Friday, February 28, 2014

Charles Iheagwara, SDM '10: Cybersecurity Breach at University of Maryland

Charles Iheagwara
SDM alumnus and cybersecurity expert Charles Iheagwara, Ph.D., was recently interviewed about a serious data breach at the University of Maryland. View the video segment here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14: Gaining Engineering and Management Skills to Help Others

By Kathryn O'Neill, MIT SDM Correspondent

Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14
Photo by Dave Schultz
As a volunteer in tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka, Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14, saw firsthand what it's like to live without easy access to technology. That's why her goal in attending MIT's SDM master's program is to gain the engineering and management skills she needs to help those less fortunate.

"I looked at SDM and I thought: Yes, it can help my career, but it can really help me help other people. And that was key," said Ramesh, who hopes one day to build a consulting practice providing technology to developing countries. "SDM will give me the knowledge, background, and connections to do that."

A native of Sri Lanka, Ramesh escaped the island's civil war with her family when she was just 5 years old. She returned for the first time as a college student following the 2004 tsunami and discovered a country very different from Canada, where she grew up. "It was a culture shock," she said. "The northeast section where I was didn't have grid electricity—they had to use generators. There were no cellphone networks and no Internet."

Ramesh had volunteered to rebuild houses, but she found her programming skills were in higher demand. So, she helped construct an ambulance tracking and medical records system for a local hospital. "This was first time I felt I worked on something meaningful," she said, noting that the experience opened her eyes to the advantages of a career in software. "We take a lot of things for granted growing up in North America."

Ramesh graduated from Waterloo University and went on to work as a software engineer for Vistaprint. She is currently a senior project manager for Vistaprint's global customer service centers. She planned to attend graduate school, but initially she was unsure whether to pursue engineering or management. "I loved working with people from diverse backgrounds, strategizing and managing projects, but when I looked at an MBA, it honestly wasn't so appealing to me," she said. "I am an engineer at heart: I want to understand how things work and how they come together, and have the technical aptitude to be able to design and innovate."

Then she heard about SDM, which combines management and engineering. "I looked at it and said, 'Wow, this is perfect.'"

Ramesh started in January and has already put several lessons to use from her initial SDM projects. For example, a design challenge given to the cohort provided her with benchmarking experience she can directly apply at work. "I picked up skills I'll be using the next time I select vendors," she said.

Meanwhile, Ramesh is advancing her long-term goals by taking a class in Humanitarian Logistics that centers on how to move materials into areas of need. "This is what I eventually want to do, so I'm learning how the supply chain works," she said.

She is also benefiting from SDM's emphasis on team-building skills. "That's very different from typical school, which is so competitive," she said. "[Here] you simultaneously learn from, and educate, each other.

It's a familiar model for Ramesh. Raised by a single mother, Ramesh learned the value of education early as her mother worked factory jobs to put her and her sister through college. Ramesh, in turn, helped put her younger sister through medical school. And now, her mother is helping Ramesh and her husband—Ramesh* Sundralingam, a lab technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—care for their 3-year-old son, Ellalan, so Ramesh can attend SDM.
Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14, with her mother, son, and husband.
"I wouldn't be where I am without Amma [Mom]," she said. "She's the biggest reason I could go back to grad school and work a full-time, demanding job."

* In the Tamil Sri Lankan tradition, wives take their husbands' first names as their last names.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

George Clernon, SDM '14: Applying Systems Thinking at Analog Devices

By Kathryn O'Neill, MIT SDM Correspondent

George Clernon, SDM '14
Photo by Dave Schultz
A native of Ireland, George Clernon, SDM '14, began looking for a graduate program several years ago that would combine systems thinking with advanced engineering and a management curriculum—but it wasn't until after he moved to Boston that he found what he wanted in MIT's SDM master's program.

While he considered other U.S. options, his employer ultimately tipped the scales toward SDM. "My director had experience with SDM, and he said the MIT program was much better from a company point of view—it was much more aligned with what we needed to do," said Clernon, whose enrollment is sponsored by Analog Devices.
George Clernon, SDM '14, mans a booth at Analog
Devices' Design Conference 2013 in Frankfurt, Germany.
Photo by Melanie Huber
Initially, he admits he doubted SDM could live up to its exceptional reputation. "At one of the information sessions someone said they were applying what they learned every day at work," he said. "I was pretty skeptical about that."

Just two months into the program, however, he's a believer. "I regret my skepticism," said Clernon, who works as an engineering tools manager in Analog Devices' core markets and marketing division. "There's an ongoing application of learning as I come back to my day-to-day work."

During SDM's month-long on-campus "boot camp" in January, for example, he took a class called the Human Side of Technology and learned the importance of putting emotions aside to focus on the problem at hand. "Even in engineering, which is fact-based, people's personalities come into play," he said, explaining that people tend to become attached to their own ideas. "When you put emotions in the equation, you start making decisions about the emotion rather than about the facts."

Clernon said he is looking forward to gaining additional insights from his spring courses, particularly Technology Strategy, which provides strategic frameworks for managing high-technology businesses. "Analog Devices is No. 1 in analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters and has been for a long time," Clernon said. So, he hopes Technology Strategy will help him answer the question: "How do we develop new technology to be a disruptive force so we can retain our position?"

Currently, Clernon is endeavoring to develop a platform that will provide Analog's core customers with online engineering tools to support the company's 10,000-plus products. "We have so many products going to so many customers, there's a strong need for a more systems-based approach," he said. "SDM is helping me further that solution and move it along at a better pace."

After 16 years with the same company, Clernon said he particularly values the opportunity SDM has given him to work with people from a wide range of industries. "One thing about coming to SDM is that it's a great way to make yourself uncomfortable—not in a bad way but in a challenging way," he said. "I'm working with different people and organizations and it's inspiring."

When he's not studying, working, or taking classes, Clernon said he's likely to be found playing with his 14-month-old son, Eoin, who loves Legos, and enjoying time with his wife, Cherry, who recently started her own baking business, Cherry With a Cake on Top. How does he manage it all? "I've just realized how much free time I had before that I was misusing," he said.