Brian Ziff-Levine believes he is in the ideal geographic location for a software industry professional.
"It's really the entire Interstate 5 corridor," he said. "In Seattle, up north, you have Amazon. Down south, you have the Silicon Valley. We're right in the middle here in Portland, and I think there are some exciting things going on, as far as technology is concerned, away from the Silicon Valley and the Amazons of the world."
That helped motivate Ziff-Levine to enroll in the Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Business Analytics online program at Southern Oregon University. He will graduate in 2020.
"Earning an MBA is valuable for me because it gives me a better and broader perspective on business challenges and business goals," he said. "As I progressed in my career, there were certain things that I knew I needed to understand better, and the best way to do that is getting an MBA."
Ziff-Levine has also experienced tremendous success in his career, which is another reason he believes a master's degree was an important next step.
"I had been running parts of a business myself," he said. "I had profit or loss responsibility, and my training up until then hadn't prepared me for that. So, it was a matter of increased responsibility, increased awareness and seniority that required that I know more to be able to do more."
Not long after Ziff-Levine enrolled in the online MBA program, he switched jobs from vice president of new development at US Bank to senior product manager at Accela. The program has already paid dividends in his career.
"Being able to talk the talk while speaking to business analysts, chief financial officers, controllers and other finance professionals has been an asset," he said. "Having them know that I have the background to understand what's at stake has definitely given me a lot more credibility when I enter those conversations."
Ziff-Levine wasn't always a Pacific Northwest guy. The Philadelphia native graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005.
After working in the political realm early in his career, he moved to Oregon from Virginia and started a position as senior director of payments strategy and support for First Tech Federal Credit Union in Beaverton.
"For me, it was mostly about the challenge and how current and important the software industry is to the world, in general, and certainly living on the west coast,'' he said. ''It is definitely a hot spot for software development and engineering."
Affordability and flexibility were the two biggest reasons Ziff-Levine chose SOU.
"I wanted something that would fit in with my professional schedule and wasn't going to break the bank," he said. "Southern Oregon checked all the boxes that it needed to check for me. Having that flexibility was an absolute must."
While working for US Bank, Ziff-Levine was rarely at home because the position required extensive travel.
"I took so many classes sitting in airports or hotels in Asia and India," he said. "I vividly remember starting my accounting homework sitting on a couch in the middle of a hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. The online format was the only way that I could have gone about earning an MBA, given my professional schedule at the time."
So far, MBA 585: Financial Management, taught by Dr. Curt Bacon, has been the most impactful course in the online MBA curriculum for Ziff-Levine.
"I appreciated the applicability of the skills that we learned in that class," he said. "I was able to go straight from that class to my job and apply exactly what I had just learned.
"Learning about net present value, internal rate of return and general profitability analysis was extremely helpful and directly applicable to day-to-day operations of any commercial bank."
Ziff-Levine has only taken one of his business analytics concentration courses so far – BA 597: Advanced Management Information Systems with Dr. Patricia Styer.
"It covered advanced data visualization, SQL database queries and data manipulation," he said. "I found the course immensely interesting and was able to apply the concepts we learned in the class immediately in my work life.
Ziff-Levine enjoys the connections he has made with fellow online students also living in Portland.
"I've developed a pretty strong local network of Portland-based students that has enabled me to replace the professional network I would get from an in-person program," he said. "They are interested and motivated classmates."
Plus, the faculty makes the experience of learning in an online format significantly personal.
"They care a lot about their online students and make themselves available," Ziff-Levine said. "You certainly know that you're going to school online, but it doesn't feel as foreign as you might think.
"I enjoy being able to reach out to all my professors over the course of any class that I am taking and get the feedback that I need to be successful. I never felt any kind of distance. I never felt any lack of availability. It was always very easy to get in touch and to have those one-on-one learning experiences."
Ziff-Levine is also happy to have the connection of attending an in-state online graduate degree program.
"Having a public university of high quality and good reputation locally gave it a little bit more value in my eyes," he said. "Southern Oregon is known throughout the area and throughout the Pacific Northwest. That reputation really was what I was looking for.
"The other online MBA program options weren't really in contention because, why go to a college across the country that nobody has ever heard of when you can go to something a little closer to home that has local concerns and local recognition?"
With a new job and more to learn in the master's degree program, Ziff-Levine is confident he will be prepared for the business aspects of the software development world.
"The MBA adds the needed context that we often don't get with non-business educations," he said. "It's expanded my awareness of certain issues — especially around the finance aspect of what we do — and the legal aspect of what we do.
"The program is affordable, manageable and professional. It hasn't necessarily changed my approach, but it has definitely broadened my horizons."
Learn more about the SOU online MBA with a Concentration in Business Analytics program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.