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From Tech Geek to Investment Attraction for Toronto – How my MBA helped me shift careers

From Tech Geek to Investment Attraction for Toronto – How my MBA helped me shift careers

Salman Khan MBA -MTI 2016

It is remarkable how many people are looking to change careers. It could be a combination of boredom, lack of appreciation, personal commitments, career burnout, compensation and/or career advancement. In fact, according to this 2015 research study, most people switch jobs because they feel stuck in their career and have little opportunity to advance to a more senior position. According to CareerBuilder, more than 22% of people are planning to change jobs in 2017 – this number is even higher for millennials. This is the story of how I changed careers.

With an undergraduate degree in computer science from York University under my belt, I entered the professional working world in 2009 at a large technology company. My first role was to support the company’s e-commerce suite, where I had the opportunity to work with global e-commerce retailers. It was a great chance to not only pick up technical skills but also hone my client management, negotiation and conflict resolution skills from numerous client interactions, especially critical situations where every second of downtime can be translated into lost revenue.  A few years into my technical role, I became bored and had the urge to learn more about how businesses worked and the decision-making processes. I tried, unsuccessfully, to transition into a role with front row seats to business decision making or strategy – each time I was told that my experience was too technical. To overcome this “disadvantage”, I knew I had to demonstrate a solid understanding of business by upgrading my skill set. My pursuit led me to the Ted Rogers MBA program, which was relatively new at the time and had promised the best ROI. Before applying for the ­­MBA, I took prerequisite foundational courses in finance, marketing, business management and accounting. In a way, these classes were a litmus test for me in deciding whether I really wanted to invest my time on an MBA. I was hooked and decided to apply to the program.

An MBA in Technology

I selected the MBA in the Technology & Innovation stream, as it made sense to build my business knowledge on top of my technology background. This would arm me with a skill set that was crucial to solving problems at the intersection of business and technology. Besides doing numerous case studies and presentations with a technology focus, I gained hands-on experience with emerging technologies at the time, including big data, analytics, and machine learning.  Several courses arranged presentations from industry players who shared their valuable insights. The collaborative culture and diversity of the MBA class meant there was always an opportunity to appreciate and benefit from unique perspectives. Students had the freedom to pick from several exciting technology electives including business analytics, social media analytics, security & privacy fundamentals and venture financing & planning.

Career development

The career’s team was helpful in me landing my current role as a Senior Advisor at Toronto Global – a not-for-profit foreign investment attraction agency. Having worked in a technical role in my entire professional career, my pre-MBA resume leaped out as too “technical,” which was a challenge I had to overcome. I used the university’s resume writing services to create a more balanced resume, where I presented how my technical and business skills complemented each other in a non-technical setting. Besides the theoretical knowledge, the experience gained through numerous case studies and presentations on technology companies was particularly valuable resume material. Although I did not use it, the career department also provided mock interviews for students to practice and improve their interviewing skills.

Where I am now

Today, my exciting role involves attracting international companies to Toronto and facilitating their entry into the region – this effort is part of the federal government’s $218 million commitment to increase global investment through the Invest in Canada Hub.  I work in collaboration with players in Toronto’s technology ecosystem, including large corporations, SME’s, start-ups, accelerators/incubators, government and academic institutions to make the business case for why Toronto is the right place for company expansion.  As most of my clients play on the technology side, I have to stay informed on the latest trends, including blockchain, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and fintech. The technology focus of my MBA instilled the skills to excel in this role, by training me to understand complex technology solutions from a business angle and figure out the best way I can help my international clients succeed in Toronto’s market. Toronto has developed the reputation of a world-class technology hub, and there are continuously fantastic opportunities to learn more about technology. From conferences to meetups to events like Toronto Tech Week, I can choose which events to attend and learn from.

Summary

The MBA was my ticket to a career switch from a technical role into one where I can apply my technology background in a non-technical setting to grow the very ecosystem of which I am a product. Anyone hitting the same wall should consider taking a few business courses to test the waters and get a sense of whether this path may or may not be for you. In the end, it really comes down to how passionate you are about the career switch and how much time and effort you are willing to invest. For me, the motivation to succeed is perfectly captured in this quote by Ted Rogers: “the best is yet to come.”

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