McIntire congratulates Dan O’Brien (M.S. in MIT ’16), Associate Vice President for Enterprise Data Services at The Carlyle Group, for having been awarded the 2016 M.S. in MIT Award for Excellence in Leadership and Technology. Recognized as an outstanding student and contributor to others’ learning, O’Brien serves as an exemplar of the M.S. in MIT Program’s aims and values. Here, we talk to him about his time in the Program.
As Associate Vice President for Enterprise Data Services at The Carlyle Group, what are your primary responsibilities?
My team is focused on enabling data-driven decisions for our business. This means leveraging the firm’s collective data assets so that they empower our business partners with insights. We do this by using a combination of databases, integration technologies, master data management, and traditional data warehousing. Increasingly, we’ve been looking into how to make the most effective use of big data technologies.
Why did you choose to enroll in the M.S. in MIT Program? What skills or perspectives did you hope the Program might offer you?
I had two primary reasons for enrolling in the Program. First, my undergraduate degree is in computer science; as such, I had been trained to take a “bottom-up” approach: understanding the bits and bytes of technology and applying that understanding to a defined business challenge. That approach served me very well early in my career, but now I’m being asked to find solutions to comprehensive business challenges, rather than discrete technological problems. At The Carlyle Group, our goal is to “Invest Wisely, Create Value,” not to “merge and deploy.” I realized that to fully address the challenges with which my role presents me, I need to really understand how business and technology can most effectively work in partnership to create value.
In addition, I strongly believe that each of us is, essentially, an independent contractor providing our employers with our particular expertise, much like a consultant. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day deliverables and let our skillsets become stale. I was looking for new perspectives to keep my professional “product” fresh—and the M.S. in MIT Program was the right investment.
Did the Program meet your expectations? What did it offer that you weren’t expecting?
The Program absolutely met my expectations—and it also offered a number of positive surprises. I found it fascinating to learn about emerging technologies and how they’re shaping the future of business, and it was incredibly valuable to learn why exactly these new technologies are so disruptive. The professors did a great job of cutting through the marketing hype to really get to the heart of what these technologies mean for businesses, and why.
As a “bottom-up” kind of person, I found the final module to be the most challenging—but it was also the most rewarding. It was in this module that the whole program really came together for me: The in-depth work we did on understanding company financials enabled me to understand the motivations of senior executives in an entirely new way. This was exactly the “top-down” perspective I had been looking for.
I think I was most surprised by the incredible depth of content on strategy, business value, and differentiation. I went in expecting a short lecture on these topics—and left with a completely new understanding of how businesses compete. I see individual trees, not just a forest of competitors. These are lessons I will take with me for the rest of my career.
What might you tell someone who is considering enrolling in the Program?
The diversity of skills, perspectives, and experiences you will find among your M.S. in MIT peer group simply cannot be replicated in a textbook. In many ways, it was the interaction with my outstanding peers in the program—guided, of course, by McIntire’s terrific faculty members—that offered me the most value. We’re all at the nexus of business and IT in one way or another. Whether you want to gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the latest technologies, or the nuances of cutting-edge business strategy, this program has something to offer you. It’s a fantastic investment.
By Mary Summers Whittle