Gaining Business Analytics Skills for a Career after the Air Force

Michael WadleighMichael Wadleigh, MSBA ’21
Current job: Aircraft Mechanic, United States Air Force (Master Sergeant/E-7)
Location: Charleston, SC
UG degree: Technical Management, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Your career journey/your current role

The civilian equivalent of my role is production superintendent. I’m responsible for making sure that aircraft are ready to meet the mission, so I find and gather all the people and resources to fix, configure, service, and prepare the aircraft to meet the mission requirements.

I pursued this degree because I was always ignorant about statistics, how models are created and what people do with the data, the importance and significance of those things, and the importance of the way it is communicated. It was a gap in the knowledge I had. I have experience engaging people and managing resources but totally lacked statistical knowledge.

It has been a steep learning curve for me. However, the education was missing from my Air Force training and experience and has helped to develop my skills very well.

Career aspirations

When I retire from the Air Force in a few years I’d like to look at project management jobs, managing resources and leading people to accomplish tasks.

Why did you choose the Smith Online MSBA?

I picked this program because it was strictly online. The Air Force has had me living in several different states and countries. Some other schools require you to be on campus in person part of the time, even for their online program, and that’s not really an option for me.

University of Maryland had the credentials I was looking for and had the right balance of math and business skills. I am trying to translate myself into the civilian world and I knew that I needed the business skills.

What did you learn that was most helpful?

The most important thing I learned was how models are built, the significance of choosing the data, and how to interpret the data and communicate that information well. I’ve already been able to use what I learned in the model optimization class to improve resource management. I’ve been able to picture what I want to do with resources and make better judgements and decisions. I know I’m finding an optimal solution rather than just doing what other people have done.

Non-quant person in a quant program

I had never coded anything in my life. Now I have experience with R, Python, SQL, and CPLEX. I struggled to learn the intrinsic parts of coding, in addition to the actual subject matter of the class. A lot of the TAs have been helpful, but I’ve also worked with tutors. Datacamp has been a great skill building tool and Stack Overflow has been a go-to resource. Getting online and looking at workbooks really helped me a lot.

Favorite teacher? Favorite subject?

I liked Suresh’s class and Suresh as an instructor. Michael Trusov was a great teacher and had interesting insights into marketing. David Waguespack’s class was also excellent. He required a lot of student engagement and that got us really involved in the coursework.

Connection with classmates

I’ve met a couple people in the military through my classes but most are civilians, so I’ve been able to build relationships with people from a lot of different backgrounds. They’ve taught me about civilian hiring processes, what people are looking for in resumes, how things translate from the military world to the civilian world. I am also involved in Smith’s student senate, the executive committee and student affair committee.

Where I’ve learned the most is through the group projects and getting all the new perspectives. I work with a big variety of people already, from all over the world, but this gave me an even broader perspective.

Work/life balance

I don't have balance. I have four kids. Our 10-month-old just started sleeping, so that’s a relief! You just have to do it. My wife is going through college too, so you just embrace the stress and understand you’re going to get through it. If you want to be successful you’ve got to do it.

What had the most impact for you?

Just having the education. We had contractors come to talk about the software they were developing to help us do schedule management, and because I’d had all these courses I knew how to have the conversation. I was able to build something to show them what I wanted. I could communicate how I wanted to manage the database versus how it was currently being managed, in a way that they could really understand and that allowed them to build what we really needed. Being able to have those educated conversations was really helpful.

If you could do the program again what would you do differently?

I would start sooner after my bachelor’s and be done sooner. Having a better understanding of the program now, I would have liked to use the time I had before starting classes to get at least some good experience with R and Python.

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