The Student Voice: Meet Branden Karnell MBA ’22

portrait of Branden Karnell

Branden Karnell MBA ’22 is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree at the Cornell Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Technology and community-building—these are the two passions that inspired him to pursue his MBA studies at Cornell University. A curiosity for the world of technology—of how products are imagined, shaped, developed, and launched—is guiding the former Deloitte technology consultant in his two years of study.

Karnell is dedicating his coursework and extracurriculars to all things technology so that he can get closer to products and teams that bring ideas to life. In addition to being a 2020 Big Red Tech Strategy Fellow and the 2021 president of the Johnson High Tech Club (HTC), he was a program manager intern at Apple Inc. during the summer of 2021.

Karnell is also one of the first students to take part in Johnson’s new Tech Prep Program.

“The power of the Johnson Tech Prep Program is compounded by Cornell’s deep integration into our community,” he says. “The projects embedded within the Digital Technology Immersion (DTI) and the Strategic Product and Marketing Immersion (SPMI) give us opportunities to see how our tech skills translate into the betterment of the organizations around us.”

The program is designed to expand students’ knowledge of key technology subject matter. It also prepares them for job interviews in the sector and ultimately helps program graduates land leadership roles in tech.

Learn more about him and his experiences in the program in this Student Voice Q&A.

Tell us about your life before Cornell.

My professional career started at the University of Pittsburgh where I fell in love with building communities and creating connections. I developed a passion for technology and built a startup with friends—called Flippo—that aimed to connect students so they could help each other with simple tasks. At the same time, I had the opportunity to intern with a local small business development center. This experience allowed me to get a taste of consulting and the impact that I could have on my community by using just a bit of my business skills.

With those two experiences in mind, I pursued a career that could merge these two passions and landed in technology consulting. I could now use data analytics and intelligent automation to connect my clients with the right information at the right time and make their lives easier. After seven years, I was itching to get closer to a product again, like I was in my startup days, and I came back to business school to pursue a new chapter in technology.

What meaningful experiences are you engaging in outside the classroom?

When I’m not in class, I spend the vast majority of my time with the Johnson High Tech Club (HTC) where I have the privilege of serving as president during the 2021 term. It is, by far, the most meaningful experience I have outside of the classroom.

branden karnell at apple inc's campus

During our mostly virtual first year at Johnson, the tech community became my family. We spent so much time together confiding in each other, getting ready for corporate briefings, looking over each other’s resumes, and practicing casing, allowing us to develop amazing friendships. The generosity of our second years is what impressed me the most—they gave us so much time, answered panicked late-night calls, and made our class feel connected to Johnson even during such a difficult time.

All of these things are why I love HTC and why I wanted to be a part of bringing that positive culture to this year’s new class. Johnson has so many talented students who have had amazing experiences and I’m so excited to be a part of building our tech program to new heights and continuing to build this family along the way.

Tell us about your experience in Johnson’s Tech Prep Program.

Johnson’s Tech Prep Program was a fundamental part of my preparation for interviews in the fall and spring and it also played a key part in my choice of spring immersion.

Through this program, I got my first understanding of the value an MBA can bring in the tech industry and I was able to gain insight into some of the key buzzwords of the space like “A/B testing” and “design thinking.”

Coming from the consulting world I understood what it was to make data-driven decisions and how to work with clients. What I didn’t understand was how a product vision came together or really, how an idea for a product feature was taken from the idea stage to fruition. That’s what I wanted to learn from an MBA program and it’s what the Tech Prep Program gave me the foundation for.

What inspired you to participate in Johnson’s Tech Prep Program?

I was drawn to the Tech Prep Program because of the wide range of world-class expertise that Johnson, the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and Cornell University have to offer, including experts with specialties in engineering, computer science, and hospitality. I was also excited to have the opportunity to take advantage of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

I wanted to immerse myself in an environment where I was able to learn from a wide variety of experts across the product development and product strategy spectrum because these are the individuals I’ll be working with after I graduate. If I can learn how to be a better teammate to an engineer and how to better and more quickly identify customer needs like those in hospitality, then I can be more valuable in my next role.

This is all done here through collaboration across schools in classes but, most importantly, it is brought together through experienced-based learning projects. These projects include Big Red Tech Strategy and Switch the Pitch–a tech product challenge where students work together with others in real-world scenarios to solve a problem. These types of opportunities helped prepare me to be successful in my summer internship and beyond.

What do you hope to achieve?

I came to business school with an effective understanding of how to lead consulting teams, present to clients, and use data to guide decision-making. What I didn’t understand was how to turn a project-based approach into a strategy. Johnson’s Tech Prep Program has given me the opportunity to work on projects in multiple phases of the product life cycle and to continue building that strategic mindset.

My dream is to take this knowledge into the tech industry and eventually build something for myself. These strategic and hands-on skills will help me bring that dream into reality.

About the Johnson Tech Prep Program

The Johnson Tech Prep Program at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management develops and provides resources and innovative programming for aspiring technology business leaders. Students expand their knowledge of key technology subject matter while learning how to land leadership roles in the tech sector. This program is an integral part of Johnson’s commitment to the technology sector. It aims to produce successful alumni who have highly rewarding careers at technology businesses and firms, in technology roles in other industries, or as entrepreneurs of their own startups.