Carnegie Mellon University
November 21, 2023

Susan Campbell and Scott Byer Reflect on Careers, Community

By Heidi Opdyke

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

At work, home, and among friends, Carnegie Mellon University alumni Susan Campbell and Scott Byer believe in creating a sense of community.

"As we reflect on our experience at Carnegie Mellon, what we remember is the people who we were in community with, and we have maintained that," Campbell said.

Campbell and Byer both graduated from the Department of Mathematical Sciences with degrees in applied math with a computer science specialty in 1988. Campbell grew up in New Jersey, while Byer is from Silicon Valley.

"Carnegie resonated the best with me," Campbell said. "I liked that it was a broad curriculum. I've always found that having a variety of people to interact with is intellectually stimulating, it leads to better results, and I feel more connected to my communities that way."

Susan Campbell and Scott Byer

Byer grew up on the Stanford University campus where his father was an applied physics professor.

"I was looking for a smaller school away from home. I was very familiar with the large campus life," he said.

Both went on to have fulfilling careers as software engineers/architects.

Campbell spent more than 30 years at HP/HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise). She loved coaching people, working with customers and partners, and delivering software solutions. Her last role with HPE was as a master technologist within the Hybrid Cloud Software & Services and Software/CTO organizations. She intentionally worked in different business organizations and roles, learning from each job and refining what she did and did not enjoy. It's a lesson she said she hopes other learn from.

"Because of the size of HP/HPE, I was able to have many different roles and responsibilities and work on different technologies within the company," she said. "Find your authentic self. Try new things. You aren't going to know if you like it or not unless you try. Take calculated risks, don't just stay with the comfortable," she said.

When looking for promotions or new opportunities, Campbell said to know what your values are and to be flexible in the experiences you pursue.

"Don't be so wedded to the thing that seemed like a great opportunity if it isn't right for you," she said. "Put in a year or two, gain the experience and then move on to something more aligned to your interests."

While at Carnegie Mellon and getting her master's degree in computer science at Stanford University, she said schoolwork was contained to quarters or semesters and there was time for breaks and relaxing.

"Industry is not that way. It's constant pressure, and unless you find a way to build in breaks, you're going to have trouble," she said. For her, she would meet with friends at the gym and in more recent years, she volunteers with the nonprofit Learning Ally to read textbooks and technical manuals for accessibility. She kept her vacations work free as much as possible. "I wasn't always the best at building in breaks. You have to figure out a balance for yourself."

The industry has gone through a lot of change, but many things have stayed the same. Byer spent his career at Adobe and Google. Through his roles at Google in projects such as Fuchsia on smart displays, Android Things and operating software, he interviewed more than 250 candidates. As someone who studied math in college, Byer said that foundation they received at Carnegie Mellon is more important than people realize.

"I've seen a lot of people come through some computer science programs that didn't have any math at all, and that makes it hard to solve a lot of common problems you have to solve," he said. Another important aspect of applying for a job is communicating to the interviewer what your skills are.

"Some of the hardest interviews are the ones where you think they have the right skills, but they didn't practice interviewing enough and have too many nerves," Byer said.

Like Campbell, balancing work and life isn't always the easiest for Byer. But, he found a biking group that would meet before work once a week and also played volleyball. He also volunteered at workshops to repair bicycles.

"I slowly found groups at work that would do things to help break up the day," he said. "I built barriers to avoid going too intensely."

Carnegie Mellon has never been far from Campbell and Byer's lives. They have stayed in touch with friends from Carnegie Mellon through the years via various events and zoom calls, and engage with others via Alumni Association activities.

"It was a rigorous academic curriculum," Campbell said. "By surviving that, we were forged through fire together."

For Campbell, those strong bonds started with events such as a day-after Thanksgiving celebration for friends who couldn't make it home for the holiday. Campbell and friends were renting a home on Beeler Street at the time.

"A bunch of us either couldn't afford to - or just logistically - didn't end up going home," Campbell said. "It ended up being on Friday because I could go out on Thursday and get the shopping done and bake the pies."

Campbell carried the day-after Thanksgiving tradition with her when she moved to California for work. Byer recalls going to some of those parties even before they were a couple. The two have been together since 1992, and the parties changed over time.

"It was based on who was in the area at the time, any stray person who didn't have somewhere to go could come," she said. She would serve a traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing as well as try to integrate family traditions of some of the guests.

The events took a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Campbell and Byer stayed in touch with friends via Zoom. During the pandemic they reconnected with friends from Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity they both participated in during college.

Now that they are not working full-time, they're working to keep their networks close and building new ones. They have local friends and family, keep up with remote folks via Zoom, and are meeting new people through wine classes at their local community college.