Ami Patel, ’02, landed her dream job in Silicon Valley eight years ago. As the manager of product operations for LinkedIn, she is making her mark on this commonly used social media platform every day.
However, Patel was not always sure what she wanted to do. She grew up as a very reserved child in a traditionally Indian home in the Lincolnwood neighborhood of Chicago. A first-generation American born to Indian parents, Patel was a shy and quiet person with few friends.
“I spent a lot of time with my parents, being observant and curious,” Patel said. “I had a lot of interests in gadgets and technology.”
Because of this, when Patel started at NIU in 1998, her campus experience opened up her world.
As an electrical engineering student, Patel loved the schooling, and she spent 90% of her time in the classroom. But the learning did not stop there.
“I actually had a key to the engineering building because I was a supervisor of the computer lab,” she remembered. “Students didn’t have laptops at that time, so we all relied on computer labs to get our work done. I managed that lab for four years, and working there as a supervisor brought me out of my shell. It made me outgoing. I networked and became part of different engineering organizations. I would go in and out whenever I wanted to, and it was nice to be in that environment. I still always miss that time and wish I could go back.”
Patel enjoyed the holistic approach to learning in the engineering classes. She was given tools, resources and access to knowledgeable people so that she could identify her own strengths.
“My favorite teacher was the computer lab teacher,” Patel said. “So strict but so good, and he really made us work to understand what he needed to teach us. Our instructors taught us about life through their experiences, and it was a good approach to helping us to advance in our careers.”
Patel said the hands-on work in her courses stuck with her.
“My four years at NIU—from the books and teachers to the exercises and senior projects—helped shape the way I think about things. The passion that I have for analytics and taking things apart… I learned to enjoy that through experiences doing it at school. A lot of the hands-on work in the engineering school helped me to understand how I can analyze and solve a problem.”
Unfortunately, Patel graduated just after the 9/11 attacks, as a recession set it, in 2002. Finding a job after graduation proved to be a challenge, taking nearly a year. Finally, she started as a lead electrical engineer at Caterpillar Inc. in 2003.
Over her time with Caterpillar, Patel’s career evolved. She began to learn that she enjoyed data analysis and product development even more than the systems engineering. Eventually, she began working as a product engineer, and when she moved on to following roles, it was this kind of work that attracted her.
In 2012, Patel received her chance to be a part of a Silicon Valley company with LinkedIn, and she worked her way up in the company from there.
“What I do as a product engineer is heavy on the data side. I still get to use my strengths of being observant and analytical,” Patel said. “I manage a team of product operations managers, and we supported the product by turning member feedback into actionable insights. Then, we synthesize the derived feedback we are given to make the product better.”
Patel says that being able to influence how LinkedIn shapes the product and influences people is very meaningful work for her. Her team supports the LinkedIn Flagship product—the main interface and user experience that people have on the site every day—networking, looking for job candidates, and researching roles.
To sum it up, Patel says her team’s goal is to create a “frictionless product” for the user.
“I’ve been here for eight-and-a-half years,” she said. “I do enjoy this role a lot and would love to expand on my leadership and build a bigger team. I want to continue helping my team shape what the product would look like, and I see myself growing more into this role.”
Patel remains connected with many Huskies around the world, especially from the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. She says it is rewarding to see how successful her engineering colleagues have become.
“Sometimes NIU doesn’t get the credit we deserve,” she said. “We have a lot of passion for the roles we want to be in. Huskies are passionate about where we want to go later in life, and we work to get there. I never saw a Huskie take advantage of the situation or be lazy. We know we will have to work harder than others because we didn’t go to what some consider a ‘top-tier school.’ But we are still just as good as somebody who did!”