Prasanna (Sonny) Tambe
Associate Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions
The Wharton School, U. Pennsylvania
Prasanna (Sonny) Tambe is an associate professor of Operations, Information and Decisions at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Tambe joined the faculty at Wharton in 2017 after nearly a decade at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
With more than 1,300 Google Scholar citations, Tambe is a prolific and impactful researcher. “I’ve become interested in the use of AI and data science for hiring and am currently very interested in how these technologies can be used to expand economic opportunity for workers,” Tambe says.
“I also study the economics of the high-tech labor force, including workers in occupations such as software development and data science. I’m very interested in understanding how the rise and fall of new technologies and skills shape decisions for workers (e.g. educational and career choices), firms (e.g. building a culture that attracts tech workers), and even cities (e.g. what policies attract tech companies).”
Tambe was chosen to this year’s list because of his innovative and influential research as well as the positive nominations we received vouching for his impact in the classroom.
Current age: 45
At current institution since what year? 2017
Ph.D. from Wharton, U. Penn
Masters EECS from MIT
Bachelors EECS from MIT
List of courses you currently teach:
Analytics and the Digital Economy
AI, Data, and Society
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… There were a bunch of ideas I knew I wanted to pursue. This job really allows you an enormous amount of flexibility to pursue the ideas you care most about.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I’ve become interested in the use of AI and data science for hiring and am currently very interested in how these technologies can be used to expand economic opportunity for workers.
I also study the economics of the high-tech labor force, including workers in occupations such as software development and data science. I’m very interested in understanding how the rise and fall of new technologies and skills shape decisions for workers (e.g. educational and career choices), firms (e.g. building a culture that attracts tech workers), and even cities (e.g. what policies attract tech companies). Some of my recent papers have explored the idea that the need for workers to constantly reskill in the tech industry has implications for some of the diversity issues that exist in the tech workforce.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be…
I like building new things (and trying to improve upon them), so probably working in the product side of the tech industry. Maybe something with robotics.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I think my students would probably say it’s an ability to present relatively complex technical ideas in a way they find fairly simple and accessible.
One word that describes my first time teaching: #TalkedWayTooFast
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: It’s a people business, much more than it looks.
Professor I most admire and why: I’ve had many great professors over the years. One that stands out in my mind is Professor Amar Bose, who I had when I was an undergraduate student at MIT. He covered complex technical material – on acoustics, of course! – but also included stories from the field and even some life lessons, in a really compelling way. It was inspiring to see how much he invested in teaching despite all he had already accomplished.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
They have great stories and varied backgrounds, and as business students, they see the value in connecting with others and sharing their stories. I tend to learn a lot from the students in my classes.
What is most challenging?
They are impatient when it comes to wanting to see the real-world application of the content. You have to get to relevance quickly.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Sincere
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Pretentious
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… I think students would say I tend to focus the discussion around what they are building and creating, not as much around grades.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
Cooking, experimenting in the kitchen; Tennis
How will you spend your summer?
Summer camps are cancelled, so this summer I will be balancing work with keeping the kids busy at home.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Disney World! When we go, everyone in the family is happy to be there.
Favorite book(s): I read a lot and from all genres, so too many to list. Some good reads from just the last few weeks include Bad Blood, The Lost City of the Monkey God, The Martian, and The Girl with Seven Names. Other books that stuck with me are The Good Earth, Things Fall Apart, and Midnight’s Children, and I’ve been a fan of Tolkien ever since I was a kid.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Recently enjoyed re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender with the kids (and now we are working through Legends of Korra). I like watching it with them because it’s appropriate for all ages but touches in its own way on themes relevant to many of the political and social challenges that we have been facing in 2020.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
Eclectic; students in my class get a sampling of my playlist.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… It would involve a lot more building and learning-by-doing. I think students learn a lot when they have to implement their ideas.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… There is enormous potential for organizations around the world to improve how they connect workers with opportunity. Getting better at it is good for companies and it is good for workers. I think we are on the cusp of a revolution when it comes to building better science around making decisions about everything from training to hiring, advancement, and career planning, and I’m excited to see that science advance and hopefully help address some of the issues we have with access and equality.
I’m grateful for… I’ve had great colleagues and advisers my entire academic career, who have given me very good advice at critical times. I also like learning new things, so I’m grateful for being able to learn so much on a daily basis from my work, colleagues, and students, through teaching and research.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
FABULOUS one of the hardest but best classes at Penn.
This is hands down my favorite class at Penn so far. Professor Tambe has the ability to stimulate student interest in an amazing way by making the content of this class extremely applicable to the current job economy. Every single lecture hits the most important points for anyone interested in data analytics. His class has allowed me to go from someone who was unsure about the vast field of data science to someone who now wants to pursue this as a career. … If I could take another class with Professor Tambe, I totally would, and I have nothing but an immense amount of praise for this class and his teaching.
Amazing course! Prof Tambe’s ability to communicate complex material in a simple way is unparalleled. We covered so much in this course yet the pace never felt overwhelming. I also really appreciated how relevant he made this to the real world (particularly job market) and his insights on what skills we should and should not be acquiring. Accessibility outside the classroom was also unparalleled. One of the best courses I’ve taken at Penn.
The professor is incredible. Would highly recommend taking this class to anyone interested in the fields of data science, digital design, or analytics.
This has been hands down my favorite course at Penn. The professor makes the course. Professor Tambe is genuinely interested in his students and makes the goal of the course about learning as opposed to grades … I cannot stress enough how great of a professor Professor Tambe is.