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Amazon Program Manager Dave Lennon ’07 Leverages MBA Experience, Imposter Syndrome

Dave Lennon ’07, Jenkins MBA alum and principal technical program manager for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, discusses his career growth, his experience as a part-time student in the Jenkins MBA program and his professional superpower: imposter syndrome.

For Jenkins MBA alumnus Dave Lennon ’07, life has been full of interesting twists and turns – from spending his early years in Spain as an Air Force brat, moving to the United States at age eight as an English learner, changing his major nine times at the University of Maryland – which he jokes was “simple exploration and curiosity” – and landing his first job in the tech industry after having the audacity to cold call a company he found in the Yellow Pages.

“That’s right, the Yellow Pages. That’s how old I am. At the time, I was living in the Triangle and managing Wake County’s human services transportation and had begun to wonder, ‘What on God’s green earth am I doing? I don’t want to be doing this with my life,’” Lennon says.

Living right by Research Triangle Park, he knew that technology was a rapidly-growing field, so he decided to search for IT jobs. Opening up the Yellow Pages, he started calling companies under “computers” and explaining that he wanted to break into the industry.

I … had begun to wonder, ‘What on God’s green earth am I doing? I don’t want to be doing this with my life.

“After talking with this one guy for two hours, he said to me, ‘Look, I know you want to get into tech, and we have opportunities for that. But I’ll be honest with you. You’re an engaging guy and you have the ability to actually interact with human beings – so I want to hire you to be a sales guy.’ Probably, he was like, ‘You’re willing to do a cold call? You’re my type of guy,’” Lennon laughs.

He took the job, but quickly realized sales wasn’t his passion – so he printed a copy of his resume and showed up to a job conference in Cary, North Carolina. It proved to be a pivotal moment, launching him into a career in IT and project management at Duke University – and then Amazon, where he now serves as a principal technical program manager for Project Kuiper.

Adding value

Four years into his career at Duke, after developing key skills in project management and IT, Lennon decided to take the next step and pursue his MBA. As a full-time professional, he wanted a flexible, affordable program – so he turned to the Jenkins MBA program at NC State. 
Right out of the gate, he realized he made the right choice.

“One of the very first things I did in the program was attend Bart Queen’s executive coaching sessions in the Career Center. He taught students how to confidently present in front of others, explaining how to structure content for an audience and how to command a room. It was unbelievable – he alone was worth the price of tuition,” Lennon says.

“As a talker, his sessions really resonated with me – and all these years later, I still find myself following his advice when I deliver presentations for Amazon. I’ve been given feedback over the years that I’m an effective presenter, and I give Bart a lot of credit for that. It was by far my favorite thing about the MBA program,” he continues.

Lennon also appreciated the MBA program’s concentration in innovation management, which helped him learn how to build capabilities in fresh, strategic ways, as well as the opportunity to take finance and statistics classes to round out his skill set.

Building on my liberal arts background with some quantitative data skills was really valuable, especially now that I work at Amazon, which is extremely data-centric.

“I’m not a data person. To be honest, I kind of hate that stuff. I’m a words guy. But to me, those classes were fascinating, and I learned a ton about statistical logic and fallacies. I learned to think critically about how people communicate data findings and how to identify when they’re just using statistics to say exactly what they want to say,” Lennon says.

“Building on my liberal arts background with some quantitative data skills was really valuable, especially now that I work at Amazon, which is extremely data-centric. Having those skills allows me to think differently about problem-solving, and challenges me to make sure that we’re looking at the right data and using it in the right way,” he continues. 

Looking back

Reflecting on his career journey, Lennon finds it hard to believe how far he’s come. He thinks back to his first job at Duke, working in IT administration with the information systems department, and laughs.

“Basically, I was hired to do Y2K remediation – another sign of how old I am, thank you very much. That’s the first time I learned how to manage and administer systems and do customer support from an IT perspective,” he says. “From there, I grew into progressive IT integration efforts and eventually project management. I still remember [colleague] Ginny Cake handing me a project manager job description and saying, ‘I think you should apply to this.’”

Empowered by her confidence in him, he did, shifting into project management activities that have come to define much of his career. Then, after twelve years with Duke, Lennon interviewed for a program manager position with Amazon Web Services – and walked away humbled.

“I figured I’d never hear from them again because their interview process showed me all the ways I was deficient. But then I got an offer,” he says. “It was a tough decision for my wife and I to move to Northern Virginia because we absolutely love the Triangle, and we had two young kids at the time, but we did it.”

For more than 10 years, he helped Amazon Web Services build and launch innovative products, features and services for customers. He loved every minute of it, finding each new project fascinating and well worth the effort he put in. Then, in 2021, he started a new adventure – joining Amazon’s Project Kuiper. 

Launching forward

An initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, Project Kuiper aims to increase affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved communities around the world – and it has the potential to transform education systems, entertainment and society as a whole through global connectivity. 

“It’s such an amazing mission, and I get to be a part of it. It’s incredible. However, I’m not a satellite guy – I don’t have a background in it. But that’s what’s interesting about my time at Amazon. Everything I’ve worked on, I haven’t had a clue about. Early on, that used to really bother me, and I was like ‘What were these people thinking when they hired me? Sooner or later, they’re going to realize they hired a fraud,’” he says. 

It’s such an amazing mission, and I get to be a part of it. It’s incredible.

Today, Lennon says he still struggles with imposter syndrome – but he’s come to embrace it as a kind of superpower in the workplace.

“The one thing I’m really great at is being comfortable being the guy in the room who doesn’t know what’s going on. I ask questions nobody else is comfortable asking, and that allows me to point out all kinds of errors, flaws and inconsistencies,” he explains. “I’m comfortable being an idiot and showing my ignorance – in fact, I’ve made a career out of that.”

Boldly asking questions and showing up hungry to learn has allowed Lennon to go from scouring the Yellow Pages for a job to working with the nation’s second-largest company on one of its most ambitious projects – which is why he encourages current and prospective MBA students to put themselves out there and pursue their passions.

“Go figure out the thing you want to do, and if it looks interesting, apply and see where it gets you. It might not get you anywhere, but it might turn into something. You just never know,” he says. “So don’t worry about what you don’t know or the experiences you don’t have. Use what you’re good at and grow.”

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