SDM Education Delivers Value to Graduates and Their Employers

October 3, 2011

Editor’s note: Whether sponsored by their employers or self-sponsored, SDM graduates find many ways to apply their master’s degrees in engineering and management to add value to their companies—and to further their careers.

Bringing Start-up Mojo to an Established Company

Mark Moran, SDM ’09
Manager of Portfolio Management and Marketing Operations for Enterprise Advanced Marketing
Sponsored by John Deere, major manufacturer of agricultural machinery

I have had opportunities to work on innovative projects throughout my career in information technology (IT) at John Deere. But, the new job I’ve taken on with my SDM education enables me to work on innovation at a global level while making meaningful contributions to the company’s innovation strategy.

Many companies artificially decouple two key disciplines—marketing and engineering—but they are actually different sides of the same coin. Part of what makes start-ups successful is the interaction among different disciplines. Unfortunately, many big companies find it hard to maintain that interaction as they grow, because they must focus on specialization and efficiencies of scale and scope.

John Deere sponsored my SDM education to help improve its ability to innovate, and I am delighted that this new post gives me the chance to capture some of the energy of a start-up for the company. As a member of the Enterprise Advanced Marketing department, I am helping to identify and develop opportunities that our operational business units are unlikely to fund for various reasons, including being high in risk or cross-divisional in nature.

As an SDM graduate, I wanted a job that would take me far outside my comfort zone and my roots in enterprise IT. I also wanted a role with enterprise-wide, global responsibilities to stretch myself as a manager and a leader. Developing an enterprise capability that deeply integrates both marketing and engineering was also appealing. And, I believed I would never have a better chance to make a big change than after receiving my master’s degree.

Already, I’m putting the skills, tools, and methods I learned in SDM to good use. For example:

  • Leading our project and program managers more effectively by utilizing the design structure matrix, critical path method/critical chain, and risk management tools from Associate Professor Olivier de Weck’s System Project Management class.
  • Studying whether option theory is a better way to value an innovation portfolio than net present value.
  • Using system dynamics and causal loop diagrams to understand and explain the interactions of complex systems.
  • Drawing on what I learned under Professor of the Practice Deborah Nightingale and Ford Professor of Engineering Edward F. Crawley to deconstruct complex system architecture into its building blocks and analyze the subsystems.

The Next YouTube?

Blade Kotelly, SDM ’10
CEO and Entrepreneur
1Minute40Seconds, a video content platform provider

If I hadn’t gone to SDM, I would never have risked starting my own business. I had been teaching the subject of innovation for years—first at Tufts and later at MIT—but SDM gave me the tools to take an idea to the level of action. When I took Senior Lecturer Shalom Saar’s course in leadership and shared my idea with him, he told me, "You’ve got to start a company." I took his advice.

1Minute40Seconds helps people create video content online easily and quickly. As CEO, I do everything—hire, strategize, figure out how to get investors, and create marketing materials. The job involves a lot of strategy work and execution, and it also requires systems thinking—a grounded, quantitative means of figuring out how to get all of the pieces working together effectively.

Interestingly, I didn’t know how I would use my SDM education when I joined the program. I figured that I’d learn some techniques and make some networking contacts—and I did. But, I have benefited more than I ever expected. For example, when I first started my business, there was a period before I signed my first investor that was very, very scary. At that time, it really helped to have the framework to recognize what was going on and to see the uncertainty unfolding—something I learned the very first week at SDM in a class called the Human Side of Technology with Senior Lecturer Ralph Katz.

I’ve also found that Sloan Management Review Professor in Management Michael A. Cusumano’s lessons on the business of software have enabled me to speak credibly about the industry to my investors. Cusumano taught us how to understand the value of a platform, versus just an application, and that has shaped the way I have considered launching my product. In addition, my accounting class with Senior Lecturer Scott Keating has proved critical in determining how to charge for this software service. Of course, it’s impossible to overstate the value of the MIT brand when it comes to getting venture capitalists (VCs) on the phone.

I have now secured 1Minute40Seconds’ first round of VC funding. The next step is to raise more money, hire permanent employees, and start making sales. I’m jumping down on the diving board now, and we’ll see how high up I can go. It’s exciting.

Making Greater Contributions at Higher Levels

Matt Harper, SDM ’10
Vice President, Products and Services
Prudent Energy Corporation, a clean energy storage company

At Prudent, my new job spans the company’s entire set of products and services and encompasses the full product life cycle. My responsibilities include product definition, corporate development, customer alignment, sales support, and communications management.

To do my job properly, I need to maintain a holistic view of the company’s goals at all times. This is the biggest lesson I learned in SDM: organizations and the products they deliver exist as part of an incredibly complex ecosystem—and the people in these organizations need to understand the whole product and business ecosystem to see where their greatest leverage lies within that landscape.

I’ve recently been spending time structuring Prudent’s product delivery organization, relying heavily on the enterprise architecture framework taught by Principal Research Scientist Donna Rhodes and Professor of the Practice of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems Deborah Nightingale in SDM. Though my company is still fairly small, Prudent is a highly complex organization. Its workforce is dispersed across three continents and corporate functions that span fundamental materials research and development, systems engineering, chemical process design, hardware manufacturing, software development, and sales and market development.

To ensure that our organization functions correctly, we need to apply basic systems principles and evaluate how knowledge, products, intellectual property, culture, and customer value originate and flow through the organization. It’s an interesting challenge!

Before coming to SDM, I managed the product development program for one of Prudent’s product lines and supported marketing and sales initiatives primarily from a technical perspective. This new job has proved a great fit, particularly coming from SDM, as it depends on building links between technical and nontechnical disciplines and stakeholders—that is, the entire business ecosystem.

Transitioning to Agile Development

Avi Latner, SDM ’10
Product Manager
Jumptap, a targeted mobile advertising company

As product manager at Jumptap, I am responsible for the success of the company’s performance and network product, tapMatch. That means balancing the needs of stakeholders: customers, sales, engineering, business development, and finance; finding the best solutions to address those needs; and then setting priorities straight. My day-to-day work involves a combination of product design, data analysis, and general management tasks.

Jumptap is now in the process of transitioning to agile development, so I am relying on lessons I learned in SDM’s class on engineering software concepts, taught by Professor Nancy Leveson. In that course, we examined software development processes, and I gained a much broader and balanced perspective on agile design than I would have by simply reading a training book. The material taught by Professor David Simchi-Levi in System Optimization has also proved very relevant, as optimization algorithms are at the heart of Jumptap’s platform.

Before matriculating at SDM, I worked for big companies in a fairly mature industry—financial software. For example, I designed a system for Bank Hapoalim in Israel that aggregates millions of transactions to calculate profitability across all lines of business. Through SDM classes such as Technology Strategy, taught by Professor James M. Utterback, I learned that different industries have different phases of maturity and that most product innovation occurs in the early stages of industries that arise from a disruptive technology. Therefore, I decided to work at a start-up that was leaping into a new market. Targeted mobile advertising is in its early stages and is growing at an astonishing rate.

In addition, I am working evenings and weekends on a social medical device venture, a project that got started at MIT. After qualifying as track finalists in MIT’s $100K Competition, my partners and I won MIT’s Technology Dissemination Fellowship. We have since hired two interns, and our endoscope camera is already being used by a nongovernmental organization in Kenya. For this venture, the most useful course was Product Design and Development—taught by SDM Fellows Program Director Pat Hale and Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor Maria C. Yang—which expanded my understanding of prototyping, patent research, and more. If I had not taken this SDM course, our team would not have won the fellowship.

This report was compiled by Kathryn O’Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse.