An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Career Insights Gleaned on the Job—and on the Ballroom Dance Floor

  • Sara Shay
  • MIT Technology Review

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Mark Herschberg ’95, MEng ’97, joined the MIT Ballroom Dance Club his senior year as “a fun side activity,” he says. He started entering competitions as a graduate student and eventually became one of the top-ranked dancers in the country. Though he has since hung up his tail suit, he’s still benefiting from an unexpected side effect of his time on the dance floor: strong public speaking skills.

“When you are out there ballroom dancing, you’re in front of hundreds, sometimes even thousands of people, literally being judged,” says Herschberg. “Just having been out there so often, and screwing up and being okay, and sometimes not screwing up but actually doing very well, gave me confidence, [and] a lot of public speaking is confidence.”

That self-assurance has served him well in his career as chief technology officer and chief product officer at a variety of startups and Fortune 500 companies, and during his more than two decades of teaching in MIT’s Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP), a “career success accelerator,” which he helped develop at the invitation of his friend Chris Resto ’99.

In 2021, Herschberg published The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. The book “is not just for recent grads. It’s not just for engineers,” he says. “This is an overall resource for people throughout their careers.” A reader headed to an industry conference might consult the networking chapter, for example, while a recently promoted team member could read about the role of a manager.

To help readers remember concepts from The Career Toolkit, Herschberg launched an app called Brain Bump, which sends daily push notifications with key ideas and other highlights. His goal is to give people a new way to review and retain what they learn, from his book and other sources. “How often do you read a book and think, ‘This is great—this is so useful’? But then we forget two weeks later, and it’s four weeks later that we need it,” he says.

Though the prototype used content from his book, the app now includes information from other authors, podcasters, and partners. It has accrued thousands of subscribers, and Herschberg estimates that he is adding about one new partner a week. Soon, users will also be able to upload notes, reminders, and more. “I love physical books,” Herschberg says, but “I don’t carry them with me when I go to a conference. Having information that is delivered and that is contextually relevant—that’s the future of media.”

This article also appears in the July/August issue of MIT News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review.

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