Breaking the System

PROVO, Utah – Oct 15, 2021 – Growing up, Nathan Twyman possessed a knack for breaking software—his presentations crashed machines, his files ruined file structures, and his data entry caused websites to malfunction. As a student at BYU, Twyman realized how breaking business systems could be beneficial. Now, as an assistant professor of information systems (IS) at the BYU Marriott School of Business, Twyman shows his students how to use reasoning to prevent their own projects from failing.

Twyman frequently experimented with electronics in his formative years, which helped him learn how to fix and run computers that crashed. His talent for breaking things eventually led him to pursue a career in information systems. “Intentionally using systems in the wrong ways provides valuable input for everything from experience design to security,” he says.

During his time as a student at BYU Marriott, Twyman found unprecedented ways to challenge programs in his classes. For one of his assignments in a marketing course, Twyman was tasked with running a computer simulation that involved figuring out how to make the largest profits from a budget. “Our professor told us, ‘If you find a way to breach the simulation, that’s fine with me.’ I’m used to breaking things, so of course, I found a way to break the simulation,” says Twyman. “My first thought was, ‘What happens if we put negative numbers in the budget?’” Twyman guessed that inputting negative numbers would translate into positive profits.

“I spent two hours convincing my group that we should try my theory and that the simulation would not fail and ruin their grades,” he continues. “After I finally persuaded my team, we tried my idea and made millions in the simulation. Our professor was impressed with our out-of-the-box thinking.”

After graduating from BYU Marriott with his MISM degree in 2007, Twyman knew he wanted to eventually return to BYU as a professor. He went on to complete a PhD in management information systems at the University of Arizona in 2012 and then worked as a research assistant.

Although Twyman enjoyed his time at the University of Arizona and a five-year stint as an assistant professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, he dreamed of one day returning to BYU Marriott to teach. In 2019, Twyman fulfilled his dream and came back to BYU Marriott as a professor. He currently teaches capstone courses in the MISM program, where he hopes to equip his students with improved scientific reasoning skills. “I help my students recognize how to use the scientific method in their projects and find new ways to approach business problems,” he says. “Scientific reasoning leads to better and more reliable outcomes.”

As Twyman’s students come to deeply understand this reasoning process, they learn how to turn their ideas into reality. “I provide my students with the necessary skills to move from what I call a ‘squishy’ or unstructured idea into something more concrete and with real-world value,” he says.

“The truth is, most students can’t fully launch a successful idea in one semester,” he continues. “However, the ability to find a purpose and structure for an idea will serve them down the road. I prepare my students to go out and solve real problems using their knowledge of information systems.”

Twyman feels at home with his students in the Tanner Building, especially since his mother named him after Nathan Eldon Tanner, the building’s namesake. “I love the unique spirit on BYU campus,” Twyman says. “No one here is perfect, but many of us put forth our best efforts, which is super awesome. I’m grateful to be part of a community that strives to reach for a purpose bigger and better than ourselves.”

Nathan Twyman
Nathan Twyman

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Sarah Calvert