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How Askar Baikov, ’19SPS, Technology Management, Pivoted from Cybersecurity to Tech Growth

Askar Baikov, ’19SPS, Technology Management, was recently promoted to Business Specialist in the tech-growth & innovation department at Aera Energy LLC. He discusses his academic and career journey, from working in cybersecurity in Kazakhstan to finding his new opportunity in California through the Columbia Graduate Consulting Club.  

Tell us about your career, and what initially attracted you to the M.S. in Technology Management program. 

I was born in Moscow and grew up in Kazakhstan. I studied economics, and worked all over the world—in the Middle East, Europe and Kazakhstan. I worked in cybersecurity for two years before I found the program. I knew I needed to gain more knowledge in IT management and the latest trends. I started to do some research on the degrees that were available, and found a split between the more technical degrees and the more business and strategy-related. I thought it would be a good idea to pursue IT strategy. When I found Technology Management at Columbia, it was a no brainer for me, a dream that came true. I’ve loved this university ever since I first visited New York City. 

 

 Which courses helped you to hone key skills? 

I can’t name a single class that isn’t helpful to me in my current role. While in the program, it wasn’t always clear how a certain type of knowledge would be applied. But all of the courses gave me the tools and knowledge to decide what matters in the workplace. We learned a good mix of soft communications skills and hard accounting, finance and IT skills. 

One of my electives, Enterprise Information Security, taught me all the key aspects and latest trends in cybersecurity. It allowed me to be confident in my work discussions with experienced IT staff. The capstone challenged our teams to model and defend a business plan for an enterprise organization. I created and defended a new business idea called “Local Friends.”  I approached the plan from a finance, IT, and business strategy lens, and provided recommendations to take it to market. 

The skills I learned in the program allowed me to work on projects at Aera that are broader than just IT. I am able to contribute in terms of project management, finance, and overall strategy. 

 

Were there any events or activities at Columbia that stood out to be particularly valuable? 

I worked as a Research Assistant for Thomas Cowan, Associate Director of the program, alongside fellow Technology Management student Sagar Jaitly. Dr. Cowan encouraged us to participate in a cross-University challenge, the IXL Innovation Olympics.

When I graduated from the M.S. program, I stayed engaged on campus through the Columbia Graduate Consulting Club. I continued to meet students from across Columbia’s different schools. Through the club, Sagar and I attended a University-wide conference called G-100, which brought together the world experts in cybersecurity to train C-suite level executives on related initiatives. This was where I met leadership from Aera Energy, one of the largest oil and natural gas companies in California, and applied to and was offered a role at the organization.

At Aera, I used to work as an IT Control Specialist. My original role was to prepare the department for IT audits. In our first audit, I was able to showcase the broad range of skills I learned in the program, and was offered a larger role. More recently, I have been involved in a three months-long strategy project in Los Angeles alongside top tier consultants and have since been promoted to Business Specialist.  

 

What kind of impact would you like to make in your career? 

I am excited about my future at Aera. What makes Aera so unique—everyone at the company has the skills and the willingness to work hard—but there is so much opportunity to dive into different types of work and to develop leadership skills. Sagar and I are the leads for the internal organization on professional development. We put together events and speakers, and invite leaders in from the community to engage with Aera’s employees. 

The program has helped me feel confident in any work environment or work discussion, because I have a great understanding of the IT side and the business side of an organization. I can understand and communicate on both ends. Columbia has given me a framework for a lifelong career journey, a framework I didn’t know existed, but am so excited to continue to exercise.

 

Learn more about the M.S. in Technology Management at Columbia's School of Professional Studies