“I did it myyyyy way”

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

I called the program late;
And almost missed the final end day,
One week, to GMAT take,
I did it myyyyy way.

(With apologies to Frank Sinatra)

…but maybe not the best way.

So how is it to get revved up and into an MBA program at an age that not long ago would have been considered “over the hill”? And what if you’re up against a deadline? A quick aside, first.

I was five, and my sister just born when my family took a vacation to Florida to visit former neighbors who had just moved down there, and to visit some of the places that my dad had seen while stationed there with the army sixteen or so years earlier. The year was 1958, and my dad would have been just a few months shy of 40. It was my first visit to the South and even to my young eyes, there were signs of racial discrimination everywhere. Florida was still pretty much unspoiled, not the sea of mobile home parks and strip malls it is today. There were still quiet little fishing towns on the coast and I remember my dad and his friend going out for a day charter. I recently ran across a tourism magazine and a picture he had from his army days, and I remember the coast looking pretty close to this image:

WPalmBeach1940_t

I had a great time — it was my first exposure to Southern cooking and I really took to the hush puppies, scallops, grits, and other tasty treats. My mother was miserable. It was hot, humid, and she was struggling with caring for a new-born while on the road. I remember arriving back home after a few weeks and seeing the yellow envelope on the door. Now in those days, if you had a message that you had to get to someone, and know they got it, you used the Western Union Telegraph company. When the Western Union man came knocking on your door, it was rarely good news. I imagine the message went something like this:

MR MACKEY STOP YOUR POSITION ALLAN CASH REGISTERS ELIMINATED STOP PLEASE PICK UP TOOLBOX AND FINAL PAYCHECK EARLIEST

My dad had been laid off while we were on vacation.

For two years he struggled to find another job. He took a series of odd jobs, but none paid very well — he even worked on the road crews for awhile, literally, digging ditches. With a shovel. He took me out a few times to help light the smudge pots alongside the construction sites. No one wanted to hire someone who was over 40. In the end, it was Southern California that providing him a chance to reinvent himself — he was hired by a company supplying precision gyros and other electro-mechanical devices to the aerospace industry, perfectly fitting his expertise in complex electro-mechanical devices filled with tiny parts.

These days, we have it much easier, since the passage of various anti-discrimination laws. And, generally, we are in much better health today. Even after nine months of the siren call of the ice cream freezer in TMMBA HQ, I still regularly hoof it nearly a mile from my front door to catch my preferred bus downtown, then make the two-and-a-half block dash to the bus tunnel for a connection down to SeaTac. And, having spent a good part of my career in various SW development roles involving applied mathematics and logic, I figured I could keep up with the academic challenges.

By the way, I found that one of Google’s StreetView cams recently caught the same scene shown above. Sixty-five years can certainly change the look of a place… Check out the aerial view showing the area from the water side!

WPalmBeach2006_t

WPamBeachOH2006

For an entire summer I watched the buses with the TMMBA ads and wondered if I could hack it. Then, with a boot from a co-worker who got interested in going for his MBA, I decided to call the program to find out what it would take to apply. I sure cut it close. My completed application, and a late fee, with transcripts from my undergrad degree, a written “personal statement”, and a passing grade in something called a “GMAT” test, had to be received at the TMMBA HQ the following Monday. Well, having nothing to lose, I decided to go for it.

A visit to the Western Washington University web site, with credit card in hand, got my transcript on its way and an extra small fee ensured that it would be sent out that day. Then off to MBA.com to register for a GMAT test. That would take three business days, meaning I could not download the practice material until Thursday at the earliest, nor register for the test. I did a little web surfing to find out what I could about this “GMAT” test and started writing my personal statement.

As soon as I had a sign-on to MBA.com, I downloaded the practice test and started registering for a test. Hmmm….. No test spots available in Seattle for several weeks out. Not good. Now what? OK. How about other cities? None in Western Washington. OK. How about Eastern Washington? Super! I snagged a spot first thing in the morning on Friday in Yakima. A call to the TMMBA HQ verified that as long as I took the test by Monday, the results would be accepted. This is Thursday afternoon. I can do this! I have a few hours to look at the practice test, see what kind of math I need to review, and bone up on my written work, hit the road at oh-dark-thirty and be in Yakima in time for the test at 0900.

So let’s take a look at the sample test. The essay part I figured would be easy — long ago I learned to write an acceptable 5-paragraph paper, you know — introduce 3 topics, write a good paragraph on each, conclude by tying the three topics together. So what about the language usage and comprehensive parts? Yikes! I would have blown those questions. They are way-tricky and I will need to pay very close attention to parts of speech, punctuation, verb conjugation, and such. Sure glad I took a look before I got there.

Now the math part. First crack open my old calculus text. Let’s see… 2-D geometry is pretty cake. 3-D not too much harder. Heck, I’ve written graphics sub-systems so once the synapses start firing again, should be no problem. Now areas and volumes. Pi-D, 1/2 base*height, pies are square, Pythagoras Theorem, factoring polynomials, FOIL, Cramer’s rule, oh dear… What have I gotten myself in to??? Let’s try some sample problems. First three, pretty easy. Then number 4 takes 10 minutes, then number 5 stumps me. I’m tired. I have to get some sleep so I don’t fall asleep driving over the pass. Worst case, I fail the GMAT and try next year.

I’m probably not the only one who has ever crammed math by dawn’s early light while watching for wayward deer and elk driving over the pass at 70 mph; I am reasonably certain, however, that the club is rather exclusive!

The essay part was first. They give you what is essentially a little white board to use for notes and I scribbled an outline, then started writing. I didn’t leave myself quite enough time and the system cut me off about 3 1/2 words from the end. Would it at least take what I had typed? I can’t let that question bother me. On to the next section. When I came to the math part, I was pretty wiped emotionally, but I was also revved up mentally. Then, about 1/2 way in, I came to a problem on which I spent way too much time. I had to really move if I was going to finish the test. With 5 minutes to go I still had 10 problems. Now on the GMAT, and other adaptive tests, if you miss a problem, the next one is easier, and if you get one correct, the next one is harder. If you guess, and get it wrong, the test will magnify that error by leading you back to easier problems. I also knew that some of the problems, up to four, if I remember correctly, are “candidate” problems, meaning that they are not counted. Weighing my options, I decided that to get a score high enough to get into the TMMBA program, I would need to finish the math portion as best I could. So, I eyeballed each of the last problems and if I couldn’t solve it within 30 seconds, I took my best guess — hoping if I guessed wrong, it would be a candidate problem. The clock ran out and the last two problems went unanswered. Completely drained, I filled out the list of programs to which I wanted my score reported, retrieved my belongings taken during the pat-down search, and took my time driving home. I still had to write my personal statement; that is a story I told earlier.

In the end, I scored 600, which is at the high end of the dome of the bell curve. That is, 2/3 of the test takers score between 400 and 600 out of the 800 possible. It still irks me that I did worse in math than language, but I can live with that. Several weeks later, I received my acceptance letter. I was in the program!!!