Meet Michael Curtis, MTM Class of 2020

Michael studied chemistry and dance at UC Berkeley before joining the MTM program. He is currently a Director in Engineering Project Management at Apeel

The following comments are excerpted from an interview that took place in Fall 2023.

Q: How did you first arrive to the UCSB MTM Program?

A: I majored in chemistry at UC Berkeley, and minored in dance and performance studies. Through doing my chemistry degree I took a lot of lab classes, and I found that although I really loved the concepts of chemistry, the lab classes were just not for me. It was not where I wanted to be long term in my career. In my dance classes, I had different choreography classes that allowed me to work collaboratively with the other dancers, and I really liked that aspect of being able to work together as a team to build something. I kind of merged those two things together, getting my chemistry analytical brain with technology and such, and then that more artsy collaborative brain, putting that together to find that I wanted to be a project manager in my career. I was looking through a bunch of different programs, and the UCSB MTM program really stood out to me as a quick nine-month master's program that taught you all the skills needed to be able to get yourself in the door of tech companies. I did the program and learned pretty much everything about business that I needed to be able to excel. Then from there, the very first class we took that quarter was Project Management, and after two or three classes with Matt Beane, I knew that this was a correct decision for me, and I was really excited about what the future held.

Q: Why did you want to become a project manager?

A: I think that when I was in undergrad doing all of the chemistry classes, when I was working with other people on group projects, that was when I really felt in my element. I could do solo work when I needed to, but it wasn't really what filled me up. Being a project manager really interested me because it allows you to dip your toes in every aspect of not just the science but also the business. The “aha” moment for me was realizing that in my social groups and just planning in general, I love to be able to plan things and put stuff together, crowdsource things from different people. Being a project manager is essentially that for a tech company. You still get to be adjacent to all the science and chemistry, and that's really exciting for me. However, you're more the go-to person for everything that's needed to be able to actually execute the work.

Q: What are some of the advantages of MTM?

A: Being able to make connections in Santa Barbara is a huge plus. It is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. I think another big element for me was that this program is very much based in giving you all of the essentials that are needed without much of the fluff, so you're able to really just dig deep into the important concepts and get to the meat of what you need to know to be a good manager in the technology space.

Being able to go through the Master of Technology Management Program, you get to see what a lot of successful businesses do through all the case studies and whatnot. You can apply those learnings to the situation that you're in. I think the most important thing out of all of this is just to remember that you are going to fail and that is perfectly fine as long as you learn from the failure and you improve for the next time. That is a huge lesson that I learned from the program that is applicable with any job that you're ever going to do. 

Q: What were some of the highlights during your time in the MTM program? 

A: The two biggest highlights for me were number one, the friends that I made from the program. I really met a lot of lifelong friends that will help in my personal and professional life that is just worth every penny. The other highlight I would say is just being able to be together with your class every single day from nine to noon, do that morning class, and meet afterward about all the projects and such. It was super fun. I'll add a bonus, third highlight: being able to do the field project with a tech company in town. That’s an invaluable experience to be able to meet with actual people working in the field, figure out what problems they're having, and actually work to solve those. 

Q: Can you tell us about your current role as a project manager?

A: Right now, I'm a senior engineering project manager at Apeel Sciences. That means that I help manage different integration projects, how we're going to actually get our technology into our customer sites to be able to use it and sell through them. I am also helping manage different dashboards for our programs that roll up a lot of information for leadership so that there's an easy, convenient way to look at that. I also have been doing a lot of knowledge management and change management work, developing different processes. I work at a startup right now, so there's always ways to improve. 

Q: How did the program prepare you for your current role?

A: I think it was mainly the hands-on experience and working with all of the different classmates on group projects. Pretty much everything that you're going to do as a technology manager in the tech space is going to be collaborative work. So being able to learn how to work collaboratively with people, and all people, is essential. You don't necessarily get to choose your team every single time. And so you have to be able to adapt your working styles to who is on your team whenever you're approaching a new project. In the MTM program, every single project that you get is going to be a mixture of a bunch of different students. And most of the assignments you have in general are group projects. So you get to learn how to work with all different kinds of people. You get to learn best practices of what does work well when you're working with a group and you get to figure out how you want to grow as a leader. I think that that's something that can be overlooked a lot of the time. Sometimes there's just one idea of what a leader is, but really a leader is whatever is working best for you. And being able to go through the program and work with a bunch of different teams to identify that leadership style within yourself is super, super valuable.

Q: What would you say about MTM to prospective students who are considering other similar programs?

A: I would say to definitely apply and go visit the campus and meet some of the professors and the people that you'll be working with. There's something about the air in Santa Barbara that just breeds super, super genuine people that you can count on. A lot of the professors that I had, I did the program three or four years ago, I'm still texting and calling these professors frequently whenever I have questions about my career, questions about what I should be looking out for in the future and such. You get to develop really personal connections with these professors, and you get to call this new place Santa Barbara a second home for the rest of your life. I think the other thing is that this MTM program is relatively new, and that is exactly what is needed in the tech space right now—curriculum that is actually modern and relevant to the kind of work that is going on out there in the industry.

The UCSB Master of Technology Management program is all about innovation. There is the New Venture Competition that you can always participate in with your classmates if you have an idea for a business venture. But regardless of if you do that formal program or not, everyone there is an innovative thinker. If you have an idea for a new project that you want others involved in, everyone in the MTM program comes from a different background so you have a prime selection of teammates to build something new. So it's a great place to go if you want to meet some really amazing minds and build something together.

To learn more about the MTM program, visit

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