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Last year, I was part of a leadership training workshop at work that included 13 people from across the organization. Our workforce, albeit small, is incredibly diverse so even this limited group included Americans, Canadians, Costa Ricans, Indians, a Nigerian, and a Romanian. As an exercise, we were asked to draw three circles to represent the past, the present and the future respectively. Without giving it a second thought, I drew a small circle representing the past, a bigger one around it for the present, and the biggest circle around the second one for the future (imagine a dartboard with three concentric circles).
When the group shared their drawings, I was quite surprised to find that only one other person (interestingly, an American) had drawn the same figure. Everyone else drew three circles of varying sizes not in a concentric manner but side by side in a linear fashion, starting with the smallest and ending with the biggest representing the future.
The presenter explained to us the difference between this circular/cyclic concept of time vs. the linear concept of time. In cultures that value this “linearity” of time, it is too precious of a commodity to be wasted. It moves fast and one must move with it, making use of every minute to produce value in some form or the other. This is typically an American concept of time, and also one that is greatly valued by German, Swiss, British and Scandinavian cultures (to name a few).
The “circular” concept of time, on the other hand, is one where people try to understand the linkages and connections between the past, the present, and the future. It is almost as if life controls time, rather than the other way around. Decisions are made differently with reflection on and consideration to past experiences. It should come as no surprise that this is a predominantly eastern view of time and life, notably in Chinese, Japanese and Indian subcontinent cultures.
Photo by Nitya Mallikarjun
As foreigners studying or working in the U.S, we find that time is not the only aspect of life that may be different from what we were used to back home. As the global economy grows, work becomes increasingly knowledge-based, and technology breaks down barriers to communications and collaboration, we may find ourselves in a workplace that is more diverse than ever before. Luckily, organizations the world over are quickly recognizing this diversity and cultural differences as an asset rather than a liability. This means by increasing awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we have the ability to truly succeed in the global marketplace no matter who we are or where we are from. To explain how this cultural diversity comes into play in our workplace, I broke down the essence of “work” into three broad categories that I feel are agnostic to one’s job, company, or industry. They are more process-oriented and will most likely occur in some form or another no matter what you do.
In the knowledge economy it’s becoming clear that as important as what you think is how you think. With companies focussing on rapid problem solving, creativity and innovation, having cultural diversity in the way people think about specific problems helps in identifying solutions in a more effective manner. These cultural differences are also important because they can help avoid groupthink, minimize expert overconfidence (yes, there is such a thing!), and glean new & fresh insights as well as perspectives. Try to let go of your fear of being wrong, and don’t be afraid to bring your own unique perspectives forward. Thinking however, is not enough. We must also be able to communicate these ideas in an effective manner which becomes a challenge when working in a culturally diverse group.
When it comes to communicating in a culturally diverse setting, things can get tricky and often do. Some cultures are infamously upfront and direct, while others are more indirect and non-confrontational. It is important to understand that you do not need to become like one from another culture, you simply need to find the right balance while communicating with people. This means understanding them, understanding yourself, and finding the best way together to get the message across. As young professionals we are particularly at an advantage for this kind of learning and being able to apply it to work. Ask your friends, ask your peers, and especially ask your managers and superiors how you can find the right balance while communicating with your team.
Now that you have brought forth your unique perspectives and communicated them with those around you, it is important to be able to adapt to how your team and company works and values time within the context of work. Do you understand how work is divided within your team and why? Do you know what is expected of you and when? Do you know when you need to take initiative, and when you need to be a supportive team member? In some cultures, work is defined and we are encouraged to not question authority and “go with the flow”. Deadlines are not stringent, and focus may be on long term gains. In other cultures, especially in the U.S, you may be expected to show initiative and take on things without always being asked. Time may often be more important than money. Try to understand these expectations from the perspective of your job function and your role in the team/organization, and continuously look for feedback to grow and improve.
There is a common thread in all of the three above – relationships. It’s easy when you are friends with everyone you work with, but that is not always the case. Better relationships should mean better teams that think more creatively, communicate more effectively, and work more efficiently. But, it’s a vicious circle of sorts because these three in turn also lead to better relationships! So whether someone is from your culture or not, try to understand their perspectives and focus on building a genuine relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Welcome to the last weeks of class! In the next two months, you will begin your summer internship or your first job after the MEMP or MEng program. Congratulations on your hard work and perseverance!
In Career Services, we’ve found that our students fall into two categories once they have committed to a short-term or long-term role. In one “camp” we have the students who are so relieved to finish their job or internship search that they put the role they will take completely out of their mind. They have classes to finish, projects to complete, and want to connect with friends before they disperse. Think of an athlete who has finished one of the most intense games they’ve ever experienced and you’ve correctly pictured these students. And we get it. You may have spent the last 9-12 months looking for said job or internship and need time to recuperate and finish strong in finals.
The second “camp” of students is those who celebrated accepting a job or internship offer and then recommitted the time used for their search to preparing for the beginning of that role. We’d encourage you to be part of the second “camp” of students. To have the most valuable internship experience or the best first 90 days in your new full-time role, you need to be prepared. And don’t assume that because you successfully completed the job or internship search, that the preparation ends there.
One of the most valuable components in your preparation is the role that feedback will play in your experience. Consider both the feedback you will receive from supervisors and peers and the feedback that you will provide in 1:1 and team settings.
To give you a better understanding of how to receive feedback in a constructive way and how to provide helpful feedback, read this article on The Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work from Fast Company (originally written for Buffer). Learn which strategies will work best for you and ways you can ask for feedback that will promote constructive conversations.
To go deeper into how you receive, remember, and utilize feedback, watch this TEDx talk by Sheila Heen, a founder of Triad Consulting Group, a member of the Harvard Negotiation Project and co-author of Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback. The 20 minutes go fast as she provides ideas for how to incorporate others’ feedback into your own learning and growth. One of her main points is that you can’t wait to be assigned a good manager who is able to provide feedback in exactly the way you like. You have to learn how to utilize feedback from multiple sources.
Utilize these two resources to help you better prepare for your internship or the start of your full-time job. Knowing how you will handle feedback and also how to provide it to others will be key to your success and professional growth!
By: Fares Alzahrani, MEMP ’16
“Go Duke” were the last two words in the congratulatory email we received from the Master of Engineering Management Program director, Dr. Bradley Fox, for our selection to represent Duke University in the MEMPC PriSim Business War Games Competition. To me, his two words represented bestowed trust, serious competition ahead of us, and a request for a championship. I was honored to be part of an intellectually cooperative team representing our distinguished university in the Master of Engineering Management Consortium, which includes Northwestern, Cornell, Dartmouth, MIT, USC, Stanford, as well as Duke. We were further honored to be the first place winners in the competition. More importantly, the competition and simulation provided me invaluable lessons in applying what I have learned inside and outside the classroom.
The month-long competition consisted of 10 decision periods, each of which represented a simulated year. There were 11 teams, two of which were from Duke. Those teams were split into two automobile industries, and each team was made up of 4 students from the same MEMPC school. For more details on the competition case, visit here.
I was lucky enough to work with Saraswathi Gautham, Jun Yang, and Yijun Liu, each of whom brought outstanding intellect and personality to the team. At the beginning of the competition, we all realized two important aspects that we had to settle in order to win: team dynamics and the firm’s strategy. For team dynamics, our Management course, EGRMGMT 540, came in handy in solving two critical aspects for our success: team’s roles and responsibilities and managing conflict.
We had never worked with each other before, and given our busy schedules, there was little time to get to know each other well before we reached the performing stage. Therefore, we started sharing information about each other’s strengths and preferences on the roles to guide us during the meetings. However, in our first couple of meetings that were planned to define our team and firm, we had seemingly endless and unproductive discussions on the formulation of our firm’s strategy. We realized that our management education was useless if we could not turn around that situation and align our goals for better performance. At the end of the second 2-hour meeting, everyone at the table stated their goal for the competition, which primarily included winning and learning. Astonishingly, that short genuine discussion of our purposes and interests significantly boosted our team spirit as well as understanding and trust for each other. As a result, we were able to settle the firm’s strategy and team’s roles and responsibilities within 15 minutes.
The competition provided us an enduring and practical lesson on strategy that would have taken us 5-10 years to experience first-hand in the real world. Some of our members had taken the Competitive Strategy course, conducted various cases, and/or had practiced strategy formulation with a previous employer. We all have learned that strategy in the long run can provide powerful competitive advantage in the market place.
However, none of us had ever experienced the serious executive debates that go into approving and committing to a strategy. We had never been challenged with tough decisions that forgo market opportunities for the sake of better strategy alignment. We had never realized how powerful strategy can be in positioning our firm for long term success until we committed ourselves to test that essential strategy lesson in the simulation. The agreed-upon strategy truly served as a compass in all of our discussions and debates. Reflecting back on tough and long-debated decisions, the team is extremely happy on the outcome of those decisions that our competitors initially found strange or even stupid. The graph below shows our firm, Firm D, stock performance against the other firms in our industry:
The chart does not necessarily indicate that we had a superior strategy over other competitors, but it clearly shows that our team was focused on a strategy over the course of the competition. It demonstrates that the team made sound decisions that delivered significant value to the firm’s bottom line.
The simulation has cemented our finance and accounting lessons acquired during the fall and spring semesters as part of Duke MEMP’s core and elective courses. Those courses provided the basis for the discussion and analysis of our firm’s and competitors’ financial statements on each round. One important, yet subtle, lesson I learned during my Advanced Finance Course is that profitability and liquidity are inversely proportional to each other. This lesson allowed the team to make sound financial decisions which led to our winning the competition. Therefore, I also believe that the simulation and competition fostered our financial acumen.
Finally, I would highly encourage all MEMP students to apply for the competition next year as it was truly captivating and rewarding. There are innumerable lessons to be gained in different fields such as product development, marketing, finance, pricing, strategic thinking, and others. More importantly, I had the opportunity to try and validate hard-to-apply lessons in team dynamics and competitive strategy beyond just studying and discussing them in classroom cases.
By: Samyuktha Sundar, Student Coordinator DuHatch, MEMP ’16 and Ric Telford, Adjunct Associate Professor, Executive in Residence
On September 3rd, The Foundry had its Open House, revealing to everyone this amazing new 7,600 square foot facility on the ground floor of Gross Hall. The Foundry serves as “maker space” for students, faculty and staff who have an idea and want to build it from the ground up. Given the mission and vision of the Foundry, it became a perfect new location for DUhatch, Duke’s technology incubator program. Earlier this month, DUhatch completed its relocation to the Foundry and is ready to start the next step of a journey that began 5 years ago.
DUhatch (short for Duke University hatchery) was first conceived in 2011 as a subsidiary of then Duke Student Ventures. Duke has always had its share of budding entrepreneurs, and the time seemed right to start developing more tools that could help the entrepreneur community at Duke. Space was carved out in the Teer building and DUhatch came to life in 2011 with a well-attended kickoff event.
The mission of DUhatch is fairly straight forward. DUhatch is committed to helping incubate new ideas on campus by providing space, equipment, mentorship, and a network for student success. There are anywhere from 5 -10 teams at any given time in DUhatch and they provide a wide range of product and service solutions.
One of the more well-known graduates of DUhatch was Tatiana Birgisson. Tatiana started Mati Energy drink – a healthy alternative to today’s energy drinks. Tatiana was a Google DemoDay winner and continues to build her company by working out of the American Underground in Durham.
DUhatch is now part of larger, coordinated efforts across Duke focusing on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E). We coordinate with the leadership in the Duke I&E organization to ensure we complement activities across the campus.
Today, we have a record-high 10 teams that call DUhatch home and they represent a wide variety of new business ideas, including:
- FarmShots: Image analysis to help farmers and agronomists
- Physao: Remote monitoring platform for chronic lung conditions
- BioMetrix: Motion capture wearable sensors
- Genie: Peer-to-peer service provider
- Mentormee: Mobile mentoring platform
- Tiba Health: Wearable device for patient adherence
Come by and see the DUhatch digs next time you are in Gross Hall – we can be found in workspaces 45 and 47. If you are interested in learning more about DUhatch, check out our website. For more information, subscribe to our listserv by clicking here.
By: Susan Brown, Assistant Director of Admissions
This summer, we became the first department to launch a new application that Duke plans to roll out across the university. Being an early adopter had its ups and downs, and we’re still fine-tuning the system in preparation for our early 2016 deadlines, but we wanted to highlight a few features and tips for the new application.
• GRE Scores: If you’ve taken the GRE multiple times and gotten higher section scores on different test dates, this new feature is for you. Our new application allows you to list your highest GRE section score and the date it was obtained. As long as you report all results to Duke (institution code 5156), we’ll take your highest score in each section.
• Multiple Applications: Can’t decide which program is right for you? (See our video below.) Want to apply to several programs? The new system allows you to create multiple applications to several Duke programs in engineering, divinity, or the environment.
• Document Uploads: We require a resume, statement of purpose, transcripts and other associated documents, but the new system will not show the transcript uploads until you’ve submitted the application and paid the application fee.
• Status Updates: After you submit your online application, you’ll be able to check the status of your application materials via Duke’s Applicant Self-Service system. Applicants who submit their application should receive an email on how to create this log in within five business days. We recommend that you check periodically to ensure that all required application materials have been received.
If you have any questions while creating or submitting your application, please contact us. We’re happy to help!
• Master of Engineering Management (both campus and distance): firstname.lastname@example.org
• Master of Engineering (all disciplines): email@example.com
By: Wesley Cohen, MEng ’16
After attending TechConnect, Duke’s Fall Career Fair, and the NC State Career Fair, I learned a lot about how to prepare more effectively for these events. The following points are the most important techniques I learned for successfully approaching career fairs.
Before Career Fair
Polish your Resume: Make sure your resume looks professional and is free of typos. Schedule a one-on-one appointment well before the career fair with a career counselor to review your resume.
Update your LinkedIn Profile: Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and professional. Schedule a one-on-one appointment well before the career fair with a career counselor to make sure your LinkedIn profile is strong. Every employer will look at your LinkedIn.
Research Employers: Research employers before the career fair that way you can create a list of employers that you want to talk to. This will allow you to maximize your time at the career fair and to think of intelligent questions to ask employers. For the Duke Career Fair and TechConnect, plan on visiting around 5 employers. For the NC State Career Fair, plan on visiting around 8 employers each day.
Have a Plan: Create an order of employers you want to talk. It makes sense to talk to the employer that interests you the least first and then to meet with the employers that interest you the most later on.
Prepare your Elevator Pitch: This is also known as the 30 second introduction.
A general structure to follow is:
1) Your Name
2) Major and Program
3) A couple of sentences highlighting your experience
4) Something you find interesting about the company that shows you did your research
5) Connect your experience to a project, division, or position at the company
6) End with a question that is specific to the company and once again shows that you did your research
Practice your Elevator Pitch: Video record yourself! This is really important to make sure that you look confident and speak clearly. Schedule a one-on-one appointment well before the career fair with a career counselor to review your elevator pitch. Also practice your elevator pitch with friends and see what suggestions they have.
Practice Common Interview Questions: Some employers will use the career fair to conduct on-spot interviews. Prepare for this by reviewing common interview questions. Also be prepared to talk about all of the experiences on your resume.
Print your Resume: Make sure to use resume paper when you print your resume. This paper makes a difference as it wrinkles less easily. Employers have commented on the paper I have used. Print at least two resumes for every company you plan on speaking with. You will talk to multiple people at some companies. You will also talk to some employers that you did not plan on meeting with.
During Career Fair
Get to the Career Fair Early: The career fair will be much less crowded and the lines will be shorter. This will allow you to maximize your time at the career fair.
Network: Be open to talking to employers you may not have planned on meeting with. Sometimes employers will want to talk to you based on the major on your name tag. Sometimes employers with no lines will try to start talking to you. If they do, you should meet with them. It is a great way to network, to learn more about other industries, and to practice your elevator pitch.
Talking with Employers: There is no substitute for the actual career fair. Practice cannot effectively simulate the noise and crowdedness of the event. You may be excited and want to talk to your top employer first, but this is not the best approach. Always start with an employer that is not high on your list. Once you feel entirely comfortable, go talk to the employers that interest you the most.
Give the Employer your Resume: I have found that it works best not to give your resume to a recruiter at the start of the elevator pitch. Instead, promote yourself by talking about your qualifications and get the recruiter to ask for your resume.
Get a Business Card: If you have a strong conversation with a recruiter, ask for a business card or their contact information. Not all recruiters will have business cards or be willing to give out their contact information.
Take Notes: After talking with a recruiter, write down anything memorable about the conversation. This will become important for following up after the career fair.
After Career Fair
Email Follow-Up: Send a follow-up email to any recruiter that gave you his or her contact information.
A few pieces of information to include in this email are:
1) Your elevator pitch to remind the recruiter about who you are and why you are qualified for the position
2) Something memorable about your conversation
3) Thank the employer for his or her time
4) Attach a copy of your resume
By: David Richards, MEM ’15
Eat something, you’ll need the energy,” my supervisor remarked.
The I-zone meeting room – short for innovation, inspiration, or really any positive word starting with an ‘i’ – was empty now, but soon it would be filled with a collection of executives, primed to hear our toilet market entry recommendation. I grabbed the closest boxed lunch and managed a few bites of my sandwich before their voices drifted inward…
I may be getting a bit ahead of myself here. In 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a challenge: reinvent the toilet. Not just the porcelain object we all know and love, but the entire infrastructure around it.
Back in Research Triangle Park, RTI International applied their wide variety of capabilities in chemistry, materials science and international development to build a water-less, energy balanced system that also has the potential to fulfill RTI’s mission, “Improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice.” This process was documented in an awesome blog entitled “A Better Toilet”.
RTI’s project successfully caught The Gates Foundation’s attention. In 2014, RTI was awarded a substantial sum to create a working prototype and bring this revolutionary technology to market.
Enter me, an inexperienced Duke MEM candidate, ready to begin my role as an open innovation consulting intern! The first day, I was led into a room by my incredibly intelligent supervisor, and explained everything. RTI seeks to enter the India sanitation market, but we want you to develop and communicate the entry recommendation. Go.
With a few markets in mind and a rough outline of the story we were going to tell, I got to researching. And I researched. Hours and hours were spent pouring through publications and news articles. They discussed statistics about India’s state of sanitation: only 36% of the population has access, and of those that do, only 13% of their waste is treated. Because of a lack of toilets, girls do not attend school and women must trek to remote locations for privacy. I came to realize that, though this phenomenon isn’t publicized in the media much, it is an enormous problem – and not just in India.
There are dozens of countries that suffer from low access to sanitation and will have unprecedented water scarcity by 2025. India was chosen as the target location for three reasons:
- It has a large and growing economy
- It has a democratic and cooperative government
- RTI has both an office and several partnerships in the country
These three factors allowed for the possibility of not just making an initial dent in the problem, but a sustained impact.
As I collected more and more data, a market clearly presented itself and an entire deck was created with this recommendation in mind. My supervisor gave me the tremendous opportunity to present my work to six vice presidents and two senior directors in a capstone meeting.
In the end, I realized that though my level of experience paled in comparison to my audience, what I learned over the last three months uniquely positioned me as an expert on this project. I knew where all the numbers came from, had a comprehensive understanding of why our recommendation presented the best opportunity, and understood the nuances of the engineering backstory for the toilet and the Gates Foundation’s stipulations. They listened as I spoke and I answered as they questioned. It was a remarkable experience that I will remember for the rest of my career.
More generally, having participated in 20+ projects over the last three months, I learned three important lessons about the process of working, especially juggling multiple tasks.
First, I realized it helps to carefully divide and conquer – whether you’re working on one project or five. You need to divide each task into manageable chunks and make sure you are working efficiently. This required not only planning but also giving yourself the confidence to say “no” to other projects when you are aware of how little time you have to spare.
Second, you must adapt to your supervisor’s working style as soon as you begin working with them. Since I was involved with so many projects, I collaborated with a large number of project managers – each one with a completely different style of working. Some liked for me to communicate in person, others via the phone and a few only over email. Questions must be asked early and effectively.
Third, and most importantly, you must strive to add your personal brand of value to every task you participate in. This means thinking critically about your assignment and going above and beyond what your supervisor asks you to do. It helps to come up with questions at the beginning of a task – some may be simple clarification questions; others may lead you to take the task in a completely different direction. Conscientiously adding value does not only differentiate yourself, but also gives you the chance to think creatively about your work.
RTI International’s Innovation Advisor’s group was a fantastic place to intern this summer and I hope that their relationship with the MEM program continues to strengthen.
By: Lorelle Babwah, Assistant Director of Student Services
The Global Leadership Fellows Program (GLF) is a brand new initiative within the Professional Masters Program led by Bridget Fletcher and myself, Lorelle Babwah. If you are audiovisually inclined, you can learn more about the program by watching our Harry Potter-style recruitment video found here.
We are pleased to announce that the program received 20 applications for our inaugural class! From that, we selected 10 excellent fellows and sorted them further into two, five-person groups: House Babenclaw (headed by yours truly) and House Fletchendore (led by Bridget Fletcher).
The goal of the program is to develop a small community of MEM and MEng students who are interested in digging a little deeper. Fellows focus their engagement in three core areas: Leadership, Personal Development, and Cultural Competence.
I’ll elaborate more on these later, but today I’d like to talk a little bit about our fellows’ current activities—knowledge sharing! In keeping with the school’s mission of “knowledge in service of society,” program fellows must demonstrate leadership through service and ongoing engagement to develop others and improve Professional Masters Programs. Each fellow must plan and execute an activity where he or she shares some knowledge with the greater community. Here are just a few examples of the fellows’ presentation topics for this semester:
Singlish (Singaporean English)
Traditional Chinese Martial Arts
Women in the Workforce
Chinese Culture and Paper Cutting
Living Through the Five Senses
Look for future updates on our fellows and the GLF Program as we progress through this exciting first year. In the meantime, please check out the Global Leadership Fellows Program blog, with special links to hear from the fellows themselves! Who knows, we may even feature some guest bloggers very soon…
The MEngagment Career Committee interviews Dr. Bob Barnes, Professor of Biomedical Device Innovation and Project Management.
Dr. Barnes brings his rich experience in project management to MEM, MEng and undergraduate students in his Biomedical Device Innovation and Project Management courses here at Duke. “At Duke, we have a very unique situation, and this is one of the things that all engineers should recognize, especially MEng and MEM. If you’re in biomedical engineering (BME), you’re in arguably the number 1, number 2 BME program in the country and perhaps in the world. But it’s very rare situation in which you can walk less than a mile and be at one of the top medical schools in the world, one of the top hospitals in the country, at the number 7 nursing school in the country, at one of the top business schools in the country, one of the best law schools in the world, one of the best public policy schools in the country, and have a great economics program. If you’re interested in being an entrepreneur, those are the things you need to have, and you can walk to every one of them. There are very few places in the world, where you can do that. To come here and not take advantage of these things, doesn’t make any sense”.
The MEngagement Career Committee sat down with Dr. Barnes to get his insight and advice to students regarding industry and the job search process.
Q: What made you pursue a career in project management? How did you get into teaching courses in project management and biomedical device innovation?
A: When I was in the 6th grade, I decided I wanted a PhD. I put a plan together to get the PhD by the spring of 1974, and missed that by 6 months. After that, I taught and was up for tenure a year earlier than I had thought. I’ve always been a project manager, it’s just natural for me. During this point of time, if you take a look at NASA, take a look at things that were happening in the U.S., it was the era of project management. I came along with a right attitude at the right time. I’m a civil engineer by training, not a biomedical engineer. Through a number of opportunities that were presented, I had a chance to work with Abbott, Pfizer, Guidant, Medtronic and Eli Lilly; all of those having to do with managing new product development, as a consultant. In 2010, I made a decision, I was tired of traveling. From 1990 until 2010, I would leave home Sunday night and come back home Friday night. Decided, I didn’t want to do that as much. Just happened to meet Barry Meyers, who introduced me to George Truskey. Dr. Truskey had a grant. He needed somebody to teach a course called Biomedical Devices, and that’s how I wound up doing this.
Q: During your experience, what are the qualities, skills or traits that stand out that enable engineers to be successful? What have you seen as a project manager in your team of engineers?
A: There are 2 things that drive engineers to be successful. The first one is necessary, but not sufficient, is you must be technically proficient. It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. The next thing you need to be a good engineer is to be able to define problems. What is sufficient is if you can’t define problems, then you will do 2 things: You will solve problems that are of no value to anyone. The second thing you will do is you will waste your life. A 30 – 40 year career. That’s all you have. I’m only going to work on those problems that are meaningful to me because if you can’t define the problems, you can’t get there. Identify: “Is this problem worth my time?”
Q: I saw part of your interview with the MEM PDC where you talked about technical proficiency. You mentioned how competency is an important trait in leaders. How does one prepare for the transition from an engineering role that requires technical proficiency to a managerial role that requires competency?
A: Well I think preparation is one issue, but the first step is desire. You have to recognize as an individual contributor you can recognize tremendous value in your life and tremendous rewards. That’s a decision as an engineer you need to make early on in your career: “Do I want to be an individual contributor?” Or “Do I want to be somebody that can leverage my skill set through others to accomplish far more that I could ever accomplish by myself?” So this becomes a very personal issue with people. It’s that “I did it” is a very different experience from “We or They did it”. I don’t get turned on by “They did it”, not even by “we did it”. It’s a mindset that’s difficult for engineers to attain. Because of the way we’re trained, and the way we’re attracted to the profession. And that’s okay because there are things that you as an individual can do that nobody else can do, and you should take pride in that. But if I can get 4 more people like you, and I can get you to work together, the five of you can accomplish things that nobody else can do. And that’s the reward you have to seek.
Q: Now shifting our discussion from career pathway to internship and job search process. What have you seen in the past work for students in terms of finding an internship or job, and what advice would you give to current students who are in the process right now?
A: There are 2 things that pop out now. Number 1 is to start early. The second thing is to ask “What contribution can I make?” not “What do I want?” I guess, the third part of this is doing your research to make sure that what you want is consistent with what the hiring organization needs. You have to start early, you have to identify a number of different opportunities, you have to do your research. If I’m the hiring organization, don’t come to me as if this is the first time you’re hearing of this organization. So do your homework, and you may discover that you may not need to talk to them as they may not be doing the work you want to do. That’s the reason you want to start early, as opposed to wait to start in the spring.
Q: For company research, you can look at the company website and attend information sessions. What are other ways to approach this?
A: Let me give you an example, there is a good group that meets at Research Triangle Park, Indus. It’s an international organization of Indians who are entrepreneurs. These are people that are entrepreneurs, that are really interested in young people, who are engineers that want to be entrepreneurs. There are different groups.
Start networking. And when you show up in your first semester, get to the know the people who are in their last semester. “Where did you work? Who did you work with?” Network through them. Because the best way to get a job with me is for somebody that has worked with me, that did well and says, “I’d like you to meet _____, would you mind if I left you her/his resume? I think she/he would do a good job for you”. There’s no better way.
Q: Since you’ve brought up entrepreneurship, some students are interested in working for a startup or even launching a start-up, but they feel the need to work for a larger corporation first. What do you suggest?
A: Most of you don’t know enough to make significant contribution to an entrepreneurial firm. Let me bring up the example of Indus again. One of the officers this past year is a former chief financial officer of RedHat. If you happen to have coffee or tea with them and they’re retired, and they discover that you’d be interested in working in software development, why shouldn’t you ask, “Who’s hiring?” SAS Institute is in the Park, Quintiles is in the Park. The story is: it’s here. Start networking, and start asking “Who can connect with me?” The best connection is with somebody who has worked there. So start with the MEng and MEM students this semester. Start now.
Q: My final question is apart from the career services on campus, what is the best resource that students can use to leverage their chances of securing their dream job or internship?
A: The real problem with dream jobs is that they don’t exist. Most of us wind up from going place to place, and we wind up at some place that fits for us. One of the things that I wish our students would do, for example, the American Society of Civil Society has a chapter, the IEEE has a chapter, BMES has a chapter, these are professional chapters not student chapters. They all meet between Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, they’re all in that area. If you want a job, find out about the professional societies. Find out when they meet, get a friend to go with you and go. Most of them have student fees too. The best way I know is to put yourself out there, be bold, and get to know people. Let them know when you show up in the professional engineering society of North Carolina, in the American Society of Quality etc., you’re going to be the youngest person there. So when you check in, say “I’m a student, is there someone here I can talk to just to get acquainted with the organization.” What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t talk to you at all, but at least you get to eat something. Even if you don’t meet anybody, you expand your cultural experience. You have to put yourself out there.
By: Daniel Egger, Executive in Residence and Director, Center for Quantitative Modeling
Last Spring, I competed for the right to develop a series of four online courses in Business Data Analytics for Coursera: what Coursera calls a “High-Demand Specialization.” We won!
The Specialization is called Excel to MySQL: Analytic Techniques for Business and it’s my primary responsibility to deliver the first two of four courses: Business Metrics for Data-Driven Companies, (which launched September 15th) and Mastering Data Analysis in Excel (launched October 19th). I’m also developing a really cool Specialization Capstone Project in collaboration with Airbnb, which will go live on January 18th, and involves student developing their own predictive models to optimize the rental value of residential properties.
Along with my collaborator, Neuroscience postdoctoral student Jana Schaich-Borg of the Information Initiative at Duke – see bigdata.duke.edu – and a team from Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology, we have been working seven days a week to deliver four Courses and Capstone on a tight schedule. Many current MEM students are contributing directly to the effort, as Teaching Assistants on one or more of the Specialization Courses, helping us catch mistakes, develop practice problems, and provide high-quality supplementary materials.
The first Course aims to be a non-technical overview of the ways data analysts, business data analysts, data scientists and other technical folk interact with data in the business world. It is organized around what business metrics are most important to track, and what kind of jobs people actually do that involve Big Data: what tools they use, and how they identify opportunities to increase revenues, maximize profits, or reduce risk. The course also explores how different types of companies, with different corporate cultures, are responding (or not responding!) to the competitive opportunity and threat of Big Data – how effectively they are embracing “Big Data Culture.”
As part of my preparation, I got in touch with a good number of MEM alumni who are pursuing careers in data-analytics fields. It was cool to hear about the exciting jobs our students are doing all over the world. Many are working with the very latest technologies and are applying them in completely new ways. It is very gratifying to see how much responsibility our students have already taken on early in their careers, how much they are obviously enjoying their work, and how well prepared they are to succeed in a Big Data world! Three of my former Data Mining students seemed so representative of the rest – and so articulate – that I decided to include interviews with them in Course 1.
Over 6,000 learners enrolled in Business Metrics for Data-Driven Companies in its first two weeks since launch. Many learners have commented in the forums on how much they like the interviews. Making the interviews was my favorite part of creating the course.
The interviewees are:
Shambhavi Vashishtha (MEM Fall 2012) who works as a Business Analyst at Opera Solutions, a leading IT-focused strategic consulting firm. Video Interview
Tiffany Ting Yu (MEM Fall 2012) at the time of the interview a Business Data Analyst at Argus Information & Advisory Services, a strategic consulting firm which has developed its own proprietary databases and specializes in helping banks market credit cards and manage their credit card risk (since September 2015 Tiffany is working in a similar role at Goldman Sachs). Video Interview
Dai Li (MEM Spring 2013) who works as a Data Scientist at If(We), a high-tech startup in the social networking arena. Video Interview
Really, these interviews speak for themselves – opportunities for MEM graduates with a strong interest in data science and a willingness to acquire new technical skills on the job are practically unlimited in today’s market.
Click Here to see the 3 full videos!
By the way, Course 2 – Business Data Analytics with Excel – launched last week! – is based closely on the Data Mining course I’ve developed over the last six years for Engineering Management students. We use a simple and accessible data-processing tool – Excel – that raises minimal technical barriers to participation – but nevertheless develop mathematically deep and generalizable (Bayesian Logical Data Analysis) methods that aim in the long run to help rationalize the field of data science.
Course 2 focuses on how quantitative measures of Information, uncertainty, and reduction in uncertainty or information gain, bring accountability to the work of data scientists. Information measures are objective and can provide a shared conceptual framework to allow all stakeholders to track the incremental value of an individual model, or an entire data-science engineering initiative, independently of the technical details of the algorithm or project.
The videos and supplemental materials we’ve created for both Course 1 and 2 will I hope also be a valuable resource for future Duke Data Science students – by covering basic principles online, we should free-up more class time for individual project work with real data sets.
Course 3 – Data Visualization & Communication with Tableau and Course 4 – Managing Big Data with MySQL – are being developed primarily by Jana. They will launch in November and December respectively. We hope you will join us for some or all of this adventure!