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Chicago Booth student, David Falk posing at an event with his partner
David Falk (left) and his husband Jason Dauer

When David Falk, ’21, came out as gay in high school, he felt supported by his community. Friends and family fully accepted him, a boy who loved math and wasn’t afraid to be himself, and that wouldn’t change.

Falk’s love of math started in middle school when he participated in math competitions. Back then, it was all for fun. But as he grew older, Falk saw that math could carry him forward in his career. But would it be teaching? Researching? Perhaps applying math to business? He decided to try them all.

During his undergraduate years at Penn State, Falk worked as a student teacher, then researched neural networks for his thesis. At a career fair hosted by Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM)—a nonprofit professional association for LGBTQ+ people in the STEM community—he discovered and later accepted a systems engineer job in Chicago with defense contractor Northrop Grumman. Falk worked on system design and architecture for Navy helicopters and quality engineering for infrared countermeasures, building the most functional systems possible for pilots.

He loved this application of math, which also allowed him to use his strengths of empathy and community building.

“I learned about the importance of user experience,” says Falk, who also volunteered with the company’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group and with oSTEM. “Our customers were pilots who needed to make split-second decisions and have information at their fingertips. The difference between an option being buried three levels down in a menu versus being easily accessible could be a matter of life or death in a combat scenario.”

When coworkers told Falk about their MBA journeys and encouraged him to consider his own, he became intrigued. He attended information sessions at Booth, feeling excited by courses on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Soon, Falk enrolled as an Evening MBA student while continuing his work at Northrop Grumman.

“When I think of my values as a leader in technology, it’s about creating a sense of community and inclusion. I want to empower software developers and all the teams I collaborate with to come together and feel like their voices are heard.”

— David Falk
David Falk and MBA classmates on a boat in Lake Michigan
David Falk (center front) with Booth classmates

As a student, Falk was active in Booth Pride, an LGBTQ+ student group that became an essential supportive community amid the pandemic. When classes went virtual, Falk was living in Chicago and in a long-distance relationship with his husband, Jason Dauer, who was completing a Master of Divinity in Pittsburgh. Group members were there for one another through this difficult time. They were also working to make Booth more inclusive. They met with other student groups and helped everyone feel safe and free to be their full self in class. What Falk found in Booth Pride was something he knew he wanted to foster in his career.

“When I think about what I value as a leader, it’s about creating a sense of community and inclusion,” Falk says. “I want to empower software developers and all the teams I collaborate with to come together and feel like their voices are heard.”

After graduating from Booth, Falk secured a job as a senior technical product manager at McDonald’s, which soon turned into a senior role as a tech lead. Now—reunited with his husband Jason in Pittsburgh—Falk leads three teams of software developers in the US and India who are creating global point-of-sale solutions for the 118 countries with McDonald’s restaurants.

“McDonald’s has a big footprint, so if you’re able to make even a small improvement, that can have a big impact,” Falk says. “My time at Booth—the conversations, classes, group projects, all of it—helped prepare me for what I’m doing today. I couldn’t have seen it coming in that way. But sometimes when there are opportunities presented, you just have to say yes.”

While Falk works to improve technology at McDonald’s, he’s also continuing to bolster supportive communities. He’s a male ally for the company’s Global Women in Technology group, advocating for more growth opportunities for women on his teams while raising awareness on how to reduce bias in the workplace. He wants everyone at work to feel comfortable being 100 percent themselves and avoid the negative impacts of long-held stereotypes.

Even during Pride Month, Falk knows that not everyone feels comfortable bringing their full self to work. The rights of LGBTQ+ people are under attack in the United States, Falk says, with a lack of antidiscrimination laws across the country. While corporations such as McDonald’s are more supportive now, he knows that this could change if leaders like him stay quiet.

This is why Falk feels grateful for the community he had growing up, the communities that have included him since, and the new communities he’s been able to foster. All have allowed him to be exactly who he is, and he hopes to expand that same support across the world of STEM.

“It’s important to be visible in the workplace,” Falk says. “That’s where planting seeds of acceptance comes from. I’m grateful to have the opportunities that I have, and I need to keep fighting to ensure things are better for others, to continue being an advocate for change.”


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