I've been in a few interesting spots this year: Atop the highest peak of Machu Picchu in Peru, diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa, having tea with the Archbishop of Kenya and even floating around in a hot air balloon over the ancient Egyptian ruins of Luxor. I guess it shouldn't come as a huge shock that I was recently guest-teaching a couple of courses at a business school in Innsbruck, Austria.
Let me explain...
Way back in the dark ages of 1995 I was one of those wide-eyed undergrads who had no idea what he wanted to do. At certain points during my freshman and sophomore years I was biology major, an art major and a psychology major. There were literally so many things to learn - it seemed limiting to pick just one. Fortunately for people like me, they put deadlines on such decisions.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Honors Program at Missouri Southern State University, something which (like playing basketball) added equal levels of excitement, challenge and stress to my college experience. One of the mandates of the program was to have underclassmen take a variety of electives across all facets of the academic spectrum. Like so many things not understood while in the moment, this requirement ended up changing the course of my career.
At one point I had to take a business class - something which at that point in my life I had equated with accounting, finance and other such number-driven monotony. When I looked through the course catalog, I found something called "Virtual Marketing". It sounded interesting, and which at least at first glance didn't seem to require me to understand the latest tax code.
The Virtual Marketing class was taught by a professor named Dr. Brad Kleindl, someone with who I ended up connecting with immediately. We talked about my career, and my general lack of direction. I remember a conversation going something like this:
Me: Well, I've been an art major, and a psychology major. I like art, but I really only like creating art for me, and can't really see how you'd make any money doing it. I like psychology - understanding why people do the things they do, but I don't really want to spend the rest of my life listening to people's problems.
Dr. Kleindl (with smile): Well, when I was in school, I was an art major, and then a psychology major. I ended up choosing marketing because you get to be creative, you get to learn how people think, and why they make decisions, and, you can make a solid career out of it.
Ding Ding Ding! A week later I was an official candidate for a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with emphasis in Marketing.
To top it off, I really liked it. Yes, there were some painful classes in Economics and Accounting, but for every one of those, there were two that dealt with hard core marketing. My favorites ended up being those centered on e-Business and Virtual Marketing - two topics which in 1997-1998 were pretty new. Dr. Kleindl was in the middle of writing a book on the subject, and we, as his students got a first look through our course work.
I asked Dr. Kleindl to be my adviser, and through the course of the next couple of years, he helped me through some very stressful times, which on top of basketball practice, game-day road trips and other coursework, included the creation, execution and delivery of my honors thesis on Web design and its impact on the propensity to buy. Ah, college.
Fortunately, Dr. Kleindl and I kept in touch over the years after my graduation. He followed my career at Cerner develop from a rank and file sales associate into the manager of the corporate website of a $1.4 billion company - a true e-business career. And, I followed his - which included a well-deserved promotion into the position of the Dean of the School of Business at MSSU.
Fast forward to November of 2006. As has become a bit of a tradition, I knocked on Dean Kleindl's door the Wednesday before Thanksgiving on my way home to see the folks. We sat down to chat for a while, at which point I told him about my little plan to quit my nice comfy job in KC and travel the world. As I knew he would (being quite a traveler himself), he reacted with congratulations and support. As we talked further, he told me he'd be in Innsbruck, Austria for a good part of the summer, teaching a series of classes in e-business and entrepreneurship. We agreed to keep in touch throughout the course of the next months to see what happened.
Now, fast forward to early June of this year. After trading a few emails, Dean Kleindl and I figured out a time and place for us to meet in Innsbruck. As I was staying for a few days, he asked if I wouldn't mind coming to a couple classes he was teaching to talk to his students about careers in e-business. I of course accepted, and a couple days later found myself standing in front of a classroom of wide-eyed students from all over Europe.
I spent the first portion of class talking about my academic history, then my career at Cerner. I talked about how I managed to find my way from sales training to an inside sales team to the Cerner.com team. I talked about how I talked my way into content editing, and eventually into a Team Lead job. I then talked about being asked to work on a big project in London for several months, then coming back to work on Cerner.com from the technology side. I then talked about moving back up to marketing to manage what I just helped to create. I talked about how I made the decision to quit my job and go travel. And finally, I talked about how fortunate I was to have a career and a skill set that made such a trip possible, and how I was confident I could get a job when I got back. All in all, I talked about how e-business and the rise of careers based around the internet changed my life in ways I couldn't have conceived of.
Now, I don't know if I wowed anyone, but I did get a round of applause (probably just to get me off the podium). It was a lot of fun though, and the students asked quite a few interesting questions.
It was quite a sensation to be back on a college campus. It brought back a lot of memories - feelings and thoughts I hadn't experienced for a long time. Fun to watch all the students in the commons area reading, studying, laughing... It was wonderful. It was even better to be on the "teaching" side of things. No homework, no GPA, no scholarship pressure, no worries. Ah, but what an atmosphere.
Maybe I need to go back to school...