Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back again

Back again for my second week-- I must be crazy. It's 7am on a Saturday morning and I'm sitting with 65 other people eager (or foolish) enough to give up yet another Saturday to be on the campus of the University of Minnesota for school. Most of us had a rough week, crushed by the volume of homework we needed to have ready for today. I went through several gyrations of "how do I find enough time in the day to do this work?" and instead of pushing it all off to the mythical "after the kids go to bed" time period, instead I'm looking for smaller timeslots during the day when I can make at least a little progress.

Yesterday we had 12 hours of statistics-- that was about as interesting as it sounds. But I was surprised to find myself actually interested quite a bit in what was being presented. One of the reasons I've stayed away from math is because of a cadre of evil math teachers sent to torment me in high school-- this was the prime reason I didn't major in computer science in college. Now, with 16 years of the workforce behind me, I'm taking another run at it. It's amazing how the textbooks have changed since I left college-- they're much more graphical, informal, and segmented than I remember-- much easier to approach. And of course the Internet exists now, so the books have an online component that would have been unimaginable the last time I was in school. It's making everything more interesting.

Today's topic: accounting. (cringe) 12 hours learning the "language of business" as they say. I'm going to need all the caffeine I can get my hands on.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Beginning

OK, to begin with you should probably know something about why I decided to return to school after a 16-year break and pursue my MBA. Ever since leaving college in 1991, I've always flirted with some form of higher education. I requested prospecti from MBA programs several times, researched programs, contemplated taking the GMAT, and just about everything else I'm sure you've all done out there.

When the time finally came earlier this year to make "the" decision, it wasn't because I wanted to radically increase my salary: I make as much now as I think I deserve (OK, maybe a little less than I deserve, but close, which is satisfying). It wasn't because I wanted to be a CEO or start my own company (truth be told I have a pretty low tolerance for risk and at least at this stage in my career, I'd prefer to nestle under the comfy umbrella of a large, cash-rich company that takes care of me. I also don't have any desire to subvert family to career just to get a corner office).

Why, then, did I decide to enroll in a program that, over two years, will end up cosing almost $85,000-- especially when my employer will only pay about 20% of that?

I work in sales at a software company. My “a-ha” moment came in February 2007 while attending my company's bi-annual technical training summit. I saw a presentation on Web 2.0 and all the services-based areas my company was planning to invest in. I began running scenarios considering my career advancing through traditional sales and sales management ranks; these I felt confident I could achieve, and indeed my earnings potential would only increase as I climbed the sales ladder. As I ran these traditional scenarios, however, they did not compel me in the way in which the product managers and planners onstage at the summit were compelled when they discussed innovations coming with online collaborative software platforms and the emerging field of software + services.

The software industry at large will be investing billions over the next decade to grow these areas at the edge of the IT landscape. I already see the trend beginning now when meeting with my enterprise customers: they are enamored with wikis, peer-to-peer collaboration, and software as a service. They are looking equally hard at adopting these paradigms internally (for their own employees and vendors) as they are looking to create new revenue and customer loyalty streams from them as vendors themselves.

This is what compels me. To be part of that in a manner that allows me to actually shape the industry: that is my ultimate career objective. It doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to management, it doesn’t necessarily need to come with a CxO title, but it does have characteristics that I will need an MBA to fully master. After the presentations at the sales summit, I spent hours researching industry job postings and also internal job postings at my company, and the roles I see in the emerging services area (Product Planner, Group Program Manager, Lead Market Analyst) all require a level of competency in corporate finance, operations, team dynamics, accounting, statistics, and marketing that I do not possess today. Nor do I see a “self-taught” path in my company that gets me anywhere close to those competencies through on the job training. This is my primary reason for pursuing the MBA at this time.

So here I am, one intense weekend of two 12-hour classroom days under my belt, up again late at night working on statistics. Me, an English major, working on stats. Clearly something's gone haywire in the works. Stay tuned and see how it all turns out.