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Farley Alumni Spotlight: John Franklin

Inspired by various Farley Center experiences, Franklin veers off the traditional path and pursues energizing endeavors.

While pursuing undergraduate degrees in computer engineering and computer science at Northwestern University, John Franklin (’18) assumed his life would naturally progress into coding or engineering work. That, after all, was the sensible, linear path for someone in his shoes.

The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, however, presented the Chicago native a window into a different world.

Through multiple Farley courses, including the center’s immersive Bay Area Quarter, and the experience of building a startup at The Garage, Franklin met enterprising students embracing risks in business and life. Those inspiring interactions awakened Franklin to new possibilities and spurred determined action.

He landed internships at Google and X. He worked on apps for smartwatches, mobile payments, and search engines. He lived in New York, Silicon Valley, and London. He connected with Northwestern alumni and colleagues working in different fields to better understand alternative career paths.

Intimidation slowly transformed into confidence, and the Farley Center provided Franklin’s post-collegiate life an empowering push.

Since graduating from Northwestern, Franklin has shifted from software engineering to product management, savored an unlikely turn as a reality television star, and seized the opportunity to pursue his own adventures with a mix of courage and excitement.

“If not for the Farley Center, I could’ve counted the founders I met on one hand,” said Franklin, who completed the Farley Entrepreneurship Certificate (now the Farley Entrepreneurship Minor) in addition to degrees in computer engineering and computer science. “Hearing their stories – their successes as well as their struggles – helped me take leaps in my own life.”


Seeing new possibilities

Franklin initially envisioned a long career in big tech, a seemingly perfect fit given his innate curiosity about computers and the explosive growth of coding. Drawn to the approachability of the Farley certificate program, he found entrepreneurial education afforded him a new way to think about adding value to a company.

“I didn’t have to be the Lone Ranger coding,” he said. “I could be someone who could provide leadership direction and strategy.”

At The Garage, Northwestern’s extracurricular entrepreneurship space and community, Franklin tested that theory as a founding member of HearYe, a virtual campus bulletin board app. Working with peers to build a novel product from the ground up, Franklin gained trust in his ability to thrive in a team environment and critically evaluate a product’s marketplace capabilities.

After a stint in machine-learning research at Pixar Animation Studios in California, Franklin contemplated pursuing a PhD before realizing he wanted to be more of a generalist. He moved across the country to New York to work as a software engineer at Google. While watching his project manager talking to engineers, operations, customers, legal, and sales personnel, Franklin wondered why he couldn’t do the same. Farley, after all, had prepared him for just that.

“That’s exactly what I had been looking for,” said Franklin, who was eager to explore other areas of product development, such as finance, marketing, and user experience.


Exciting adventures

Franklin completed Google’s associate product management program in 2022 and currently works as a product manager on foldable phones, where he helps to drive “strategy, manufacturing, design, and everything else” for Google’s work in the consumer electronics category.

“It’s me and two others steering the ship,” he said.

Along the way, Franklin won Season 35 of CBS’s “The Amazing Race” alongside his younger brother, Greg. Franklin spent nearly two months traversing the world completing mental and physical challenges, often leaning on communication and systematic problem-solving skills he honed at Farley. For Franklin, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity reinforced the merits of taking risks and demonstrated his ability to overcome anxiety-inducing situations.

“The journey was the reward,” he said.

In February, Franklin shared his story with Farley students enrolled in the Bay Area Quarter. Hosting them at Google’s Mountain View headquarters, Franklin detailed his Northwestern journey and his role at Google, championing the importance of being comfortable amid uncomfortable conditions. He also spoke candidly about his future ambitions, which might include pursuing an MBA or weaving his way into an “entertainment storytelling” business.

“I know one thing for sure,” Franklin said. “My story isn’t finished.”
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