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After Harvard, Ms. Malone spent a year working at the Federal Communications Commission and then helped begin an Internet telephone start-up, which eventually went public. She quit in 1999 to write her first novel, as yet unpublished, before joining Google in June 2004. Like Ms. Madden, Ms. Malone said her degree allowed her to take time off while knowing that it would be easy to get another job.
"It's this big safety net; it's a credential that makes it easier to get a job later," she said. "Maybe life shouldn't be that way, but it is what it is."