The similarities between cooking Chana Masala and completing graduate school.

pablo (36)Recently, I made Chana Masala for the very first time. It took me 30 minutes to chop up onions, tomatoes, thinly dice ginger and garlic. It took another 30 minutes to cook all the food and add heaps of spices. Had I opted for non-canned garbanzo beans, I would have had to let them soak overnight, but I don’t have the discipline for that kind of thing. It came out much better than I was expecting and I had it for dinner two nights straight. The fruits of my labor were…. spicy and delicious.

My thoughts on graduate school are similar to my thoughts about cooking Indian food. It seems rather pointless while you’re chopping up onions and garlic, or writing term papers and taking coding quizzes, however, once you taste or look at the result you realize it was worth all the time and effort you put into it.  The rest of this blog will describe why I wanted a business analytics graduate degree, what my schedule looked like, and finally what I’ve taken with me from the program and incorporated into my work today.

 

Tell me what you want what you really, really want – The Spice Girls

Shoes.  Black, knee-high, boots with gold buckles. That is where it started. They looked a bit like this. I had to have them. However, on a student budget, I was skeptical about spending a large chunk of internship money on them. So, I waited, and I watched. Scouring department stores at the mall, and online. Then, one rainy fall day in Tacoma, as I was looking at Facebook a targeted ad displaying my boots for half off appeared. I obviously clicked yes, and a week later, my boots arrived. They did not fit right and I returned them, for another pair. While I did not keep the boots, my interest in targeted advertising only grew. I wanted to know how they were getting my data, why they were getting my data, and how this personalization was changing the way, we do business.

I graduated two years after the boot incident and have since had the opportunity to work for interesting technology companies in a multitude of marketing and operations roles. However, before this degree, I was unable to enter the digital marketing space. After looking up professionals who held digital marketing roles at major retailers, I realized my inability to get such a job was largely due to the set of skills those roles required.  I did not have a strong understanding of predictive algorithms, SQL, data mining, or a background in basic programming languages such as python, which are skills these type of professionals put at the forefront of their online resumes.

Initially, I tried to teach myself basic programming languages online. Online programs were difficult for me, as I did not have the aptitude to grasp difficult code on my own and needed more in-person interaction. I then started investigating graduate programs that would offer me these skills, many of the programs were data analytics programs that required engineering degrees. Not having a background in engineering, nor wanting to get one, I was extremely excited when I found St. Mary’s Silicon Valley Masters in Business Analytics. The program advertises itself as a degree for the working professional that “moves beyond basic data analysis to prepare managers who will employ advanced skills to help organizations make key business decisions.”

“Elegance is refusal”- Coco Chanel

Mondays Tuesdays Wednesdays Thursdays Fridays Saturdays Sundays
Work

Study

Work

Class

Work

Team Project Meeting

Work

Cook Dinner for Family

Study

Work

Gym

Study

Class

Dinner with Friends

Gym

Study

 

I pretty much had no life except for Saturday evenings. I learned to say no to a lot of things, late night work meetings, hanging out with friends on weeknights, and I developed the most amazing work ethic. Thank goodness for a couple of weeks between quarters where I had the chance to hang out with friends and go to the gym daily.

 

Working and going to graduate school is a huge time commitment. I did not want to let down my peers or my coworkers, and in order to perform at an acceptable level in both my work and school, I cut down on my social life, working out, and sleep. Depending on your health, goals, and desire for work-life balance, working and going to graduate school may or may not be for you.

 

The Take-Away

I never expected to use much of what I learned in undergrad in my day-to-day work. That’s just expected you know, you don’t transition most of it over. My expectations of a technical degree, however, were different. I thought once I learned Tableau, SQL, R and Python I would start utilizing these tools daily. And while some of them have come in handy on occasion, particularly SQL, what I’ve really taken away from the program are of a broader nature.

I’ve learned to look for errors in my work and presentations created by others. I’ve learned to ask detailed questions about the data. Also, I’ve developed a desire to continuously learn, to stay up to date on the latest in my field and in the business I work in.

When I began graduate school, I saw it as a way toward career stability, and work that was less administrative and more strategic. However, I managed to find a stable career and work that was strategic before I finished my degree and I’ve come to realize that while the skills I learned in the classroom have made me more adept at my job, they aren’t the reason I have one.

In my job, which is this perfectly suited combination of events, social media, and analytics, 80% of the skills I learned are ones that I gained on the job, 10% are soft skills such as being an effective communicator, and open to different types of work, 10% are the skills I learned in school.  I say this not to discourage anyone from pursuing a degree, but to remind those who are viewing a degree as some sort of savior, as I did, that you build a career on more than a degree.

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