Jim AmbuchWho or what had a strong effect on your interest/trajectory in computer science?

There are two computer scientists I had as teachers who had a strong impact on my desire to study computer science: Andy van Dam (Brown University) taught me how to program, and more importantly, how to teach programming. Gerhard Fischer (University of Colorado) taught me the importance of design and how most of the things you do in your professional life can be thought of as design tasks.

What life lessons did you learn during your time at CU?

I really enjoyed being a graduate student at CU. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that when I graduated I took a job as a professional researcher at the Center for LifeLong Learning and Design (L3D) which was associated with the CU’s Computer Science Department and the College of Engineering and Applied Science. I really enjoyed the people I worked with and the multi-disciplinary nature of the research we were doing. That’s why I was attracted to CU in the first place, and it was through my work at L3D when I developed the professional contacts that eventually helped launch my career as a product manager.

Tell us about your career path.

I’ve always loved to program, but I was worried that a career as a professional engineer wouldn’t be varied enough for my interests. When I moved to Silicon Valley in the '90s, I learned about product management and I was hooked. Software product managers find themselves at the intersection of engineering, business and design, and I loved that. I’ve had product roles at several companies large and small (including Netscape, AOL, eBay, Jigsaw and CourseSmart) and now I run the product and development teams at Grokker, Inc.

What moments in your personal life have been most exciting or defining?

By far, the most defining and rewarding thing I have been involved in is to help — along with my wife Kim — raise our three kids: Jack, Ali and Ben. They are all in college now and it is really gratifying to watch them evolve and pursue their own interests as adults. 

What is your biggest career or life lesson to date?

When picking a career, I don’t ascribe to the “follow your passion” advice you hear a lot. You should pursue what you’re good at. You’ll have a much bigger impact and a more rewarding career. You can always pursue your passion in other ways. I’m passionate about music, but that would not have been a good career path for me or anyone else! If you are one of the lucky people whose passion and expertise line up exactly, then by all means pursue those wholeheartedly. Otherwise, figure out what you are good at and find situations you can do that.