Archive for November, 2006

Acting Up

November 30th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Of all the electives that I have taken in the MBA program, the two in which I am currently enrolled should be required in the core. First, Kay Bartol’s “Networks and Influence” has focused me on constructing a framework on which to build a professional network that will be beneficial throughout my career. Second, Jeff Kudisch’s “Executive Power and Negotiation” has forced me to do a lot of soul searching to get at the root cause of why I have always been a poor negotiator. Both of these classes deal with so-called “soft skills”, which is really a misnomer since interpersonal skills can take a lot of hard work to develop.

Classes offered by the Management and Organization department give extroverts like me a lot of opportunity to act up. Last night’s negotiation class was definitely a highlight. In order to not ruin things for students who might take the class at a later date, I’ll keep my description quite general. Our exercise was a group negotiation that was simply incredible. As has happened so many times in my life, I played the role of the clergyman. It was a great opportunity to be Platinum Nat in a non-wrestling setting. Nuff said.

If you’re an introvert going into the MBA program, there are a lot of classes that will put you in uncomfortable situations. You can probably get through the program with a pretty solid GPA without speaking up much in class, but you won’t get as much out of it. As a professional, you will need to speak up in front of people on a daily basis. School is a good chance to practice this skill in a safe forum. So, take some “soft skills” classes and change how you look at yourself.


Time Management

November 29th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

I have participated on the student panel at orientation twice now. The number one issue that new students in the part-time program are worried about is time management. They want to know how best to balance the demands of a full-time job and the MBA program.

My standard answer is: You know that free time you used to have…?

One often hears companies talking about work-life balance. If it is truly a balance and you add school to the equation, then something has to give. You have to go to your job during the day, and you have to attend class and do homework. So, obviously the “life” part is what suffers. Of course, there is always the option of surreptitiously doing your schoolwork while you’re at work, which is sometimes the only way to get stuff done.

I don’t want to dissuade prospective students from applying to the program. Your social schedule isn’t ruined completely. There will be times during the semester when you won’t be overloaded. Sure, there will still be some term projects hanging over your head, but they might not be due for weeks. You might be able to get away for the weekend and just relax.

However, there will be times when the peaks line up. For example, there was a time earlier this semester when I was spending well over 100 hours each week between school and my job. I was supporting a customer in Manassas (40 miles from my house), and had to spend 10-12 hours a day on the project for about a month. We worked weekends and holidays. There were days when I had to tell my customer that I couldn’t show up because I was so far behind in my homework. It has taken me most of the semester to get caught back up.

In the end, all of the hard work pays off. The great thing is that you can tell prospective employers that you have “great time management” skills and actually mean it.


Overcoming Prejudice

November 22nd, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Here’s a big secret. If you work in the marketing department or the human resources department, the engineers on your staff don’t trust you.

OK, so maybe that’s not such a big secret. However, those are the prejudices that I brought into the MBA program. Sometimes, I think the whole point of the core curriculum (besides teaching the fundamentals) is for the students to unlearn the lessons that they were taught by managers who were overly protective of their departments. The accountants are bean counters. The marketing guys all secretly want to be engineers, but can’t hack it. HR is the enemy – they only care about you until the day you start.

Professor Kudisch’s “Managing Human Capital” and Professor Biehal’s “Marketing Management” went a long way towards stripping me of my preconceived notions. I realized that I just didn’t understand the value that HR or Marketing brought to the firm.

It’s not like there aren’t professional prejudices about engineers. At my first job, the nearest place to go grab lunch was across the parking lot in another building. One day, my coworkers and I were picking up something to eat and we overheard a woman talking about how she had interviewed at our company, but didn’t take the job. One of the reasons that she mentioned was that “engineers don’t shower.”

I guess the MBA program should add a “Grooming Habits of Engineers” class to do away with that prejudice. Or maybe it could just be a topic in Supply Chain Management. Distribution, Receiving, Warehousing, Showering…


Pro Wrestling Prerequisite

November 20th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

My first job as an electrical engineer involved designing application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) at a contractor to the US government.

One of the many lovely perks that they fail to mention to you before you obtain a security clearance is that you get to work in a vault. You have no connection to the outside world. You don’t have email, a phone, or even any exposure to natural light. A white noise generator constantly hums in the background to confound any attempts at electronic surveillance. Working in this environment for any length of time is enough to drive a person to do something foolish.

In my case, it took less than two years before I snapped and went to professional wrestling school. I chose Bonebreakers Professional Wrestling Training Center in Arbutus, MD. After receiving my license from the MD State Athletic Commission, I began working as Platinum Nat, the Holiest Man in Wrestling. It was great while it lasted, but after five years of working a few shows a month, it was time to hang up the silver suit.

A pro wrestling education isn’t all that different from a business education. You learn the basics and then practice and apply them until you’re ready to for the big time. Admittedly, the basics in pro wrestling involve learning how to get bodyslammed from the top turnbuckle followed by getting hit in the head with a steel chair. In business school, the equivalent is learning how to put together a business plan including best-case, worst-case, and expected-case financial statements for the first three years of a firm’s existence. The choice between the two options may not be an obvious one for a person with weak math skills.

For both business and pro wrestling, communication skills make the difference between success and failure. I have never understood why a business communication course is not required as part of the core curriculum at the Smith School. Due to my wrestling background, I entered the part-time MBA program with experience speaking in front of crowds of up to 2,000 people. I had a competitive advantage over students who were uncomfortable with public speaking. Since presentations are part of almost every class, it would make sense to at least have a communication section in the optional MBA boot camp that students participate in before starting the program.

In lieu of that option, I encourage all incoming MBA students to spend some time watching Monday Night Raw. Everyone on the show has years of experience working a crowd. They all know how to sell themselves and the story in a concise manner that everyone can clearly understand. That’s a skill lacking in many entrepreneurs. Venture capitalists and investment bankers have the same attention span as wrestling fans and are equally impatient with a presenter who can not clearly convey his thoughts. What is the use of a good business education if you can’t walk away from it with the ability to sell yourself?



November 16th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

It’s been about eleven years since I completed the coursework for my Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at Northeastern University. At the time, I swore that I was done with school forever.

Forever lasted eight years.

I started in the part-time MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business in September of 2004 and I am on track to graduate in May of 2007. I don’t expect that I will be as burned out at the end of this program as I was when I earned my previous degree. My expectation has nothing to do with the quantity or difficulty of the work. It has everything to do with the people.

My engineering education did little to prepare me for the realities of the working world. I was taught how to design and simulate circuits. I was taught how to present complex technical concepts to people who lack a scientific background in a way that wouldn’t leave them drooling from boredom. However, I was not taught how to be an effective member of a team. Every project was completed individually. Whether you succeeded or failed, you did it alone.

Business school represents the complete antithesis of engineering school. At Smith, I am continually amazed by the level of support that I receive from my peers. When one of us has a significant professional or academic achievement, there are always plenty of people ready to offer congratulations. I have worked closely with at least forty of my fellow students on various group assignments and I have yet to encounter a single person who wasn’t willing to work hard to ensure that we all succeeded together. As a part-time student, I have been able to apply the lessons I have learned about teamwork to my job on a daily basis.

I plan to further explore the experiences that I have had in my transition from engineering to business in future posts on this blog. My goal is not to steer anyone away from a technology career. I will probably spend a lot of time talking about the idiosyncrasies and frustrations of the engineering profession that drove me to pursue a business degree. I will also devote a lot of time to discussing the experiences that I have had as part-time MBA candidate.

Before I get to that, however, I will spend my next post comparing a different type of education to business school. For those of you who know me, you know what’s coming next. For those who don’t, prepare yourselves for a surprise.