Software Engineer

The Paradox of Being a Successful Software Engineer in the US Academic Cosmos

Success and Software engineers were once synonyms of each other. In the early era of LPG (Liberalization. Privatisation & Globalization), being a software engineer was a sure shot ticket to high paying jobs both in the third world and the first world of course. With a sonic boom – in came the IT revolution and with it came the advent of softwares and software companies. This gave birth to the new aged Hercules of all white collar jobs – The Software Engineer. The supremacy of the software engineers was unquestionable in particular with the IT revolution sweeping the planet and went unchallenged for quite some time. Every learned individual went gaga over the Silicon Valley and its knights in shining armour – The IT guys. From share markets to marriage market they were the toast of the town. It was like a long party which was supposed to get better and better with each passing day. There was a time when it seemed, nothing could stop the rolling juggernaut and its occupants.

But like it happens in every aspect –

What goes up must come down

In came the new challengers to the throne held by the Software Engineers. The MBA diaspora had arrived and arrived with a bang. Armed with their MBA degrees, swanky suits, Sauvé and sophisticated personality and excellent knowledge about running businesses worldwide, they swept everything that came in their way and all of a sudden the software engineers started to feel that even after their technical knowledge they somewhere lacked a killer punch and were unable to come to terms with the fact that their world would turn upside down such dramatically. It seemed that the MBAs wielded some kind of celestial weapon which very few had the answer to. So everyone happened to ask the same question – why is this happening?

Let’s us understand this in layman terms. Any company – be it IT companies, FMCG, Service oriented ones etc need two kind of people in their work force – one the technical guys and the other the non-technical ones including the management ones. Now what happened was that when the companies were started by the engineers they were initially very low on business volumes so the need for specialised manpower in management could be well sufficed with the available talent inside the companies. But as the companies had a bull run – both in terms of top line(sales) and bottom line(profits) they started to expand very fast , resulting in outright need of specialised personnel who could oversee the management aspect of the company because the technical aspect was already taken care of by the IT and other engineers. This resulted in freshers or people with a bit of experience joining the MBA bandwagon who ultimately became managers on successful completion of their MBA programme and their probation periods. All of a sudden the software engineers and others started to feel that they were losing out to these new age business managers who were everywhere in the office. The primary role of any technical guy is to take care of the product’s or services’ technical aspects which the engineers were doing with extreme efficiency. However, it was felt that the credit for a successful product or service was attributed more towards the marketing and selling strategies rather than the product or service itself. Also decisions about the products/services lifecycle were taken by these new age managers as they were thought of being better trained in taking such decisions and the engineers started to feel that they are getting a raw deal.

The game starts here. What happens when you are in a war zone and you know it is going to be extremely difficult to beat the competition and win. You have two options – Either you accept the fact that the competitor is stronger and you focus on your strengths to be able to find a way to neutralize him/her. If you can find a way, good for you, else you suffer defeat and are wiped out. Or else, you analyse the strengths of the competitor, try to understand and analyse – what makes him/her superior to you and then add that particular skill or weapon in your arsenal. In short you fight fire with fire.

That’s what exactly software engineers started to do once they realised that they are being out smarted and outclassed by the management guys.

What really happened was that the management guys came, saw and conquered. But was it that easy?

Well, They did one simple thing which the engineers took a bit of time to understand – They entered the game with the engineers, learnt the ropes and tricks from them on the job. Slowly and steadily, they changed the rules of the game and then declared why the engineers did not belong to the brotherhood.

But the spirit inside the engineers refused to die down so easily. Perhaps that is why it is said that ‘engineering is a way of life’.

The engineers took up the challenge to reinvent themselves. In MBA terminology it is known as rebranding. For the first time a new breed of engineers entered the unchartered territory of the MBA world. Subjects like Accounting, Taxation, Economics, Business law were very different than what they had studied till that period of time. And Phew! They startled one and all by gaining mastery over these subjects and their commerce back ground friends were the most shocked ones to see this since, they were expected to lead the pack but the engineers specially the software guys had a home run against the commerce guys in their own game and backyard. Engineers started to get the bigger pie in campus placements and some of them even shifted their domain and went into non-technical sectors like human resources, marketing and even retail. The shine in their armour was back and so was the smile on their faces. Good days started all over again. It seemed that they had cracked another secret code to success. Such was the impact that a lot of students who wished to take up a career in management started to joining software engineering colleges so that later on they can join the prestigious B-Schools later. All the Top B-Schools were gradually being filled up by Software engineers in particular and they formed the major chunk in any B-School of the world.

But then what followed was a rat race in which every other software engineer was getting involved. As a result, the MBA classes in top universities started to get filled up with engineers and the class profile took a severe beating because IT engineers were ruling the roost. Even though they did so purely on the basis of their talent and merit, their dream run was about to end.

The Top US universities and worldwide started to maintain a strict watch on the class profile which means they wanted a class full of students from different education backgrounds, countries and work experiences. So now the options for the software engineers were limited because of this new aspect of B-Schools. Their chances suffered due to their software engineering background. What was once a boon –  became a bane in disguise for those who wish to enter the corridors of institution like HBS, Stanford, University of Chicago, Booth etc. Even though they had the talent, means, skills and everything required, yet were denied an entry in most of the cases.

This gives rise to a burning question – Isn’t it unfair on the part of the schools to do this to the merit based students like software engineers? Why judge some body on the basis of the background in graduation? This leads to me coin a new term ‘Academic Racism’.

The problem is quite similar to our third grade or second grade years at school when the entire class was sometimes punished because the teacher could not locate the actual culprit.

So what is the real problem? Most schools ask the same question round and round to the software engineers – ‘How are you different from the other software engineers?’ If you can prove that you are different, we might consider you.

This is like asking two parallel lines that how are they different from each other? Can anybody answer that?

Since there is no other option but to answer this question, that is where COLLMISSION has decided to step in and help the engineers regain their lost pride.

It is often said that

Where there is will there is a way

But, when it comes to MBA education in Top B-Schools in US, if things don’t work your way, you have to make them work for you and that’s where we come in.

Before addressing on how can you project yourself as a different candidate, and not the stereotype IT guy, you need to understand what all things you need to consider, before taking the plunge.

After all, we always believe in being upfront, because if you do not have a strong chance even after our professional assistance, there is no point wasting your time running after the top B-Schools. Instead look for something that could help you in chasing your dreams either way.

The first and foremost thing that you need to ask yourself is – Have I done enough in my 4 years’ graduation days? Mind you, if you are not from the top 10 Engineering colleges or universities from your respective country, then the GPA becomes all the more important (it anyways is crucial for your chances). If your grades are somewhat average let’s say below 3, the going may get extremely difficult, yet not impossible*.

The second question that you should be clear about is – Why NOW? What made you suddenly notice, that you need this MBA? Is it that you are not satisfied with your job, or you feel that your contemporaries suddenly seem to have more advantage and have been getting good promotions and you are left behind. Or just because your friends are going to the US and that is the reason you want to join them in the rat race or worse you suffered an emotional setback on the personal front and want to get way from prying eyes for some time and the US MBA seems to be just the perfect thing to do, as it would be vacation and education at the same time or is it something else not on this list?

Whatever be the reason, make sure to answer this question and more importantly be truthful to yourself. Remember if you are not truthful, you will never get it across and this is our experience at dealing consulting cases and not gut feeling which tells us that.

The third factor is whether are you ready to stay in US for the minimum two years for study. Will you be able to commit yourself completely to the program? Remember it is not going to be a situation where you can go to your home at short notices. Taking such leaves should be the last thing on your mind if you wish to pursue an academic program in US.

Fourth, everything in the education world has got a cost attached to it. The top universities and B-Schools have a high maintenance cost in terms of infrastructure, faculty and other facilities. That too in dollars!! Of course we have our financial aid experts, who can help you in getting some really good scholarships so as release the burden from your shoulders and pockets but you need to ask yourself that how are you and your dependants are going to survive -particularly if you are the sole bread winner of your family. Do you have enough reserves or back up that you can wait till the time when you restart your earnings? Or do you have an alternate source of income which does not need your attention on an everyday basis or your physical presence. Time for some serious introspection! *

Fifth – have you really sorted out which universities you will be applying to, what is the cut off for GMAT respectively? What are their criteria for choosing IT background students, how are you going to write customised essays for each B-School separately, optional essays if required, who is going to write that all important recommendation letter? How are you going to ascertain that you are going to convince the VISA Interview officer that you are not just another IT guy dreaming it big in US? Have you made sure that you know how to convince the admission guys that you do belong to the league? *

In short, the moment the admission guys find the two words “SOFTWARE ENGINEER” in your application, how are you going to make sure, that they are going to continue reading your application? Are you sure that your application won’t end up in the trash bins of your dream B-Schools instead of selected candidates file as you so dearly wish for?

Apart from the last written paragraph above, if you have found out answers to some questions, well, we can get the ball rolling.

Now we shall address the most important question “How does a software engineer distinguishes himself/herself from his/her contemporaries with the same educational background and almost same experiences?

Let me go back to the earlier example of parallel lines being same. So how are they different? In mathematical sense, they are equi distant from each other and do not meet each other on a plane.

However, one must remember that being parallel does not mean the same length always. Nor it has to do anything with width. So what does it mean in the software engineer scenario.

Dear Readers, there is a light at the end of this tunnel and trust me it is not from an incoming train.

All I am trying to say is that most of you guys (read software engineers) had more or less, the same academic background during 4 years of your graduation. But what kept you occupied before that? I mean, your intermediate, your matriculation, your achievements in you school and inter level. Your extra-curricular activities during those 4 years of graduation and lot more coming your way. These were all different for each one of you.

Now – you can afford to smile!! and this is just the start.

You need to understand, that you all are different in spite of you guys having almost the same 4 years background. Your achievements, your life style, your hobbies, your passions, your career goals, your personality are everything that define you and each one of you has a separate set of attributes. So basically, all of you are different. Even the reason why you wish to pursue an MBA from a top B-School is different for each software engineer applying to the program. It is not that all want to buy a Cadillac or Bugatti at the end of the day. Some do it for intellectual stimulation. Some for professional advancement. Some for going the entrepreneurial way and so on and so forth. So basically, everyone has a different reason for pursuing the same program.

Now let’s see the bigger picture.

Since you have understood that all of you are different in one way or the other, therefore, you must also appreciate the fact, that when you fill up the application form of different B-Schools of US, which would typically contain your personal information, resume, the essays, LOR etc. Each application form shall turn out to be different for each one of you. Please note that the essays, LORs, resume will not be the same. Because every application is different, the same can be said about every software engineer. It becomes even more dis similar, when you fill up customised forms for every different B-School and your way of answering the questions in the application forms are all different from each another because all software engineers would have different stories to tell.

So now you can see, that your brainstorming approach can add up to your chances of getting shortlisted. However, in order to assure yourselves of a genuine chance, ensure that your brainstorming ticks all the right boxes which the admission officers would consider in their selection process. It means you must make an attempt in getting inside the mind of the AOs and the B-School’s culture you are applying to. *

Next chance, which you shall get is, when you get the interview call letter. Ensure that you prepare well while keeping in mind on how you can project your dreams and aspirations to be in sync with the institution’s long term goals. Try to differentiate and put the spotlight on what new you can bring to the table which would benefit the college in the long run. Talk about being a part of some CSR initiative while working on a project. You could probably identify a weak link in the college’s IT system or information sharing system and tell them about your plans to fix it up while you study in that particular college. Or else an ERP system which nobody thought of till date. In this way you could show that you shall not only study but also are willing to make a conscious effort to give something for the college community. This leaves a lasting impression about you. A win-win situation for both of you which is important for a fruitful student – school relationship.

Thereafter, you have another chance to show how you are different from other IT candidates at the all-important – The VISA interview.

Now here is a small FREE Tip on Visa interviews. Remember –  never ever say something which might project you as a one-way ticket guy*. The US immigration rules are very strict and now they have become even stricter for Indians and specially for software engineers. In case you happen to be both (which we think you are because you are reading this patiently) therefore it becomes even more important that you show every intention of coming back after your studies. We have plenty of eager information and advice for software engineers on this topic but due to constraints are not able to elaborate further.

In a nut shell what we can suggest the knights of the IT industry that there are lot of smart ways, through which you can project yourself as a perfect fit in into your dream B-School. We also understand that you have got good amount of information from other sources as well and we respect your hard work. However, as you guys know – using a program and developing a program are done by two different kinds of people and with due respect to you we wish to develop your program this time (read US MBA application process with student VISA engagements) so that you as an end user can make the most out of it.

Why you might need us?

Because we are sure you have bigger compilation and syntax errors to take care of rather than worrying regarding the application processes. So leave it to us and we shall fix this thing for you for once and all.

Once again we would like to repeat that we shall take up your case, when our experts find that you have good chance of getting it through. We will try to find an equilibrium between your dream B-School and your credentials. Only when we find that we can do justice to your trust, the CM experts shall take your story ahead.

See you next time.

(The fields marked in asterisk are the ones that Collmission specializes in giving services to the students)


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