Most business processes primarily involve communicating information. It is only during manufacturing or after a deal has been consummated that physical goods must be moved. As a result, most improvements in business result from advances in information technology, a field that is changing so rapidly it is difficult even for professionals to keep up with it.
It is always a question how to teach a subject that is constantly in flux. There is risk that the technical content will be obsolete by the end of the degree program, or shortly after its completion. Our philosophy is that professionals must learn not technology alone, but how to keep up with technology. An equally important precept of our program is that skills cannot be taught, but must be learned through practice. We follow these principles through a unique program specifically designed to produce eBusiness professionals.
We do not offer traditional classes. While students are allowed to take a limited number of traditional elective courses in other departments, the MSIT eBusiness program does not offer courses of its own. We believe that the meta-skills required for success in the workplace, such as team building, time management, interpreting confusing or ambiguous assignments, professional writing and public speaking, can be acquired only through direct and extensive practice. Toward that end, the program consists first of 16 realistic eBusiness tasks that are so extensive they must be completed by teams. Accordingly, the students are initially divided into teams of five people who receive new tasks to perform every 2-3 weeks for 10 months.
The students must produce professional deliverables, such as reports, technology analyses, business plans and system designs. Because the teams operate independently with minimal guidance, the students must learn to organize themselves, divide workload, become familiar with relevant technologies, and separate important from irrelevant reference material to complete the assigned work on schedule. Guiding the students through the program are three full-time Program Faculty, who work along with 11 other faculty members to ensure that everyone acquires the skills expected of our graduates.
Many of our graduates aspire to be consultants, and consulting preparation is sound training for almost any information technology job. Therefore, to make the degree program as realistic as possible, all students become “employees” of a hypothetical company, ebConsultants LLP, for the 12-month duration of the program. As staff consultants, the students rotate through four assignments in each of the company’s practices: Health Care, Financial, Retail and Logistics. Team composition changes at each transition, so the students have a chance to exercise their organizational skills at different times. To compress 10 months into a single sentence, the most crucial skill the students acquire is learning how to teach themselves. That skill is valuable for a lifetime and outlasts any conceivable shift in technology.
After the students have completed 16 eBusiness team tasks, they are already highly skilled consultants. To prove that to themselves and the faculty, the students are once again divided into teams to work on real problems of current interest furnished by actual industrial sponsors. These Practicum problems are tackled by teams of six students with the aid of two faculty advisors.
The projects usually involve the design and implementation of an eBusiness system at least at the level of a prototype. This involves a requirements analysis, selection of a technology and consideration of alternative designs. The students must negotiate the scope of the project, achieve agreement on deliverables, and secure sponsor approval of interim deliverables. The last half of the Practicum is occupied with implementation, completion of written work product and refining presentations.
The Practicum differs from the first 16 tasks in that it is much longer (9-10 weeks) and each team works on a different project. The main grading criterion is sponsor satisfaction, which is the ultimate goal of a consulting company. The sponsor has presented a problem – nothing less than an effective solution is acceptable.
In addition to producing deliverables and providing an extensive briefing to the sponsor, each team makes a public presentation explaining the problem and its recommended solution, including a demonstration of a required software artifact. As an extra incentive, the presentations are judged by an independent panel of outside eBusiness experts. Each team is judged on the effectiveness of their solution and the quality of their presentation. The winning team receives a cash prize of $10,000.
The Practicum provides an opportunity for students to work closely with a company on a problem of genuine importance. The company, in turn, has a chance to observe the students in a work situation, which may lead to a subsequent employment offer. Past Practicum sponsors have included Alcoa, American Eagle Outfitters, Johnson & Johnson, PNCBank, the Port of Pittsburgh and Wells Fargo. The results of several projects have been developed by sponsors into working eBusiness systems.
Many students consider the Practicum to be the most useful and rewarding university experience of their lives. By the time they have completed this 17th and capstone project, the students are ready to face any challenge in the eBusiness sector.
Our program is highly diverse and multicultural. The class of 2012 consists of 50 students from 14 different countries. The team nature of the program affords an unparalleled opportunity for students to work closely with others from a range of cultures and nationalities. We are particularly proud that 30% of our students are women. The School of Computer Science and Carnegie Mellon in general provide a hospitable environment for a multinational student body.
Recipients of professional degrees expect to secure suitable jobs after graduation. Toward that end, our program employs a full-time recruiter, Tami Radomski, to assist students in preparing resumes, learning interviewing skills, obtaining interviews and negotiating job offers. Students meet individually with Tami throughout the year to map out a personalized strategy for obtaining high-quality positions. Our graduates have gone on to become managers, programmers, business analysts and consultants, often in Silicon Valley. Some students have started companies of their own.