When I graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, I knew that I wanted to pursue an MBA in the future. I worked in a technical role as a Manufacturing Engineer at Procter & Gamble, and after a few years, I decided that I was not ready to give up engineering quite yet. 

I chose Harvard’s MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences Program because of its interdisciplinary approach to bridge the gap between engineering and business. I saw that the program consisted of not only engineering and business classes, but also integrated design classes that incorporate lessons from both engineering and business. Upon realizing that I will learn how to build the product, as well as how to launch a venture based on the product, I knew I wanted to be part of the first cohort of the MS/MBA program. 

Last year, Valentina wrote about the 10 things she learned during her first month in the joint degree program. As a continuation of her post, here are 5 things on my mind, as we embark on Year 2.

1. Summer: an opportunity to explore your interests.

One of my favorite things about the joint degree program is that despite the intensive curriculum to finish two degrees in two years, we have the summer off to pursue either our own startups or an internship. I spent my summer at Facebook as a Strategy Intern, helping Facebook scale its data center capacity effectively and efficiently. My summer internship was a great opportunity to try something new before committing with a full-time role. 

Students chose to spend their summers in a variety of ways. There were many people who worked on their startups continuing their projects from our first-year design class, Technology Venture Immersion. Others decided to explore the startup world after being in big tech for several years before HBS. 

2. Engineering classes: problem sets are back! 

Students spend most of their time at the business school during the first year of the program. This year, we split our time between engineering and business electives. I’ve decided to focus my engineering classes in Data Science to broaden my technical skillset in an area that was previously outside my expertise. 

In contrast to the HBS classroom experience where students drive the discussion, engineering classes are mostly lecture-based. As an introvert, I do appreciate lectures, where I can focus entirely on learning without having to think about participating in class. 

Another difference is that engineering classes have weekly problem sets. It reminds me of late nights in college spent with friends debugging our code.  It is a lot of work but getting through them with my MS/MBA friends make it worthwhile. 

So far, the weather has been great for our “treks” across the river to the engineering school, but soon, we will need to start looking into the Harvard shuttle times to avoid the cold weather. Winter is coming.  

3. MBA classes: back to the case method.

When I reflect on my first year at HBS, I remember that it took me a while to become comfortable with the case method. As an engineer, I was trained to look for the right answer and to prove it with formulas and theorems. However, in an HBS classroom (and in real-life business settings), there is often no right answer. I learned to embrace ambiguity, form an opinion, and defend it with while keeping an open mind when listening to others. 

In the second year of the program, we choose electives based on our interests. I am particularly enjoying my Strategy and Technology class, where we are studying how technology firms can leverage network effects to tip the market. Because I am looking to switch careers into tech, I am hoping to learn more about the tech industry, as well as learn how to lead organizations to make good strategic decisions.

4. Meeting the new MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences Class of 2021 cohort.

In August, we welcomed the second cohort of the joint degree program. Last year, we wished that we had upperclassmen to ask for “how-to-survive-first-year” tips, but we are glad that we can offer some know-hows to the Class of 2021. We’ve already formed big/little pairs (where a second-year student is paired with a first-year based on common interests or backgrounds), and we are training for the Big/Little Olympics in the spring. 

While talking with the first-year students in the program, we realized that some things were different from our first year (for the better). Even last year, which was the first year of the MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences Program, we were surprised by how mature the joint degree program felt, thanks to the dedication of the faculty and staff. We are thankful that they are listening to our feedback to refine the program even further for future cohorts. 

I am looking forward to spending more time together with cohort #2. We are constantly in ideation-mode (design thinking!) for what to establish as traditions for our program, which is a fantastic perk of being the first and second cohorts of the program. 

5. Recruiting: already? I just came back from my summer internship!

Depending on your interests, recruitment can look very different. I am personally interested in pursuing a career in big tech after HBS, and that means recruitment starts now.

My joint degree classmates have been tremendously helpful with guiding me through deciding my post-HBS plans. I’ve had many coffee chats with classmates who worked previously at the companies that I am considering, and many of them were able to connect me to their former colleagues that work in the exact team and role that I am interested in.  

The MS/MBA requires a lot of work, and sometimes, I found myself too deep in the weeds of academic life to truly appreciate everything the program has to offer. However, as I reflect on the past year and look forward to Year 2, I am confident that I made the right choice.