Now over three months ago I finished my Master's Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon's Heinz School and I wanted to provide a perspective on the program as a whole.
I do this for a few reasons:
The first is that I want to provide a single perspective of a now finished student on the program. Before I got to this point, I hosted some Google Hangouts sessions with fellow current students to our successors to both the Adelaide and Pittsburgh campuses. You can find them here:
I think that it's a bit unnerving as a student or as a plain human taking advice straight from the provider of the service just like you might feel unnerved being marketed to at a car dealership. You just shouldn't trust one source of information especially with one that has such a high price tag. Even higher than a car for that matter. And really, for a lot of the students coming from overseas, they are often incurring a huge risk by not having access to the same loan systems we do the United States. Failing to find a job afterwards would make paying off a loan of this size difficult on a non-American / Silicon Valley salary. So buyer beware.
Why go back?
My overall reasoning for returning to school was that I believed that I was stuck in my previous job at Nordstrom Direct. And I believed that in expanding my educational boundaries and doing an interesting internship would give me some velocity to escape. I had done some interesting things at Startup Weekend which led to me joining a great group of folks for WhichBus which in turn led me to doing new and great things at Nordstrom. But really it wasn't enough. The old system of stay at your company forever and they will take care of you is beyond dead and it's possible I would've been laid off anyway from Nordstrom six months after leaving like some of my former colleagues were.
So if I could go gain some more varied experiences in non-web development roles and also some deeper understanding of CS fundamentals I believed I could be a lot happier in the future with my career. And consciously or unconsciously this was my kind of guiding principle through the program.
The MISM Program
I think it's first important to understand the divergence of Master's programs in the United States. When this actually occurred I have no idea. But I was under the impression that a Master's program was a deeper dive into a specific topic, and then a Ph.D is an even more concentrated focus of study.
However, like maybe an MBA program, the MISM program has a very wide breadth to it. And one should expect so when the website says: "through our program, students will develop better planning, management and technical abilities that focus on the application of technology to create business value." While the core curriculum is required of all MISMs, there is definitely some opportunities to alter your learning path to subjects that matter more to you.
To give you an idea here is the list of courses that I took:
I was particularly keen on improving some of my deeper understanding of computer science fundamentals so while Distributed Systems was required, I also set aside time to take Data Structures and Algorithms. Also, while Statistics for IT Managers was definitely difficult (and required), I really enjoyed it and wanted to keep moving in a data science-oriented direction so I ended up also taking Machine Learning, Programming Analytics in R, and Python for Data Analytics. All of which, completely decimated my mathematical self-confidence but were extremely rewarding.
And all in all, the coursework was hard. Especially once I get to Pittsburgh. It was day-in day-out of walking to campus staying there till all the daylight hours were gone, walking home, and then working till midnight. Also while enduring below freezing temperatures November through March. It's definitely a tale for the grandkids about walking through the snow and uphill both ways.
I was able to secure a great internship with Roche Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland. Roche had just moved off the Microsoft suite to Google Apps, where my knowledge as former Google Ambassador could come in handy.
The company is huge and has locations all over the world. One of the things I did was help them break down and aggregate company provided mobile phone costs to the individual and group levels. Basically what this means is that they had no idea what individuals were racking up the most minutes dialing into meetings via their cell phone in Morocco. But after doing some ETL on the data and getting it into a database, then outputting a nice .csv to play with in Tableau, heavy spenders were able to be identified immediately.
What I learned overall from the experience is the cliché that really, information is power. Being the sole person on the team that could do analysis on data outside of Excel (which on one spreadsheet took six hours to process the new set of data) was a huge advantage for me. And while, on day one I wasn't really handed any objectives, I was able to provide some value in the short time I was there with these skills.
I also had a total blast in Switzerland.
Like I said before, the MISM program didn't make me a specialist in anything, which admittedly I kind of wanted to be, but in reality just introduced me to more concepts than I had ever seen before. Could I do data science? Sure. Could I be an alright software engineer? Sure. Could I be a data analyst, find unforeseen problems and then present before the board? Absolutely.
The truth of the matter is that these things are now all possible, where before I felt they were slightly out of reach and far from being able to get on my own.
At the very least, I believe I can do these things, and in the end maybe that's all that matters. Besides my student loans of course 😅.
I have a few final thoughts regarding my experiences at Heinz. If you take anything away from this just remember these.
Career Services will not get you a job and it's not their job to do so.
I heard so many cringe-worthy horror stories about students coming into career services and baiscally expecting the office to hand them an offer letter. They owe you nothing but an education since you pay tuition. But, Career Services are inclined to assist you in finding something for the success of Heinz and help you with the tertiary skills necessary to getting a job. So help them help you, don't be demanding, there's a good fit for you somewhere but you have to find it.
Avoid the AT Kearney Capstone project?
I have very strong feelings about the traditional consulting companies yet I decided to the the AT Kearney Capstone project just to test my hypotheses. While we got to work with a great partner client on our project. My group was balanced two MISMs to five MBAs at the Tepper school. And while they were all great guys, don't let the MBA title or human-sized portraits of Tepper leaders past in Posner Hall fool you. They were not equipped with the right skills for the problem we were asked to solve.
I was quite jealous later to hear about all the interesting technical projects offered by the "vanilla" capstone project program from Heinz. Definitely, scout this out if you can before making a decision.
Have fun sometimes
It's easy to fall head first into homework, and finding a job, and it's definitely a slippery slope when you decide to "work" every hour of your precious weekend. But I know, as well as you, that your actual level of productivity goes down every moment that your force yourself something that you don't want to do. Ultimately, you're going to have to do this. But doing something for yourself, going out with some friends, or just reading something for fun makes it a bit more bearable knowing that you've safeguarded a little bit of your humanity from being stolen by CMU.