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SMU Advances Your Practice Through Real-World Opportunities

Headshot of Jay Shah, an SMU Network Engineer alum.

Being an active participant in industry innovation was nothing new to Jay Shah. After earning his bachelor's in electronic engineering in 2015, he first worked at a 5G telecom company based in India. From there, he stepped into a network engineering role at a different organization as part of a 4G network launch. Shah has also worked in DevOps engineering and in cloud computing.

When Shah began thinking about the possibility of going to graduate school, he researched many potential master's programs but it wasn't until he attended a career fair in Mumbai that he learned about the SMU Lyle School of Engineering and the online Master of Science in Network Engineering (MSNE) program. After looking at the curriculum and speaking to SMU faculty members, including Program Director Dr. Scott Kingsley, Shah knew he wanted to attend the program. What he didn't realize at the time was just how many career-enhancing, hands-on opportunities the program offered.

Today, Shah is a Senior Consultant of Cyber Security and Cloud Security at Ernst and Young based in Dallas, Texas. He was generous enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share a bit about what sets SMU's MSNE program apart from other graduate-level programs for network engineers. Shah is now moving to Ernst & Young, Toronto office based in Canada.

How Did SMU's Master's in Network Engineering Address Gaps in Your Professional Skillset?

What I do today is specific to my industry, but my fundamental skills are those I learned in graduate school. We learned a lot in the program about network data, network security, cloud computing and network architecture. The courses were highly focused, and we had a lot of intense classes with heavy workloads, especially in our labs.

Professors like Scott Kingsley, John Rhymer and John A. Widhalm teach and work in the field, so their experiences helped us understand what was happening in the industry. They were great educators, and the problems presented in labs were very similar to those companies actually face. All my experiences helped me align myself with industry standards.

Did Anything About the Online Master of Science in Network Engineering Program Surprise You?

There are many telecommunications and network engineering graduate programs but what I liked about the SMU program was that the courses weren't purely focused on telecom. They were advanced network engineering courses, and every semester, the courses were updated to reflect what was currently happening in the industry. For example, as wireless networking advanced, the program courses covered the change from 3G to 4G and 5G.

The fact that the program supported independent research was a "wow" factor. When I wanted to do independent research, I could discuss strategy with the professors – whether that research would be thesis-based, non-thesis or dive into something extraordinary not being implemented in the department at the time, like DevOps or network automation. Students could work on course content or even develop new courses with guidance from industry experts. In some cases, those courses become part of the network engineering curriculum.

The flexibility the program offered was also surprising. After taking the core master's in network engineering courses, you choose from electives. I took courses in management and computer science, and in doing so, I got a more complete picture of what's happening in the industry – not only on the network engineering side but also in computing. Additionally, I learned how to talk to clients in the program, and from there, I got into consulting. I don't feel other universities offer this much flexibility.

Did You Feel Connected With Your Professors and Peers in the Online MSNE Program?

I earned my bachelor's in Mumbai in India, and I earned my master's degree in a new country with different work-life and study patterns. While the educational culture in the U.S. was new to me, I felt very included and welcomed. The professors were very helpful. Dr. Scott Kingsley is a technical guy with 40 to 45 years of experience in networking and teaching students. It has been three years since I graduated, but I'm still in contact with him.

I didn't encounter any awkwardness or obstacles. I participated in extracurricular activities apart from taking courses each semester, and I worked as an ambassador for the Lyle School of Engineering. I used to interact with a lot of students, sharing information about the network engineering program.

What Hands-On Learning Opportunities Were You Given While Earning Your MSNE Online?

In my very first semester, I was able to work on a software networking project. With the help of two of my friends, we developed a prototype that we presented at a competition with about 80 or 90 other people from different departments. That was a turning point in my experience. Moving forward, I took advantage of every opportunity I could to participate in these competitions and to showcase my work.

For example, I participated and presented research on Software Defined Networking in the spring and fall SMU Research Days in 2017. One of my professors encouraged me to present my paper 'Software Defined Networking in Telco Industry' at the ITERA Conference in March 2018.

I was also a graduate teaching assistant for the DevOps for Networking course that I helped develop in 2018 as an independent research project. It is now offered every other semester, but at the time, DevOps was very new to the market – especially for people coming from a telecommunications background. I jointly authored an IEEE Paper on the same course with professors and colleagues.

I'm thankful for the support of the network engineering master's faculty, who encouraged me to write and publish papers and present my findings. The opportunities to do my own research, volunteer, write whitepapers, present at conferences and teach labs gave me confidence and a chance to give back to the department.

Why Do You Recommend SMU's Online Network Engineering Master's to Professionals in Your Field?

First, this program teaches the basics but is updated all the time with new courses and new information. For example, students can specialize in cloud computing or specialize in wireless networking through their course selections. Plus, there are electives that are less technical. If students want to understand finance, they can take finance courses. If they want to focus on management or business optimization, there are elective classes they can take through SMU's Cox School of Business. There's a lot of flexibility there.

The labs are also very advanced. Getting that hands-on experience is so important. Students in the labs install routers and switches, do demos, and prepare prototypes on their own machines. All the technology they need is available remotely via the department.

Another reason I recommend this program is that the professors really listen to the students. It doesn't matter if you have 10+ years of work experience or you are new to network engineering. The faculty encourages all students to share their ideas and bring up new concepts in class. It's very cool because it means there are so many more opportunities to increase our knowledge.

Finally, there's industry sponsorship and collaboration, so students graduate with corporate experience or work experience in research and development. Students can partner with real-world companies on projects that will give them an edge in their professional lives after graduation.

The 30-credit online master's in network engineering at SMU Lyle School of Engineering offers the flexibility of remote learning plus the personalized feel of a traditional on-campus experience. Students work with the latest networking technologies in labs and as part of projects with leading organizations such as CITI, AT&T and Verizon. If you're ready to advance in your network engineering career, it is easy to apply online.