Product Manager, Co.Lab
The NYU Tandon Bridge program is aimed at students from a wide variety of nontechnical backgrounds seeking to gain the foundational knowledge that will enable them to embark on challenging STEM-related master’s programs. Because of that, those entering the program have often taken circuitous paths or been through compelling experiences. From the psychology major who had always loved computers but was sidelined by dreams of Olympic pole vaulting to the anthropology student who saw the chance to create online education opportunities in underdeveloped nations, the Bridge has had a succession of interesting participants.
That certainly describes Brunnell Velazquez, a former English major who completed the program and went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science in 2020.
Among the interesting facts about him: As a teen, he received admission to the TEAK Fellowship, a college pipeline program for low-income, academically gifted students that allowed him to attend a private high school and receive more than $100,000 in need-based scholarships. He spent one semester at a school with an organic farm, cultivating crops, cutting down trees, and tending to cattle.
“I had always been interested in computer science, and at Amherst, where I earned my bachelor’s degree, I registered for an introductory course,” he recalls. “I was so intimidated after attending one class, however, that I withdrew immediately and didn’t attend the second.”
Armed with his English degree, Velazquez took on a variety of product management positions, a software development firm and an internet giant, among other organizations. “Many laypeople confuse product management and project management,” he cautions. “A product manager identifies a customer need, decides what product will fulfill it, and orchestrates the team that will bring the idea to life. You can think of it as akin to being the director of a movie or conductor of an orchestra.” (The latter analogy is an especially apt one for Velazquez, who has played the alto saxophone since he was 10 years old.)
After noticing that many software engineers appreciated product managers with tech knowledge, he began contemplating Tandon’s Bridge Program. With no programming experience at all, it was admittedly challenging, but at the end, he was among a small handful of Bridge students in his cohort admitted to Tandon’s master’s program in computer science.
Along the way to earning his graduate degree, he was hired as an intern by Grubhub, and during his time there he helped streamline the checkout process, resulting in a conversion millions of new and returning customers. He is currently serving as a product manager in Co.Lab, a bootcamp of sorts where he is overseeing development of an app aimed at decreasing users’ anxiety levels.
“Whatever I do next, I’d like to be an inspiration to others,” he says. “I know what it’s like to be an underrepresented minority at a company where no one in the room looks anything like you and to feel the weight of imposter syndrome. But I’ve realized through Bridge and other challenges I’ve taken on that I can do anything I put my mind to, and I’d like everyone to know they can, too.”
NYU Tandon Bridge