Monday, June 16, 2008

Back to School?

Last weekend I had this crazy thought. Without sharing too much personal information here, I have recently, and very quickly, been transformed from someone who was not so concerned about his salary, to someone who is. So I am now contemplating what I can do in my career to make sure I am competitive and paid well. And while I sort of like what I am doing right now, the simple fact is that I am going to need to become more aggressive in planning my work future. Formerly, I don't think that I was very driven. I got my job done and did it well. I didn't, however, aspire for greater position. I think I need to change that mindset, or I will be henceforth stalled. I am almost 44 years old, and I have at least another 15-17 years I need to work to get the kids through college.

Over the past many years, I've struggled with my career choice. A Computer Science B.S. and M.S. served me well for the first 5 years of my career when I was in technical roles. Since then, it's been leadership, project management, management, and most recently, operations & program management.

I've been content in my recent positions, though sometimes bored. That has changed in the last year as I've had more orgnizational scope and executive visibility. I was recently working closely with my director, who was an outstanding leader who has taught me a lot. He has now changed jobs, and I'll be helping the new guy get used to his new turf.

My "next moves" are potentially to get promoted and stay in my same role. Or promote to a 2nd line management position in my same division. Or I could craft a position for myself as a part of a global program I am involved with. Or move laterally to a management position in another division. Or I could leave, which is always the biggest unknown. I think there are plenty of opportunities at my company, and going elsewhere would entail riding on my current credentials more so than my "potential" that may be valued higher where I am.

So the crazy idea was this... What if I went back to school? Specifically, what if I went back to school in Duke University's Executive MBA program? Afterall, they have the #4 ranked Executive MBA program in the nation, and they're local.

On a whim, I mentioned this to my manager. She was encouraging and thought I would do great in such a program. But did I want to be an executive, she asked. Huh? Why would I want to do that? Oh... It is the Executive MBA program. Her words encouraged me a lot. She said "I've always told you - you can do anything you want to do." It comes down to "What do YOU want to do?" she told me. That conversation has haunted me all weekend long.

So I have been pondering and contemplating this for the last 4-5 days, and for the first time in many years, I am starting to feel excited about my career. For years, when I had to define my "individual development plan" I had a hard time conveying anything of interest 3-5-10 years in the future. I have been ambivilant and indifferent about my future career options.

So with such a career comes some challenges I fear. One, the time commitment. Well, I'm already working 10-11 hour days doing my current job. It's not that bad, and I don't know that I could do more than that, if needed. Also there's the travel fear. I don't mind occasional travel, but I don't want to get into any role where travel is expected 50-100% of the time. I want to put my family first. I don't want to wake up at age 50 in some significant job on the road and not know who my kids are. I discussed all this with Lori today, and she was very supportive, and even seemed a little excited. She would be a key element to anything I do.

The way the Duke Weekend Executive MBA program works is this: For 20 intense months, you will strengthen core business skills, be exposed to different perspectives on current business issues and build a strong network of peers. Beginning in March, you attend classes all day Friday until 5:30 pm and Saturday until 3pm on Duke’s campus on alternating weekends. Friday night stays are included in the tuition and are considered part of the weekend residency.

So that sounds like a lot, but also sounds like it would be a great experience. Registration for 2009 ends mid-August, so I have about 2 months to decide if this is something I want to pursue this round... and to find out if I can get IBM to help pay for it.

So that's what's on my mind. I will certainly be in prayer about this decision, and I will be consulting several people for their counsel, all of whom are leaders and trusted friends or colleagues.

I guess it wouldn't hurt to go to school at Duke. If the MBA doesn't work out, I still have 4 years of eligibility to play college basketball.

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