October 15, 2003 | By David King
When asked what drew engineer Annu Sood to her job at a software company, she quickly responds, "the company's entrepreneurial spirit." Her answer is not surprising, as Sood herself embodies that spirit, with quick thoughts and a vivaciousness that keeps you scurrying to keep up. She enjoys the new opportunities and new people she encounters each day at her product management job.
She doesn't use much of the engineering she learned in her undergraduate double major of Biomedical and Electrical Engineering. But, although she has left her days of studying medical innovations and circuitry behind, the problem-solving and analytical skills she learned as an engineer serve her well. Employed by BlueCube Software, a software company out of Atlanta, Sood now spends her time in product management.
Working to develop products that fit a client's needs remains a demanding task. By talking with the consumers, Sood gathers the requirements from the field and then takes that information back to a development team. Together, the BlueCube team works with the client to develop solutions to fill the identified gaps and ultimately improve the product. Recently, Sood moved from the product side of the business to focus on working more closely with clients themselves. The chance to communicate and present her company to numerous clients keeps Sood excited about work.
At first, Sood's keen business sense seems a far cry from her Duke undergraduate background in engineering. But by her senior year, Sood knew that she wanted to move beyond her technical focus and into the business world. Duke's Master of Engineering Management program offered her the necessary bridge to shift careers.
Straight out of undergraduate, she did not find herself quite prepared for a typical MBA program. But she had no desire to enroll in an even more technical Masters in engineering. After checking further information online and comparing Duke versus competing MEM programs, Sood talked with some students she knew already enrolled in the MEM program. Satisfied with Duke's reputation for education and content to remain close to home in North Carolina, Sood enrolled in the program in the fall of 1999.
Along with all her positive experiences, Sood naturally saw some of the program's limitations. At that time, the program was relatively new, maturing through its adolescent stage, and she would have liked to gain more in depth business knowledge. Still, the one-year program well serves people with her background.
"I would not recommend the MEM program to someone who is seeking vast business knowledge. But for someone who already has the ability to think technically but is not interested in pursing a solely technical career, the MEM program can be a good fit," said Sood.
Sood acknowledged her employer valued the MEM degree, and it helped her land the job she has now. She found her job through Duke's engineering career fair, and she was drawn to it immediately. Major selling points were the company's open-minded colleagues, opportunities to learn new things, and the chance to work on projects that are both technically innovative as well as applicable in the real world.
"It is so interesting to learn how clients run their businesses, or understand the development cycle of a product," said Sood.
After she began working, she also was able to reflect on the MEM classes that she found most useful in her day-to-day activities. She particularly pointed to her classes in accounting and finance. "Learning these basic accounting principles served me well working in the retail industry," Sood replied.
Sood also points to her MEM program internship as a critical learning experience. While still able to complete the degree in one year, she worked full time at the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park as a Technology Assessor. She gauged technology invention disclosures for market potential and recommended actions to clients based on her discoveries. This actual real-life work experience allowed her a smooth transition into her current job at BlueCube Software, and it also provided her with tons of hands-on advice.
The internship experience is a strength of the MEM program, she advises students considering the program. "Get real world experience," Sood counsels, "before and during your program, whether volunteer or paid." It is this actual experience that truly allows individuals to learn what career is right for them, she said.
Sood says the MEM program complemented her skills. "You may receive the tools in the classroom, but it is in your experiences where you receive the education," she said.
Adhering to her own philosophy, Sood finds herself extending her education in new and exciting ways everyday.