By Steve Klosterman
Director of Operations Engineering, Volume Systems Products Group
March 31, 2003
I had a very successful career for 15 years since getting my BS in electrical and computer engineering, but I was still essentially an engineer who had come up through the ranks. As I moved through the ranks as a senior engineer, project manager, department manager and program manager I knew how to get things done at Sun. However, this wasn’t because I knew how to be a good manager and leader. It was simply because I’d become very good at working within that system.
I sensed that if I wanted to really become the best leader and manager I could, I would need to return to school and learn fundamental business, managerial and leadership tools and skills. But what convinced me was when I interviewed other engineers and mid-level managers who were looking for jobs at Sun. Many had backgrounds similar to mine and were being jettisoned from their jobs at other companies. They routinely appeared to be under-skilled and over-compensated for the type of management and business experience they brought to the table.
I explored several options that would enable me to learn managerial best practices. Since my wife and I had two kids and a third on the way, a full-time MBA was out. Evening programs didn’t offer the portfolio of complementary technical and managerial skills I felt I needed. Then, by accident, I found out about SDM from a vender representative. Over dinner, we discovered that we were at similar crossroads in our career and he’d just applied to SDM. He recommended I look into it.
I chose to attend SDM because joint sponsorship by MIT’s School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management afforded me the ability to take classes at both and obtain an SM degree awarded by both schools as well. SDM’s academic program enabled me to stay current with technology while learning management and leadership skills. Moreover, SDM gave me the flexibility of attending classes part-time via distance learning or, because I lived nearby, on the MIT campus.
There was no one tool or technique I learned that completely changed my life. Instead, it was the aggregation of what I absorbed in marketing, systems engineering, systems dynamics, and other areas that turned me into a big picture thinker. I learned how to transcend my own viewpoint, synthesize various perspectives, and determine the right way to approach a problem. This enables me to differentiate, for example, whether a challenge is technical or organizational; if customer expectations have not been set correctly or are simply not being met; or if a problem is due to hardware or software failure.
Now I use reliability tools –- fault analysis and reliability analysis, decision tree analysis, and other methods that I learned in the Engineering Risk-Benefit Analysis (ERBA) course that I didn’t know about before. I also use tools to facilitate and anchor conversations and to mentor the people who work for me. My skills as a manager, leader and knowledge transfer agent enable me to better mentor people who work for me and help strengthen Sun’s human resource.
This has turned into measurable benefits for Sun products as well. For example, while at SDM, I managed the product development group for the V880, an eight-processor mid-range computer server. I brought many SDM learnings to the table, particularly in terms of product design principles and philosophy.
One good example involved designing two major interfaces – one each for the server’s processing and memory modules. This enabled us to seamlessly upgrade the processor later without having to do substantive redesign. The notion of designing components that can be used in this manner is one of SDM’s core principles. Learning this gave me the fortitude to introduce it to the team and advocate for its adoption in simple and understandable language.
In the first quarter of the V880’s introduction, it outshipped all other products in its competitive niche and was one of the more successful products delivered by Sun in recent years. Total unit shipments during the first quarters of production represented over 50% of the entire market for this class of computer, more than the combined total shipments of all other competitors.
Lastly my SDM degree made me a viable candidate for a position that would have been off of the traditional career path for the engineer I used to be before getting my SM. In my current position as Director of Operations Engineering in Sun’s Volume Systems Products Group. I oversee the operations supply chain, from product design to manufacturing to shipping. This environment and the department I manage, is global, dispersed, highly networked, and constantly changing. SDM put me on the short list of candidates for this position and enables me to be a well-versed advocate for promoting this type of education throughout the company.