I wish I could give you, in just a few words, a glimpse of the motivations that started me on a path to pursue higher education in the Twin Cities, of the opportunities and encounters with people that have shaped my career over the past few years.
Watching Volcanoes and Observing Traditions
Spring in Mexico is pleasantly warm. In one of those spring days I was trying to concentrate on a lecture about Energy Conversion, at the Escuela Superior de Ingeniería Mecánica y Eléctrica (ESIME), in Zacatenco, Mexico City. It was one of those rare and beautiful days where I could see the contours of the two volcanoes that oversee Mexico's Central Valley. I could not help but taking a look from time to time through the window and briefly evoking the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl shining quietly in the horizon.
There they were, as usual, looking magnificently, the same way I remembered them since childhood. Watching these colossal mountains gave me a sense of stability and sanity in a world that was quickly changing, and sometimes, it seemed, slipping through my hands.
I spent days in ESIME going from one class to the next one, mostly in building four. Laboratory classes were especially fun because we had the chance to put theory into practice with real generators, transformers and other electrical equipment. Teamwork was specially required at the labs, but for the most part in other classes we worked individually. In some occasions I played soccer with other students in the fields surrounding the campus. Towards the end of the semester I grew eager with anticipation to the summer break because that meant going on vacation to the homeland.
I was born in Oaxaca, in the south of Mexico, a place of long and venerable traditions. As a child it looked like time was moving slower and magic was everywhere, permeating every feature of the land and its people, from gastronomy to colorful clothing, festivities and music. I was raised tasting the sweetness and aromatic flavor of hot liquid chocolate, always accompanied, as tradition dictates, by a good size portion of pan de yema (a bread made of egg's yolk and flour) and tlayudas, which were large tortillas spread with special condiments on top such as cheese (the cheese brand is actually called queso Oaxaca), chorizo, avocado, shredded lettuce, beans pasta and whatever else the culinary imagination of the people from Oaxaca could come up with.
Eating in family reunions at my grandmother's house was almost a religious ritual, a happy one. I remember the chattering of relatives at the table while I sat at a corner eating the fruits of the land, feeling that I was an integral part of the conversation without even saying a word.
With all these experiences and tradition, you may ask, how Minnesota came into the scene?
I saw the possibility to come to Minnesota for business as a sign of changing times. The door opened while I was working with the local power utility in Mexico City called Compañía de Luz y Fuerza del Centro (CLFC).
This company had acquired an Energy Management System (EMS) to supervise the Central Valley's electrical grid from a Control Center. My engineering background fit right into the testing activities required to verify the system CLFC bought from Control Data Corp. (CDC), based in Minneapolis. And so I came to the Twin Cities full of excitement and anticipation. My first trip was in Summer and I immediately was caught up in the nice Midwest environment.
Later on Control Data was acquired by Siemens Energy and they offered me a position in Minneapolis as a software engineer. I pondered about relocating to the Twin Cities. One thing was to come here as a customer on a temporary assignment, another one much different was to settle down and leaving part of the family behind. With the Mexican economy struggling and the promise of a different future I leaned towards uncertainty, in a setting full of possibilities and a different way of life. So, I decided to take a chance.
It was a rewarding step professionally. I had the opportunity to travel around the World and visited places I never imaged to be at. In Hong Kong I met many interesting people, learned about this former British Colony's history and explored local traditions. These seemed different and at the same time, in essence, so similar to those where I came from. In Norway I stayed for two weeks at incredibly nice and bucolic town named Dalen, west of Oslo. A place surrounded by forests and green fields covered at times by low flying clouds.
In Nicaragua I came in contact first hand with people trying to bring their economy back on track in the city of Managua. One lesson I learned in these travels was that many skills necessary to work efficiently with other people are not taught in the classroom, but have to be developed while on the job. These skills were especially important when it came to work with people with different backgrounds and points of view.
My emphasis in college was the nature and dynamics of the electron, not much about organizing a team to achieve a common goal. To do this I was trying to imitate what I perceived as good practices from leaders I happened to come across. After some time of trial and error I was thinking, "there has to be a better way to do this".
As information technology became prevalent at the workplace the way of conducting business was changing. Data analysis was getting easier as machines were taking over the manipulation of ever large volumes of data; however, that did not mean teams were getting more efficient. The advent of e-mail and software tools to track work activities, for example, did not automatically translate into meeting deadlines consistently.
I left Siemens one day in May years ago and joined a software company, Open Access Technology International, which offered me a path to a managerial career. After one year of meddling with programmatic applications and database engines I took the post of Project Manager. My team was assigned to a project in Vancouver, Washington and another one in Calgary, Canada. After visiting the companies in both places I started thinking about retracing my steps to become a monk in one of the beautiful temples in Lantau Island, near Hong Kong; my stress level was at all-times high.
A realization came to mind: Being a manager was not really about telling other people what to do and having a great time afterwards. It was about being responsible and accountable for those people in the team to the point that, if they were not able to deliver I would have to be willing to do the work for them or face consequences. The glamour of being a Project Manager quickly disappeared. Instead of going back to Hong Kong however, I wondered one day towards a building of curious shape close to the Mississippi river to attend a class as a listener.
My first class at Carlson School of Management was as an outsider, trying to decide if an MBA was the right choice. I recalled the upbeat atmosphere in the classroom and the Finance professor telling jokes to keep everyone's attention while talking about bonds and project valuation. It was foreign language to me but it was fascinating. Something told me that in this place I would find some of the answers to questions I had mulled over for a long time. During break in a lounge nearby students were talking animatedly to one and other, drinking coffee, pop or water; some of them were around my age, most of them younger.
"What would it take to come to a place like this?" That was the question lingering in my mind while I was waiting in an elevator on my way out.
All Good Things Come at Once
After taking the GMAT (two times) and TOEFL (once) I was accepted into the MBA Part-Time program at Carlson in the fall of 2010. The only thing I regretted about starting an MBA was not to have done it sooner. A strange feeling invaded me in orientation night while talking to peers in the atrium of the school. It was as if I had been invited to a party at which I had arrived a little late. "Nevertheless", I thought, "here I am." And so, I decided right then to try to make the most out of my second phase as student.
I sit now writing these lines one year and a half from graduation and have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I look forward to it. On the other, I think I am going to miss this place. I will miss the humor and clever explanations by Professors Huchendorf, Duke, Kaul, Maitland, Hansen, Reik, Hydrie, Bond, Syverson and by the ones I look forward to meet. And of course I will miss my peers, the Ambassadors group, the jokes and conversations in late evenings.
The decision to start an MBA was accompanied by my desire to become a runner and so, in the fall of 2010, I ran my third marathon. Training took some time away from class preparation but it turned out to be a good balancing activity. Along with running, family affairs, work, and a trip abroad for business seminar in France (which I am planning to write about next), I can say I have found some answers along the way to the questions that made life so difficult during my transition to a career in management. Sure, there are new questions out there, but as long as I keep finding answers life will be just fine.
October 25, 2012
(1) MGuaty Marrero and Cjaronu's Blog, "Mexico, D.F., 20 de Febrero de 2010", Cjaronu's Blog, 25 October 2012
(2) Vargas, Jorge. "Cierre y ocupación de Luz y Fuerza del Centro: octubre 2009". Pulso Ciudadano, 25 October 2012