Learn About Tax Automation, Robots, And More At SJSU

Annette Nellen

This interview is one in a series of interviews conducted by Kat Jennings, CEO of TaxConnections with Professors and Program Directors of University Tax Graduate Programs. Over the years, Kat has been asked often about the best schools to attend to continue ones advanced tax education. It is with great pleasure to have the opportunity to introduce this leading tax graduate program to you.

Kat: Annette as the Professor and Director of San Jose State University’s Graduate Tax Program (MST), teaching courses in tax research, accounting methods, property transactions, high tech tax matters, employment tax, leadership, ethics, and tax policy you have many career accomplishments. What three tax career highlights come to mind?

Annette: I’ve had many interesting opportunities and activities in my tax career. Also, my work at San Jose State University has included many activities outside of the tax field, such as chairing our Academic Senate and starting a first year experience program. So far as three highlights in my tax career, the following come to mind:

1. My work in the MST program both as professor and director. I teach a range of classes which requires me to stay current in many areas. I think in my 27 years (so far) of teaching at SJSU, I’ve helped many students to have a more enjoyable and productive career in tax such as by guiding them to think about tax from both the day-to-day aspect of compliance and planning, as well as the policy aspects of how our tax rules are shaped and their impact on our economy and society. I’ve also had the opportunity to help students be prepared for finding entry-level positions in tax.

2. The time I spent in the DC office of a Big 4 firm helping colleagues in the practice offices with challenging questions in certain areas. This activity improved my skills at interpreting the tax law and keeping up to date. It also helped me get started on research and writing for professional journals which I’ve been doing now since 1988.

3. My volunteer work with professional CPA and attorney organizations. This includes the AICPA, ABA, California Bar and California CPA Society. I have drafted policy papers, comment letters, made numerous presentations and had tremendous opportunities to work with outstanding professionals. I’ve held leadership positions with these groups which has also been quite enjoyable in terms of working with other tax professionals and hopefully, having a positive impact on improving our tax laws.

Kat: You once testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee. Can you provide any advice to someone who may one day speak before the House Ways and Means Committee?

Annette: Set aside lots of time beforehand to be prepared. Drafting the testimony is time-consuming. You need to get your key points across in five minutes. Ideally, you should also draft longer testimony for the written record. You need to practice delivering your five minutes to be sure it is truly only five minutes and that your main points are clear. You should also see what prior hearings have been held on your topic to see if you’ve got points to make that have not yet been presented. Also, watching an archived hearing will give you a better sense of the process. Of course, be early as it’s not always easy to navigate the congressional buildings and the security line can be backed up. Finally, get to know the staff member and his/her colleagues who invited you. See if they might also be available for lunch or coffee following your hearing. The staff are key folks in getting the information to the committee.

Kat: You once worked for the Internal Revenue Service. What was it like when you worked there? Do you feel it is any different today?

Annette: I enjoyed working at the IRS. I saw many different types of businesses and tax issues. The work of a Revenue Agent is almost like being self-employed as you handle the entire case on your own from identifying issues to reaching agreement on adjustments with the taxpayer. A big change from when I was at the IRS in the 1980s is that funding levels have dropped tremendously. There is less training and lots of retirements without replacements with new agents.

Kat: Will you discuss your personal experiences with the IRS at the 5th Annual IRS-SJSU Small Business Tax Institute on June 22nd 2017?

Annette: This institute started when the IRS contacted me about working with our tax program to offer a conference for practitioners. I was glad to do this as it seemed to be a good way to have IRS speakers before practitioners and for the IRS and practitioners to work together on relevant programming. We also work with practitioner groups, such as CalCPA, the CA Bar Tax Section and the Mission Society of Enrolled Agents to promote the program and find presenters.

Kat: How were you selected to work on the California Board of Equalization Executive Director’s Advisory Council for a two year term? What is the experience like?

Annette: I don’t recall. I may have indicated somewhere that I was interested or perhaps they were interested in finding an academic who studies state taxes. I enjoy the opportunity to learn what the BOE is working on and asking questions about new programs. It’s also a great way to interact with others in the state tax space, many of whom I interact with in my other volunteer activities.

Kat: What courses do you teach at San Jose State University?

Annette: I teach in our MST program. My course load includes tax research, taxation of property transactions, advanced individual tax, accounting methods and periods, tax ethics, employment taxes, leadership, and the tax policy capstone course. As director of the program, I have responsibilities beyond teaching, such as course scheduling including working with the other tax faculty on curriculum changes. The 150-unit requirement to become a CPA in California has changed the mix of our students from 95% working professionals to about 60% working professionals and 40% full-time students seeking entry-level employment upon graduation. So, I also offer mock interviews to students and we focus on career readiness and advancement activities as well. I also direct our High Tech Tax Institute with puts on three to four conferences annually.

Kat: What makes the MST Program so unique at San Jose State University?

Annette: Well, we have outstanding students highly interested in taxation. We also have a tremendous advisory board made up of highly experienced tax professionals in Silicon Valley including partners at CPA and law firms, VPs of Tax such as at Adobe and Intel, and IRS directors. Also, in addition to students learning the technical aspects of tax practice, they also learn to understand taxation from a policy perspective which I think gives them a much stronger foundation for tax practice.

Kat: Why is it important to have advanced studies in taxation?

Annette: It is not uncommon to see both accountants and lawyers in the tax area get an advanced degree in taxation. Lawyers will earn an LLM in Taxation and accountants will earn an MS in Taxation. This advanced study is due to the complexity of the topic. To be an effective tax practitioner, one needs a broad and deep understanding of the tax system in order to identify issues. Then strong research skills are needed to find the answers to those issues. And excellent communication and interpersonal skills are needed to be sure clients or one’s employer understands the tax answers. In fall 2017 we are launching three advanced certificates in taxation. These are designed for someone who already has an MST degree and some work experience who wants to delve even deeper into certain tax topics such as international tax.

Kat: If someone wants to speak to you about becoming involved with your tax program at San Jose State University what is the best way to reach you?

Annette: Prospective students for the MST program or the advanced certificate in taxation, or professionals looking to get involved in some way with our program or conferences can reach me at Annette.nellen@sjsu.edu.

Kat: It is my understanding that the very popular TEI-SJSU High Tech Tax Institute is this November 13th and 14th 2017. Is there a way to register for this program early before it is sold out this year?

Annette: Yes. The agenda and registration link can be found at http://www.tax-institute.com. This year’s program includes such topics as supply chain planning, IP location planning, protecting exit strategies, indirect taxes in the digital economy, tax reform, and tax automation – AI, robots, blockchain and more.

After reading this interview, we welcome any feedback you may have regarding your experience attending the San Jose University Tax Program or TEI-SJSU High Tech Tax Institute. You can also reach Kat Jennings at kat@taxconnections.com.

Annette Nellen, CPA, Esq., is a professor in and director of San Jose State University’s graduate tax program (MST), teaching courses in tax research, accounting methods, property transactions, state taxation, employment tax, ethics, tax policy, tax reform, and high technology tax issues.

Annette is the immediate past chair of the AICPA Individual Taxation Technical Resource Panel and a current member of the Executive Committee of the Tax Section of the California Bar. Annette is a regular contributor to the AICPA Tax Insider and Corporate Taxation Insider e-newsletters. She is the author of BNA Portfolio #533, Amortization of Intangibles.

Annette has testified before the House Ways & Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, California Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee, and tax reform commissions and committees on various aspects of federal and state tax reform.

Prior to joining SJSU, Annette was with Ernst & Young and the IRS.

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