UMBC Mic'd Up

Mastering Impactful Leadership in Engineering Management: Key Strategies

October 16, 2023 UMBC Mic'd Up with Dennise Season 3
Mastering Impactful Leadership in Engineering Management: Key Strategies
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UMBC Mic'd Up
Mastering Impactful Leadership in Engineering Management: Key Strategies
Oct 16, 2023 Season 3
UMBC Mic'd Up with Dennise

In this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast, Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs at UMBC sits down with Anurag Varshney, a current graduate student in the Engineering Management program. They delve into the importance of engineering management, who should consider this field, and its potential impact on projects. 

Anurag also shares his personal journey and highlights a standout course in product development. Listen in for valuable insights into the world of engineering management and the power of asking 'why.'

Don't miss out on Anurag's inspiring story and learn more about the opportunities available at UMBC for aspiring engineering managers.

Learn more about UMBC's Engineering Graduate Programs:

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast, Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs at UMBC sits down with Anurag Varshney, a current graduate student in the Engineering Management program. They delve into the importance of engineering management, who should consider this field, and its potential impact on projects. 

Anurag also shares his personal journey and highlights a standout course in product development. Listen in for valuable insights into the world of engineering management and the power of asking 'why.'

Don't miss out on Anurag's inspiring story and learn more about the opportunities available at UMBC for aspiring engineering managers.

Learn more about UMBC's Engineering Graduate Programs:

Dennise Cardona  0:00  

Welcome to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs here at UMBC. Today, we are joined by a current student in our graduate program for engineering management. I hope you enjoy this episode. Welcome to the UMBC Mic'd Up podcast. It is fantastic to have you with us today.

Anurag Varshney  0:21  

Thank you, Dennise, for having me. Indeed, I'm grateful as well as humbled that you provided me this opportunity to be here at this podcast, I guess, I have watched almost more than 20 episodes of you, wow. A lot of students as well as professors. So it's been a dream to be here. And I'm glad that you choose me from Engineering Management Department to discuss more about my journey and other things about engineering management as well.

Dennise Cardona  0:49  

Absolutely. I love being able to talk with you about engineering management for so many reasons. But one specifically is, I don't think that we've really done too much with engineering management on this podcast. And so there are going to be viewers, if they're watching on YouTube, or listeners who are interested in this field, and maybe aren't sure if this is the field for them. So I really what I'd love to do is just dive into your experience at UMBC. And what the program has been like for you, I understand you are a current student in the engineering management graduate program here at UMBC. And I think also a specialty in project management, is that correct? 

Anurag Varshney  1:30  

Yes. So, I guess Dennise, you had a lot of questions, I will break down this into first the why, why engineering management and the second thing I will be focusing on who should choose engineering management and the third thing, what are the prospects for engineering management starting from the why. So, with the amount of innovation that is happening across the globe, in engineering domain, and the amount of people who are graduating from engineering degrees, you will see the results that according to, according to PMI, 70% of the projects fail, and the reason is bad management or you can say poor management. So, there comes the power of an engineering manager, how to structure and organize the power or I can say, the strength which the engineers bring to the table in a successful project that actually impact human lives. So, this is the reason why engineering managers are required and why engineering management is important. Now, the second part is who should choose engineering management? I will say, the students or you can say, aspiring engineering managers who want to bring a better impact to the human lives by implementing the engineering projects they have done in their past to the people are the ones who are who should choose engineering management. And when I say that, how the background should look like for for a person who wants to be engineering manager, I guess, if you have spent around two to three years and engineering domain with after you under graduation, I guess this is the right program to be in and understand more about engineering management and how to actually execute those projects and launch great products to improve the customer experience. That is something which you can learn at the graduate programs in the United States and at UMBC as well. And now I'm just focusing on why UMBC? Why choosing engineering management at UMBC? So UMBC provides a variety of pathways to students specifically in engineering management, if you want to leverage your engineering domain, if you want to leverage the management aspect from engineering domain and cybersecurity. There is a pathway in cybersecurity. There is a pathway in data science, there are there is a pathway in project management, if you're coming from a biology background, or if you're coming from healthcare background, pathways, with the amount of variety, it shows that how you can leverage the strengths which you are bringing from your engineering domain and how you could be a better engineering manager in future. So these are, this is the coursework of UMBC. And I love it. 

Dennise Cardona  4:10  

Oh, wow, what a great summary that is. That was one of the best summaries I've heard of any of our programs, it just like you should be going into our information sessions. And helping with that because it's just, that was a really great recap of what the, what the Engineering Management Program is and who it's for and what people can do with the information that they learned from it and how they can apply it in the real world. Now that we've had that really great summary, what was it about the engineering management program that first piqued your attention? In other words, what were you doing before it and why did you apply?

Anurag Varshney  4:50  

Nice, I guess I spent almost one year thinking about it. So it is going to be a crazy reply. But I have been working with For starting my graduation with Philips I worked there for six years and multiple engineering domains I worked in field, I worked in quality department, I worked with global and diverse teams, specifically in healthcare domain. Before that, I completed my undergrad and Electronics and Communication Engineering. So having spent that six years of my crucial time of my life in engineering, I understood the power of engineers. But I also understood the awareness which is required from the management perspective to leverage the strength of those engineers to the real world, what happens is that, that engineers usually follow problem solving approach, there is nothing bad in following problem solving solving approach. But what they do is that you give them a problem, and they will provide you a solution. But that is not the right way. When you think from a management perspective, you should follow a physicians approach. Now how physicians approach is different. So physicians approaches like understanding the problem, and looking for the best solution that could actually provide a best customer experience. So you just don't provide a solution, you provide the best and most relevant solution to the customer. So there is, there comes the power of iteration. And there comes the power of AV testing, there comes the power of design thinking, which you learn in management programs. So this is something which I was looking forward to having, as I mentioned that I worked in an engineering domain for six years, I understood that this is something which I am lacking. And this is something which I should learn as soon as possible in my life. If you learn early, you execute early, and you grow early. So this is my mantra to success. And this is the reason why I decided after working for six years to pursue my masters, and be one of the leaders for myself, if not for the community, at least you should have a good self respect. And you should value that this is one way of thinking, which I cherish. So yeah. This is it.

Dennise Cardona  7:07  

Yeah, it's so that mantra, that's a wonderful mantra for anybody to adopt, because it just it speaks to the validity of what we do in our lives, and how we can make the world a better place through our actions. And I love the analogy that you gave about the physician, because as an instructional designer, because that's what I got my masters, and we're always taught something similar in terms of being solutions oriented, but going a step beyond that, and going for that root cause so that we can find the root cause of certain issues. So that then those solutions that we provide can actually take care of the root cause as well. And a lot of times if we're using the analogy of medicine, if you have a, I don't know, if you have a sore throat, instead of just taking throat lozenger Let's figure out why you have a sore throat, is it allergies? Do you have asthma? Have you come into contact with somebody who has a cold, just trying to drill down what the root causes of that so that then the solution we apply is not just a band aid, but it's an actual solution, that in the long term could solve some major issues.

Anurag Varshney  8:21  

Also, it empowers first time right approach, whenever you are executing the solutions by following this design thinking approach and the physicians approach which I specifically mentioned, when you provide a solution, it is like first time right. So you will never see that problem again. So this is the power which engineering managers can provide to the organization or to the community and to this beautiful world. So yeah, there we go.

Dennise Cardona  8:48  

There we go. And so in learning that, have you had the chance to apply that in the real world? In other words, if you have, has it worked? Is it an ideal thing? Or does it really truly work being able to have that first approach and it really does work?

Anurag Varshney  9:08  

Indeed, it works. I would like to share one of the examples of my class project where we were thinking of building one mobile application to cater the needs of airport travelers, what we are trying to understand is that what is the problem which airport travelers faces while at the airport, there are multiple problems there navigation, baggage, you have problems related to communicating and with the immigration officers checking gates because of language issues, and then you don't understand the immigration policies you don't understand okay, this is the way I should get a rental car or maybe transit bus, I was like okay, there are so many problems, but there is only one problem. When we say Pareto, when we do data analysis by using methods like Pareto the We say that it is an 8020 rule 20% of the problems are the causes of the 80% of the lake what we are looking for. So what happens is that and after researching, and we understood, okay, the major problem is navigation. All other problems are important. But the major problem is navigations. One, you once you are able to navigate across the airports in the right manner, and you are able to reach out to the relevant counters or relevant people, you will be able to get the solution instantly. So, this is how you actually follow this physician approach and provide the right solution to the customer. On the first hand.

Dennise Cardona  10:45  

Yeah, and that just also speaks to the nature of being in engineering management. You're it's almost like a strategic overview, you're strategically viewing the problem from a lens that you're able to step back and look at the big picture as a manager, and to be able to then instruct other engineers on how to actually implement the solution.

Anurag Varshney  11:09  

Yeah, indeed, indeed, yeah, this is the right way, I think. And it varies from organization to organization, domain to domain, sometimes you have to follow different approaches, there are a lot of tools as well as you can say, way of working available, as I mentioned about Pareto. But one thing which I can assure is that follow data driven approaches. Nowadays, everything is driven by data. So if you are driving your thoughts through data, then I'm sure that you will be able to reach to the solution, which you want to provide the most early as well as most precise way to the customers.

Dennise Cardona  11:47  

Yeah, it's so smart to look at data, data doesn't lie, it's there. And data, really, it can be interpreted in many different ways, right? But it tells a story. Data, if you really analyze it, and you really look at the story model of it, it can tell you a story and can tell you what's happening. I see that with what my role is at UMBC. One of my roles is social media manager and looking at the data looking at the analytics of who's coming to our blog, who's coming to our who's interacting, how are they engaging? What's getting the most leverage informs thinking of what we or should we be spending our resources should we be bothering with this platform over this platform. And the only way to get true real answers on anything, whether it be an engineering project or a data management of social media, it's all the same thing. You have to look at what the story is telling you have to be able to make those informed decisions and to be able to provide the right solutions and find the problems and find the right solutions for them.

Anurag Varshney  12:51  

Yeah, Indeed, indeed.

Dennise Cardona  12:53  

Now, can you tell me a little bit about so in the program, you're gonna have you have fellow students? What is it like working with your fellow students? Is there a lot of engagement to do is there in some encouragement, spirit of collaboration, because I know a lot of people who are going to be listening to this or considering this pathway in their career, maybe they want to be able to learn from people professional to what working out in the field and bringing that kind of value in those insights into the classroom. Can you speak a little bit about what that looks like?

Anurag Varshney  13:25  

So if I talk about the classroom, I will say that classroom is pretty diversified. If I talk from the international student perspective, they are students from multiple international backgrounds, so that only that not only provides the diverse opinions in the class, but also empowers great debates to write thought processes, or mindset change, which is required to be engineering manager. Engineering Management is not about providing solution, providing this thing providing or building a product. It's all about driving the mindset change. To drive that mindset change, it is very important to empower the people and to empower people, it is very important to have great peers. So this is something which I have really cherished at UMBC. And more importantly, as we mentioned that UMBC is a community of inquiring minds. So a lot of students come with a thought process of why, why this is happening? And I don't agree with you, because this is not answering the why of the problem. This type of conversations which we have in our class, this is something which I have cherished and I have learned a lot with all my peers, not only from the professors but also from the peers and this is a journey where I want to be in like after working for six years and most of the students who are right now pursuing master's in engineering management, bring not only a diversity from their cultural perspective, but also from their educational background. They are coming from cybersecurity coming from computer science, they are coming from healthcare, they are coming from construction management, this is something which I have loved. And I will encourage students to take advantage of this kind of community and diversity which we have.

Dennise Cardona  15:16  

Sounds like a rich learning environment for sure. Absolutely. To me peer to peer engagement, that's where, I would say, 50% of my knowledge in the area that I study came from is learning maybe even more than that actually learning from each other. Because we all bring a diverse set of ideas and experiences to our studies. And when you can talk through those experiences, and learn from them together, you're going to take up you're going to take from that different things that if you didn't have those opinions, and those debates, those experiences of other people, how would you ever learn some of the things that you're learning? Right?

Anurag Varshney  15:59  

Yeah, that's the perspective you get from your peers. This is the reason why I say that diversity is very important, because the perspective which they are going to bring to the table, you will never even think of it and or you can say like that, you will never even dreamt of it.

Dennise Cardona  16:16  

So absolutely. So far, what has been your favorite course? And why? What did you gain from it?

Anurag Varshney  16:23  

So my favorite course, was product development from Professor Steven Falk, who is an adjunct faculty and is also Chief Engineer at General Electric. So there we learn how to build product, how to follow that product lifecycle, and finally, bring a product that actually serves the customer needs. Because what is very important in this management aspect is that you don't serve any particular team, you serve the customer. So when you serve, the customer is never happy, and customer is always right. So this is something which I learned and we actually build one, one product throughout the cycle throughout the coursework. So the most important part, or the most important thing, which I love about this course, is building the product under the mentorship of the professor who has built several products in the industry, serving people lives in a different way. Having a mentor like that, who not only stands with you, when you are in trouble when you are not able to think okay, well what should be the right way of right, right way to go ahead. So this was the best part, not only we build the product. So recently, I pitched the same project idea in CBIC competition, and I won the competition. 

Dennise Cardona  17:47  


Anurag Varshney  17:48  

Not only I won the competition, I enrolled with the gondola with the entrepreneurship department. And now we are actually building that product into real life. So I'm not sure how far I will go. But this is the power of having right mentors. When you think of something you build on that. And finally, it becomes a reality for people to actually gain the value from it. So this is something which I have loved. And this is the reason why I say that product development class from Steven Falk, if you are enrolling for engineering management, go for it. Other professors are really good. But this was one of my expertise or the I can say, my area of interest, I want to be a product manager and future. So that's why I was looking forward to his class. And he also comes from the healthcare background. I was also from the healthcare background. So I was like, Okay, let's do it. So...

Dennise Cardona  18:44  

what is it? Can you talk a little bit about that product that you or is it and only, like hush right now until it's out there?

Anurag Varshney  18:52  

I mentioned about navigating across airports, right initially in the podcast, we are actually trying to solve the need of the customers related to that particular airport navigation experience through a mobile application. So I will not talk too much about the product because it will be like you have not actually built it. We are in the process of building it. We have developed a rough idea, okay. This is how it should look like. And we are in the process of building that mobile application. And maybe in future if everything goes right, then we will be launching the product for the customers who actually want to improve the customer the airport experience while traveling at the airport. So being an international student who has traveled a lot through the airports. It is really difficult to navigate across the airports and when you're coming from a different country. I will say it is like a no one should face it.

Dennise Cardona  19:47  

Oh my gosh, that is so exciting. And I'm so happy for you and I completely understand because I've traveled to Columbia, South America. And it was so confusing. When I first I got there, I didn't know where customs was, what to do, where to go, how to do it, how to proceed, it was so hard because I'm an English speaking person in a Spanish speaking country. And it was just really difficult. So I just think that sounds like it could be an amazing, very successful product one day, so I can't wait to keep up on that and look at your LinkedIn to see what's going on with that. And one day down the road. That'll be a great success.

Anurag Varshney  20:28  

Yeah, hopefully, I'm not sure when this will happen. But yes, I'm on it working on a lot of things working on this is well, let's see.

Dennise Cardona  20:38  

That's fantastic. So my next question was, what has been your biggest takeaway so far from UMBC. So that sounds like a pretty big takeaway, but were there any other takeaways, so far?

Anurag Varshney  20:54  

So, the most important takeaway till now was understanding the power of "why." It is not important to ask very complex questions, it is not important to ask, okay, this is something you are building, I want this detail, I want this detail, I want this detail. Sometimes it is just required to ask a simple question, why are we doing this? And being a community of inquiring minds, I mentioned earlier as well. There are students who focus a lot on why are we doing this? Why are we building it? What type of value are we are going to provide to the customer if we are building this? I have seen a podcast from the previous founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, if I remember correctly. So while been building products, he was like, whenever he is in the meetings, he don't ask very complex question. He just asked very basic, simple questions. Okay, if we are launching this feature, what type of value are we going to provide to the user? It's as simple as that. I know that you are building this feature since last three years, and they are 100 engineers who are working on it. And they have developed a really great feature for the users. But when he was in the final discussion meeting, he just asked a simple question. And unfortunately, the then product manager who is also one of the renowned product manager, manager in the whole industry, is "I don't have any answer." So this is the power of "why." This is one of the very important lessons which I learned from my classes with Professor Toby Gouker, who is always taking the classes for management, leadership and communication, he always encouraged us to understand the why and understand what will be the value you are going to provide. It is not only just okay, you understood the why this is the reason why I want to build it. But once you build it, what is your strategy, how you want to pitch this to the future, because with the amount of pace the world is growing, and with the amount of pace the world is, I will say, leap frogging. Because of AI is like you have to think a lot in advance. Okay, if I'm building this, I know the why. But what type of value is going to provide to the customers to the users?

Dennise Cardona  23:20  

Yes, it's really important the question of why and that is applicable, to anyone who does anything in the world? Why? A teacher can ask why policeman can ask why. It's applicable across the board. In all, in all facets of our life. Without personal relationships with our endeavors, it's really important to say, why? Why are we doing this? Why am I doing this? What value is this going to bring the world? That's smart? Yeah, I really liked that. Can you think of anything else to add that you believe prospective students would and should want to know?

Anurag Varshney  24:00  

Now I think I have talked a lot about engineering management. But now I would like to share some thoughts about the experience of international students in the United States. If you are a prospective student and watching this podcast, one thing I will recommend you is that be well prepared research more about the courses and research more about the professor's because it is not the university course which is going to add value it is going to be the professor who is going to add the value. So research more about the professors and if you have questions is always ask for it. I always say that if you have any questions, just raise your hand and speak up. That is a very simple way. Don't hesitate. You think that it might be a silly question, but sometimes such kind of silly questions has changed the world. If you talk about Facebook, Google, those were some of the silly ideas when they all started, but now they have revolutionized the world. So I can say understand more about the professor's understand more about the course. And the second thing is be well prepared with your resumes, be well prepared with accommodation and other kinds of facilities who are looking forward to research more connect with student community at UMBC. We have a student community for Indian students, for Bangladesh students, for students coming from other different communities, leverage the power of the communities over here, connect with them connect on LinkedIn, try emailing them. So this might be going to help you a lot. The ISS team at UMBC provides a lot of resources, I still remember they had a student guide, it is one of the best guides, which I have referred to. And it helped me a lot not only to find accommodation, not only to be well prepared to be a future student of UMBC. But also it also made me confident while coming over here, which is very important. Because when you come to a different country, you are always under confident you're like, Okay, what is going to happen? I don't know this country, I don't know. I don't know the people. And if you are confident, the only way to be confident is to get more information, once you have more information, and you leverage the power of data.

Dennise Cardona  26:18  

Yeah, I love that. Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing those insights with us today. It's really it was really special conversation. And I just I really enjoyed it. I feel like we went in a few different directions that were fun to explore had  a different analogies we went through it was a really great conversation. And I'm really grateful that you were here with us today.

Anurag Varshney  26:40  

Same hear, Dennise, I say again, that I'm grateful and humbled that you chose me and you connected with me and we are here are doing this podcast. I hope this type of information adds more value to the students who are looking forward not only for UMBC, but also for engineering management. And, yeah that's it. And one thing, which I would like to say is that it is never impossible, until it's done. So this is one of the quotes from Nelson Mandela if I'm quoting it correctly, and so just keep doing it. And keep working hard and someday the results will be there. So just you have to do it.

Dennise Cardona  27:23  

You have to do it. It'll be worth it. Yes. Thanks for listening to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd up podcast. I hope that you enjoyed it. If you'd like to learn more about our offerings, do a search for engineering management graduate program at UMBC or simply click the link in the description.