How LSU Graduate Josh Medernach’s Focus on Leadership Development Brought Him to Silicon Valley
Two years ago when LSU computer science graduate Josh Medernach was wrapping up his undergraduate degree and applying for jobs, he placed a special emphasis on showcasing his leadership abilities alongside his software-development skills.
The strategy paid off, helping him land a position with General Electric’s Digital Technology Leadership Program (DTLP), where he has had the opportunity to obtain a wide range of work experience in his first two years out of school.
The exclusive program, which accepts only about 80 GE employees each year, is designed to foster leadership skills in GE’s employees. Program members rotate into a new role every six months and participate in a series of leadership-development activities.
“The goal of GE for us is to compress as much widespread business experience as possible in a short time and train leadership qualities by flying us to leadership seminars and placing us in high-profile positions in our job roles,” Medernach says.
Medernach graduated from LSU in May 2016 and immediately set off for San Ramon, California, a part of Silicon Valley and home to GE Digital.
His first rotation through DTLP was as a full-stack software engineer for the company’s Asset Performance Management tool, a software suite that connects disparate data sources and uses advanced analytics to turn data into actionable insights for industrial companies. That was followed by a turn as a product manager handling the Machine & Equipment Health portion of Asset Performance Management. Both of those assignments allowed him to play a role in developing one of the applications for the so-called Industrial Internet of Things, the network of connected devices used in manufacturing.
His third rotation was with GE’s Customer Success department, where his team sorted large amounts of customer financial data as well as internal employee data, then determined the best way to represent the data in visualizations with the goal of helping executives make more informed decisions. His fourth and current rotation is with GE Digital’s Cyber Security Services, where his team is working to automate threat responses using the company’s Predix industrial software suite to showcase the product and help cybersecurity experts deal with threats more efficiently.
In addition to rotating through four work assignments, Medernach has traveled extensively over the past two years to participate in development events. He flew to Crotonville, New York, to visit the GE Leadership Development Center, and to Bangalore, India, for a two-week global DTLP conference and training. This summer he’ll travel to Miami for his DTLP class’ graduation.
DTLP members also participate in the public-speaking club Toastmasters, play sports such as volleyball together, and can join committees to learn new technologies or participate in roundtable discussions where they can query executives on a variety of topics.
“Software engineering skills remain the same as ever — everyone can learn them,” he says. “What I’ve learned dramatically are leadership qualities, confidence and the like.”
Medernach says much of his leadership training has focused on developing more effective interpersonal skills with an emphasis on learning how to provide constructive feedback. He says exercises helped the participants learn how to more effectively work with different personality types, such as people who are identified as drivers, analytical, amiable or expressive.
“We are taught to identify these personality types in people based on their interactions, and learned how to interact with each one of these personality types to bring the best out of them,” he says. “Essentially, you cultivate leaderships skills to truly connect with your peers, diving into what really matters to them beyond the meaningless, shallow discussions. It is a hard skill to remember, so like software engineering, it takes practice to be good at remembering your mental notes on how to interact with people.”
In June, Medernach will perform a month-long interview process with GE’s corporate audit staff(CAS), a highly selective internal executive-development program. “I have high hopes for joining CAS, where I can continue my rotations to expand my experience,” he says. “Instead of the six-month rotations DTLP does, I hope to be rotating every three months internationally with CAS, picking up technology management skills on the digital-technology track CAS offers.”
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS
Medernach says that looking back on his time at LSU, the strength of his experience was less about the specifics of software engineering and more rooted in learning to think critically and work successfully as part of a team.
He says computer science students should start focusing on those types of leadership skills long before they start interviewing for jobs. Once the interviews start, he says, authenticity and preparation are key.
“Always be yourself and confident,” he says. “Interviewers know you can program just fine — what they are looking for is leadership qualities and personality. Can you take up work on your own? Will your personality fit well with your team? Do you know what the interviewers are looking for, based on job description, and know how to emulate these qualities they are looking for?”
He also stresses the importance of students taking initiative on their own to learn new skills, new languages and new technologies outside of classrooms. He suggests dedicating at least five hours of a week to learning something new on your own — a concept popularized by tech entrepreneur Michael Simmons — through reading, thinking or experimenting.
“Keep experimenting, and it’s very likely something you learned can apply to a project,” he says. “New technologies could make your life easier and makes you more impressive to companies.”