October 14, 2020
Alumni Spotlight: Max Tassano
By Bill Brink
When this summer’s quarantine redefined what people could do in their spare time, Max Tassano saw an opportunity. Tassano, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 with a degree in International Relations and Politics and later got a Master’s in Public Policy and Management from Heinz College, became involved with CMU Tech and Entrepreneurship, a community that facilitates the sharing of knowledge and networking among Carnegie Mellon students and alumni.
“There’s a high demand, especially during COVID where some of your more traditional extracurricular activities are on hold,” said Tassano, who chairs the Washington, DC chapter. “You can’t go to the bars, you can’t do this, that, and the other thing. I think there’s kind of a demand for Carnegie Mellon alums to connect with each other.”
The same blend of hard and soft skills with which Carnegie Mellon imbued him, the skills that make him well-suited to lead the chapter, are reflected in his job: He is a Senior Management Consultant at REI Systems, a federal information technology consulting firm that works closely with the government’s executive branch. Tassano works in the firm’s Advisory Services branch, which is similar to management consulting and project management.
“What we’re doing is, Congress will write the law,” Tassano said. “The White House Office of Management and Budget will write the government-wide policy. It’s basically the White House saying what all the federal agencies have to go do regarding IT. And then what we do is, we support all the disparate agencies [and help them] meet the policy requirements from OMB.”
Tassano didn’t always know he wanted to work in DC, or with government. He did know he wanted to leverage soccer to get into the best school possible, and he fell in love with the city and the school when he visited Carnegie Mellon in 2009. An upperclassman on the Tartans soccer team, Ian Epperson, was an IRP major, so Tassano gave it a go.
“IRP really fascinated me right from the outset, just to better understand how the world is working, how economics are working, what was, on a macro scale, affecting how people lived their lives, and how the news and how events in the news are shaped,” he said.
Tassano’s favorite class was Comparative Politics, with IPS Assistant Teaching Professor Colin Clarke. He enjoyed it to the point that he surpassed the syllabus, reading more about the topics covered in the course in his spare time.
“Not only is Dr. Clarke an expert in the field … but he’s also a really, really good teacher and really personable,” Tassano said. “It was just a great class.”
After graduation, Tassano worked as a paralegal at Maggio Kattar Nahajzer & Alexander PC, an immigration firm in Washington, DC. He considered law school, but his paralegal experience disabused him of that notion. He did, however, come to believe that advancing further in the District required a graduate degree, and Heinz College’s Master of Science in Public Policy and Management included the option to spend one year in Pittsburgh and a second in Washington. During the summer between his first and second year, Tassano interned for Representative Tim Murphy.
“I felt it was just a terrific experience to see how the sausage gets made and how the really hard work of legislating and creating legislation gets done in practice,” he said. “You have a lot of twenty-something-year-old legislative assistants and staffers doing a lot of this legwork that then we see on CNN or Fox News or C-SPAN.”
After graduation, Tassano spent a little more than a year at an IT firm called TCG before joining REI Systems. REI’s Advisory Services team supports the Office of Government-Wide Policy at the General Services Administration. The OGP works to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness in the federal government through several avenues, including IT. Tassano’s team implements a cost accounting framework for IT budgets, which allows government Chief Information Officers a more detailed view of how their organizations spend their money.
“My day-to-day, most immediate focuses are things like data center and infrastructure optimization and migrating IT infrastructure to the cloud,” Tassano said. “We’re pushing something called application rationalization, which is basically pushing agencies to inventory their huge laundry list of applications, identify the ones that they need to keep, the ones they need to modernize, and potentially the ones they can decommission to save taxpayer dollars.”
Tassano’s IRP major prepared him for this role by requiring him to read and synthesize information, and communicate it clearly in writing, a somewhat rare skillset among federal-government IT workers. His Master’s courses on organizational design and change management gave him useful knowledge for any endeavor, but especially the federal government, which is “this big, bureaucratic, slow-moving beast, and to get anything accomplished or any sort of new program or change agenda in the works, it almost invariably requires consensus building and being able to convince stakeholders of the return on investment for any new program,” he said. “That can be a really, really difficult thing to do.”
Carnegie Mellon also provided the opportunity for Tassano’s involvement in CMU Tech and Entrepreneurship. Started by Will Sanders and Kishan Patel in 2016, the organization hopes to eventually create training courses for future founders and connect those launching startups with potential employees.
“When people think of the really startup-heavy schools, the schools that get mentioned are Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, and I think we, writ large, want to be in that conversation,” Tassano said. “And there’s no reason not to be, right? Carnegie Mellon has enough people who have started businesses and enough technical folks who work in startups that we should be in the discussion as well.”