Training a new-economy pioneer

For e-commerce firms or brick-and-mortar businesses branching out to the Internet, finding employees with the right mix of skills can be a challenge.

To provide the e-commerce job market with the well-rounded applicants that are needed, a number of universities are beginning to offer programs that bring together business and IT training, coupling instruction in programming and computer security with classes in finance, marketing and Internet law.

Since most of the programs have opened their doors within the past couple of years, their first graduates are just starting to enter the job market. Here’s one recent grad at the beginning of a career full of possibilities.

Graduate: Vincent Kondaveeti, master of science degree in e-commerce.

School: The Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

Experience: After getting a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1997, Kondaveeti worked for two years as an analyst at Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP, a mortgage banking firm in Pittsburgh. There, he did demographic research and market reports for a number of multimillion-dollar commercial property deals.

But Kondaveeti was eager to be a part of the Internet economy. “I knew I wanted to shift gears,” he said. “And I knew that what the market needs is people who know both business and technology. The CMU program looked like a great opportunity.”

The program: The goal of CMU’s e-commerce program is to balance IT and business training. To accomplish that, the university brings together professors from its business and computer science schools to teach students everything from accounting to Java and HTML.

The 12-month program, which costs US$38,000, is divided into six seven-week semesters in which students take intensive courses in subjects such as electronic payment systems, communications and networking, and supply-chain management.

Kondaveeti said that although the curriculum is diverse, it’s also well integrated. “The whole program works together,” he said. “Writing business plans, coding Java, studying Internet security – they all fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.”

With so much to cover in such a short period of time, the pace is fast – “worse than boot camp,” said Kondaveeti. In his Internet marketing class, for example, Kondaveeti had just four weeks to put together a business plan for an on-line entertainment portal, including a market analysis, a revenue model and an implementation strategy.

On the IT side, students receive basic training in Java, HTML and Web architecture, as well as security and encryption systems. The year ends with a 12-week practicum in which students work on real-world problems for corporate clients.

Back to work: Fresh out of school, Kondaveeti landed a job in July as a management associate at financial services firm Citigroup Inc. in New York. For the past five months, he’s been working on, a person-to-person payment Web site that lets customers send money to one another via e-mail.

As a member of the customer experience team, Kondaveeti’s tasks have included working on the site’s user interface and testing it out on groups of volunteers who offered feedback about the site.

Using the knowledge of Java, HTML and public-key infrastructure that he picked up at CMU, he has also acted as a liaison between the customer experience team and the IT team that does the coding for the site.

Recently, Kondaveeti has worked on designing a system for updating C2it, which launched last month. He has also begun exploring possible business partners for the service’s wireless component, which is expected to be added next year.

Since his work on C2it has been part of a rotational program designed to give new employees a broad range of experience, Kondaveeti will soon move to another one of Citigroup’s business units. He said he hopes his training makes him the kind of employee companies will be scrambling to hire – and to keep – for years to come.

Tobias is a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, Calif.

At a glance

Name and job title: Vincent Kondaveeti, management associate

Company and location: Citigroup Inc., New York

Nature of his work: Kondaveeti has been working on developing, Citibank’s person-to-person payment Web site. He has helped design and test the site’s user interface, examined potential partners in the wireless arena and developed new processes for updating the site.

Degree program: Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Science in Electronic Commerce program, at the university’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration.

Technology skills learned: Students gain basic proficiency in Java, HTML, Web architecture, and security and encryption systems.

Business skills learned: Course work includes Internet marketing, financial accounting and managerial economics. Students also learn entrepreneurial skills such as how to create and pitch a business plan.

Career path: Some students have gone on to work as consultants, while others have gone to work at start-ups or large corporations. Kondaveeti said he expects to move into business strategy or venture capital at Citigroup.

Advice: Kondaveeti said some background in programming, especially Java and HTML, is helpful but isn’t required before entering a program like CMU’s. Keeping current on events in the business world is also key. While in the program, take advantage of your classmates’ diverse professional backgrounds. “If you’re coming from a business background, make sure you get to know the more technical types,” said Kondaveeti. “It’s a great opportunity to learn an entirely new mind-set.”