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Tara Shahbazi: Finding Focus and a Business Foundation for a Career in Tech

If choosing a professional path were a software application, getting an MBA or a law degree would be like the factory presets—default options that can lead to a broad array of industries and careers. For Tara Shahbazi, business and law school didn’t feel like the right options.

“A lot of people seem to get those ‘blanket’ degrees—for lack of a better term—just for the sake of having them,” said Shahbazi, who earned her bachelor’s in Media, Communications and Culture from NYU. “But unless you really know what you want to do with it, chances are you’ll end up being just as confused as you were to begin with. My goal for a career was to specialize.”

Having worked for digital advertising and marketing firms before joining a boutique agency to work in brand and product development, Shahbazi could see that “the future was all about digital products and delivery platforms.” That insight and her desire for a clearer, more focused path led her to the Master of Science in Technology Management at Columbia University School of Professional Studies.

“What’s great about the program is that it’s very specific,” she said. “You’re not just doing an MBA or a law degree. You’re really differentiating yourself.”

Initially concerned that she didn’t have the requisite technical background, Shahbazi was reassured when Academic Director Arthur M. Langer, EdD, told incoming students, “If you’re here to learn how to code, you’re in the wrong program.” As an international student herself (raised in Switzerland), she was all the more delighted to find herself among an international cohort of students with diverse backgrounds and professional experiences.

I knew that this program would elevate the types of roles that I could apply to. It just facilitates smart thinking."

Tara Shahbazi, ’19SPS, Technology Management

Along with the primer in finance and management fundamentals it provided, Shahbazi appreciated the program’s emphasis on critical thinking, exemplified by the Leading Disruptive Change and Capstone Project courses led by Professor Thomas Cowan. And she credits the program with providing a vantage point on the technology industry that enabled her to orient herself and find her own way.

“It’s a great way to learn the different parts of the industry, especially people who know that they’re interested in tech but may not know exactly what kind of job they want,” Shahbazi said. “I personally fell in love with product management, which is a perfect fit for me because it’s a mix of technology, marketing and strategy. It allows you to see all aspects of a business because product is at the core of the business.”

Shahbazi’s interest in product management crystallized in the course of her Capstone Project, for which she developed a business plan and pitch for an all-inclusive travel platform designed for millennials to plan, book and share experiences for multi-destination and group travel. When she seized the opportunity to meet JetBlue’s CIO at a program event, she pitched him the platform idea “on the fly” and scored a meeting that led to her current position as Airport, Inflight and Onboard Technology Products intern.

Although a global pandemic would seem to be an inopportune moment to work in the aviation industry, Shahbazi has appreciated being able to learn and make decisions in a fast-paced environment at “a company that is big on career development.” And she is grateful for the opportunities that Columbia has opened for her, including serving as a Teaching Associate for the Capstone course during the Summer 2020 term.

“I knew that this program would elevate the types of roles that I could apply to,” Shahbazi said. “It just facilitates smart thinking. When I see something in the news, I'll immediately revert back to the program and think about all the business dimensions and possible challenges. I was always horrible at math, but I can build a financial model now—I even taught other students how to do it this summer! I look at a product now, and I can estimate what its financial model is. That’s something I was never able to do because I had no concept for how to approach it. Now I do.”

Learn more about the M.S. in Technology Management program.