One course to rule them all
Having almost completed the graduate program at the Engineering Systems Division here, were I to be asked which course left the most profound impact on my life, the answer would be easy: Shalom Saar’s ESD.S24: The Missing Link.
The course is a combination of practical in-class exercises, case studies and interactive lectures, culminating with a one-on-one coaching session with the professor. I took the course partly because it mandated that students participate in class, and since I had raised my hand and participated in lectures during the entirety of the program a total of just one time (Jim Utterback’s Technology Strategy, last lecture, the answer came back as “yes”), I made it a personal challenge to try and fix that.
The coaching session was the real life-changer. I emailed the professor ahead of time saying that I wanted his candid opinion about what the reason might have been for not getting offers from the two companies that I had had a set of on-site interviews with to date despite walking away from them confident that I had done well. Shalom saw right through me and pointed out that my perception of myself did not really match how I actually came across, which was an eye-opener. Despite believing that I was candid and relaxed, which is the case in normal situations, during interviews, I seemed to come across as reserved and cold.
I took the bouquet of advice and promised to apply it to the four on-site interviews I had lined up in a few weeks in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Sure enough, being myself worked wonders and I heard good news from all four companies. So to invoke the oft-used, seldom meant cliche, the course did in fact change my life.
I guess the take-away is this: it’s important to leave a graduate program with an improved arsenal of engineering tools, Systems Optimization being one of my favorites, but it is probably more useful to take advantage of courses that teach one about the most complex system of all: oneself. That can do wonders. But then again, maybe one doesn’t need to go to graduate school for that? Well maybe they do. I don’t know.