The Future of Accounting: Sarah Taylor, MAcc '17 Looks to Automate the Industry

The initial impression that Sarah Taylor, MAcc ’17 had of the accounting profession was not one run by “corporate, stuffy, tax people”. At sixteen-years-old, the Hershey, Pennsylvania native participated in a program through which she was dually enrolled in high school and her local community college. She decided on a whim to take an ad hoc accounting class and that choice set her on the trajectory for her future career path.

“The first day of class, my professor came in with a sundress and a pixie haircut. She took off her shoes, sat on the table, and started teaching us accounting. This was my first impression of an accountant,” Taylor explains. “[She] was this down-to-earth person with this passion for wanting to explain how the processing of numbers through an organization helps to translate up into big decisions. It was very appealing to me.”

That first accounting course solidified Taylor’s desire to become an accountant. After seeking advice from that inspiring accounting professor, Taylor set course to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees in accounting as well as sit for the CPA exam.

Mastering Accounting at William & Mary

Upon completion of her coursework at Harrisburg Area Community College, Taylor transferred to George Mason University in Northern Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting in 2016 and a few months later joined the Master of Accounting (MAcc) cohort at the William & Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business with the goal of pursuing the program’s emphasis in Information Technology (IT).

“I wanted a master’s program that would encompass the perspective of wanting to help businesses analyze their data,” she says.  “Many of the programs I looked at only had an emphasis in tax and audit. I liked that William & Mary saw the benefits of the IT spectrum and it seemed like there was more opportunity to explore electives in that area.”

Taylor began the intensive core curriculum in the fall. She says that the material she learned in the Accounting, Advisory and IT Services; Database Management; and Driving Organizational Performance courses had an impactful mark on her education and skillset that she has repeatedly been able to draw from in her career.

“Those three courses were hands-down the ultimate highlights of the program,” she says. “They had us engaging in critical thinking and real-life scenarios. We utilized resources in those courses that I still use today.”

Since Taylor’s time in the program, the curriculum has altered slightly. Though an IT concentration is no longer offered, the material that was covered was shifted into a new Accounting Analytics emphasis.

“The material that Sarah learned when she was in the MAcc program is still a part of the curriculum, we’ve just expanded it under the analytics emphasis,” explains Dr. Denise Jones, Professor & Accounting Department Chair. “There’s a huge need in business for accountants with these skills. Every MAcc student is exposed to accounting analytics as part of our Sprint Week which focuses on topics like block chain and cyber-security at a higher-level. But students who do the emphasis dig a little deeper. It is the perfect solution.”

In addition to benefiting from the rigorous academics, Taylor also says a highlight for her in the program was the camaraderie she developed amongst her classmates in her cohort.

“During orientation week, you’re out on the adventure course together and that really sets a good foundation for when you go through challenges in the program,” Taylor says. “You have a multitude of people who are like family surrounding you to help you through an intensive program like this.”

Earning Credentials on the Job

After graduating from the Mason School in 2017, Taylor joined CST Group in Reston, Virginia as an Associate. She was grateful to have received the offer at the end of her internship the summer prior to starting the MAcc program, but her real passion was to help businesses understand and interpret their numbers. When an opportunity came about at Conestoga Wood Specialties, a manufacturing company near her hometown in Pennsylvania, she made the move.

Taylor transitioned into the role of Staff Accountant which encompassed working with the Controller as well as various manufacturing plants to help investigate their data from an accounting perspective. She combined many of the business functions she learned at William & Mary, including operations management, analytics, and cost accounting to derive value from the numbers and help drive significant business decisions by implementing small-scale systems.

“I had a foot in many different areas so it was a fantastic next step for me,” she says.

Taylor was with Conestoga for nearly two years when she learned of a position with Hangar, Inc. that was not only complementary to her background and skill set, but was located in her dream city of Austin, Texas.

“If you ask anyone who was with me in the MAcc program they would tell you I wanted to move to Austin,” she laughs. “I love that it is a manageable city. It has economic diversity that an urban area brings about but if you go 20 miles out, you’re back in the middle of nowhere. I also have a horse so it’s perfect because I can also balance that distance with my interests that bring me into town.”

At Hangar, Taylor works as an Accounting Analyst. The team she works with is responsible for improving accounting operations across the entire organization by working across departments to conceptualize future business processes as well as create and implement test scenarios for developing new systems.

It’s a role she feels not only well-suited for based on her previous work experience but one she knows she can grow in especially with her driving interest in the intersection of IT, analytics, and accounting.

“When I was reading through the job description, it was a one-for-one exact match in terms of my background and skill set,” she says. “They wanted someone with an accounting degree but with an emphasis in information systems, which I had through the IT concentration at William & Mary. I’m able to dive into what the problems are and bring in a little more of my IT background to help communicate across our departments since I have that extra vision into what IT is and what needs to be translated for the organization.”

Forging an Unconventional Path

To date, Taylor says her biggest accomplishment is earning her master’s degree at the age of 21. However, she still has plenty of professional goals she is working towards including what she says is the “ultimate job” as a Chief Information Officer (CIO).

“It’s typically a position that’s held by someone with an IT background,” she says. “What draws me to that path is that is speaks to the continuing relationship that’s building between accounting and IT. As robotic process automation, block chain, and Internet of Things become more commonplace in the workplace, that line between the data that supports accounting records and the data that supports IT records is going to continue to be blurred. I would love to be on the forefront of merging those things together.”

As Taylor works to spur changes into a reality, she hopes to serve as an inspiration to students considering the field of accounting but want to pursue a career path that marries their aptitude of accounting with their desire to learn the analytical skills required of a more technical role.

“I’m certainly passionate about continuing to bring automation into the accounting industry so that accountants won’t need to dig around in the data and process transactions that a computer can handle. It will allow us to do more high-level analysis,” she says.