Black Duck VP Engineering & EMSTL ’18 Randy Kilmon: Maximizing Business Acumen to Lead Tech

Randy Kilmon, EMSTL ’18

Randy Kilmon is VP of Engineering at Black Duck Software where he helps define product strategy and technical roadmaps for multiple teams focused on OSS Compliance and Security solutions.

Having led teams of 100+ engineers, and with over 15 years of experience in the open source world, including at Sun Microsystems with the Java community, why did Kilmon pursue and Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership degree? How has the experience helped him to advance his career and achieve his goal to drive Black Duck to adopt a more open source strategy?

Read the following interview to find out.

Why an Executive Degree?

We began the interview by asking Kilmon why he pursued an executive degree. He told us that his situation was unique. When he applied, he had been at Black Duck for 12 years. He was leading an engineering team approaching 100 people that were doing great. But he started to notice gaps in his leadership style in comparison to the new CEO and CTO – both with Harvard MBAs – that took over Black Duck as a turnaround a couple of years earlier. He was impressed by the intentionality of their leadership and the changes they made. He shared,

“I began to realize that neither my undergraduate degree in history nor my years leading tech teams gave me the advanced accounting and financial skills I needed to engage at a high level in conversations about M&As, balance sheets, P&L …

At the senior level, you need to wear your tech hat but, as you manage up and across, it’s more about business. I decided to get an Executive MBA to fill the gaps in my business knowledge and advance my leadership skill set.”


Kilmon started his search for an Executive MBA program at the Harvard Business School but found their certificate offerings too light. He wanted an in-depth program that would be more meaningful. Pure MBA programs came up short for him as well. They seemed geared for professionals aiming for CFO or CEO positions, not a CTO position which is where he saw his future.

“My passion lies in driving technology that impacts industry,” he commented. “I chose EMSTL because the program tailors its executive business management curriculum for people like me who want to up their business acumen to the C-suite level, but still want to work on the technical side of the shop.”

The EMSTL Advantage in Turbulent Times

According to Kilmon, the program has already had a major impact on his career on a number of fronts. Last year, as the company was in talks to be acquired by Synopsys, he was included in the conversations in part because of his EMSTL studies. The leadership team knew he would understand the financials of the deal.

“The CTO and CEO were both supportive of my EMSTL work. They would pull me into meetings, saying, ‘you might find this interesting because of what you’re working on at Brown.’ These experiences gave me a chance to cement my role as a player in major business decisions and protect my position and status during the merger.”

On EMSTL’s “Transformative” Leadership Curriculum:

Kilmon considered the leadership component invaluable for learning how he wanted to lead.

“Prior to EMSTL, I successfully managed large teams and drove critical projects but I wasn’t living up to my potential. EMSTL plunged me into a reflective space, exposed me to a whole body of leadership literature and communications exercises, and gave me a powerful cohort of like-minded peers that both challenged and helped me grow as a leader. It was a transformative experience that helped lift the curtain behind the effectiveness of our CEO whose leadership had so impressed me.”

Leveraging the Critical Challenge Project to Impact Industry

Kilmon focused his Critical Challenge Project (CCP), an EMSTL capstone requirement, on changing Black Duck’s approach to intellectual property and innovation in general. As he explained,

“The CCP gave me the braintrust and space to impact industry today. Culturally, Black Duck has always been guarded about its IP. I thought this strategy was slowing us down. For my CCP, working with Black Duck, and EMSTL faculty and my cohort, I developed a strategy to open source part of our code and use GitHub to enable a community-based model for integrations. It’s been a huge success for the sales team. By more tightly integrating the product into the customer ecosystems, it brings the value of the product to where our customers live. It adds that sticky aspect to our product that makes customers less likely to move elsewhere.”

On the eve of graduation, it’s impressive to learn how much Kilmon has already achieved with his EMSTL degree. We look forward to hearing about his future accomplishments leading technology and impacting industry.

Want to connect with an admission advisor?