By Anil Sahai, SDM ’98
February 6, 2002
I decided to enter the SDM program even though I had worked successfully in corporations such as Compaq and Amdahl, owned my own companies, and even earned a Ph.D. in computer science. I felt that receiving an SM from a program that balances engineering and management would help me be even more effective in my career. In fact, I got ROI as soon as I received my degree.
I chose to go to SDM program for several reasons. For example, in my prior work I noticed there was often huge tension between engineering and other areas, like marketing. There also seemed to be a great distance between the company and its customers — therefore many customer needs weren’t adequately addressed.
Some of this can be attributed to the fact that, until the early 1990s, the technology market was more of a “push” industry — we were designing and manufacturing products technology-based based on what we believed customers wanted, then pushing them out to the market. But that market changed rapidly as customers became more sophisticated – and therefore more demanding — about the products and features they wanted. The IT sector also became increasingly competitive as more companies with more offerings entered the arena.
I worked at some technology companies that weren’t able to adjust rapidly and successfully to this changing market place. One insisted on sticking to its original strategy of selling proprietary PC architecture, but it couldn’t compete against Dell and others who were using an open platform.
I’d also managed an offshore software development project in India and had become keenly aware of the challenges involved in leading across cultures. Many times employees would tell me that they already knew how to do something, such as coding in C++, but they really didn’t. They did this because it was important for them to save face while the management wanted to secure as many contracts as possible. I realized that although we spoke the same words, we were speaking a very different business language.
These experiences convinced me to return to school to learn more about working managerial issues — while hopefully augmenting my technical expertise as well. I considered MBA programs, but didn’t want to go to school full-time for two years because I have a wife and two kids. Being available to them was very important to me.
I seriously considered Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, and MIT/SDM. Only MIT/SDM has strong emphasis – and strong offerings – in technology so I applied only to SDM. With its emphasis on engineering and management sciences, and the option of taking the program full-time and finishing in one year, it most fully met my needs.
I worked out an arrangement with my employer at the time, Compaq, to be on-campus four days per week and fly home to California via the red eye each Thursday evening. I was in my office at Compaq every Friday and home with my wife and five and seven year old kids each weekend. On Sundays, I took the red eye back to Boston.
In SDM, I learned about various methodologies to apply what I’d known intuitively in the real world. For instance, Professor Tom Kochan’s class showed me just how important people’s various backgrounds can be, particularly in working on teams. He taught me a structured framework for approaching this challenge. I got similar structured frameworks in my other courses, in problem-solving, new product development, architecture, and marketing.
Professor Ed Crawley’s class taught me how to think about every single parameter in new product development, from cost-analysis to marketing, finance, design and implementation. This helps me today when I design a product or service for one of my clients, as well as in my own firm.
Professor Don Lessard’s class in strategic management has helped me to grow Ezyte in these tough economic times and sustain a competitive advantage. It ‘s also been valuable to me in evaluating “in-house” versus “outsourced” options.
MIT is the fourth U.S. university I’ve attended. The MIT professors were just amazing and went beyond simply presenting the class materials. They worked harder than the students — which is very hard — and were always very prepared. Their example taught me the deep commitment needed to consistently do an excellent job.
SDM’s staff was wonderful too. They’d tell me about obstacles of getting into a certain class and how to get around them. Then they’d help me get into those courses. Many adjusted their schedules to assist me.
Everyone at SDM and MIT works with you to help you to surmount obstacles. This is very different in industry and other universities where the help is mostly limited to making you aware of the obstacles – not the solutions.
I got ROI for SDM on the day I received my degree. I’ve used what I’d learned about accounting and strategic management to set up my own consulting firm, Ezyte, which offers large companies products and services to manage performance of wireless or wired Internet systems. Our clients have included Vodaphone, Amdahl, ADP, and the World Bank.
Ezyte just completed a one-and-a-half-year assignment for Vodaphone, a $40 billion company, to build the performance architecture of their wireless portals in New Zealand, Romania, and Egypt. We could have designed just the software for the performance management system, but my SDM learnings enabled us to give the company more than what we’d promised by using a total systems approach, rather than a narrowly focused one. Consequently, we also helped to design their support center, tools, and training. This project was a seven figure account for Ezyte.
The MIT name really helps me when meeting with prospective clients. MIT’s reputation is simply outstanding. Also, whenever I talk to a prospect who has been to one of the top business schools, we immediately click because we’ve had common training.
SDM really helped me learn to combine technology, business, and people. It also gave me more time to think about how my life has been going and what I want to do. As I said before, I received ROI on the day I received my SDM degree.