Why Study Electrical Engineering - Ben Hallen

In Chapter 4 of 21 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, business school professor Ben Hallen answers "What Made You Decide to Study Electrical Engineering in College?" Hallen notes his childhood aspiration to pursue a business management career and how he saw electrical engineering as a means to that end. He also finds studying electrical engineering allows him to study his passions for mathematics. Hallen is an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. Previously, he was Assistant Professor of Management and Organization at University of Maryland. Hallen earned his PhD from Stanford University and its Stanford Technology Venture Program (STVP). He has been a startup CTO and graduated from the University of Virginia with a BS in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Computer Science.


Erik Michielsen:  What made you decide to study electrical engineering in college?

Ben Hallen:  I wanted to be an executive, and so the experience I had growing up, I had seen a lot of companies and managers, junior executives, who came from an engineering background, so engineering seemed to be an appropriate place to start if I wanted to do that.  You know, now I would have to say, given more of what I know, there’s a whole variety of paths to do that, you know, ranging from the liberal arts to I particularly think business schools can be very good at that but I happened to choose engineering. 

And then, why electrical?  You know, a couple of reasons.  One, I was interested in computers; they were taking off.  That was before they had computer engineering as a major.  That’s effectively what I ended up majoring in but that wasn’t quite around yet.  But, more broadly, it was – it involved a lot of the math that I really liked, and I think at the time I would have justified it as very instrumental, that this makes sense because these are skills I can use. 

I think in retrospect, what it afforded was an opportunity to really study in something I was passionate about.  You know, do I use that math at all?  No.  Not a whole lot.  You know, yes, I do a lot of computer programming.  I do a lot of discrete mathematics from my time at graduate school but, you know, in terms of differential equations and, you know, Fourier transforms, that’s not something I use every day, but to have that opportunity to really get passionate about the mathematics, just for the essence of the mathematics itself, I’m really glad I had that experience, and so I learned a lesson that I didn’t think I was going to learn there in retrospect.