Category Archives: Student Advice

What would I do differently?

Mike McCarter, TMMBA Class of 2014
Mike McCarter, TMMBA Class of 2014

I always knew someone would ask me this question.   I’d supposed it would happen sometime after I graduated.   Or maybe the question would come from my children someday when I was old and gray– I certainly didn’t expect it in the last quarter of the program, but there it was.   The TMMBA Program Director, Tracy, asked the question;  “If you could do this whole MBA thing over again, what would you do differently?”

OK, so maybe she didn’t ask the question exactly like that.  She may have actually said something closer to “How’s it going?” or maybe just “Hi”.   Regardless of what had prompted Tracy’s inquiry that day in the hall, she deserved to know the answer that had plagued me for a solid month.

Here’s the background.  About a month earlier my team and I had set up a meeting with the executive director of a local non-profit to talk about a social media project.  We booked the meeting to occur a couple of hours ahead our Wednesday class session– and miraculously it finished up a bit early!   After treating myself to a second helping of taco buffet, I had found myself in the rare-yet-luxurious state of not having any plans.   I recall mingling in the buffet area for a while and then ambling into the Tech @ the Top room after hearing some mention of cheeseburgers in there.

Shortly after I found a seat, Tracy shut the door and introduced Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network.   Then it all clicked for me.   Five minutes earlier I had been joking with this guy at the taco buffet, wondering if he was going to take the last chalupa, and now I find out he is a legendary entrepreneur?!  The next hour flew by like it was fifteen minutes.   I learned about how Ben had quit a perfectly good job to see if he could parlay a funny cat picture into an multimillion dollar internet humor juggernaut (spoiler alert:  he did it).   Ben gave a fast-paced presentation followed by a wide-open Q&A session.  I got an incredible view into the mind of a truly creative entrepreneur with a street MBA and a truckload of wisdom.  More importantly, I got to ask Ben as many questions as I wanted about being an entrepreneur and scaling a company, which is a topic that interests me greatly.

from icanhascheezburger.com

A few weeks went by and I still found myself reflecting on Ben’s presentation and several impactful things he had shared.  I figured this must have been an anomaly– of course they couldn’t all be that good, right?  I secretly hoped so, because I’d been ignoring Tech @ the Top emails for over a year.  With small kids at home, a demanding job, a couple side ventures and an MBA-in-progress, I felt like I couldn’t afford to take on anything else.   Nonetheless, when the next Tech @ the Top Speaker Series event came along there I was, privately hoping that Jens Molbak, founder of Coinstar, would flop and confirm my anomaly theory.

Of course Jens didn’t flop, he was brilliant.  I still don’t know how he crammed it all into one hour, but we learned how he started Coinstar as a secret project during his MBA.  Jens told us about how he had interviewed 1500 people in front of grocery stores to refine his idea.  We sensed Jen’s pain from the continuous rejection by VCs.   Then we learned about the eventual revelation that enabled him to not only get seed funding, but ultimately raise $200m in VC investment (hint: it wasn’t about selling his idea better).   In less than 10 years, Jens succeeded in taking Coinstar public, caused the Mint to stop making coins, and enabled the donation of millions of dollars to a litany of charitable organizations.    As with my prior Tech @ the Top experience, I was blown away by the openness and accessibility of this inspiring entrepreneur.

Tech @ the Top Speaker Series - Jens Molbak

So there it is.  Not the answer I’d expected it would be, but true nonetheless.  If I could do it over again, I would go to every single Tech @ the Top speaker.  The absurdity is that I was already there on Wednesdays anyway– how hard would it have been to forgo that extra trip to the buffet and open my mind to meeting a new entrepreneur or business leader?  I’ll never know, but what I do know is that I missed the opportunity to get direct learnings and close interaction with senior executives from Costco, Docusign, Concur, Outerwall, PCC, and many others.    Here’s my advice to future Foster MBA students:  skip that extra chalupa and go to Tech @ the Top!

Don’t be a Paper MBA

By David Lam, TMMBA Alumnus, Class of 2013

Don’t be a Paper MBA: Attend a Tech @The Top, career networking, or professional development event

Do you want to be a stronger business leader or is your choice to be a Paper MBA?  The TMMBA program has nearly monthly events that can help you stay relevant and are often invaluable opportunities to get connected to recognized business leaders.

Get Connected

Whether you are still in the classroom or have since graduated, opportunities to connect to recognized successful business leaders are invaluable. Interested in an insider’s account of established internationally recognized companies or perhaps prefer hearing about the local startup scene? The TMMBA program has an excellent variety across that spectrum from Walt Disney and Yahoo to WetPaint and LiquidPlanner. Thinking about partnering or career opportunities with a local company or subsidiary? Attending these events can really boost your network beyond what would normally be available to you. Cold-calling the CEO is very different to following up an earlier exchange at a recent TMMBA event.

Stay Relevant

I worked in Japan for a decade and had to be especially wary of ‘paper drivers’, particularly as a motorcycle was my primary way of commuting. This is a well-known phenomenon in Japan and refers to those who have received a license to drive but, since becoming certified, either had not or have very rarely actually gotten behind the wheel. My personal experience of passing the practical driving test in Japan was specific to a motorcycle license but it was an extremely grueling not to mention expensive process. Despite passing this very difficult practical driving test however, those who did not practice their new-found skills were really certified drivers on paper only. On the rare occasion when they do drive (and often long after passing the practical exams), these paper drivers were a danger to both themselves and others around them.

MBA graduates (and current students) have a similar risk.  Granted, the risk to life and limb for MBA graduates who do not continue to develop themselves is less than that of a paper driver, but the hard-won skills learnt in the classroom can also quickly deteriorate.  Graduating with an MBA is a grueling process that begins even before entering the classroom. From the GMAT and overall application process thru to the many, many months of countdown towards that blessed graduation date. It is clearly a significant investment in time and money. In choosing to undertake an MBA, is your goal to become certified on paper only and go no further to develop as a stronger business leader?

Attending the TMMBA events or workshops are an opportunity to learn from current and real-world applicable lessons. Often the talks are surprisingly open with many insights that can be gained, and are never dry case studies.

Avoid the risk of becoming a Paper MBA; continue to develop your business skills, stay relevant and get connected. Subscribe to the calendar at: http://www.foster.washington.edu/academic/tmmba/Pages/Tech-at-the-Top.aspx.

Other relevant events at: http://www.foster.washington.edu/academic/tmmba/pages/cal.aspx

Hope to see you at the next Tech @the Top or career networking night!

TMMBA Student Resources 101

Ally Wewers, TMMBA Program Coordinator

Today, TMMBA Class 13 students (who began at the beginning of January) have their first Saturday of class at Paccar Hall. TMMBA typically hosts one class per quarter on the Seattle Campus, which gives students an opportunity to see the other Foster Facilities and experience the campus environment. All morning, I’ve been listening to students ooh and ahh over Paccar Hall. “It’s like I’m back in my undergraduate days…” is a common comment from most.

Being on campus gives students a hands-on look at many other resources that TMMBA and the Foster School of Business provides for them.  Oftentimes, the 18 months of a TMMBA student go by so quickly that they forget to take a look around them and see what else is available outside of their classes.  I encourage all students to take advantage of these many benefits and resources:

  • Lounge for Foster MBA Students at Paccar
    Lounge for Foster MBA Students at Paccar

    Foster MBA Lounge and Access at Paccar Hall: With an activated Husky Card, students are able to access Paccar Hall, Dempsey Hall, and the MBA Lounge. Even when the Paccar Building is not open to the public, students are welcome to use the space for studying and group meetings. There’s even a dedicated space just for MBA students- the T-Mobile MBA Commons. This was a popular tour stop for our students today, and no- it does not come equipped with cigars and smoking jackets. It’s a study lounge- not to be confused with students other after-class haunts.

  • IMA (Intramurals Activity Building) – I was happy to hear today that a few students have already been working up a sweat at the IMA (only prompted in small part to the TMMBA ice cream cooler I’m sure). With a Husky Card, TMMBA students are allowed access to their fitness center and courts. UW Recreational Sports programs also provides the WAC (Waterfront Activities Center) where there are discounts available on canoe and rowboat rentals.

Husky Stadium

  • While we’re on the topic of fitness and sports, TMMBA students are always eligible for student tickets to Husky Athletic Events.  Some sporting events (baseball, volleyball, soccer) are free with a husky card, while others (men’s basketball, football) are subject to additional, discounted costs. Student tickets go fast for these events, so make sure to plan ahead for season or single-game tickets.
  •  UPass: Every UW student has a UPass which comes with their Husky Card. The U-PASS provides students with a variety of low-cost transportation options—from buses, commuter train service and light rail, to vanpooling and discounted carpooling. No activation required- once you get your Husky Card you’re ready to ride.
  • Foster Centers and Events:  The various Centers, including the Business and Economic Development Center, the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Global Business Center- all welcome involvement from TMMBA students. Foster also hosts events, like the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Series and Meet-the-Firms. For an updated list of events, take a look at the Foster Calendar.
  • Finally, one of the advantages of being a student at the University of Washington is the world-class library system available for use. Today, a representative from the Foster Business School library came to speak to students about the amenities at their location in Paccar Hall. Available to students are recent business publications, database access, librarian assistance and much more. Whether it’s the Foster Library or one of the many other University Libraries, these student resources are not to be forgotten.

Husky Card

As you can see- many of these resources require a student to have their Husky Card. Getting a Husky Card is free to students, and only requires a visit to the Husky Card Offices. Other Husky Card benefits include discounts from a variety of merchants, free admission to UW Museums, access to UW Zip Cars, and many more.

In writing this, I know that there are still many other UW/Foster/TMMBA resources that I am not mentioning. From business cards to MBA clubs, to TMMBA Career Services and sponsorship affiliations, there’s always more to get out of the TMMBA experience. Hopefully, sometime between classes and homework and team meetings, our students will find time to take advantage of them all! Because TMMBA students always need one more thing to add to the to-do list…

Business Plan Competition past participants offer advice for students

Sara Jones, TMMBA Assistant Director

Last summer I interviewed a group of TMMBA students that competed in the Business Plan Competition and won 2nd place for their concept, Xylemed. They had a lot to share about the experience and gave some great insights into the various competition stages.  Here’s the video:

Now that the 2013 Business Plan Competition activities are getting under way, I went back to the interview transcripts and pulled out a few final thoughts and pieces of advice that they have for someone considering the competition.

Marc: It is going to be really tough if you don’t have something that either has traction or you can gain traction quickly.  All of the teams that had some success either had a contract signed, product in development, or started a kick starter campaign and had some sort of traction. We heard from multiple people that it is almost less of a business plan competition than it is a business competition.

Jason: Use it as an opportunity to really push yourself.  You probably go to work and do a few things that are very specific, whereas when you are trying to launch a company with only a few teammates, you really have to have a much broader perspective on things.  You are going to learn a lot from just having to think through so many questions and in different ways than you have probably had to think before.

Also, if you are trying to identify an opportunity for the business plan competition, look at examples within your own company or try to find pain points within your own work or life.  Those are probably the most relevant to you that you will be able to be passionate about and hopefully create a product or service that really resonates with a target audience.

Ben: If you really want to make it into the final four, you have to have a product which exists, which is in a way too bad, because it is less of a business plan competition and more of a startup competition. But I wouldn’t let that defer you from entering the competition if you have enough of an idea that you want to see get off the ground.  The harsh reality is that you probably won’t make it into the finals, but you will get so much more out of the competition than you ever think you will entering it that it is still very much worth it.

Anoop: It does take a decent amount of time, adding that to the class workload. You really have to be willing to dedicate time to it, but it is definitely worthwhile and I think the benefits far outweigh the time you put into it.

The predicted end of the world has passed, now what?

Alden Erickson, TMMBA Student, Class 13

According to the Mayan calendar, the world was to have ended two days ago. As we are still here, it is fairly safe to say that their theory was incorrect. This is the latest in a series of reminders for me that our paradigms can be wrong. It took 5,125 years to disprove the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Fortunately, feedback in business is more rapid but still we can subscribe to theories for years without knowing if a better way exists. There are of course many ways to challenge one’s paradigms but I would suggest replacing them with new ones through TMMBA.

When I arrived home from immersion week, I was dog tired. My exhaustion was due in part to the intense schedule and late nights reading, but there was more. Over the week I had been exposed to a number of new ideas and my mind was swimming with the possibilities of how to integrate them into my work and life. I thought of the Team Performance Model and how to utilize the concepts of the Intangible Resource Base, Value-Related Processes, and Team Performance Context. I considered viewing my future negotiations through the lenses of Interests, Power, and Relationships. I pondered ethics and Edward Freeman’s Stakeholder Theory for Organizational Management. Yes, I was tired, but I was also happy as I stumbled through the door after a busy immersion week.

I have not fully absorbed these ideas yet. If anything, I have more questions now than when I started. In the next 18 months of the TMMBA program, I expect that countless more theories will be introduced and I welcome every one of them. It will take time to form new paradigms. However, as the end of the world does not appear to be imminent, my fellow classmates and I have time!

Bullish on TMMBA teams

Alden Erickson, TMMBA Student, Class 13

Teams… Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are a part of our business life. Given that, how does one transition from merely surviving to thriving in a team? TMMBA students came together as part of immersion week to answer that very question.

Right from the start, we were each assigned to a study team of 4 to 6 people which was formed based on geography, background, and personality type considerations to ensure a broad range of skill sets. After all, what better way to learn than by doing? As a team, we will be responsible for completing a variety of assignments together over the next nine months and, more importantly, helping to get one another through the program. Interestingly, at random, I asked several classmates over the week how they liked their team, and they all responded that their team was terrific! We are off to a great start.

In addition, we attended three half day sessions taught by the incredibly engaging Professor Bigley who is a master of Socratic questioning and draws his classes into lively discussions. Together we reviewed a number of articles exploring the pitfalls of teams, decision making, and how to create high performance teams. For example, we learned about the downside of Groupthink by studying the Bay of Pigs decision-makers. We talked of decision making as a process rather than an event. We were introduced to the idea of inquiry in decision making which generates multiple alternatives and fosters the exchange of ideas. We studied the Army’s high performance OPFOR team which uses after-action reviews to continually learn and thereby regularly bests numerically and technologically superior opponents in training competitions. It was an incredibly packed week and yet it was only the beginning.

Now, we bring these concepts into practice as we go forward and continue to build upon our study teams. My team, the Red Bulls, is off to a great start and I for one am bullish on TMMBA teams.

Seasoned students and alums offer advice to new students

Starting the TMMBA program is exciting! There is a lot to learn, people to meet, and skills to build.  18 months is fast and it can feel a bit like a roller coaster ride at times. So, how do you stay on and get the most of your ride?  Current students and alumni have some advice to offer new students about to embark on their 18-month TMMBA journey.

  • Sit down before classes begin and think about what you want to get out of TMMBA. You can get as little or as much out of it as you want. 18 months is fast, so knowing what you’re interested in and who to network with is critical.
  • Trust the system that TMMBA has put in place. Much of the first quarter is about getting out of your comfort zone and adjusting to the new schedule and pace. Embracing the change with open arms will make your life at TMMBA more productive and enjoyable.
  • Use OneNote to take notes, and preferably in the cloud so they are stored remotely and updated across all of your devices instantly. Focus on setting a process in place early on for note taking and referencing.
  • Network and take advantage of all the additional opportunities offered by the program and the university, don’t see any of the aspects of the program as a “burden or distraction” but rather as an opportunity.
  • Find the best collaboration software for your team, and adopt it early; whether it’s Gmail or SkyDrive or Facebook Meeting Invites – getting a head start on where you will receive team updates and schedule meetings is critical in ensuring that you spend minimal time on managing this stuff.
  • Talk to your classmates. Learn about who they are and what they do. Make an effort to spend time with them outside of class. Turn them into your friends and contacts. The knowledge brought to the program by the students is immense and valuable and it is yours for the taking.
  • Prioritize, don’t hesitate to ask questions, and work with your study group! (And don’t forget to party every once in a while :) )
  • Focus on time management, do not procrastinate, and pre-read for class.
  • Be honest with your team mates about your expectations and desires for the program. Getting off to a good start is important and will set the tone for the rest of the program.
  • It’s only for 18 months. Make best use of the resources available to you.
  • Finish all of your reading ahead of time so you can socialize at dinner before class. You’ll have plenty of time to spend with your study group so break away from their safety net and use the time to get to know your other classmates, especially those in the other section.
  • Have fun. Network.

TMMBA Faculty Spill the Beans on their Favorite Resources

By Sara Jones, TMMBA Assistant Director

There are so many books, websites, and resources for business professionals that it can be hard to find the golden nuggets in the mix. I recently caught up with two TMMBA faculty members and asked for a list of favorite resources they would recommend to students and alums. Here’s what they said:

Debra Glassman, Senior Lecturer in Business EconomicsProfessor Debra Glassman

Glassman has been at the Foster School since 1992 and began teaching Domestic & International Economic Conditions in TMMBA in 2011. Her specialties include international finance, global macroeconomics, international trade policy and institutions, and European business. When I asked for her recommendation, she suggested publications from the Federal Reserve. Here’s why:

Publications from regional Federal Reserve banks have articles that are short, timely, and accessible to the general business reader.  Examples include (but are not limited to) the “Chicago Fed Letter,”, the Cleveland Fed’s “Forefront,” and “The Region” from the Minneapolis Fed.   You can search topics across all Federal Reserve publications using http://fedinprint.org.

Warren Boeker, Professor of ManagementProfessor Warren Boeker

Professor Boeker teaches Strategic Management of Technology & Innovation during the fourth quarter of the TMMBA Program. He specializes in competition, corporate strategy, entrepreneurship, and international business. He has seven go-to websites and blogs on his list:

Boeker also recommends the book Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.

What are your favorite business resources?

Work + TMMBA doesn’t mean you can’t still find time for fun!

Anuradha Raju joined TMMBA in January 2012 and is now halfway through the program. She has seven years of work experience and is currently a Design Verification Engineer 3 on the Microsoft Surface. We asked Anu how life has changed since joining the program and she shared this great graphic. It looks like Anu has really mastered the art of balance!

Life before and during the TMMBA Program

A Typical Day – Having ONLY 24 Hours in a Day Can Be a Good Thing

Guest post by Ron Cornell, Class of 2013

Eat. Pray, Love? Kids, Family, Career? What words describe your life? No question these days, WORK, SCHOOL, SLEEP describe mine – and in that order!

I knew life would get busier when I started the TMMBA program at Foster last year but I didn’t quite grasp exactly how busy it could get. “Work-life” balance has transformed into “work-school” balance since my life is now all about work and school!  That pretty much sums up my last 9 months and I’m confident the next 9 months will pretty much be the same.

While each day is different and brings new challenges, I have tried to create some “rules” and come across a few “tips” that allow me to maximize productivity and better cope with a busy life.

Sunday Nights are No Longer Mine.
Sunday nights watching True Blood with friends has been replaced with a lot of reading, reviewing lecture notes, working on class projects and discussing homework with classmates. My study group primarily meets virtually, as hectic business travel and distance often makes meeting in person prohibitive. Sundays tend to work best for us and we kind of accept that the day and most of the evening will be dedicated to the group and whatever assignments we have due that week.  At first it was annoying but once you accept that it will only be for 18 months and a necessary component to success in the program it becomes second nature and you adjust.

Manic Mondays.
Monday has become my busiest (and surprisingly favorite) day of the week.  And that’s not due to the “Monday Morning Madness” that typically plagues most of us at work, but because I have class on Monday nights from 6-9:30 pm.  I adjust my entire day (and sometimes week) accordingly – I wake up earlier (4:45 am), schedule all conference calls in the morning, push my morning workout to lunch, turn lunch into a heavy, mid-afternoon snack since I eat dinner (provided by TMMBA before each class) earlier and hit the freeway early enough to avoid rush hour traffic on the East Side.  Monday night dinners before class are a great way to catch up with classmates, finish some reading or put the last minute touches on a class presentation.

Traffic Schmaffic.
Traffic has become my friend and that’s only because I learned to stop fighting it.  And to be clear, I work from a home office so I don’t have a typical commute like many of my TMMBA colleagues.  Getting out of bed on my way to the computer in my home office by way of the coffee machine each morning puts my commute time at a grueling 45 seconds.  However, when I have work meetings in the city or need to get to class I can be in traffic anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours each way.  I try to make the most out of this time and do something productive for class.  Almost every lecture has a few discussion points that should be considered and/or prepared prior to each class and I use this time to think about those or sometimes practice a speech that I am about to deliver.

The 180 Rule.
My TMMBA class photo taken last November changed my life.  I was ridiculously overweight and tipping the scales at over 285 pounds – there, I said it!  Seeing that photo gave me the motivation to lose weight and could not have come at a better time in my life.  I knew that I needed to get back into shape if I was going to have any chance at successfully taking on the rigors of academic life in addition to an already crowded plate.  Believe it or not a MORE hectic schedule now forces me to plan better and that includes eating healthier and working out consistently.  The one non-negotiable task I set for myself every day is exercise – above all else, exercise. I am now down 68 pounds in 9 months and have 37 more to go to get to my goal weight of 180.  More importantly, I am sleeping better, feeling better, waking up earlier and have more than enough energy to dedicate to my class load every quarter. Oh some nice side effects – my blood sugar is no longer at pre-diabetic levels and my jeans fit better!

Making Choices.
The old saying “too much to do, not enough hours in the day to do it” was certainly true before I decided to go back to school.  I’ve always been obsessed with “to do” lists and now that obsession has become a critical tool for me to get through the day.  The BEST days are when I get through the entire list, the WORST when I get through none but MOST consist of getting through some but not all. I am 100% ok with that now.   Adding business school to my life, it is impossible to get through everything that I used to which forced me to learn the art of making choices. The first thing I do when I sit down at my desk is take everything on yesterday’s list that didn’t get done and write them on today’s “to do” list. I add everything else I’d like to accomplish that day, re-prioritize it whole list and begin my day.  I make a point of handwriting this out so that it becomes ingrained in my head.  I keep the list taped to a corkboard behind my monitor so that I am able to visually see the list get smaller as the day progresses.  Seeing the big picture allows me to make choices, separating “nice to get done” tasks from “need to get done” tasks. TMMBA blog now crossed off the list!

Oh, I forgot to mention coffee – lots and lots of coffee…