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.
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.
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.
River of Doubt by Candice Millard.
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."