Working with Teams to Solve Problems: From Afghanistan to MIT Hackathons

By

Thomas
Mangan

(LGO ‘19)

“Sir, the [cafeteria kitchen] just lost power, Christmas
dinner won’t be ready in time!” As the base engineer, I’d given the colonel bad
news in the past. This took the cake. Who knew a meal for 1,500 people is
prepared over 24 hours in advance?

image

As I surveyed possible graduate programs, I thought back to
this and other army experiences. I realized I wanted to help solve the types of
energy related problems I’d encountered in the Army – like having power to
prepare Christmas dinner. This led me to apply to the MIT LGO program and
several other MBA and engineering programs.

Ultimately I chose MIT because it aligned the best with my
goals of leadership development and acquiring new technical expertise. I initially
thought my experiences in LGO would be siloed: leadership through the MBA,
technical abilities with the SM. After two semesters,
I realize I was greatly mistaken. Through Sloan I am learning about the energy
industry, and my most challenging leadership experience was in the School of
Engineering.

I was taken back by Sloan’s involvement in energy. MBAs from
the Sloan Energy Club comprised the majority of my team for the Energy
Hackathon. The optimization model we developed for solar battery storage
facilities blew away my preconceptions about MBAs. Now that my required classes
are done, I’m taking three energy courses at Sloan next semester. The subjects
fall within departments from applied economics to systems dynamics. I’m also
rounding out my finance skills so that next year I can take a class on social
impact investing.

Surprisingly, my engineering class on developing simulation
software included substantial leadership development. Throughout the semester I
worked on a team of three to create epidemiology simulation software. A week to
go, we were still pretty behind. I had never worked on a software project and
it exposed me to the challenges of the tech industry for the first time. Nothing
seemed to work for us. The worst part was having to present to and graded by a
panel of industry experts. Think people who develop
MATLAB (a far cry from pitching tents in Afghanistan). Through an all-out
effort by everyone and after some highly productive brainstorming sessions, we
got our software working and the presentation was well received. It turns out
that the experts were just as interested in our ability to work together as our
technical abilities. Luckily we delivered on both fronts.

MIT is not only presenting me with ways to develop as a
leader and engineer in ways I never thought possible. It is blending the two. Besides
the cold walk between some buildings, the business and engineering schools at
MIT blend effortlessly. This is the integration I was looking for in a graduate
program. It was the integration of leadership and engineering that brought
together the herculean effort of engineers and cooks to save that Christmas
meal five years ago in northern Afghanistan.