For the last week, SC has been buried deep in the process of writing a business plan. Initially, this seemed like it wouldn't be too difficult; tedious, certainly, but also formulaic enough that you could get a book (your host is using this one at the moment) and follow the instructions. Ah, like Teen Talking Barbie, how little SC knew. It turns out that, despite the mockery justifiably attached to management jargon (thanks to AL Daily for that link), running a business is hard. Perhaps more to the point, it involves learning just how much you didn't have to know when you were only an employee.
There are a couple of different types of information that go into the plan: what you're doing, who you're doing it against, how much this is all going to cost, and how your investors are going to get their money back. Prior to last week's announcement, SC actually had a pretty good handle on the first two, and some rough calculations for the latter. However, in order to get formal term sheets done for prospective investors, it's necessary that the whole plan be in place, and this means doing serious financial projections.
That brings us to an ad in yesterday's Linguist List, for a "linguist with project management skills". Your host does not wish to dissuade the optimists at the company that placed the ad, but in the last week, he's had to think about all sorts of things that probably weren't on most linguists' course schedules in school. A sampling:
- How much will you be spending on health insurance for your employees monthly?
- Estimate the number of processors you'll be needing software support contracts for in year 3.
- What will it cost to market your fourth product line, which you might not introduce until that third year?
- What will it cost you to rent office space, and where will you do it?
Shopping for these things is not all that easy. Want a health insurance quote for a group rate? Get ready to sit down with sales representatives for every company you want a quote from, and be prepared to go over your projections about how many people you'll have at the end of this year, the middle of next year, and so on. Want to estimate your software support costs? Get ready to figure out how many servers you'll be running per customer, how many customers you might have, and how many transactions per minute each of those servers will support -- using performance figures you have to guess at for software that doesn't exist yet. (We'll have a lot to say later on software costs, because while SC is a firm believer in open source, as the Free Software Foundation says, that means free speech, not free beer.)
Now, far be it from SC to suggest that every graduate program should be combined with an MBA. That would be an enormous waste of time and resources. But it might not be too much, to go back to some thoughts inspired by Mark Liberman's LSA talk, to bring a little training in the art of being a professional into graduate schooling. It's already commonly the case that Ph.D. programs will include a course on professionalism as regards being an academic -- how to write grant proposals and resumes, and how to submit papers. If you're going to pursue an advanced degree and then go into business, it stands to reason that you might be called on to fulfill similar managerial functions in the business world, as the Linguist List ad attests. SC isn't saying that linguistics faculty ought to be teaching a course on this stuff themselves -- again, a waste of time and resources. Outsourcing such a course to the business school sure to be attached to any university that can support a graduate linguistics department might be just what the aspiring Dr. ordered.