Wednesday, April 24, 2013

LGO: One Year Out

It has been nearly one year since I graduated from the LGOprogram, and with the LGO alumni conference coming up in a week, this seems like an appropriate time to write an update on my post-LGO life and reflect back on my time in the program.

The past year in review

If wrapping up a whirlwind two years at MIT wasn’t reason enough to take a break (it probably wasn’t), then having a newborn certainly was.  The transition period between school and work provided the perfect opportunity for a healthy dose of family time, some of it relaxing and some of it not (I mentioned I had a newborn, right?).  I STRONGLY recommend that anyone who has a chance to take a few months off does so.  We don’t get many of these natural breaks during the course of our lives, so why not enjoy it while we can?
Beautiful Amgen Rhode Island. 
Yes, that is a picture of the entire state.
I started my job at Amgen in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, in mid-August.  As I described in a previous post, as you surely remember, this position is the first of three 18-month roles in a leadership rotation program at Amgen designed specifically for LGO graduates.  There have been twelve LGO students hired into the program since 2008, including four in the 2013 class who will be starting up this summer.  It's a small but strong network, and the perks to newcomers like me are immense, as I describe later.
The opportunity to join rotations like Amgen’s was a somewhat unexpected benefit of the LGO program.  Many of the partner companies design roles to be filled by LGO students, and having such catered options is no small matter during the mayhem that is a full-time MBA job search. Not only do these types of positions simplify the process, but they also fit very nicely with our educational background.  In a way, they are an extension of the LGO program, almost like an apprenticeship. 

What I do

I work in a group with the unusual and mysterious name of “Digital Development.”  When we’re not trying to explain to people what that means, we help lead implementations of advanced process monitoring tools.  In our world, advanced process monitoring typically involves using multivariate models to evaluate, in real time, a current production run relative to historical runs.  We also assess the use of new technology (e.g., sensors and probes) that enable us to measure more meaningful process parameters. 
Amgen's syringes aren't
actually filled with money. No, they
are filled with liquid gold.
My job is focused on doing this work in a specific part of the process – the filling and packaging area – which, to date, has underutilized these types of tools (not just at Amgen, but throughout the industry). 
The work is fascinating in that it has given me a window into nearly everything Amgen does to prepare a product for delivery to our customers.  Perhaps the biggest revelation has been just how important it is to our financial well-being and our relationship with our customers to minimize product defects.  A vial or syringe contains material produced through many months of complex manufacturing, so when one breaks during processing we lose the time and the money that went into that making it.  Even worse, when a customer receives a defective product (this could include something as subtle as a scratched vial), they are put at risk, and so is our reputation as a company.  

How MIT has helped

Here’s a little tidbit that shouldn’t come as a surprise: there are many things you learn in school that you will never encounter again in your life.  Those Monteverdi operas I suffered through in my Baroque class at Williams?  They haven't exactly come up at any recent Amgen meetings.  Nevertheless, I have been pleased to already put to use some concepts from MIT classes and seminars.  Below are a few examples that I hope demonstrate the practicality of the LGO experience.
Lean/Six Sigma: My group’s projects generally follow the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) framework that is a foundational principle of Six Sigma.  This is something we learned about during our very first summer in LGO and then repeatedly came across throughout our time in the program.  It’s such a simple concept, but without it our initiatives would almost certainly fail to meet their goals.
Financial acumen: I don’t need to know much about finance for my job at Amgen, but knowing anything at all has proved to be an asset (no pun intended…really!).  All of our projects require a business justification, and a critical component of that is an estimate of the financial benefits.  I have spent a lot of time assessing how Amgen’s financial statements might be impacted by our work and using this information to buttress our business case.
Design of Experiments (DOE): Who knew that the famous helicopter project could have a lasting
The good 'ol days: making helicopters.
impact?  My role here involves some use of experimental design, and while the projects might not be quite as fun to execute as the helicopter drops were, the results are probably somewhat more meaningful (assuming, of course, that Roy doesn’t sell those class project results to Sikorsky).
“Soft” skills: There’s a lot of griping in school about the “soft” skill classes, like OP, Comm, Leadership, etc., yet we were told by countless alumni of the long-term value of the concepts and methods we learned in each.  There’s a reason for that: IT MATTERS!  My interactions over the phone, over email, in meetings, and one-on-one play a huge part in my success or lack thereof.  This has been especially true during the early months of this job, as I’ve relied heavily on others for help.  If I’d not asked questions effectively, or if I didn’t understand Amgen's informal networks, I may have shot myself in the foot before that foot even got in the door. (Double metaphor = 50 points!)
Operations Strategy: I’ll admit I haven’t yet had many chances to pull any tools off my Operations Strategy belt, but I continue to wear the belt regardless.  In fact, I have found myself performing meaningless inventory calculations just for the fun of it.  (That sentence is both a testament to the life-changing impact of an LGO education, and an indication of the extreme nerdiness that we embody upon graduation from MIT.)  
Here is proof:
I like tea.  At work, the best tea option is Lipton Green Tea.  Not exactly a luxury brand, but that's fine with me.  Because I like tea so much, and because I like numbers so much, I started keeping track of how much green tea is available at the nearest kitchenette area whenever I go to get my first cup of the day.  
Here's what the inventory number have looked like since I started doing this:
You'll notice we had a stockout in March.  I had to walk ALL THE WAY to the next kitchenette to get my tea for three whole days.  Not fun.  Based on the data collected, our service level is ~95%.  Is that good enough?  I think not.  What we need is a consistent reorder point, rather than the seemingly random approach taken now. To get this, we need some more stats.  Here's the average daily consumption:
There is an alarming point embedded here: I drink almost 40% of the tea in this area.  It's almost like Amgen is buying this tea just for me.  That makes me feel pretty special.  
In any case, if we want to strive for a 99% service level, what should be our reorder point?
Reorder Point = mean demand + safety factor*std dev
R = 4.5 + 2.4*3.0 
[2.4 is the safety factor for a 99.2% service level]
R = 11.7 tea bags remaining
I will be sure to pass this essential information along to our service provider as soon as I get the chance.

What’s next

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.  The flexibility of Amgen’s rotation program is both a blessing and a curse; I have so many options to choose from, I can’t decide which direction to go.  I’m told this is alright, since I still have 10 months before I move to my next rotation.  Still, it’s something I think about nearly every day.  Whatever choice I make, however, will not be uninformed.  Amgen provides too many resources for that to happen.  Here’s a sampling of the help I’m getting with this:
  • Supervisor: I have weekly meetings with my supervisor, and he has shown enthusiasm for helping me in my career development. 
September 16, 2009
NOT my experience.
  • Mentor: As an LGO alumnus, I have the privilege of being matched with an executive mentor at Amgen.  We meet monthly to discuss, well, really anything we want to.  Much of the conversation is focused on leadership development, but the relationship is really designed to provide us LGO alums with access to someone who has already achieved great things and can advise us on how to shape our own career paths.
  • Amgen LGO Alumni Network: Beyond the obvious benefit of having familiar faces scattered around the company, my fellow LGO alumni represent a great resource, given that they have all already gone through exactly what I’m going through now.  We have biweekly phone calls to chat with one another as a group, and many of these conversations have come in the form of extremely helpful advice.
So, in summary, I’ve had a great first eight months on the job.  There’s really something to be said for working at a company with a strong LGO network.  There are so many people looking out for me and helping me in my transition, all of which has made for a relatively easy adjustment.  In the spirit of paying it forward, I eagerly await doing the same for our next batch of hires and interns. 
One final note: I’ll plan on updating this blog once per year in perpetuity, so interested readers can see how the life of an LGO alum progresses (or doesn’t). Talk to you in a year...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Looking Back at Two Years in LGO

I spent the majority of my adolescence avoiding mirrors, for even a passing glance could reveal a new imperfection staring back at me.  The strategy made sense to me, and on most days it probably reduced to a tolerable level my already rampant self-consciousness.  But there were surely days when this approach backfired; when, by ignoring my reflection, I missed that giant piece of spinach in my teeth, the messed up collar, or the pillow feather in my hair -- all embarrassing but easily mitigated flaws...if I had taken the risk of checking out my reflection.

Why in the world am I publicly reliving these traumatizing years?  Because I learned from this that reflections -- by mirror or by memory -- have value.  By allowing a look in the mirror, however brief, we can learn something about ourselves.  The value of reflecting was hammered into our heads over the past two years by professors, students, and industry leaders alike.  So, I thought it would be appropriate to finish up this blog with some reflections of my own from these past two years.  Specifically, I will recount a few things from the LGO/MIT experience that I expect to remember for many years into the future.  This is more of a snapshot than an all-inclusive list, but I hope it gives a glimpse into my two years at MIT.

Memory #1: The Uniqueness of MIT
MIT is different, yet, it is exactly what I'd expected it to be when I first arrived on campus two years ago.  Strangely enough, this surprised me.  I knew of MIT as a school of brilliant professors and students tackling the world's most challenging engineering and scientific problems.  But I figured this was an exaggerated version of the truth; a tale perpetuated by people like me who don't know any better.  Now, after being embedded in the MIT world for two years, I am astonished by how right I was.  MIT does not take lightly its position as a bastion of engineering innovation, as it routinely engages in efforts to solve our biggest obstacles in energy, medicine, and manufacturing.  The latter of these three was on full display during MIT's conference on "The Future of Manufacturing in the U.S.," hosted by LGO last month.  The conference included some fabulous speakers from industry and government, and the LGO students were fortunate enough to be intimately involved in the two-day event.  It was great to witness first-hand the crucial role MIT sees itself playing in these types of conversations.  More importantly, I have been pleased to observe how MIT goes beyond ideation by developing and implementing transformational solutions to these problems.  Being at this school has given me confidence in our ability as a society to overcome the obstacles we face.

MIT is also a collection of unique personalities.  I have overheard conversations on some of the most and least impressive topics (two students discussing how to overcome the physical limitations of traditional solar cells, and two different students seriously discussing -- for half an hour -- how to beat a level of a video game).  I have also witnessed the extreme nerdiness of the MIT populace (epitomized by the bespectacled, pony-tailed grad student in a faded 1980s Metallica t-shirt, jean shorts, and high white socks, running across campus, both hands on the straps of a 40-pound backpack; if you walk around campus for a day, I guarantee you will see someone fitting this description), and have been surprised by the athleticism of other students (how else would the LGO softball team have lost to the Chemistry Department??). 

Two weeks ago, I was walking through campus and thinking about what an interesting collection of people MIT has brought together.  In the midst of this thought, I ran into a member of my Sloan core team, and we began discussing a team reunion dinner.  She said something about how we should check with the rest of the team to see if a certain restaurant would be "amenable to them."  A passerby, closely resembling the person I described in the previous paragraph, stopped abruptly, turned around, and said, "It's 'they are amenable to the restaurant,' not, 'the restaurant is amenable to them.' Got it?"  Just as abruptly, he turned back around and continued walking as if nothing had ever happened.  We just stared at each other in disbelief, finally shaking our heads and saying simultaneously, "Only at MIT..."

Memory #2: LGO Sports
Over the course of my life, I have formed stronger bonds through participating in sports than by any other means.  The LGO crowd seems to appreciate this aspect of organized athletics, as teams were created in a variety of intramural leagues.  I wrote extensively last year about sports at MIT, so I won't add too much here, but I will say that playing hockey and softball on LGO teams, running in the Malibu half marathon with a bunch of classmates, and battling fellow LGOs and Sloanies in table tennis, gave me some of the fondest memories of my time at MIT.

Memory #3: The Thesis
The best part about the thesis?  Handing it in.
The LGO thesis is really only on students' minds for one semester, but it is completely and utterly all-consuming at times during that semester. Personally, I found the thesis to increase my productivity in other areas of my life.  I would do absolutely everything else I could before sitting down to write.  As a result, my apartment was the cleanest it had ever been, and I was weeks ahead on my other schoolwork. I heard similar stories from some of the other LGOs.  For one, the thesis even sparked a great business idea: the anti-procrastination computer.  It is just a well-marketed typewriter -- no internet access, no games, no applications.  The only thing it can be used for is writing.  Sounds awful.

Still, the thesis provided a conversation starter for LGOs (the conversations usually went something like, "Ugh.  Thesis."), so that's a good thing, right?  Despite the griping, in the end, I think most people had some small amount of pride in their thesis.  For most of us, it wasn't as strong as we'd hoped it would be, be it typically wasn't awful, either.  These documents might even be useful to the sponsoring companies (ha!). More than anything, they provided a multifaceted learning experience; we learned how to manage our time to meet a deadline, satisfy multiple stakeholders (advisers, sponsoring companies), organize a set of complex thoughts, and concisely and convincingly present an argument (or not-so-concisely in my case...34,000+ words!). 

Memory #4: The LGO Family
My LGO Summer Team, two years later,
and with many new additions!
As I wrote in my last post, one of the best things about the LGO/MIT experience has been the people I have met.  It was almost exactly two years ago that our class of 48 first came together to start our summer semester with a week-long leadership class.  I remember feeling very lonely that week, wondering whether I'd ever really connect with any of these strangers.  Fortunately, it wasn't long before my summer team was bonding during marathon group meetings and at LGO social events.  Since then, it seems like everyone in the class has connected in some way with almost everyone else.  This speaks to the personalities of the LGO class and to the incredible amount of time we spent together over these past two years.

But the LGO class does not constitute the LGO family in its entirety.  Every experience we had in this program was made possible by the LGO staff -- they are the backbone of this program and have built it into what it is today.  Their job is often thankless, catering to the needs of stressed, distracted, and generally unresponsive students, but they do it with enthusiasm, gusto, and nary a complaint (at least within earshot of us).  I really appreciate everything they have done for me; my experience in this program was much more enjoyable as a result of their hard work.

Memory #5: Life Changes
Just a few highlights of the past two years.
It's incredible how filled with life these past two years have been.  Four semesters at MIT, a six-month internship, a little less hair, a lot more gray in the beard, three apartments, a broken face, a new job, a new baby, a new house, graduating from MIT.  There was stress at times, but never enough to make me regret going back to school.  These were two of the best, most memorable years of my life.  From this experience, I will take more knowledge, friendships, and memories than I ever could have hoped for. 

Thank you, MIT and LGO.  It has been a blast.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Big Decision: MIT, Elsewhere, or Nowhere?

Two years ago, right around this time, I was in the midst of making a huge decision -- one that I knew could alter my future as much as anything I'd done before.  The question was this: Where should I go to school, or should I even go at all?  I suspect some of the readers of this blog are going through the same process now, so I thought it might be useful to share the story of how I ended up at MIT.  In short, it went a little like this: Weeks of anguish over whether or not to go to business school, then weeks of greater anguish over which school to attend, then, before I knew it, I was at MIT, loving life.  In long, it went a little like this:


Part I: Should I go to school?

By the time I had decided to apply to schools, I still had not made up my mind about whether or not to leave the working world.  I loved my job and the people I worked with, I had a comfortable life, and things ahead were looking bright.  So, why leave all that behind for a future with few certainties beyond the cash-strapped years I'd endure during and after school?   Well, jeez, when I put it that way...

It really came down to the fact that I wanted to learn How Business Works and couldn’t think of a better way to do that than through an MBA program.  Sure, I could have picked up some things on the job, but I was a scientist, and they generally didn’t let people like me near the real business stuff, so it would have taken years to accumulate as much knowledge as I could pick up in a single business school class.

In the end, there were three things that got me to the edge and nearly convinced me to take the leap:
  1. In the course of writing all those essays trying to convince admissions committees why I wanted to go to business school, I had managed to convince myself.  This, I later learned in class, was the result of the “consistency”and “commitment” principles.  I had been deceived because I lacked the very knowledge I sought!
  2. After taking the GMAT, writing the applications, and paying to submit everything, I had put a lot of time and money into the process.  I didn’t want this all to go to waste.  These, I later learned in the same class, are known as “sunk costs.”  Another principle.  Another business school trick.
  3. I was accepted at the three schools to which I’d applied.  It’s a good feeling to be accepted, a feeling of being wanted, of being appreciated, of being potential a source of funding. 
But what really convinced me was the wisdom of my older colleagues at work.  Many of them expressed regret over not going to business school full-time when they had the chance, and they didn't want to see the same thing happen to me.  I certainly didn't want to be in their position someday, tearfully telling a younger version of myself not to make the same mistakes I made.  So, that was it, I was going to school.

But any relief I'd felt over making that first decision quickly vanished, as I was faced with a new choice that made the first one seem no more daunting than deciding whether to put on my shoes or my socks first.


Part II: Where should I go?

From my list of three schools, I was quickly able to narrow my choices down to two – both local, both strong – HBS and MIT Sloan (yes, Harvard and MIT both made the same mistake).  Once I reached that point, I wavered back and forth between the two on a daily basis.  Part of the problem was that, despite both being MBA programs located within a few miles of one another, they each offered something very different.  HBS had the prestige, an amazing campus, a mind-boggling list of alumni, and would give me a chance to broaden myself.  MIT had the great analytical reputation, an incredible connection to the best engineering school in the world, and would give me a chance to focus myself (within the LGO program).  How could I ever choose one and leave the other behind?

A quick aside.  One thing pertinent to this story you should know about me: I am a terrible decision-maker.  I struggle to choose which cereal to eat each morning and am paralyzed by anything bigger than that.  So, to make it through life as a functioning human being, I have had to make some adjustments.  In particular, when making an important decision, I turn everything into numbers and choose the highest scoring option.  (Perhaps this should have been a sign that MIT was in my future.)   

In the case of the HBS vs. MIT decision, here’s how: I came up with a list of a bunch of things I considered important to me in a school (e.g. courses offered, classroom atmosphere, on-campus opportunities, post-graduation potential, etc.) and assigned each a weight based on its relative significance.  Then, I assigned scores, as objectively as possible, for each school across all categories.  Multiplying the scores by the weights and summing them generated overall scores for the two schools.  

Now, here’s the beauty of this approach.  The school with higher score is the winner.  If, however, I am not happy with the way it turns out, then I should choose the other school because it's clearly the one I prefer.  This method never fails.  In my case, this approach told me what I really already knew: MIT was best for me.  

Beautifully drawn chart of my business school
preference over a conflicted two-day period.
Still, after making this decision, I attended the HBS admitted students open house just for the experience.  Over the two days, I ran the full gamut of HBS vs. MIT emotions I'd dealt with over the past few weeks. My decision was so sensitive to all sorts of minor factors I hadn't previously considered or fully understood.  While the open house ultimately solidified my decision to attend MIT, there was a time when it nearly reversed my choice.  Afterwards, I even drew up a quick chart (see right) to show my wife how I close I came to choosing HBS.  

Having had this experience and thought about the many considerations that go into these types of decisions, I now present to you...


Part III: Things to consider in your decision

The most important thing to do when choosing a school to attend (or even to attend one at all) is to gather as much information about the school as possible.  Here's what I recommend:
  • Talk to students – past, current, and future.  I am generally bad at this because I don’t like to bother people, but students love talking about their schools and will give you lots of relevant and informative input.  You can also take from these interactions some information about the types of students who attend the school – their personalities, interests, motivation for being there, ambitions, etc. 
One of the main reasons I chose MIT was because of the people I met there.  I simply felt like I would fit in.  There’s an endearing modesty/self-deprecation about many MIT students -- especially among the LGO crowd -- that really appealed to me.  LGO students are also very considerate.  For example, a group I'm in with three other LGOs recently needed a meeting room in the main Sloan building, but all were occupied, some by single students.  Sloan has a policy that groups can ask single students to leave a room if no other rooms are available, and this was the perfect time for us to take advantage...except that none of us wanted to do it.  It just felt too rude.  So, we sucked it up and met instead in the middle of the noisy cafeteria at lunch time.  I thought this experience perfectly captured the classic LGO personality -- selfless, polite, able to get the job done regardless of the circumstances.  This is exactly why I wanted to be part of this program.
  • Attend a class (or two!).  While one class is in no way representative of the entire academic experience at a school, it can give you a sense of what you’re getting yourself into.  For instance, I went to a class at HBS, a school with an reputation for unparalleled learning experience, thanks to its mastery of the “Case Method." I wanted to see for myself just how amazing the HBS Case Method is, and to also get a feel for how well I'd fit in this type of learning environment.  Turns out, I hated it.  The professor teaching the course, though legendary, failed to bring the class to his intended conclusion, even apologizing for it at the end of the class.  While I'm sure this doesn't happen in every session, it showed me that this method has its flaws and is itself not reason enough to choose HBS over MIT.
  • Read!  There’s a ton of information on the internet and in books about MBA programs, and you can learn a lot about a school by reading as much as possible about it.  Just remember that not everything you read is true, especially when the source is a message board (or a blog!).  I derived a ton of value from the LGO blogs while making my decision.  In fact, they played a huge role in giving me a sense of the LGO students’ personalities, and I hope mine is doing the same for at least a few prospective students out there.


Part IV: Was I right?

Absolutely.  Honestly, I could not be happier with my decision.  MIT Sloan has been a great fit, and the LGO program in particular was exactly what I’d hoped it would be.  Here are just a few of the reasons why LGO worked out so well for me:
-          I immediately had ~47 guaranteed friends.  LGO is a very tight group.  This is great if you’re socially awkward and usually have trouble getting to know a group of strangers (not that I would know...someone else told me this).  You get thrown right in with the other LGOs, and real, actual relationships develop quickly.
-          I got the best of both worlds.  In addition to the great business school education I have gotten at MIT, I was also immersed in a bunch of MIT’s world-class engineering courses in some very interesting fields, including energy and biotechnology.  This was a bonus, since I really had gone back to school to learn about business.  It's really an amazing program.
          I got a job.  LGO's tight relationship with its partner companies means that LGO students have an excellent chance of landing a job with one of these companies.  We're also qualified to do lots of other interesting things and seem to be particularly appealing to consulting companies, though most of us have no desire to do that type of work.
      In short, LGO has been greatI highly, highly recommend the program, but you have to make sure it's right for you.  Do your analysis.  Hopefully, the numbers come out in LGO's favor.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I am a runner and have been one for more than fifteen years.  In fact, for most of that time, being a runner is what defined me.  From high school, through college and grad school, and into the workplace, people knew me first as a runner, and second as the gawky, nerdy guy I really am (I prefer “svelte,” but I’m the only one).
Me without running.  So sad.
So, when I started the LGO program in 2010 in the midst of an 18-month knee injury, there was nothing for the real me to hide behind.  To my classmates, I was that gawky, nerdy guy, nothing more.  
Fortunately, last summer, after months of rest and physical therapy, I was finally able to run again.  It was time to start reclaiming my identity.  In building myself back up, I practiced more patience than anyone should ever have to, going for 3-, 4-, 5-minute runs in those early days.  I could complete my entire workout during the seventh inning stretch of a Mets game.  Sadly, this meant that I was back in time to see the end of the game.
Once I was running continuously, my competitiveness got the better of me.  I have a hard time running for the fun of it; I usually need a goal to shoot for.  Naturally, I decided that my first ever half-marathon would be a good way to end my two-year absence from the racing scene.  So, without really thinking about the consequences, I signed up for the Malibu Half Marathon in November.
I promised them glory and fame.  They got this instead.
You know that saying, “misery loves even more miserable company?”  Well, I decided that I’d enjoy my training more if I had some inexperienced partners.  Fortunately, there were five gullible LGO interns living within 100 feet of me.  After saying things like, “best shape of your life” and “run along the Malibu beaches” and “Charlie Sheen will be watching,” four of the five of them signed up.  And just like that, I felt better.
One of the unanticipated benefits of training with my LGO classmates was building a camaraderie I hadn’t felt since my days running collegiate cross-country and track.  There are few things I’ve experienced that forge stronger bonds between people than suffering together through a tough run.  Together, we scaled mountains (literally), hurdled rattlesnakes, and sprinted from hundreds of mountain lions (or, as it turned out, tiny but noisy lizards).  These are things I’ll never forget -- some of the best experiences of my two years in LGO. 
Anyway, on race day in mid-November, we finally put our training (or lack thereof) to the test.  We started by proudly demonstrating the “just-in-time” concepts learned at MIT: we caught the last bus to the start, found the last porta-potty (thank god), and squeezed into the start corral five seconds before the gun went off.  The folks at Toyota would have been proud.   
The race itself could not have started better.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and we all were running faster than expected for the first few miles.  This is usually a red flag, but I was feeling so good that I thought I just might be able to keep it up.  Little did I know it, but I was falling right into the evil race director's trap.

Not an enjoyable course profile.  Not enjoyable at all.
To punish the overconfident and ensure no runner could walk for the next eight days, the organizers created a course that was flat for the first half and then followed the Thunder Mountain profile for the second.  It was brutal for everyone.  To make matters worse, none of us had even run the race distance during our training, and we were paying for it.  It was everything I could do to put one leg in front of the other for the last four miles.  We all suffered -- separately, but together— through the 13.1 grueling miles. 

Running the flats, looking relaxed.
Near the finish, wanting to die.

Did I mention the water was cold?
Mercifully, the finish line (with NO beach party! what?!) appeared and accepted each of our sweaty, limp bodies into its concrete arms.  We cheered for each other across the line, making sure that no one had actually died on the course, and then rewarded ourselves with a refreshing dip in the frigid Pacific.

As painful as the race was (not to mention the next few days -- I walked around Amgen's offices like I had two peg legs), it was one of the highlights of my six months in California.  And even though I was thrilled to officially end my injury-induced racing drought, it was sharing the experience with the other LGOs that had made the race so special. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Closing One Chapter, Starting Another

Okay, it’s been awhile.  Too long, really, since my last post.  In that time, I’ve finished up my internship, accepted a job offer, and the LGO site has been overhauled (and is now pretty darn snazzy as a result, though I do miss the old colors...or, rather, two shades and a color).  In this post, I’ll hit on those first two.

Finishing up the Internship

Goodbye, Malibu: A typical view from our road.  
The LGO internship is LOOOONG.  As I described in an earlier post, this is great for a number of reasons.  It also makes finishing it up that much sweeter.  Of course, Amgen didn’t just let us slide on out unnoticed.  Rather, we had to give a final presentation to a group of Operations vice presidents and managers in that last week.  Great exposure, yes, but also stress galore.  Must be what’s causing the hair loss…

My project turned out to be quite interesting, but for reasons I hadn’t anticipated.  There were no big revelations, and I didn’t find a way to save Amgen millions of dollars, but I did have a chance to think about strategies that could change the way Amgen’s Process Development organization works.  There wasn’t a ton of “strategy” in my previous work experience, so this was a nice introduction to that way of thinking.

On another note, while I cannot divulge too much information about the project here, I was amazed by how much potential there is to improve the way things are done at a successful and well-run company.  Turns out, companies like Amgen need people who understand operations and group dynamics and are willing to step in and make changes.  The internship really opened my eyes to the great opportunities (and challenges) that await LGO graduates in the real world.

Getting a Job

If you don’t believe me that I enjoyed my internship, here’s some more proof: I just accepted a full-time job at Amgen.  The position is as a Senior Engineer located in Amgen’s Rhode Island office.  While I do not yet know my exact job duties, I will be in the Global Process Engineering group, helping develop and introduce process monitoring models at sites around Amgen’s global network. 

One of the most intriguing aspects of the positions Amgen offers LGO students is that they are designed to expose us to various areas of operations over our first 4-5 years.  Specifically, we rotate through three 1.5-year positions (the second and third rotations being determined based on our career aspirations and Amgen’s needs), before slotting into a management position, assuming we’ve proven ourselves capable.  I’m excited about the possibilities ahead at Amgen and look forward to getting going this summer.

I’d also like to point out that I wouldn’t have gotten this job if not for the LGO program.  Amgen, like many partner companies, creates positions like this one specifically for LGOs.  Our job search is much less stressful than I imagine it is for the traditional MBA students who don’t have the luxury of the LGO program’s industry connections.  I’ve been thrilled to see so many of my LGO classmates also accepting jobs with partner (and non-partner) companies already.  

On the next episode...

I started a few posts over the last couple of months that I never completed, so get ready for old (but hopefully interesting) stories.  Next up: When Running and Business Collide.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Internship Lessons Learned (Awkwardly, of course)

The LGO internship is unique in the MBA world. In it, we are teamed with a partner company on a project bridging the business and engineering worlds, and the content forms the basis for a Master’s thesis. While these aspects set it apart, the internship is perhaps most distinguished by its 6.5-month length. Having now completed four of the six-and-a-half months, I am beginning to realize the benefits this affords us. The most important of these, in my mind at least, is that we are given the opportunity to manage a complex project from inception to completion. This differs greatly from a typical 2-3 month MBA internship during which students work on a small part of an existing project that more or less serves as a sales pitch to the students for post-graduation employment.

My internship with Amgen has already provided some great experiences. I am leading a team that includes members from process development, engineering, and manufacturing organizations, sitting in on strategy sessions with group leadership, and making presentations to Amgen executives. More importantly, perhaps, I am also learning lessons that I will take with me wherever I end up after LGO.

In the rest of this post, I’ll tell two stories that relate to one such lesson – properly extinguishing a small flame before it becomes a raging fire.

Story 1

At least I have a cubicle in my fortress.
As I mentioned in my last post, I sit at a receptionist desk near the entrance to my building. I see people walk in and out all day, but I’m mostly alone in my own little Fortress of Solitude. For the first month, it was actually quite a peaceful location. This changed, suddenly, after some work to the building’s air handlers over a weekend in July.

As I sat in my chair the following Monday, I noticed that something was awry. The silence was gone, replaced by a horrible rattling sound. This was not the kind of rattling that becomes white noise after a few minutes, but an aggravating, jarring sound that set my insides on fire and made me want to throw things.

The source, it turned out, was the heavy metal fire door five feet from my desk. Somehow, the pressure on the two sides of the door changed rapidly enough to cause the thing to shake back and forth in its frame. If you heard it for a few seconds, you might think there was an earthquake. If you sat in my chair for a day, you might think the world was ending (and I would’ve been ok with that).

MIT engineering at its finest.
Being an MIT engineer, I decided to do something about it. Being a geologist, the thing I did would have placed last at an elementary school science fair -- I tore off a piece of cardboard from a nearby box, inserted it into the strike plate hole in the door frame, and secured it in place with a wad of scotch tape. Miraculously, this actually worked. The sound was almost completely muffled, and I was able to work in peace again. End of story, right? Not quite…

Turns out, someone else took the correct approach and called Facilities to have the noise problem fixed for real. The maintenance guys must have come during the night, because when I arrived the next day, I saw their handiwork. They had installed a rubber seal around the entire door frame to eliminate the little noise that remained after my engineering masterpiece was in place. It did this quite well.  The problem was, it did only this quite well.  As soon as my tape lost its stickiness and the cardboard fell out, the true value of the seal was revealed --and that value was nothing.  The seal didn't do anything.  They might as well have done nothing.  The rattling was back to stay, and it was my fault.

To make this story even more tragic, the very day the rattling returned, an actual earthquake struck the area. It wasn’t big, but it was strong enough that most people on campus noticed. Just not me. The sound of the shaking door had overwhelmed my senses, and I missed the telltale signs of the quake – the only significant one to strike California during the internship. If only I’d done the right thing in the first place and called Facilities to fix the problem, this situation could have been properly resolved in a day or two. Instead, I missed an earthquake and have been stuck with replacing the tape on the cardboard every few days.

Story 2

Do you see me out there? Well, somebody does.
In my role as the building’s unofficial receptionist, I greet many people over the course of the day. Most people ignore my near-silent hellos, some smile back, unsure of who I am and why I’m talking, and a few strike up conversation. Most of these are your basic 'what’s going on this weekend?' type of deal, to which I invariably (and sometimes honestly) answer 'nothing.' So, I was surprised one day when a guy walked by and asked me about the soccer game I played in against his team. I politely engaged in a three-minute conversation about our game, and then he went on his way. This might sound perfectly innocuous, but, sadly, it wasn’t. Not only did I not actually play against his soccer team, but I haven’t even stepped on a soccer field since eighth grade. He mistook me for some other gawky-looking guy, and I felt too bad to tell him that he was wrong. I took a gamble that it would never come up in conversation again, but boy was I wrong…

Every time he saw me, which was almost daily, he asked me about my soccer team. 'Did you win your last game?'  'What time are you playing today?'  And on, and on. I wasn’t stupid enough to make up answers to question I clearly didn’t know anything about, so instead I decided to claim that a knee injury had been keeping me off the field. This, plus fake-talking on the phone and averting eye-contact (one of my core competencies) helped me avoid any substantial soccer conversations.

Then, one day, just as abruptly as they had started, the conversations stopped. Now, he was the one looking the other way and fake-talking on the phone. What had happened? Did he play against the bizarro me and realize it wasn’t actually me? I never found out. But what I did learn was that this whole thing didn’t have to happen. If I’d just said, “Oh, sorry, I don’t play soccer,” this would have ended before it had started. I tried to be nice and not hurt his feelings, but really that just made his inevitable discovery of my non-soccer playing even worse.

So, yeah, my experience at Amgen has already provided many valuable real-world lessons – lessons that I might not have learned if I didn’t have an internship long enough to bring out all of my flaws. I look forward to the next chance I have to head-off a potential problem before it starts…just as long as it doesn’t make someone feel bad about themselves!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Day in the Life of an LGO Intern

The majority of the LGO class of 2012 is one month into the six-month internship that partly defines the program. This is a long enough period to have fallen into a routine and short enough that we are still able to look at things from an outsider’s perspective (it is also short enough that I'm not yet disillusioned, and long enough that I incorrectly think I know what I'm talking about). So, that's the frame of mind from which this post is coming. What follows is a description of a typical day in my first month at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, CA. Enjoy.

6:20 AM – The alarm goes off. For about 20 seconds, I have no idea where I am (why does it take so long to adjust to a new place?). I look out the window and see the omnipresent morning fog. Ah, yes. Malibu. Where else would I be? (When you think of MIT, you think of Malibu, right? I fit in so well here.)

6:25 AM – I eat my cereal while my four LGO housemates go through their own morning routines in silence. We like each other…just not at this hour. Occasionally, we grunt a good morning, or maybe it's just a grunt for grunting's sake.

6:45 AM – We distribute ourselves between two cars for the 35-minute drive to Thousand Oaks.
The drive includes an 800-ft descent over the course of a mile down our road, a short cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway, a stretch over a mountain pass with sheer drop-offs a few feet from the shoulder, and a race along “The” 101, an eight-lane highway. Conversation is kept to a minimum while we cycle through three static-y NPR stations to catch fragments of the news.

7:25 AM – I enter my building – a relic from Amgen’s more modest days – and walk three feet past the building receptionist’s desk to my desk. This is not an exaggeration. I literally sit next to the receptionist in the building foyer. My hope is that being relegated to this seat is the result of some kind of hiring frenzy that has taken away all of the usual intern spots, and not a
reflection of Amgen's opinion of my potential. Regardless, it has allowed me to fine-tune my greeting and secretarial skills. And all that gossip...

8:00 AM – 12:00 PM – I pick up where I left off on my internship project. Currently, I am mapping out the process development and manufacturing processes, along with the equipment used and data collected, for the four departments across four sites that work with Amgen’s drug product. The goal is to identify gaps between these areas and then come up with strategies for closing these gaps. So far, there seems to be a decent mix of engineering (assessing manufacturing processes and the design and function of the equipment) and management (developing business processes that include strategic and economic components).

12:00-12:30(ish) – Lunch. Amgen’s campus is part corporate headquarters, part country club, part sculpture garden. It has roughly one decorative fountain per employee. In short, it is amazing, and so we try to take advantage of this by eating lunch outside every day. The weather tends to cooperate -- I don't think there's been an afternoon in Thousand Oaks without a cloudless sky.

12:30-5:15 PM – I try to finish up my work for the day. There are occasional meetings with my boss or his boss, or with one of the project’s many stakeholders, but I mostly just sit at my desk and read/type for eight hours. This part of the project is not exactly riveting (I sometimes resort to memorizing the nutritional facts on my snack food or looking for additional flaws in the headshot on my Amgen badge just to break up the monotony), but I know that the excitement of using this information in strategic and awesome ways awaits me in the near future.

4:00 PM – We hit the "AmGym" (get it: Amgen + Gym = AmGym!!) for our daily workout. The place is incredible for an onsite company gym -- two stories, tons of weights and machines, yoga, pilates, and spinning classes, and free fresh fruit. We've actually all been pretty dedicated to working out thus far and are getting really beefed up as a result. Okay, I'm still as scrawny as ever and have to hide in a dark corner of the gym when using the 10-lb dumbbells, but I'm still enjoying it!

5:15 PM - We reassemble at the cars for the trip home. The afternoon car ride conversations are typically a little lighter and more relaxed. After all, we made it through another tough day at the office.

6:00-8:00 PM – Arriving home, we disperse into the evening for the next part of our routines. This includes running, surfing, climbing, eating, or just plain relaxing (this is what you're apparently supposed to do in California).

8:00-10:00 PM – Having finished dinner, we clean ourselves up, lament the end of another day, play a couple of games of backgammon (really), and go to sleep, dreaming sweet dreams of the adventures tomorrow's edition of the daily routine will surely bring.