2019 Best Online MBAs: Spandana Lakkamraju, Indiana University (Kelley)

Spandana Lakkamraju

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

“A marketer, dancer, biker and a pilot-in-training who pursued an MBA.”

Age: 27

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Fun fact about yourself: Last summer, I went on a father-daughter motorcycle trip to Khardung La Pass, which is the highest motorable road (about 18,000 feet) in the beautiful Himalayas.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Santa Clara University, Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Management and minor in Economics

Where are you currently working? Cisco Systems

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? If you asked 10-year-old me, she’d be most proud of her short internship at NASA. I now say that I fell into marketing and others who know me say they always saw me doing what I’m doing today. In some sense, I do believe I’m doing what I’m meant to be. Starting out in marketing while having taken only one formal marketing class: Marketing 101 (Thank you professor Shanmugam), I had a clean slate.

With the help and resources of Cisco, I was given the encouragement to work on: The Mars Network Challenge. It was one of the first B2B Gamification experiences created to engage customers. The engagement platform resulted in over 6,000 registrations, 125,000 unique visitors, and more than 50,000 engagement points. It earned a nomination for the 2018 Most Creative Marketing Campaign (at the Oracle Markie awards), the Mountaineer award (an internal senior leadership award within Cisco) and it gave me the opportunity to give my first speech at the Oracle Marketing conference in Chicago.

However, if I’m being totally honest, I think I’ve yet to attain the proudest achievement in my professional career and I’m hoping it’ll come soon after my MBA.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? It made total sense! I always knew that I was going to get an MBA. I started studying for the GMAT just two years out of my undergraduate program. I would go to classes. I’d attend events held by universities. I joined the Forté MBA Launch program (I highly recommend this if you’re a woman looking to get an MBA by the way). Everywhere I went, they “recommended” that I have 3-5 years of experience which was always disappointing. When you’re raring to go and they put the brakes on you, it’s hard to get that momentum back.

Speaking of momentum, that achievement I told you about? That came in year three and four of my career. This was when I’d made a name for myself and I was starting to do “actual” work. I was at the top of my game, starting to make waves. I thought, “I can’t stop now…maybe I’ll get an executive MBA later in life.” As I was juggling between making the decision of going back to school vs. staying at work, Kelley came knocking. They said I was chosen to be part of the #1 online MBA program with a dual-degree. I spoke to my manager about it and she said Cisco would help fund a portion of my education. This was the best of both worlds: I could continue to increase my work experience, I wouldn’t have to take on a massive student loan, and I could graduate with two master’s degrees. Anyone in my place would have made the same decision.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? Ironically, my favorite part of the online MBA program is the one time we’re not online. When you start at Kelley, you’re invited to start the MBA experience with a week in Bloomington for Kelley Connect Week. This is when you and your entire cohort comes together. You’re put through a week’s worth of lectures and case competition prep. They provide enough drinks to get us to bond in the evenings and enough coffee to keep us going during the day. The kind of bonding that happens in that one week is hard to beat in even months of “networking sessions” in trying getting to know your acquaintances in classes.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? It would be the learning experience as a whole. It’s easy to not take online classes seriously. Life gets in the way and you get sidetracked. Kelley doesn’t let that happen. They constantly keep you engaged with Kelly Connect Week. The global cohort meets every few months. There are also excursions for club meets and the Agile programs (that give us an opportunity to travel around the world and apply our skills to real-world problems). There’s no “break” from Kelley, we’re part of this community that just keeps going.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? The face-to-face interactions with my professors are the biggest difference when it comes to learning online. I think making connections with the professors is just as important as making connections with the students in an MBA program. The Kelley professors are always available on email, but office hours and face-to-face really come in handy for some of the more complex subjects and in getting to know them better. I try to make up for that when I’m on campus for Kelley Connect Week. However, I would change it so we had a way to get to know our professors and interact with them beyond lectures and after our classes have ended.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? You’d be surprised how much and how quickly everything you learn starts to come in handy. The first class I took was Quantitative Analysis. They pushed us into learning about regression models and how to leverage data in order to be able to derive valuable insights. I’d sat next to the data scientist on our team for months. A few days into my class, I started to really understand the way data works. It helped me get to insights almost instantly and months later I’m still implementing nuggets of gold from the analytics we were able to run.

This experience wasn’t limited to just the data scientist on my team. We all have people on our team who we can’t exactly explain what they do or how they get the job done. My MBA program shines a light on all of that and helps me make deeper connections. I have been able to do my job better and accelerate into a role(s) I didn’t even know I could do.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? 100% Yes, I would make this same decision over again if I were to go back in time. The Kelley MBA isn’t a fluffy online degree that I can add to my resumes. It’s combining real-life experience with a first-class education to help catapult me to new heights in my career. It’s a total win-win situation.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My career, so far, has been a whirlwind of exciting opportunities. Interning at NASA was truly a dream come true. As a little girl, I wanted to be an astronaut. My dad and I (while in India) would use a program called SATI to send messages to ET. The possibility of connecting with an entirely new species excited me. This “connector” is still alive in me today. I’m constantly looking for problems that can be solved by connecting the right people and technologies to solve problems. Until five years ago, all I’d worked towards was to get a job. I’d thought that once I was in the “real” world, I’d have all the resources at my fingertips to achieve “utopia.” This utopia of making an impact by becoming a technology business leader – someone who uses technology to solve real-world problems – is still something I seek as a career and life goal. I want to be a strategic tech warrior of sorts.



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