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Getting Unstuck Thanks to MPD2

Joshua Childs (MPD2 '20) talks about how Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development (MPD2) program helped him kick start his career and grow as a leader with Validity Inc.

Joshua Childs had a problem.  

It was 2019, and Childs had been in the workforce for nearly a decade, toiling away as a product manager at various startups. He often saw fundamental problems with the strategy and development of the products we worked on, and he felt his own career had become bogged down. 

“I was good at building things — the execution stage — but there were decisions being made upstream that, intuitively, felt off," he said. "But I lacked the vocabulary and the tools to address them effectively. I felt stuck, and it wasn't clear how to restart my personal growth.” 

Joshua ChildsThat’s when Childs discovered Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development (MPD2) program. He previously thought about graduate school but was hesitant to dive in just to get another degree. If he was going to do it, it needed to be for the intrinsic value of furthering his existing passions and skills in a meaningful way. 

“The mix of design and business made total sense to me,” he said. “If there were answers to the frustrations I'd been having, MPD2 felt like the best shot at getting them.” 

Now nearly three years later, Childs (MPD2 ‘20) is anything but stuck. After MPD2, he was hired as senior product manager for email solutions with Validity Inc., a Boston-based customer engagement and data company. This March, he was promoted to his current role as director of product management for email solutions.

"I can see clearly how the program, combined with my prior experience, made me ready to both see and seize that opportunity in a way I wouldn't have before," he said.

Validity’s email solutions help companies take customer data and build more effective email marketing campaigns. Childs and his team ensure the company’s portfolio aligns with its corporate strategic direction and most effectively meets its customers needs. He also ensures his team members are given room to demonstrate their strengths.

“I believe the best teams are human-centered, coached behind the scenes, and given the clearance to perform,” he said.

Childs deepened his leadership experience during his time in MPD2, and he's noticed how those experiences helped him develop as a leader at Validity.

"One of a product person's key skills is the ability to rally people around a goal," Childs said. "Before being at Validity, I was comfortable doing that for about a dozen people. Now our team regularly coordinates — or in some way impacts — the work of hundreds. Leading change on a larger scale has been a key area of growth for me."

That growth came thanks to MPD2, Childs said, particularly current program director Jim Wicks. Wicks was one of Childs' professors at Northwestern, and a particular lesson he taught Childs' class continues to resonate with his former student.  

“We were talking about some product, and he wanted suggestions from the class about what our goals might be for that product," Childs said. "I raised my hand and said, “Grow revenue.’ He replied, ‘Revenue is not a goal. It's a result. What goal are you trying to achieve that's going to result in revenue growth?’” 

The message hit home – hard. 

“Every time I encounter revenue-as-a-goal thinking in business, I remember not only what Jim said, but I can play back my entire time at MPD2 to answer the question of how to find out what the goal should be.” 

Childs applies that same type of goal-centered thinking to the advice he gives anyone considering the MPD2 program. 

“My advice is to know your reasons for doing it, but be willing to update the vision you have as you learn," he said. "This program will teach you things you didn't know you didn't know.”

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