May 31 2015
Tech Momentum and Cross-Campus Initiatives: My Second Semester at Johnson Business School
While the first semester at Johnson involved general management preparation, second semester was a period for sharpening focused career paths. Johnson is best known for doing this through Immersion Learning. In addition to Immersions, Cornell as a university serves as a massive resource for building expertise and experience in an extensive variety of disciplines.
Cornell‘s founders believed “…any person can find instruction in any study.” It’s easy to recognize the strength and specialization of the University’s many programs, whether it’s the School of Hotel Administration, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, College of Engineering, and many others. It’s rare that after an hour’s worth of listening to National Public Radio (NPR) news I don’t hear a Cornell research study cited. Much like at Johnson, there are world-class minds studying, teaching, and researching at these programs. There’s a wealth of opportunity and momentum building as Johnson engages in cross-campus initiatives to pair domain or functional expertise with business leaders-to-be. We are also seeing great cross-campus leverage with Cornell Tech. These represent opportunities truly unique to Cornell.
With that in mind, I am sharing 10 experiences from my second semester at Johnson that have prepared me for my tech summer internship, though hopefully demonstrate some broader concepts of what Johnson can provide for other career paths.
- #Customized: There are clear functional focuses for different career paths in the second semester at Johnson. Immersions are available for areas such as marketing, finance, sustainability, banking, and others. These immersions typically include field specific course work and a capstone project. There are substantial benefits to these paths for students – becoming part of close cohorts, recruiting for similar positions, developing relationships with key faculty advisors, and leading a consulting project with real companies under the direction of faculty. A number of my classmates converted these projects into summer internships. This year there was a strong subset of students that opted for a customized immersion, selecting a specific bundle of courses. There was a smattering of career interests in this group focusing on real estate, entrepreneurship, and consulting. A few of my classmates and I were focused on technology product management careers, and Johnson had not yet offered an immersion in this area. We used a customized approach to create our own cohort and a bundle of classes together; this represents the kind of flexibility and ingenuity I’ve come to expect from my experience at Johnson.
- Inaugural Technology Practicum: A number of us in the customized technology cohort recognized the tradeoff we were making in not having a capstone project to work on over the semester to apply our skills. We consulted many members of the faculty and administration about how best to source our own projects. These conversations and the engagement from my classmates led to the assembly of three technology projects in the fields of education tech, data analytics software, and energy intelligence. We conducted these projects as independent studies, under advisement from Professor John Neuman, a former partner at McKinsey & Co., who co-leads the management consulting practicum.
- Learning by Doing with Tech Resources: There are over 100 elective courses available at Johnson, let alone the thousands available at Cornell University. I chose a bundle of classes for the second semester that would help me prepare for marketing and business development. The majority of these courses mixed theory with applied skills. For example, in Digital Marketing, our professor hosted a guest speaker from Google who provided a boot camp on how to use AdWords. In core operations I learned about optimization through the use of @Risk and Excel Solver. In Data Analytics I learned data visualization through the use of the software program Tableau.
- Designing Data Products: This semester, Johnson launched a course featuring Lutz Finger, Senior Data Scientist at LinkedIn, who recently co-wrote a book with Dean Soumitra Dutta entitled Ask, Measure, Learn. The course, Designing Data Products, was offered in co-registration with Cornell Tech, and included lectures hosted two weekends in Ithaca and one weekend at Cornell Tech’s studio at the New York City Google Building. This class implemented the “learning by doing principle” more than any other class. Lutz taught us how to make the right ask, scrape data using import.io, apply models like regressions and k-nearest neighbor, and visualize this data with resources like BigML and Tableau. The opportunity to pool resources with Cornell Tech and expand our classmate relationships was also a great example of cross-campus initiatives, and there are more like it in store next year.
- Information Science for Business Users Modules: After putting our schedules together for the second semester and assembling our technology projects, some of my classmates and I wondered how we might bring more interdisciplinary technology courses into the business school fold. After speaking with members of the faculty and administration, we found great support from Associate Dean Vishal Gaur. Together, we solicited current students and alumni in technology careers to seek their input on what would be most beneficial in supplementing the current curriculum. As a result of their feedback and months of planning, Dean Gaur announced cross-campus collaboration with the Computer Information Science (CIS) School. Johnson hosted six inaugural lecture modules this spring semester provided by CIS’s accomplished faculty. Topics included Mobile Technologies, User Experience Design, Data Visualization, How Websites Function, Recommendation Systems, and Social Media & User Generated Content.
- Introducing: The Digital Technology Immersion: Building on the success of the CIS modules, Dean Gaur recently announced that Johnson would offer a Digital Technology Immersion. A few classmates and I have had the privilege of helping to assemble some of these details over the past semester. While this initiative is still being formulated, the general format will include a bundle of coursework focused on product management and cross-campus project work for technology companies. Final deliverables will be more like product prototypes and data products in place of the traditional PowerPoint deck or term paper. There is a lot to be excited about with this launch and a great example of the leverage and mutual benefit available for interdisciplinary approaches at broader Cornell.
- Tech Club Leadership: At the end of first semester, clubs host elections for the coming year with most positions taking effect in the second semester. I recently assumed a role on our High Tech Club, and we are now planning the summer and first semester program. We announced at the one-year MBA orientation a plan to introduce a summer “buddy-system” for career prep to these students, given the needs of an accelerated timeline. We are excited to have the opportunity for more peer-to-peer interaction. For the first time, we’ll also be recruiting a Cornell Tech representative for the club to maximize student-to-student integration and shared resources. Our vision is to have video conferencing for our tech talks program. Lastly, we have plans to integrate with the Cornell Data Science Club and Cornell SENSE (Software Entrepreneurship and Startup Engineering), Cornell-based clubs operated by CIS and CS students. These are just a few of the things we have planned in addition to tech talks, career prep, and typical professional club events.
- Tech Recruiting for Internships: Spring semester is heavily defined by recruiting. I read a lot about Johnson and Cornell’s corporate relationships before deciding to come to Ithaca, though maintained some concern that the remote location could be challenging to connect with companies. What I found was an opportunity to engage with about every major technology company either on-campus, virtually, or off-campus through the High Tech Club’s tech treks. Companies with a briefing presence at Johnson included IBM, Intel, Amazon, Google, and many others. In terms of smaller companies, I discovered the benefit of Johnson and Cornell’s expansive alumni network. This was especially true for the West Coast Tech Trek in December and in New York City. Also on these treks, Cornell alumni David Limp, Senior Vice President of Devices at Amazon, and Jim Cavalieri, Senior Vice President and Cloud Computing Architect at Salesforce, dedicated time to advise us. Lastly, I served on the board of the Johnson Women in Technology Conference, and found this was an excellent opportunity to connect with companies to learn more about thought leadership on tech trends and driving organizational change.
- Strength in Numbers for External Resources: In a few cases, I’ve found that if Cornell doesn’t offer certain resources, the knowledge and connections of my classmates is more than enough to help fill this void. For example, we received a lot of feedback from students and tech recruiters that companies are increasingly looking for Structured Query Language (SQL) experience in PM candidates. To address this, early in the second semester the High Tech Club organized a discounted trip to the General Assembly in Manhattan for a day long SQL Boot Camp. As another data analysis extension, a few classmates also took a Python course together through Coursera to help bolster their skills for a credit class we’ll be taking next semester at the computer science school.
- A Deep Bench: Most importantly, I’ve found that some of our greatest resources exist right here on campus in our student body. My classmate, Andrew Maia, recently hosted a session to educate a full lecture hall of students on PowerPoint shortcuts and tips on useful plugins like ThinkCell. Andrew has considerable knowledge in developing presentations and offered to help prepare building decks before our internships started. Inspired by these events, the High Tech Club is now planning to host a student speaker tech talk series to unlock tech knowledge sitting right next to us.
Reflecting on this list in its entirety, it’s easy to see the substantial momentum for tech at Johnson and other cross-campus initiatives. I’m grateful to have been involved in these developments this year. This semester has provided strong cross-functional preparation in technology, which should provide a solid foundation for my summer internship at IBM in a software product management role, a position I couldn’t have even imagined taking on before this year.