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Cornell Engineering

Alumni share thought process behind early career paths

schmohl

Matthew Schmohl 10
Senior Software Engineer, Jet.com

Like many other high-schoolers, Matthew Schmohl ’10 wasn’t sure what he wanted to study in college, let alone what he wanted to do for a career. “People didn’t really talk to me about what I was going to study. I didn’t even really know what engineering was, to be honest, until end of 11th grade when I was applying to colleges.”

But Schmohl’s enduring thirst for knowledge and determination to master his craft would eventually lead him to Jet.com where he’s currently a senior software engineer and surrounded by like-minded developers with an appreciation for science. The choices Schmohl made along the way weren’t always the obvious ones, but for him, they were the right ones.

While attending high school in East Setauket, N.Y., Schmohl was able to take a theoretical mathematics class from a Stony Brook University professor. “The professor kind of went off the books a little bit and that was when I first started getting really excited about school,” said Schmohl.

He would become a first-generation college student after choosing to study biological engineering at Cornell. Realizing he wanted more opportunities to study applied mathematics, he transferred to operations research. “I remember taking Professor Topaloglu’s simulation modeling analysis class and really liking it,” said Schmohl. “That was kind of a turning point when I really started realizing how much I liked the specialization of operations research.”

Schmohl was a busy student outside of the classroom. He worked at a coffee shop and tutored at a local high school to help pay for tuition. He was involved with Habitat for Humanity and was the philanthropy chair of Delta Upsilon. “I felt like I wasn’t as embedded into the engineering community as maybe I’d like to have been. Working jobs outside of school drew away from me becoming tighter into the engineering community,” recalled Schmohl, who wishes he had gotten involved with more engineering-related programs and clubs at the time. “One of the reasons I chose Cornell is because it has so much impact on society and I regret that I didn’t do more research or work with some of the professors, because I just think that was a missed opportunity,” he said.

Despite his feelings about how he managed his time, Schmohl exceled in the classroom. And when it came time to start his professional career, he was quickly offered an analyst position at Accenture—a Fortune Global 500 management consulting company. He would spend over two years there, eventually becoming a consultant that managed statisticians for large-scale data mining projects within the telecom industry.

“I was really grateful to Cornell,” said Schmohl. “There was an amazing engineering job fair and I got exposed to all these companies and was able to get a job right out of college. Not many of my friends from high school can say the same.”

Schmohl would eventually be offered a job at marketing software service Offerpop. It was there he grew an appetite for more foundational knowledge. “There were all these challenges that came up at work that really related to some of the stuff I only touched upon in my operations research programs. And I was kind of surprised by that,” said Schmohl. “I didn’t realize how applied it actually was,” he said.

Driven by curiosity, Schmohl spent his weekends studying code. “It’s probably something I could have done more of while at Cornell,” he admitted. But his hard work paid off. Eventually he would use his new coding abilities to build a platform at Offerpop that would automate his own job.

Schmohl’s on-the-job success lead to more job offers, including several vice-presidential positions that he turned down. For Schmohl, it wasn’t always about the money, but about finding like-minded engineers who could teach him more about the trade. That’s what brought him to Etsy—an e-commerce website with a focus on handmade and vintage items.

“People had a strong respect for scientific method at Etsy and there was opportunity to work with Ph.D.s in statistics, so I knew I was going to be learning and challenged,” said Schmohl. “It was a no-brainer for me, but it wasn’t so much for other people who said ‘no, you should take this job.’ But now that I’ve gone through that sort of training I can take on more responsibility in the future.”

As a data analyst at Etsy, Schmohl grew more interested in building tools for turning raw data into insights about the marketplace. And once again, Schmohl, always a student of his craft, found himself taking online courses and learning new skills on the weekends.

He would soon find a new job where he could build systems for data processing and large-scale information retrieval, working for online retailer Jet.com.

“Every time I changed jobs I took a pay cut. People were confused as to why I was doing that, but then I came to a company like Jet where I could tell they were highly principled people,” said Schmohl. “It’s a fun place for people who are into science,” he added.

Looking back on his experience so far in the working world, Schmohl says he would describe it as reinvigorating. Every job has opened up a new world of knowledge and possibility that he has embraced wholeheartedly.

“I basically just stuck with it. I definitely had to make concessions here and there, like studying on the weekends,” said Schmohl. “But in the end its really been fulfilling for me.”