A Degree 88,000 Miles in the Making

Author: Ryan Millbern

Every other Thursday afternoon, Alissa Wong leaves the Microsoft campus in Seattle, and boards a four-hour flight. Her destination: the MSBA program at the University of Notre Dame’s Chicago campus. 

Alissa Wong

After working for two years as a data and artificial intelligence consultant with Microsoft, Alissa was interested in expanding her technical and business acumen—and gaining exposure to a wider range of non-Microsoft technologies. “I was interested in getting exposure to people from different industries and some of the challenges they face,” Wong says.

Exploring new technologies 

The technical component of the MSBA program at Notre Dame proved to be a perfect fit for Wong. “I didn’t want to do a general MBA. I’ve always had a love for the customer tied into tech. I knew that the better I could understand my customers—regardless of their industry or technological architecture—the better I could support them.” 

“I had a decent grasp of SQL,” Wong adds, “but I wanted R and more of the predictive analytic components, particularly because Microsoft is doing a big AI push. I like that I’ve seen non-Microsoft tools like Tableau and Power VI—to have that understanding has been very helpful.”  

Just months into the program, Wong has already been able to utilize her new technical skills to complete advanced customer requests at work. “The program is rigorous and moves at a fast pace, but also demonstrates value in a short amount of time.”  

The human element 

In addition to the knowledge she’s acquired about diverse technologies, Wong cites the camaraderie with the classmates in her cohort as one of the most rewarding components of the program. “They put us all in a team and it’s been phenomenal,” Wong says. “I wouldn’t trade my group for anything. The program does a great job of mixing skillsets and personalities that they think will fit.” 

“A one-year knockout” well worth the effort 

While Wong was drawn to the MSBA program’s curriculum and its applicability to her work at Microsoft, she also appreciated the structure of the program—and the possibility of earning her degree in just a year. “A big draw was that it was a Friday/Saturday program located in a city like Chicago,” Wong notes. “I wanted a one-year knockout and this has been perfect. There’s not many programs out there that will touch on all of these topics in one year in a big city.” 

Looking back on her hectic year of travel and the immersive learning of new technologies, Wong has found the experience to be well worth the distances she’s travelled. “I would honestly say sometimes you’re going to feel like crying,” she says, laughing, “but when you look back and can see what you’ve learned in class applied to the real world and all of the relationships you’ve built in class, it’s really rewarding.”