MOT Alumnus, Electrical Engineer Climbs Ranks to Become CEO of Software Company | Technological Leadership Institute
Ever since high school, 2009 M.S. in Management of Technology (MOT) alumnus Mike Siegler gravitated toward math and science classes – things that “have rules,” he says. And so it was no surprise he went on to major in mathematics (from Carroll College in Montana) and electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota.
His undergraduate advisor had encouraged him to immediately pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering but Siegler wanted to get some experience under his belt first. His internship at Seagate Technology turned into a full-time job and he enjoyed getting hands-on skills in an innovative environment.
“It was a great lesson in applying what you’re taught in school and how things are in real life,” said Siegler, who was a component specialist for preamplifiers for high-speed rewrite testing. In a nutshell, he worked with anything that went into a hard drive.
“I enjoyed the hands-on engineering, but it was the project management and leadership responsibilities that made me seek out my next opportunities and I was eager to start running programs and leading people,” said Siegler.
He took on a role at Medtronic as a principal product engineer, integrating wireless technology into defibrillators and pacemakers. Again, he was exposed to project management and, eventually, people management. He started connecting the dots that, if he really wanted to climb the ranks, he’d take on more and more of these responsibilities.
While at Medtronic, he worked with an MOT alumnus, Kevin Ley, who showed him the benefits of MOT in real work environments. Siegler had been considering an MBA, but was convinced to look seriously into MOT.
“I clicked with the MOT concept, like the technology case studies and being among people of similar technology backgrounds,” said Siegler, who went on to start MOT classes in 2007.
During his time in MOT, he was recruited by General Electric to help run the RF/wireless hardware group at a subsidiary security firm, GE Security.
“This was a difficult transition in the middle of my graduate school career because so much of the work in MOT is on your company,” said Siegler, who switched from working on implantable medical devices to home security systems. “But I was already hooked by MOT and there was no way I was going to not finish strong.”
What was it that got him hooked?
“Getting a break from your day-to-day work to go into an educational setting with your cohorts and professors in a collaborative environment was life changing,” said Siegler. “It was a safe-learning environment where you were free to ask questions, think differently and be innovative.”
He explains that this is a stark contrast to work, where he was more tactical and where there are fewer opportunities to step back and look at the “big picture.”
“MOT taught us how to do that and how to practice that through case studies, discussions, debates,” said Siegler. “At the end of the day, practicing to think strategically and scenario-planning was vital for my personal life and career.”
The cohort remains one of his favorite parts of the MOT experience.
“My peers were all leaders in their own right and each of us could be CEOs,” said Siegler. “We had to find our strengths and figure out how to influence one another, which is a subtle skill and impactful as you go into other businesses and need to convince people to get things done.”
He says the concepts he learned and the energy he’d walk out with after class would follow him back to work immediately.
“I’d have things to take back to work every Monday,” said Siegler. “There were tools, spreadsheets, templates, case studies, and financial concepts we learned that we could apply to problem-solving, budgeting and operations.”
One class where he had immediate take-away’s was Dr. Stephen Wilbers’ communications class on how to present to upper-level executives, write, speak and present effectively. His experience in MOT, he says, convinced him that education was the best return on investment. While MOT was very time consuming, rigorous and challenging, he believes that it’s the most difficult things to accomplish that are the most worthwhile.
“I got enormous self-satisfaction of performing differently every day,” said Siegler. “And then within about 12 to 18 months, it all culminated into a life-changing career advancement when I got my first director of engineering job.”
That promotion came, perhaps surprisingly, as a result of the 2008 recession. GE Security endured drastic changes in leadership, direction and finances, prompting Siegler to seek out new opportunities yet again.
That brought him to Digi International, which specializes in sensors and communications devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) space. As director of engineering, he had all the hardware, software and mechanical resources reporting to him. A corporate merger cut his time there short, and both he and his supervisor left the company to go work for Ecessa, a Plymouth-based software company that writes software that goes into business class routers to help maintain internet connectivity, known as Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN).
Siegler came to Ecessa as the vice president of development & technical support. He describes the business as a small and modest team of fewer than 30 people, but he was excited by the challenges and opportunity to shape the future of the organization.
“I helped put some rigor into the engineering team and leveraged systems-engineering thinking and project management to reorganize the technology and service side of the business,” said Siegler.
Within a year, he started taking on bigger roles with marketing and positioning. When his supervisor resigned, the board of directors asked if he would be willing to step up to the role of CEO.
Siegler was ready.
“In a small business, being CEO means doing everything—from making the coffee to helping in production all the way up to strategic partnerships, owning the P&L and writing contracts,” said Siegler. “But it was a natural transition.”
Soon enough, the software was where he wanted it and he started contributing to strategic marketing and actively selling solutions and advocating for the technology and its benefits in the market.
“My short-term goals as CEO are to build efficiencies into what we’re doing right now and take a fresh look at where we’re putting our efforts,” said Siegler. “Long-term, my goals are to fit in with broader market trends, develop new features and push innovation to stay in front of our competitors.”
And he says he still revisits what he’s learned in MOT to keep him on his toes as he gets acclimated in his new leadership role.
“I go back and re-watch the podcasts!” said Siegler. “Doing this helps reset my expectations and think strategically. You really have to work hard to carve out the time for strategic thinking.”
“Work,” however, still doesn’t stop when he leaves the office.
The tables have reversed and the former student is now an educator himself!
For about a year, Siegler has been teaching project management and systems engineering part-time at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC).
“I love teaching!” he says. “You get out of your day-to-day environment and engage people. It’s great practice for public speaking. Plus, when you’re teaching, you’re actually learning as well. I find it energizing and I like contributing and helping people understand new concepts.”
A life-longer learner, Siegler advises current and future MOT students to never stop learning new skills – software, for example, is a must know skill for future technologists.
“The future will hold countless applications for software engineering and project management” said Siegler. “As the world is getting more and more complex, being data-driven and capable of critical analysis will make you and your team more efficient. Get started right away and take in every breath, every word, every moment. Continue to learn and get better each day.”
MOT taught us how to do that and how to practice that through case studies, discussions, debates. At the end of the day, practicing to think strategically and scenario-planning was vital for my personal life and career.