What do you want to be?
I think I know what I want to be. For awhile I’ve been struggling with feeling purposeful at school because I feel like they’re trying to “make” me want to be someone/something I’m not. I realized what was happening the other day after talking with another techie friend. My career counselor, when trying to help me figure out what positions to apply for, tried to convince me that I should be a product manager. This can entail different things depending on the company, but generally, this person is in charge of a certain business product (E.g. At Amazon, think the person who is responsible for the pet food category) and makes sure that all areas around it are functioning well. If you’re at a tech company doing product management, you’ll for sure use more tech skills. However, you’re still going to be doing budgeting, marketing, etc.; pretty much running a mini-business for this product. I do not think that is what I want to do. (I could do it, I’d probably even be really good at it, but this isn’t where my passions lie). I tried to convince myself that this is what MBA students do, so I should take my tech knowledge and be a product manager for a tech product. Lack-of-fulfillment, frustration ensues over these past few months.
When telling people I want to actually do IT stuff, I’ve been told a few times that “it’s not what we hire MBAs for”, or “it’s not an MBA type of position.” They’ve tried to convince me that I should be a finance person, as their finance department works a lot with IT, or their Operations team integrates with IT. Well, I sure hope you do! This is the 21st Century. I hope that you’re integrating with IT, otherwise your IT department is NOT doing it’s job. These types of conversations make me really frustrated! Personally, I feel devalued, because you’re trying to convince me that what I want to do isn’t what I should want to do. Obviously I wrote that in my essays to get in to grad school and you let me in, knowingly. This is what I’m called to do. I never thought that “Technology Leadership” had two different ways of looking at it, but apparently most of the people who want to do Tech Leadership actually want to be like the CEO or CFO or some other non-techie role at a High-tech, or Bio-tech company. When I think of Tech leadership, I think of leading the engineers. Leading the IT people. I mean, I guess they both make sense. I just thought Tech Leadership at CMU would be the techie side of it. Maybe I should just call it Techie Leadership 😉
Out of my class, there are about 5 of us who actually want to do “Techie Leadership”. Our aspiration is to be the CIO. Of any company. Not just high-tech companies. I want to run the best-run IT department in a manufacturing company, or a bank, or a railroad company, or a hardware company. If it ends up being a high-tech company, that’s fine. I’m not opposed.
The reason I came to B-school was to be a good IT leader. Not to run a company that was high-tech or to market products that are technical products. I want to do tech. I want to lead an IT department. I want to be an IT Director; How can you can’t tell me that an MBA won’t be useful for this?!
I think people think IT isn’t the exciting part. “Don’t you want to be on the cutting edge of producing new products?” they ask. Sure, that’s fun. But it’s also exhausting for me. I’m someone who likes some consistency (note: this doesn’t mean I don’t like innovation or value people who do this part of the business. My strengths lie in different areas). This is why I don’t want to be a consultant. I know that I want to work in a company, and be there for awhile. I want to work with the same people for longer than a 6 month project. I want to be invested in the development of those around me; things like this take time. For me, IT is exciting. It’s exciting because you have infrastructure that doesn’t change every 2 months, but you still revolve in a spinning tech world and you have to figure out how to make your infrastructure the most efficient that it can be. I like processes. I like innovation and making things better. This can be done (and needs to be done more often!) in IT departments. I want IT to provide value to the business. This is where I fit in!
Some of the basic classes that we all have to take (the first year of classes is pretty much set up for us) will not likely provide much benefit for me in the future for these types of roles. I understand that you have to have a basis from which to build your business knowledge on, which is fine. However, when these classes are really challenging and you spend hours on them, the lack of purpose in them makes it difficult to have hope and push through. I have no objection to hard work (ask anyone who knows me!). I just have a hard time with hard work that seems purposeless. I feel like the things that I do need to know for what I want to do, I know (I was a business major undergrad); the things that I don’t know (the nitty gritty details of how to price a product) is not something that I know or will probably ever use. And if I do end up using it in 10 years, will I actually remember how to do it? Probably not, because I’ve only had 6.5 weeks of it (but 1-2 semesters worth of material crammed in to it!).
In the same way that you want business people who have technical knowledge, don’t you want technical people who have business knowledge? Or are we as business students too proud (as most other majors often tend to think of us) to think that business skills could be useful by engineers, and help them be better engineers rather than just transform them in to business people? Think of how departments would work so much better if there were good engineers who understood business processes, and there were good business people who understood engineering. Wow! Wouldn’t you like to work for that company? Let’s work to make that happen, rather than discourage those who don’t fit in your box.