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Ben McCormack, incoming Scheller Executive MBA student
Ben McCormack, incoming Scheller Executive MBA student

'Why Now?': Ben McCormack's Scheller Executive MBA Bound Story

Incoming Georgia Tech Scheller Executive MBA student Ben McCormack recently wrote a blog post detailing his decision on why he decided to go back to business school. Below are excerpts from his blog post titled, Scheller MBA Bound | Customer’s Etc.

On most days, if you were to ask me if you should go get your master’s degree, attend a coding bootcamp, or do some kind of workshop that results in a professional certification, I would probably try to talk you out of it. I might drill you with questions like:

What’s the outcome you’re trying to achieve? What’s the cost of the program that’s promising to help you achieve this outcome? Are there alternative ways to achieve the same outcome for less money? Even better, is there a way to get paid to achieve the outcome, perhaps by changing roles or pursuing an opportunity at a different company?

I tend to prefer career advancement opportunities that earn money to those that cost money. I’m not completely against making an investment to further your career, which brings me to a bit of personal news:

I’m excited to share that starting this fall, I’ll be a student in the Executive MBA program at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business.

Why now?

I need to tell you a bit of a story.

This won’t be my first time studying at Georgia Tech. I actually spent my freshman year at Tech, studying to be an electrical engineer. During that time, I felt called to discern the Roman Catholic priesthood. Becoming a priest is a life-long commitment—sorta like getting “married” to the Church—so there’s a formal process where you become a seminarian and you orient your life around studying for the priesthood and discerning if this calling is in fact for you.

When I became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, I had to leave Georgia Tech and transfer to the Franciscan University of Steubenville. At Franciscan, I completed my degree in philosophy and ultimately discerned that I was called to marriage, and being Roman Catholic, that meant I couldn’t become a priest1.

I loved my time at Franciscan, but upon entering the working world, I was really wishing I had had that degree from Georgia Tech. The starting salaries for philosophy majors from small Catholic schools in Ohio are, uh, not that great. Even so, I dove in headfirst, teaching myself to be a software developer, eventually making my way to New York to work for Fog Creek Software as a support engineer. I would go on to start and lead customer support teams at Trello and later at FullStory. It’s been a great ride, but I’ve always felt a bit out of place.

Because of my non-technical education, I’ve always brought a healthy dose of imposter syndrome into each new job. I could code, sure, but I didn’t have the same technical foundation as my peers with computer science degrees from engineering schools. Similarly, when it comes to management, my experience has been on-the-job learning, with a little bit of leadership coaching and reading books on the side. Still, it felt like something was missing.

I’m mostly self-taught and I’d like change things up a bit. I want to build a technical foundation in an area that I’m passionate about. And by technical I don’t mean “engineering” or “computer science”, but spending time studying and becoming an expert in a well-known and established discipline.

For me, I want to focus on business. About a year ago, I started writing this newsletter as a way to explore business concepts I’ve picked up on throughout my career. It turns out I’ve been having a lot of fun! These are topics that I enjoy writing about and hopefully others enjoy reading. But being self-taught and approaching problems from first principles has its limits. That’s why I decided that I wanted to firm up my business foundations and pursue an MBA.

My goals for an MBA

If I had to sum up my goal in one succinct phrase, it would be: to be a leader in tech in Atlanta. This overarching goal came can be broken down into 3 parts:

  1. Level up my business acumen
  2. Study with smart classmates and join a strong alumni network, especially in Atlanta
  3. Fit the program into my life

My number one goal is to “level up my business acumen”. I want to spend time in a rigorous classroom environment where I’m challenged and can trust I’m building a solid foundation in business that can be applied at any company.

When I was first looking at MBA programs, I overlooked the value of the people I would be studying with and the alumni network after I graduated. As I got deep into my research, this emerged as an important goal. I want to make sure I’m studying with a strong group of classmates who will challenge me, becoming an integral part of “leveling up my business acumen.” I also want to make sure that at least some of my peers share similar goals of wanting to be in the tech space here in Atlanta.

Lastly, I want an MBA program that I can integrate into my life. My wife and I have three young children, so I need to be working full time while going to school. Balancing the demands of the program with family life will be hard enough. Getting on a plane to fly to an executive MBA program in another city is not an option.

Why Georgia Tech?

I ultimately chose Georgia Tech for three reasons:

  1. Alignment with my goals
  2. Length of program
  3. Cost

When I spoke with alumni of the Scheller Executive MBA program, I could hear my story in their story. Every person I spoke with lived and worked in Atlanta, ranging from small start-ups to giant tech companies. They all shared a story of how Georgia Tech’s Executive MBA program prepared them for where they currently are in their careers. The relationships formed during the program remained strong years after graduation.

Georgia Tech’s Executive MBA program offers two tracks: Global Business and Management of Technology. What stands out to me about the Management of Technology program is how the capstone project consists of creating a business from the ground up and defending it in front of a group of investors. It’s not just about playing start-up founder—there’s a real emphasis on knowing and understanding your customer, not just making a business plan on paper.

The length of the program emerged as a major deciding factor for fitting an MBA into my life. Tech’s Executive MBA program begins in August of 2021 and ends in December of 2022. As much as I’m looking forward to spending time in the classroom, I know it’s going to be a lot of work and will take a toll on my family. Being able to finish in just 17 months is a major advantage.

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