Reaching New Heights

            When I walked into the BADM395 classroom on the first Thursday of the school year, I was a bit puzzled to see how small the class was. When I applied it seemed like a great opportunity for an extra line on my resume and I thought more people would have hopped on the bus. I expected the work to be like every other project I’d done for a class, if only more protracted. Professor Sachdev’s talk on that first day shattered that assumption as he made clear the level of quality and effort he expected of us, not to mention the amount of interaction we would have with our clients. He explained that we were not just students doing a class project, but consultants actively working to solve a company’s problems. It was a terrifying prospect. Some of my peers seemed to agree, because by the next week they had dropped the class.

            The decision to stay was my first turning point. I was never one to back down from a challenge, but choices that might affect my career always attracted some trepidation. Going to the career fair every fall was a harrowing experience because it seemed like one small slip-up during a conversation with a recruiter would ruin my chances at landing an interview. Networking events with a single company made me so nervous that I couldn’t go. With less students attending there was a higher chance of me being remembered in a bad light. It wasn’t until that first week, when I contemplated dropping BADM395, that I realized that not participating was another choice that would affect my career, and the potential repercussions of that scared me even more. I needed to fight my inner impulse to turn and run, and keeping myself from doing so helped bolster my courage to develop my professional life in a way I was too scared to do before.

            As work on the project got underway, I had mixed feelings about my own ability to contribute in a meaningful way. We had been asked to research open source tools that would aid in the production of machine learning algorithms. Our client’s expectations – to figure out how the technology works, demonstrate its functionality, and project its impact on an industry level – seemed woefully out of reach. I had discounted our ability to meet those expectations from the start and said so to our client. I came up with a sample outline of what we would need to accomplish, intending to tell them we would not be able to get it all done within the semester given the current scope. They took one look at the PowerPoint slide and told us to scrap our initial scope because this was exactly what they wanted. That was my second turning point.

The project had been flipped on its head in a way I’d never experienced in any other class. Adapting to the change meant working extra hard to redo work and get extra research done before our deadlines. It meant learning how to teach myself about a completely new field of knowledge. It meant having complicated discussions with my teammates and our client to make sure our work aligned with their needs. I found myself doing exactly the kind of work I had deemed impossible only weeks prior. We ended up leaving our client pleased with our work, but more importantly, I was proud to present it. I tend to have high standards for myself that get higher and higher no matter how hard I work, leaving me unsatisfied. Realizing that the quality of my work met both my client’s standards and my own was an exhilarating feeling.

Ultimately, taking this class was a huge leap forward for my career. I learned how to work up the courage to stay confident and collected even when it feels like my entire career is on the line (even though it usually isn’t). I also learned to have more faith in my own abilities, because I might just end up surprising myself. Finally, I learned how to trust the people I work with – not only my professor, TA, and client, who all acted as mentors – but also my own peers, to allow myself to lean on them when I needed help. I will be talking about the work I’ve done here in many interviews to come.