CoE Technologist By Day, MBA Student By Night
Artwork by Alex Rivera//SAP
For some members of CoE North America (CoE NA), their work does not stop after they finish visiting customer sites, providing around-the-clock remote support, and overseeing Integrated Validation processes and go-lives. For some, there is one more assignment left: get their MBA.
“The point comes where you start to look for a higher level understanding of how businesses work,” said Tarun Luthra, who will be graduating from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland in two weeks.
Despite attending different schools, enrolling in different tracks, and starting at different times, Tarun, along with Kishan Vimalachandran, Indraneel Chatterjee, and Venkat Mahalingam have all shared similar experiences in the MBA classroom that have pushed them to reenergize the ways they develop their careers and themselves.
“I’ve been a technologist for my entire career, so this was to broaden my horizons…how you bring technology together and give an experience to the customer,” Tarun said.
“It’s very interesting because initially you walk in with a different idea of how an MBA is, and once you start applying things that they teach, once you apply them to your work life, it opens up a different aspect of things,” said Kishan, who started classes at Goldey-Beacom School of Business this past January.
So far, Kishan has thoroughly enjoyed returning to school – particularly the collaboration he engages in with his classmates, who travel from across the country. According to him, there are only two students from Delaware – despite Goldey-Beacom being located in Wilmington, Delaware.
Indraneel, who is starting classes at the Johnson School of Business at Cornell this week, is also looking forward to a group of classmates who can provide him with different business perspectives and backgrounds of expertise. According to him, 60% of his class will have a background in finance, coming from elite institutions such as JP Morgan Chase and Goldmann Sachs. It is this diversity of backgrounds and expertise that can only be found in the MBA classroom that lends to a rich potential network.
Venkat, who graduated from the Stern School of Business at New York University in August 2012, also gained a more refined sense of appreciation for networking. It was in the classroom where he came to realize that networking was more than finishing a cup of coffee or a couple beers with someone and remembering their name, he said.
“It was about expressing why you want to connect with somebody. And that’s extremely important because you cannot take someone else’s time and money for granted.”
In addition, Venkat had one more point to add about networking in the classroom: it’s not just about connecting with students.
“[Professors] have a lot of connections into the industry…they also serve as board members, as executives, as advisors to other firms and other corporations,” he said.
Effective networking, according to both Kishan and Venkat, requires a set of sharply honed communication skills – which ultimately is arguably the even more valuable lesson that business school can offer. After his second or third class, Kishan was already starting to apply his classroom knowledge to the SAP office, and he was already starting to view the larger implications of communication skills in a new light.
“It’s people skills, essentially. Communication is very important –being clear and concrete is very important…the initial set of people skills – how you communicate, how you apply things, how you handle things – those are the main aspects of things I’ve learned,” he said.
Indeed, communication skills is one of the skills amongst engineers that is in most need of further development, Kishan argues. Venkat also agrees, citing his own personal experience as a team lead and a Situation Room leader as testimony to the value of strong interpersonal skills.
“I can pretty much tell you that 30% of my time I spend helping [my team] communicate effectively. It’s extremely important – whether you’re in front of other directors, whether you’re in front of clients, whether you have worked on a client and you’re trying to report back into SAP senior management – communication plays a huge, huge role,” he said.
Executive coaching on the leadership side is a loose end that should be tightened up within the AGS, according to Tarun. Business school has pushed him to focus on the often skimmed over points of making time for employees, passing on feedback to employees, and bringing in more empathy.
“While we’re at AGS, we’re running at a million miles per hour because of so many things going on. Sometimes we tend to forget to sit back and talk to employees more, give them feedback, give them coaching,” he said.
However, communication skills are not the only skills that MBA students have found helpful in their SAP lives. Indraneel is looking forward to the knowledge he will acquire in financial accountability and statistics. According to him, big data is a key topic that his customers are showing growing interest in and gaining a more holistic understanding of his customers’ needs has been a key factor in pushing him to pursue an MBA.
As a new team lead, “this holistic knowledge in the business side of analytics can help me mentor my team in a direction towards big data,” he said.
Venkat has also taken lessons he’s learned about problem solving, work/life prioritization, and keeping the larger world in mind into his job at SAP.
“[One key thing is] understanding and knowing what others are doing in the world, because at my level and at my age as a senior director, there is a very good chance that I’m pigeon-holed into certain ideas and certain ways of doing things. So it’s interesting to know how other businesses work, how other professionals think, and the rationale behind their thinking,” he said.
As having 14 years of industry experience, Tarun can certainly attest to the risk of becoming pigeon-holed in IT, and not having a comprehensive understanding of customers and business spanning different sectors. The ability to talk to customers not just as support engineers, but also as part of a project delivery organization, will become a key strength to the growth of AGS teams.
“That’s a challenge I see we in the CoE will face in the future. We have great technologists – we can solve problems, we can write code, we can fix code. But how do we, in a business sense, talk at the solution level?” he said.
In the end, both Kishan and Venkat agree that more CoE members should consider pursuing an MBA. Kishan was particularly adamant about the idea, saying that “I would recommend it to anyone who has their Saturday available.”
“It’s about career development, networking…and in the end of the day, it’s a benefit deal and how you see things in reality,” he continued.
Venkat, who has worked with about 14 other MBA applicants in the CoE on his own time, echoed Kishan’s sentiments, but warned against applying to business school just for the certification. According to him, someone should only strongly consider pursuing an MBA “unless it really, really answers the question as to why he wishes to do, and what he or she would do with that extra education.”
From a broader departmental perspective, Tarun believes pursuing an MBA currently aligns with shifts happening within the AGS. The movement from support delivery organization to project delivery organization has the AGS looking for people who can oversee project management beyond technical troubleshooting.
“As all the senior members who have been in the technology industry for a long time, we are going through a transformation,” he said.
On an even broader organizational level, SAP is undergoing similar shifts as the movement to Cloud and to HANA grows daily, according to Tarun. Innovation and change is constantly happening, and an MBA is a good tool to have in understanding how such shifts are happening in IT.
“One of the biggest things in business school education that I learned is how to foster this change management…it gave me a little bit of an idea about how things are happening in the SAP world – not just in technology but in the business side of the world,” he said.
In the end, it is not just about the business theory. It is about what you can learn from your classmates and peers, what discussions and lessons you can bring back to the workplace, and what solutions you can learn to craft for real issues you’ve encountered in the industry. For Venkat, Kishan, and Tarun, the process has proved to be immensely satisfying to all.
“It’s a challenge I look forward to,” Indraneel said in anticipation of the weeks of Saturday and Sunday classes, nonstop commuting from Newtown Square to Manhattan, and achieving his business goals and objectives that are bound to alter his business perspective and enhance his business performance for the long run.