Saturday, July 20, 2013

How does a MBA break into high tech? My story

I quit a nice corporate job, and moved to San Francisco, I started more or less from scratch,  No one cared about my MBA degree.  

So Many Resources, If Only You Look

I wanted to break into the San Francisco Tech community, and quickly learned that programming skills were valued above all; and MBA degree per se had limited appeal. There was no way to learn to program quickly, but that did not stop me from building a network.  Specifically, I began appearing at local evening meetups through groups like SFRuby, and in the course of a few weeks, begin to see the same faces and make friends with developers. Soon, I learned that there is a thriving community of people helping people learn, through workshops such as - workshops for women and their friends. It did not take much more than some courage and willingness to learn to become a volunteer and gain visibility.  (Hackathons are another great place to see/meet tech-minded people: why you should go to a hackathon today.)

How Rookies Got Started

I was hooked. Tech was not as scary as I had imagined. All it took was willingness to learn, to pitch in what I could, and not be ashamed of being a rookie who may not have all the answers (unlike an MBA who would be expected to have ALL the answers). These experiences helped me become more aware about the importance of learning in my own life; I persisted in coding.  I soon met others in my position - those new to city or new to programming. Then, it occurred to me that I could help in a new way: why not form a small group and create a co-learning experience, and give each other support? Thus was born RubyRookies. I had done some volunteering in politics before: canvasing, voter registration, etc. But, this was my real first experience in building a grassroots effort. I made many new friends through these gatherings. One of my big fears as a newbie in town was where I might find a community to plug into. It turns out, I was lucky enough to be fitting into my very own! We had a lot of fun - including hosting some panel events and lots of fun programming meetups:

Lot of fun coding away at night
Long story short, there are plenty of ways to build a network like the one you might find in a MBA Program. What I would recommend is that you keep these basic human principles in mind:
  • Ask what you can contribute - You have some skill here and now, even if it's not the one you want, that will allow you to add value. I can recommend a really good book on this topic for people of all stripes - a classic by Peter Drucker, called The Effective Executive.
  • Focus on and measure outcome - If your contribution is not valued, it is a signal to you to re-articulate or to re-frame ... until you begin producing outcome. It's not an easy process. You just have to chip away at it.
  • It's about them, not you - If you take the self-centered approach, I think you might find your world to be a very small one indeed. Look around you, there is so much need and so much opportunity! Network starts there.
  • Learn, learn, learn - That's my mantra, anyway. If I am not learning, I am dying. I am not sticking around a place where I am stagnating. Only by learning can one grow, and only by growing, can one branch out and help others.
  • Do what you love - I wasn't getting paid to organize events or create venues, nor was I charging to hear people out or give them coaching. It was just what I enjoyed doing. The gratification I received from those who attended my gathering thank me was enormous. And that joy spilled over into introductions and to positive brand. It helped me in so many ways in the local community.
  • Have faith. Have courage - Whether you are an MBA or not, you really have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Step out of the comfort zone until it feels natural. Sometimes it's painful. But, that's okay - step forward. You can do it!
  • Persist - Similar to last point, but don't give up. Never give up (even though you may pivot).  The luck favors the prepared. It also favors the one that's around ... and if you gave up, well, you're not around anymore.
  • Be human - At the end of the day, you learn that life is joyful; life is short. Don't use people. Instead help people and be who you are. Be genuine and just enjoy the process of connecting with new minds and new skills. Do it because it's fun, not to fatten your rolodex. People are human beings, not stream of revenues.
  • Sell - As IBM's Tom Watson said, "nothing happens until you make a sale." Learn to sell yourself, learn to sell for someone. Sales is truly valuable to anyone. You do that, and people will listen to you. I share my experience of starting with small in How I sold my first lemonade.

Other Thoughts

I will add that another way to build a network is to attend an intense, brief learning community, like a Programming Course. 

For those set on attending MBA, consider the ROI relative to alternatives. Now, learn to code - it is a truly useful skill to learn for our age. See the entry: soon your taxi driver may know more Ruby than you do. Finally, yes, it is scary, and you may fail, and failure can be painful. But, sometimes, pain can be good - instead of stepping back, consider stepping forward.

Help others and they help you

Further Reading

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