Thursday, August 5, 2010

Taking the Path to MIT’s Master’s in Engineering and Management

By Mindy Blodgett

For Daniel Wallance, the path to MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program and a master’s in engineering and management traversed from NASA to Wall Street.


Photo: L. Barry Hetherington

After receiving a BS in Electrical and Computing Engineering with high distinction from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Wallance worked as a consultant to a NASA contractor. There he wrote proposals in response to government RFPs – one of which was for a $10M science instrument for an upcoming mission to Mars. This expanded his interest in engineering to include the business side of an enterprise.

To get his foot in the door and learn more about business, Wallance started as an intern at a Wall Street firm. He quickly built a successful career that culminated in his rise, at the age of 25, to the de-facto Chief Operating Officer of a hedge fund founded by a former Director of Kmart Holding Corp. He says that leaving the corporate world temporarily to pursue a master’s degree was the next logical step.

“Because of my engineering background, I was always interested in systems integration from the technology side,” he says. “But as COO of a hedge fund, I experienced first-hand the complex interplay among elements of other systems, such as finance, marketing, and operations.”

Wallance recalls analyzing companies for potential investments and coming across massive systems problems that resulted from past mergers. “This simulated my interest in learning how to approach both the engineering and management aspects of systems integration. When I discovered the SDM program I was really struck by its strong interdisciplinary approach. The program brings together aspects related to all of my professional interests: finance, marketing, IT, technology and operations.”

“SDM offers a solid framework, from a systems thinking perspective, in how to approach and solve problems,” Wallance says. “For instance, in my systems architecture class, Professor Ed Crawley discussed the importance of managing the interfaces of the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo space program. This got me thinking about the interfaces between business units and how I can take the principles from the class discussion about a mechanical system and apply them to an enterprise as a system. Even in classes taught from an engineering perspective, I’m learning about ways of thinking and tools that are universally applicable to all disciplines.”

Wallance is now focusing on his thesis, which will examine how businesses deal with integration, change management, and global systems continuity. He is looking for a company to participate in his thesis research and possibly support it financially.

Following the SDM Program, Wallance hopes to transition to a more operations-focused role, working at a company with a culture that “embraces leadership development”, in a position that combines his interests in streamlining processes and eliminating inefficiencies. And he would love to find a job with a good amount of domestic and international travel.

“Long-term, I hope to be a director of a business unit or global division, working on systems integration and change management.” Wallance says. “I know that MIT’s System Design and Management Program will provide me with the invaluable skills that I will need to succeed.”

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