Excellence in Action
Devna Shukla ’09
Interviewed by Monique Beals • April 11, 2018
Describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
Growing up, I was passionate about television news. I used to sit and watch the evening news with Dan Rather every evening with my Dad. I became involved in television news in high school, ultimately landing my first internship with CNN’s Washington D.C. bureau before UCLA.
My dream was to attend UCLA and study political science. I knew studying American government outside of the Washington D.C. area would provide me with the perspective I needed after living in the D.C. area for so long. Plus, I knew that California had its own dynamic local and state-wide political climate.
Days before graduating from UCLA, I had the opportunity to interview for my dream job while my soon-to-be boss was in L.A. for the day. After graduating, I started as a production assistant with CNN’s Anderson Cooper in New York City. I found myself from the sunny streets of Westwood to the hustle of New York City within a week of graduating. I spent many years with the AC360 team, working with the most incredible team. They were sharp, smart, and made each decision with integrity in pursuit of the truth. I ultimately became an editorial producer for this team, traveling with Anderson Cooper for major national stories. Whether it was presidential debates or the Newtown shooting, I found myself in the center of pivotal moments that shape the world we live in today.
I loved working at AC360, but wanted to pursue an opportunity to be entrepreneurial while making an impact on the social sector. I transitioned over to manage the corporate sponsorship program at Cycle for Survival, a “start-up” within Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I say “start-up” to describe the true spirit of innovation and speed of growth. Cycle for Survival at the time was about ten years old and raising about $30 million a year, with 100% of every dollar going to rare cancer research.
At MSK, I was so fortunate to find a similar team to that at CNN – smart, hardworking, and kind. I knew at MSK that I wanted to lean more into innovation, and ultimately took the leap to apply to business school. I always wanted to go to “b-school” and used to sit outside of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and do homework, or chat with the MBA students while I was in undergrad.
I got into NYU Stern and jumped at the chance to focus on technology and marketing. While at Stern I interned at Amazon in Seattle as a senior product manager, I co-host our student podcast “Stern Chats”, and am co-president of the Tech Association.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
UCLA set the tone of excellence in my life. It was at UCLA that I learned many important lessons. First, I learned the importance of a supportive environment. I never felt threatened by my classmates at UCLA. In fact, we often celebrated each other’s successes and my classmates at UCLA pushed me to be the best that I could be. UCLA also cultivated a love of data-driven storytelling. I remember leaving a lecture and eagerly calling my parents telling them what incredible fact or pattern we learned about that day, all rooted from rich data about our community, our country, and our world. At UCLA I also learned what it really means to be a leader. We all admire John Wooden so much, and I think about the lessons he exemplified daily. Whether treating each other with respect or giving back to the community, I really challenge myself in every chapter to live by John Wooden’s pillars. At UCLA I helped to start the Bruin Ambassadors program through the Undergraduate Admissions office. Bruin Ambassadors visit lower socioeconomic high schools around Southern California, sharing their own experiences and application tips in hopes to make UCLA more accessible to students across every demographic.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA network?
There is nothing better than meeting someone and finding out that we both went to UCLA. This moment serendipitously happens often, even if I’m primarily based on the east coast! My favorite part of being an alum is actually the relationship I have with professors. I still correspond with and follow mentors, T.A.s, and other UCLA administrators on my journey. It is so great to be able to reach out to an incredible professor like Tim Groeling in the communication studies department with a question or asking for his perspective. He was an incredible mentor to me during my time in undergrad, and I’m grateful for his support. I always know I can rely on an alum or a professor, for guidance, inspiration, and a friendly conversation. It is always fun to join the NYC chapter and watch UCLA vs. USC games, too!
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
It is never easy to know how your career is going to “turn out.” There is so much that is in your control, and so much that I believe is meant to be for you. I could’ve never guessed when I was living in De Neve that my career would be where it is today. I am constantly reinventing myself, looking to strengthen areas of myself while also contributing to teams from my strength. I am someone who is confident in what I know, and what I don’t know. However, it can still be nerve-wracking when it comes to taking different leaps. Leaving CNN for MSK, or leaving MSK for business school has no guarantee on the other end of the jump. Now having done it, I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts and made deliberate moves to prove to myself that I can do it- no matter what “it” is.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in media and technology?
One quote that always guides me is: “your passions are not random, they are your calling.” Passion for something is what will push you to accelerate and shine in tough moments. Whether you are working long hours, dealing with difficult people, or making personal sacrifices for your job, you will be fueled by something you truly care about. I felt this way when I was writing 20+ page papers for Political Science classes! It was tough, but I ultimately loved every minute of it. You can’t fake it in these tough moments, and media and technology are two fields that are challenging, unpredictable, and exciting.
Tangibly, I recommend looking at yourself and your resume and seeing how you can make yourself stronger and also differentiate yourself. Is there a new technical skill you can learn? Someone in a different department you can talk to? A cool new opportunity that will guide and shape you as you work towards your ultimate goal? I’ve worked on a lot of really cool projects, like an Emmy-winning documentary at CNN, “Being 13”, that is always the topic of conversation at cocktail parties and job interviews. This was an optional project that my boss at CNN at the time created, and I took the opportunity to challenge myself by working on this project on top of a full daily workload at AC360.
Recently, a mentor of mine said he always looks at where he wants to be in five years, and works backwards from that goal. It is hard to map out where you want to be, but intentionality in all parts of your life really matters.
How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?
Whether mentoring undergrads or chatting with alums, I am always eager to help the UCLA community in any way that I can, whether formally or informally.
What makes you proud to be a Bruin?
I am proud to be a Bruin for so many reasons. On a higher level, it is incredible to be a part of a school with such a dynamic legacy. Being ranked as the #1 public school is a reputation that is likely opening doors for me and other Bruins in ways we don’t even know. I’m also proud of UCLA’s advocacy and role in Los Angeles, working to include students from all socioeconomic areas and backgrounds. I’m proud of the excellence from the research labs, to the gymnastics floor.
Personally, UCLA in many ways feels like the first big brand that took “a chance” on me. I dreamed of going to UCLA, and was forever changed when UCLA accepted me. I love the reaction I get when I tell someone I went to UCLA. There is a deep sense of respect and admiration at the same time. Every UCLA grad is someone who can run a board meeting and also plan the best happy hour to support our amazing sports teams! A UCLA Bruin stands out from the crowd – Bruins are smart, kind, and above all operate with integrity.
That is always the question! I’m graduating from business school in May of 2019, and am excited to build a career in technology. I’m always asking myself “who do I want to be” when I “grow up” instead of “what.” It is a continuous process, and I’m thankful to have the UCLA community behind me as I grow into the next chapter of my life.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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