about how you built peer interaction into the platform.

When we began building the peer interaction platform we made an effort to keep the discussions close to the content. The goal was to intentionally couple the peer interaction platform with the course content so that peer interaction would be available in the educational context.


What's your favorite feature?

The concept page side bar. This side bar is a navigational element which helps you navigate through the entire course, and we added it in after a bunch of student input and feedback.

How do you decide what features to add/change on the platform?

Altering the platform is primarily based on participant feedback. We constantly run surveys and focus groups to figure out what aspects of the platform are working for our participants and what aspects are not working. We also have a team of people who work on the “release planning process.” This is the process we go through before we add or change something in the platform. My personal job is to represent our users. I am always pushing to make additions to the platform based on direct participant feedback.

What surprised you most about the learning experience once users went through the course?

The enthusiasm and creativity that people have brought to our courses. Also, I am constantly impressed by the commitment our students have, it is awesome!

Any cool features in development?

We are currently experimenting with mobile, designing a new search function, and we are also building new courses!

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

HBX Staff Spotlight: Bob Keeley

Posted by HBX on June 21, 2016 at 12:31 PM

Bob Keeley - HBX Assistant Director, Credentialing and Academic Operations

We sat down with Bob Keeley, Assistant Director of Credentialing and Academic Operations, to talk about his role at HBX, his (potentially illegal) genie wish strategy, and his love of tiramisu and Chalupas.

Are you originally from Boston? 

I’m from the part of New York State that says “pop” instead of “soda" - Rochester. I live in Cambridge now and really enjoy all the greenery. It has a great small city vibe with tree-lined streets, and there’s a lot of opportunity to discover something new just walking down the street.

What do you do at HBX? 

I work on the Program Services team and oversee academic operations. Some of my jobs involve working with vendors who administer the CORe final exam and also managing the digital credentials we send out to students. 

What does a normal day look like for you?

A typical day at HBX for me involves a lot of interaction with people on various teams throughout the office. I work with everyone in Program Services but I also work closely with the content team regarding academic operations. 

During open exam periods, I work with Pearson VUE to field any questions and support requests from participants who are taking the exam. There are approximately 4,500 Pearson VUE test centers authorized to deliver HBX exams around the world, so it’s pretty cool to help HBX learners across the globe.

Finish this sentence: When I’m not at work, you can find me _______________.

At the dog park with my wife Jess chasing after our Icelandic sheepdog, Chalupa.

What is your favorite food?

Tiramisu is my favorite food. I like all forms and types of it, homemade or not!


Do you have a hidden talent?

I speak German, play the banjo, and like to sail.

If a genie gave you one wish, what would you wish for?

I would wish for unlimited genies so that I could have unlimited wishes. Who doesn’t want more wishes?!

What’s your favorite thing about working at HBX?

I like hearing from participants about how HBX has helped them meet their own personal, professional, and learning goals. 

What can you tell us about the HBX CORe final exam?

The HBX CORe final exam is offered to participants after successful completion of the course. The three hour, multiple choice, closed book, computer-based assessment was created by HBS faculty and is administered by Pearson VUE in testing centers throughout the world.

The final exam encompasses all three courses in HBX CORe: Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting. Divided into three sections of 60 minutes each, the 3-hour exam will test your knowledge of each individual course in one sitting. The exam is predominately multiple-choice format and delivered entirely on a computer at the Pearson VUE testing center.

Read More about the exam including when to take it and how it is administered in our FAQs: http://hbx.hbs.edu/hbx-core/core-faqs.html

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

HBX Staff Spotlight: Julie Shackleton

Posted by HBX on March 22, 2016 at 10:54 AM


We sat down with Julie Shackleton, our resident jet-setting legal guru, to learn a little bit more about her and her role here at HBX.

julie-googleWhat do you do here at HBX?

I’m a member of the business operations team and manage our legal queue, working with staff members to help identify emerging needs and new business models. I then work with the university's lawyers to meet these needs.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My colleagues! 

How would you describe yourself? 

An Irish fun enforcer who is an aspirationally fit person who doesn’t spend enough time in one place.

What's your favorite food?

Irish chocolate. Yummmmmmm!

What's your motto?

Onwards and upwards!

Best book you've ever read?

Pride and Prejudice. I could read it on a constant loop and never get tired of it.

Where do you get your news from?

The Daily Pnut and Twitter.


Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

HBX Staff Spotlight: Patrick Mullane

Posted by HBX on December 4, 2015 at 4:46 PM


We sat down with Patrick Mullane, our new Executive Director, to talk about his role at HBX, his best life advice, and Oreos.

Patrick-13What do you do here at HBX?

I am the Executive Director of HBX which means I help the team here in any way I can as they go about being the best course developers, marketers, coders, operators, creators, and support personnel they can be. I hope that I bring some general management experience across all parts of HBX that will help us to further advance the Harvard Business School's mission of educating leaders that make a difference in the world.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of job by far is seeing the pride students take in their involvement in and completion of HBX CORe or Disruptive Strategy.

How would you describe yourself? 

I love to laugh, I don’t take myself too seriously, and I hate missing the previews at the movies.


Where did you go to school and what did you study? 

I went to the University of Notre Dame where I got a BS in Mathematics. I then went to Golden Gate University for an MS in Project and Systems Management. I finished off my formal education with an MBA from Harvard Business School.

If a genie gave you one wish, what would you wish for?

I’d wish for world peace. And a lifetime supply of Oreos covered in peanut butter and dipped in hot fudge. 

Best advice anyone has ever given you? 

An HBS professor once said to me (and the rest of my class), “It’s okay to be lucky. It’s okay to be smart. It’s not okay to be lucky and think you're smart."

Best book you've read?

Lonesome Dove, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Larry McMurtry. The best book you’ll ever read about risk-taking, adventure, love and redemption (and it was a great TV miniseries in the late 80s as well). 

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

HBX Staff Spotlight: Neil Tuli

Posted by HBX on October 16, 2015 at 3:33 PM


We sat down with Neil Tuli, a Multimedia Specialist on the Creative Team, to talk about his role at HBX, his love of music, and his burning desire to attend Hogwarts.

What do you do here at HBX?

I am on the Creative Team and report to the Creative Director. I work as a Cinematographer/Animator/Designer for course content, platform, and marketing needs and basically try to make my boss’ life as easy as possible by taking as much work off his plate as I can.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

The content! The people! I love it all. 

One of my favorite parts of the job is problem solving. For example, one time we had to create a steamy effect where we wanted to animate hand-drawn text onto a steamy window. Our first few animated steam attempts failed to get the results we wanted, so we had to get the effect practically.

We decided to shoot through a glass pane onto a black background, so we borrowed a hot plate to boil a pot of water just below the glass and filmed it. We then set the blending mode of that video to screen in post (to remove the blacks) and laid it onto our b-roll and boom! We had a great time building it all out. 


How would you describe yourself? 

I'm obchessed (a.k.a. chess obsessed), and I love analog synths.

Where did you go to school and what did you study? 

I went to The George Washington University, majored in Music and minored in Film Studies.

If a genie gave you one wish, what would you wish for?

For the Harry Potter universe to be real, and for me to be 11 and recently accepted into Hogwarts. That’s one wish, right?

Any hidden talents? 

I was the music director for my college a capella group (GW Troubadours) and have been singing since I was little. 

Speaking of music, we actually had a fun shoot recently where I got to play guitar and pretend to be a member of the band in Adriel's testimonial video. Talk about different worlds colliding!

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

When someone tells you that something is wrong with a piece you worked on, they are almost always right. But when they tell you specifically what is wrong with it, they are almost always wrong.

What’s your spirit animal? 

I want it to be a panther, but it’s probably a corgi.

Where do you get your news from?  

I read it on reddit.

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight