How a UIC Transfer Student Joined a Top Consulting Firm

Samu Thomas, BS ’16, has one piece of advice for UIC Business students: find your area of interest and focus. Thomas works as an IT consultant for Maven Wave Partners, where consultants like himself help clients like Nike, US Foods, Bosch, and other familiar names stay up to speed in the digital marketplace. Thomas found this work–and the IDS degree that led to it–after a little soul-searching of his own.

“Early on in college, I was doing electronic and communications engineering,” Thomas says. “I felt stuck, like I wasn’t going anywhere in life, and I wasn’t sure what to do next.” Then came an opportunity to re-focus his attention.

Born and raised in Kuwait, Thomas did as many Indian children there do, and went to college in India after primary and secondary school. “There’s not much of a college life in Kuwait, so you go to college in India,” says Thomas. “A year or so into my time there, I felt stalled. Around the same time, my uncle got green cards for my family, and I saw this as an option, a way to get moving again.”

Thomas arrived in Chicago in 2013, and right away enrolled at Oakton Community College to start his gen ed requirements. After two years, he was ready to move on. “The choice was UIC or DePaul, but I was already interested in IDS at UIC,” Thomas says. “I’d talked to UIC faculty and staff, I’d compared the costs and consulted friends, and the consensus was that UIC would be better.” Within months of matriculating, Thomas felt sure of where his career was headed.

“In an IDS class, we were studying how Amazon consumer data works, what happens when you click on links in Amazon pages, and I wanted to know more, so I went home and researched on the internet,” says Thomas. “What I found was that in IDS my own curiosities were endless. It was the right field for me.”

During his first semester at UIC, Thomas landed an internship in Chicago. “I assumed I’d just go with the flow, and study towards the degree. But Professor Kohler’s class so primed me for the job search that I thought, ‘why not start applying?’” Thomas submitted applications through the UIC Career Portal and other sites, and got a call back from CMAP.

“I was surprised–they only recruit fresh graduates, not interns. But they had a need, and brought me in. I was their first IT intern, and ended up extending my contract to three times its original term,” he says. “I learned a lot there–teamwork, dealing with vendors, even hardware and software I’d worked with at home. Doing it on the spot for a government office is another story.”

By winter of 2016, Thomas had set his sights beyond CMAP, on consulting and management. “That semester, I attended a talk by Alex Almazan, who, by the way, is a huge help to students, always offering job and internship info and other resources to help students transition after graduating. On this day, she'd held an info session for IDS students. As we were getting up to leave, the next speaker came in, and I awkwardly found myself stuck there with him,” Thomas recalls. “Out of politeness, I asked him how long he’d speak (I wanted to go nap in the library), and he said, ‘sit down, you’ll be glad you stayed’.”

The speaker was Michael Melendrez from Red Circle Technology Recruiting, and in no time Michael had helped Thomas revise his resume and start interviewing with Maven Wave. “I did two rounds of interviews,” says Thomas, “and they saw I had a heavy course load, that it would be a challenge, but they said, ‘let’s see how this goes’. I was ready. I jumped in.”

Thomas arrived right as Maven Wave was moving from Washington and Clinton to South Wacker. “It was the perfect time,” he says. “All the little things I learned at CMAP–the phone lines, the physical servers, the clients, internal work–anything I could do, I said, ‘let me take that off your hands’.” Six months later, the move was done, and Maven Wave was looking ahead to their 2017 Google client projects. “I’d worked my way in,” Thomas says. “I told them I wanted on that Google team, and when I graduated, they made me an offer. I recently started as a consultant in the Google Practice Team.”

To earn that offer, Thomas had balanced demanding internships with a full IDS course load, all while commuting almost three hours each day on public transportation to and from the suburb of Niles. “I knew students who lived in the dorms or near campus, or who weren’t working, and I saw many outperform me in class,” Thomas says. “But I was doing fine. I had a rhythm; commuting became muscle memory, and the work like a pattern.” Sustaining him throughout was his special interest in IDS, as well as his positive attitude and his readiness to help others and to seek help.

But above all, Thomas says, you need that special interest if you're going to keep working so hard. “If you’re just going through the motions, your learning will be limited and onerous. In whatever you are doing, you need a focus. Say you’re curious about cloud computing. You research it online, you learn everything that the faculty can teach, and you still want more. Maybe that’s it–you’ll make a strong start as a cloud platform administrator. When you have that focus, you can compartmentalize and block out the noise. Noise comes from anywhere, it distracts and wears you down, but a focus gives you confidence that you’re doing the right thing, and this makes your best work possible.”