iMahal Interview Series:
Jayshree Ranka
October 14, 2000

iMahal: Thanks so much for talking with us Jayshree. The interviews we do here at iMahal are presented to help people learn -- both from successful individuals and from individuals destined for success. I think you represent both types of the people we interview. And the topic of this interview, Pursuing the MBA in the US, is recently of much interest to iMahal customers. Several columns in our Dear Mentor: service talk about the MBA experience. But so far we have not gone into great depth on the topic of why and how people make the decision to pursue the MBA. I am sure our many readers will be fascinated by a personal story about going for the MBA. Now, to get started, please give us a brief description of your background.
Jayshree:  Here's the Reader's Digest version of me. I am currently pursuing an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) at the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA). Until recently I was also working at CMU as a research programmer in the area of image processing and information retrieval on a multimedia digital video library project. Prior to this, I worked for Westinghouse Science and Technology Center. I obtained my B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, NY. During college, I did summer internships for IBM, National Semiconductors, and Black and Veatch. On the personal side, I am a first generation Indian born and raised in the US. That in itself was a challenge of learning how to mix two cultures together. As those who grew up here during that time, we learned to take the best of both worlds and tried to find a balance of both. I give my parents credit for providing us with the best of two worlds - they kept the Indian culture and values alive in the house but yet gave us the freedom to choose what we wanted to do.
iMahal:  What led you to consider pursuing an MBA?
Jayshree:  At first getting the MBA was just something I wanted to do. I had first applied to MBA schools directly out of undergraduate. I decided to do my MSEE instead because I knew that I would do both someday and I knew it would be harder to go back and do my MSEE [Master of Science in Electrical Engineering]. I felt the MBA was a whole new area for me so it wouldn't matter if I did it now or in the future. When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I looked into doing my MBA, but for one reason or another I kept putting it off. I would keep getting an application but somehow I kept finding other things to do at that point in my life. For instance I spent about 1 year helping to organize the JAINA (Jain Association in North America) convention that was held in Pittsburgh, and then I went on to pursue my professional engineering license. Plus, those who know me, know that I'm a professional procrastinator. Finally, three years ago I started working at CMU. The idea of pursuing the MBA came back into my head. I thought this was a great opportunity since it's only a 2-minute walk to class -- how could going to school be more convenient? But my biggest problem was that I didn't know what I wanted to do with it. I enjoyed doing the technical work I was doing and I didn't want to be a paper-pusher manager, which is what my perception of going to school to learn how to be a manager was about. I guess that's why I didn't pursue my thoughts of getting an MBA earlier. I wanted to be a doer and not someone who just sat around and signed time cards. Since I was already on campus I decided to start taking classes at the business school. I wanted to see if: one, I would like taking those types of classes and, two, I could survive going back to school. It had been 7 years since I was in college. I wasn't sure if I could remember how to study anymore. There was only one class I could take since I didn't have the prerequisites for the others. And that was Contract Law. I have to admit it was fun. I learned things that not only would be needed in business but things that I can use in my personal life. When I was pursuing my engineering degrees I took mostly math and science classes. The humanities classes were few and sparse. After taking a few classes like this I quickly realized how little I knew of the world around me and of business, and I considered applying to the program.
iMahal:  So what was it that really motivated you take the plunge -- to go back to school and get the MBA?
Jayshree:  I was hesitant about it since I knew it would require me to give up my free time for the next three years, should I pursue the MBA program on a part-time basis. Everyone who had gone through the part-time program had warned me that I better be ready to have no life for the next three years. That was hard for me to give up since I liked being able to do other things. I wanted to be sure about it since it was not only going to cost me in time and money, but it would also mean making a career change. I wasn't sure if I was ready for that. I wasn't sure if I could do it. A few things pushed me to do the MBA. One was my disillusionment with industry. I had been working both in academia and in industry and for some reason I wasn't satisfied. I often was frustrated with events that would occur, to the point where I considered leaving the engineering world and doing something that was more rewarding and fulfilling; heck I even seriously thought of teaching English as a second language overseas. The other impetus was from friends. I spoke to others who had similar backgrounds as me and I discussed with them my goals and aspirations. I knew if I decided to do the MBA I had to commit myself to studying for the next three years. I wasn't sure I could do that especially since I didn't know if the outcome would be beneficial or not. I look back at the advice I was given. Some said to do it and others said, "Why do you want to do that? What will it get you? You'll be how old when you're done?" I finally decided that I wasn't going to make a decision. I decided to apply to the program. I figured if I get in I'll do it, if I don't well then it wasn't meant to be. This was my way of avoiding making a decision. I also said to myself: well I can join it and if I don't like it I can always quit. Well for once I can honestly say that someone was watching over me because I was accepted into the program and decided to do it.



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