Mission accomplished: Ken Kajikawa challenges his digital transformation skills

Ken Kajikawa

Ken Kajikawa’s roots in the San Francisco Bay Area run deep: he was born in Oakland and grew up in the South Bay and Peninsula, near the Silicon Valley headquarters of technology giants Apple, Hewlett Packard, Tandem Computers, and Cyberdyne Systems. It’s fair to say that technology has always been a part of his life. In fact, he got his start as a videogame tester at Activision, learning from video game industry pioneers like Alan Miller, and later became a videogame producer at Accolade and Acclaim Entertainment specializing in sports and driving games.

That was just the beginning — Ken applied his passion for videogames and advanced technology to help pioneer and launch Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology. He even has a U.S. Patent for one of the very first USB devices — a gamepad — for PC gaming. He’s worked 30+ years in Media & Entertainment (M&E) supporting top film, animation and video game content creation companies with the latest high-performance technology solutions and now applies his M&E technical knowledge to intense graphics work, VR, AR, AI, ML, and data science solutions. 

Ken recognized early on that Digital Transformation had the potential to massively impact nearly every industry and every business. He recently looked into leading professional education programs to see what academic and industry experts were teaching and discovered Stanford’s Digital Transformation certificate program. He quickly learned that Stanford’s online program offered a compelling way to immerse himself in the latest Digital Transformation knowledge and skills and network with other like-minded professionals.

What motivated you to enroll in Stanford’s Digital Transformation program?

It’s been 20 years since I achieved my master’s degree from Pepperdine University, and I started to miss the intellectual stimulation of academia. For the past six and a half years, I’ve worked at Dell Technologies, one of the top global leaders in Digital Transformation, as a technical sales specialist. Currently, I work in Enterprise sales, supporting Global 500 customers in discussions of Digital Transformation, IT transformation, workforce transformation and security transformation. I wanted to compare what I already knew in the field — adapt, modernize, automate and transform — with what Stanford teaches about Digital Transformation — innovate, rethink, redesign and transform. 

Fortunately, Dell Technologies strongly encourages its employees to explore opportunities for professional development and graduate education.  Dell has an educational reimbursement program to help cover a percentage of professional development costs.  I researched the top schools for Digital Transformation and concluded that the courses offered at Stanford were better aligned with my experience and interest in this field than other programs. Going back to school to formally sharpen my skills in Digital Transformation would be a win for me, a win for Dell Technologies and a win for my customers. 

When I approached my leadership team with my educational request, they provided immediate support.  In fact, my manager, Tom Bock, Regional Vice-President, Workforce Solutions Group (WSG), at Dell Technologies, made it clear that I would be a stronger candidate for promotion if I completed the Stanford program.  This was a huge motivation for me!

What did you like most about the Stanford Digital Transformation program?

For me, I liked the variety of courses that were specifically related to my interest in Digital Transformation. There is so much good content to absorb. I think anyone who enrolls in the program will find some great nuggets of knowledge to use in their current or future professional role. I constantly learned new concepts and applications that kept me interested, engaged and ready to learn more.

Several courses in the program were outstanding, and I would take many of them again to keep refining my skills. If I had to pick one course that interested me the most, it would be XDGT 111 Systems Leadership: Managing Uncertainty in the Digital Age, which was interesting and valuable to me in two ways.

First, the course examined how a new generation of leaders can create transformational change in established enterprise businesses. This was particularly interesting to me because I’ve worked at several big technology companies over the years —  Dell, HP, Intel and Equinix, to name a few — and have seen firsthand how large enterprises completely overhaul organizations, resources and people to address change. I was fascinated by the case studies covered in the course — especially how they reflected what I observed in my own career. It was gratifying to see how they paralleled my personal experiences.  

Second, the course examined various attributes of great business leaders, covering a variety of skills, techniques, and analytical thinking.  This analysis allowed me to reflect on my own leadership skills and better understand my strengths and weaknesses so that I could be a more effective leader. It was a very powerful exercise for me. 

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program to your professional goals?  

Yes, I did get the promotion.  Currently, I am applying the knowledge, skills, and framework that I learned in the Stanford program to help Dell’s customers more quickly evolve to digitally transformed organizations.  The recent pandemic has significantly altered business processes, and digital transformation is the very foundation of new workflows in collaborative creativity, both in individual work groups and across the enterprise.  These workflows cover a broad spectrum of productive work from ordinary, everyday operational teamwork to engineering co-development that drives the creation of intellectual property and competitive advantage. 

Interestingly, a lot of this is being driven more quickly and urgently than how it evolved in XDGT 110 The Industrialist’s Dilemma: How to Adapt to a Changing Landscape where the case studies unfolded under more “normal” business conditions.  Nevertheless, the frameworks for the decision-making remained relevant to analyzing 2020’s accelerated environment and provided context for examining how some issues/barriers in digital transformation are maintained regardless of urgency, while others simply disappear in the face of critical operational needs.

What did you like most about the program?  

I really enjoyed the flexibility of being able to go at my own pace. I loved that I was learning from world-class instructors who were very passionate about the subject matter and could bring their own real-world insights into the classroom. The structure of the program was well-designed, with helpful courses and reference materials that I plan to keep for future reference.

I also appreciated the exam structures, which included both multiple-choice question exams as well as essay exams.  These provided an excellent balance in testing for factual knowledge and analytical capability, with neither being particularly “easy.”

What advice would you give to future program enrollees?  

First, I would say that you want to pace yourself as you work through the course material.  Due to certain work deadlines, I progressed through the material at a very aggressive pace, and I feel like I could have internalized the material better at a more reasonable pace.  It’s better to give yourself some time to absorb the material and reflect what you just learned.  There are many valuable lessons in the course work, even small, but important lessons that you might use in your career.

Second, I was fortunate to have an incredible mentor with whom I could ask questions and seek out clarifying context in my progress through the coursework.  Win Derman is a graduate of MIT and the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has been my mentor for over 20 years.  He was more than willing to answer any questions I had about some of the more complex business problems covered in the program. We spent many hours going over those concepts, and it really helped me with the work.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with prospective students?  

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, there are three keys to making the most of this learning experience without completely ruining your work-life balance:

1. Make sure your family is completely onboard with this educational journey.  Between work and school, family time can suffer.  It’s critical to have support and patience from your family in this educational journey. I got that from my family, and without it, I would not have been able to complete the program.  On days when I was mentally exhausted, my 10 year-old son would say, “You got this Daddy.”  And I would go back into my office re-energized and continue my studies. My entire family was wonderful and supportive. PRO TIP: Take your family on vacation before starting this program. I took the family for a week at Del Mar Dog Beach in San Diego, which made me feel a lot better knowing I gave my family my full attention before dedicating so much time to this program.  

2. Spend the proper time to complete assignmentsIt can be easy to rush through projects to get to the next lesson when you’re in a virtual classroom. I certainly made that mistake. On my last course, there was a 10-page essay as my final exam, and candidly, I rushed through the essay and didn’t do my best work.  The professor rejected my essay and instructed me to redo the assignment and resubmit it.  Funny story: My wife took the opportunity to teach my 5th-grade kids a good life lesson. She said, “See what happens when you rush your homework? The teacher will catch you and you’ll have to redo it. That’s what happened to Daddy and now Daddy has to study again tonight.”  How funny right?  

3. Keep learning.  Completing the program made me a big Stanford fan and promoter. I’ve told lots of people about my positive experience with this program.  For many people, the biggest obstacle is lack of time.  The pandemic adjusted my travel schedule in a way that allowed me to complete this course, but I would say that it is really critical to find the time to keep learning so that you continue to enhance your knowledge and skills.  Great story: My 10-year-old daughter asked me, “Daddy, why are you going back to school? Why are you studying so hard?”  My response was, “Never stop learning, never stop challenging yourself and always continue to be the best person you can be.”  I’m glad my young kids got to see the hard work, the accomplishment I felt, and the reward from completing the Stanford program.

The Stanford program in Digital Transformation completely met my expectations — and then some! It was mentally exhausting but very rewarding. I truly enjoyed the tools, techniques and lessons taught in this program and would recommend it to colleagues interested in this topic.