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For six decades, UCLA Extension has helped technical managers work on their 'people' skills

Technical Management Program adapts to meet changing needs of industries

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Technical manager talks to staff
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For the past 60 years, a UCLA Extension program that was the brainchild of a UCLA professor who taught classes in both engineering and business administration has been helping technical professionals develop the “people” skills they need to become excellent managers and team leaders.

Today, more than 15,000 people can proudly call themselves alumni of UCLA Extension’s Technical Management Program (TMP), which was started in 1955 by UCLA professor Ralph M. Barnes as the Engineering and Management Program.

“The purpose of the program has always been to help technical people develop the soft skills they need to become better managers,” said Joon Lee, a program manager of TMP in UCLA Extension’s Engineering and Technology Department. “It helps beginning to mid-level managers learn things like how to communicate, project management skills and how to work effectively in teams.”

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Peter Marx, chief technology officer for the City of Los Angeles, gives the keynote address at a celebration of the 60th anniversary of UCLA Extension's Technical Management Program.

Rizwan Kassim, co-founder and chief technology officer at Ultra Mobile—named the fastest growing private company in America for 2015 by Inc. Magazine —attended TMP in 2009 and says the lessons he learned there continue to inform and inspire his success.

“I still have printouts of some of the slides from my classes,” Kassim said. “There is incredible power in being a deeply technical person and also understanding how to interact with your co-workers and the business. It makes you unstoppable, I’ve found.”

Initially, the five-day program was offered once a year. To keep up with demand, UCLA Extension stepped up its class schedule to offer it every six months in the mid-’80s. The next session will take place in March 2016.

Early on, the program drew primarily managers from manufacturing firms into the classroom. But in recent years, the composition of classes has changed to reflect trends in L.A.’s high-tech economy. Today, the seats are filled with people from the media, the entertainment industry and gaming companies, to name a few.

To celebrate the program’s 60th year, the 114 emerging tech leaders of the fall class gathered with instructors at Covel Commons on Sept. 16 for a luncheon and talk by keynote speaker Peter Marx, chief technology officer for the City of Los Angeles.

Much of TMP’s enduring success comes from the fact that its instructors are experienced industry practitioners and leaders, said Varaz Shahmirian, director of the Engineering and Technology Department at UCLA Extension. The program also has an advisory board made of up of representatives from many of the same firms that send their employees, including Boeing, Blizzard, Riot Games and DirecTV. The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science is also represented on the board, which meets the week after each session to discuss participant and instructor feedback.

“We work closely with our advisory board members to ensure TMP curriculum stays current and relevant to meet the needs of today’s technical managers,” Shahmirian said.

Mariana Muiruri, a product manager for Santa Monica-based leading fitness marketer Beachbody, comes from a business background, but saw TMP as an opportunity to become a better leader in a technical environment.

“It’s a very reinvigorating course,” she said. “You come out, and you have a new perspective on what the problems are in your day-to-day job and how to resolve them.”

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