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MOT Student Determined to Go Beyond Coding, Seeks Increased Leadership Opportunities | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
May 26, 2017
Photo of an MOT student

Sometimes we follow in our family’s footsteps when it comes to our major. But Safris Suresh, a software engineer like much of her family, was determined to not just be “another coder with a desk job, plugging away to complete task after task.” She considers herself a lifelong learner and, after earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Minnesota, went on to work for a social justice initiative before returning home to the Twin Cities to advance her career with a Master of Science in Management of Technology (MOT).

“What I loved about computer science was creating solutions for people,” said Suresh, who moved to Washington D.C. in 2009 to pursue an interest in social justice by working with the nonprofit International Justice Mission (IJM). “I was interested in using technology for good. As a software engineer at IJM, I collaborated with lawyers, investigators, social workers and activists to lead investigations to combat human trafficking, police abuse and more.”

That experience, she said, broadened her eyes to what technology was capable of doing and how she could take part in that.

“I loved the fact that technology could be used for good in the world,” said Suresh. “It made me so sure of technology as the industry I wanted to work in.”

After five years in D.C., she returned to Minnesota to be closer to family and began a job with C.H. Robinson, a third-party logistics company in the business-to-business space. She made a career change to explore a new challenge and make time for graduate school.

“The job transition was a completely different way of operating from nonprofit, where I was often the expert in everything I did,” said Suresh. “I really wanted some time to learn from others. So in my hiring process, I expressed that I wanted to be able to do the MOT program. It was part of the negotiation process to make sure that I continue to fan the flames.”

She says the flexibility to complete an executive-level master’s while working full-time was a win-win for both her and her employer.

Since graduating college, she says she had debated several graduate degrees, like a Master of Science in Organizational Development (MSOD) or an MBA, but wasn’t sold on a program. She turned to her alma mater and searched for something that could feed her interest in technology but add a business component until she came across MOT.

“It was the perfect timing to push myself because I didn’t want to get too locked into a programming job that I’d stay in for years without advancing,” said Suresh. “I didn’t want to stay in engineering and what I loved about MOT when I learned about it was the connection between business and technology.”

 “Basically, I was looking for an MBA that was more focused on technology,” she said. “I didn’t want to specialize in either of those fields, but wanted something that married the two given that I want to eventually move into a management role.”

While she was making a career change, she also wanted to make sure there were alumni who had a similar experience to reassure her about the program.

“When I expressed interest in the program, the admissions team connected me with alumni of similar backgrounds,” said Suresh. “I got to talk to MOT alumni who had done nonprofit work, software engineering and corporate work.”

Other than the flexibility to earn the degree while working, Suresh said she was also drawn to the idea of a capstone and the study abroad component. During the capstone, MOT students are challenged to address a real-world problem at their current workplace, something Suresh believes could be her moment to shine and open opportunities for advancement. She also missed traveling for her work in D.C. and looks forward to traveling abroad for MOT’s international business component, the IMTP project.

“I do expect to manage people in the future who are interested in technology, and I love targeting tech trends towards something that I enjoy,” said Suresh. “My study group has helped give me more insight into people who love and consume technology. It’s also helped me learn what makes people excel and perform at their best. Being around these people makes you want to learn more.”

The cohort model, she says, is perfect for getting you through the most challenging parts of the program.

“It’s nice to have friends who look out for you and can help pick up your slack when you need them to if things get busy at work,” said Suresh. “We meet online regularly, talk on Slack, and there’s a genuine interest in helping each other excel.”

“I truly think my cohort will be lifelong friends and potentially colleagues and business partners.”

For right now, though, Suresh says she is trying to learn as much as possible to gain new skills that will help her excel in her current role.

“Because I’ve entered a new industry, my immediate goal is to gain the confidence to interact with leadership at my organization. As a result of MOT, I’ve already set up many meetings with leaders across the organization just so I can learn better from them and directly apply things I’ve been learning in MOT. There are more leadership opportunities opening up in my organization, so this is my chance to show what I’ve got – and it’s fun navigating where I fit in.”

Down the line, she’s flirting with the idea of maybe starting a company with her spouse.

“We’re wondering what it would take to start something from the ground up, so this is a benefit for both of us,” said Suresh. “I don’t want to just be a programmer with my head down. I want to bring new solutions to the market using technology, rather than acting out someone else’s ideas.”

Her advice to anyone debating the program is simple: “There just aren’t many programs out there that actually help you connect the dots within technology. That’s what clicked for me.”

She said she owes a lot of that to the faculty who she sees as coaches and mentors.

“Many professors live and breathe academia, but in MOT they’re still active. They’re still in the game. And learning from people like that is incredible. And because the cohort is small, unlike my undergraduate experience, I get access to my professors for classwork, professional decisions and career advice. I suggest everyone in MOT use the faculty as career advisors who can set you up for success in the future.”

The cohort setup, averaging around 30 students, allows Suresh to get a personalized experience as a graduate student in a large university, where it can be easy to get lost.

“The Educational Services team really made it feel like your experience as a graduate student is tailored for you. The program goes to great lengths to accommodate changes that happen in work and personal life so that you can still be successful in earning the degree. That was really important to me.”

Finally, she says she feels the entire cohort has been learning humility.

 “As engineers, we often want to be right about everything and MOT challenges that,” said Suresh. “Sometimes you just have to make a decision and be able to course correct as necessary. I think that’s been a valuable lesson for many of us in the program because we often have enough information to move forward but hesitate; and being wrong is ok as long as you know how to adjust as you move forward.”

To learn more about how the M.S. in Management of Technology degree program could benefit your career, join us for an upcoming information session.

About the Author

Photo of Azra Halilovic

Azra Halilovic

Senior Communications Specialist

I loved the fact that technology could be used for good in the world. It made me so sure of technology as the industry I wanted to work in ... (But) I didn’t want to stay in engineering and what I loved about MOT when I learned about it was the connection between business and technology.

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