Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Group Work

Group work seems to be one of the cornerstones that the curriculum stands upon. I'm not necessarily against working in groups, but there are always substantial problems that pop up.

Group Coordination.
Inevitably, we all have to meet up at one point or another. I've linked my Outlook with my Google Calendar so I know that both are up-to-date. We use GMail workplace accounts so we all have calendars. There are also other tools out there, like Doodle, that allows for people to see when people are available. Inevitably, there will always be an email chain that comes from someone asking if 3:30 on Tuesday is a good day. Then someone replies and says that class is on at that time, and lists when they're free. Then another does the same thing, and it just all ends up this unwieldy email chain of information that isn't practical.

On a similar note, trying to find a time in which EVERYONE is available is nearly impossible. The bigger the group, the more unwieldy the coordination. With clubs, classes, pro-bono, job interviews, etc, a lot of free time is taken up. Groups tend to meet nearly at the last moment to finish the assignments. Inevitably, someone had decided that something else was more important and decided to go to that.

I learned my lesson from my last experience with a group-heavy mini (mini 2). As soon as I read in the syllabus that we had group work, I quickly formed my groups, asked everyone to open up their calendars, and scheduled time to set aside purely for that group. If we didn't need to meet, then we would cancel at that time, but otherwise it was on. You had to show up unless you had a job interview or something.

Thankfully, my group members also had been burned by group coordination and accepted my demands without a fight.

Group Work
We learned in Managing Organizations that the collective intelligence of a team is less than the sum of the individual intelligences. In some ways, that appears to be so.

In most situations, we are given the option to do the work in a group setting. It's a heavily encouraged option to adopt, so we do it. The work, for the most part, isn't in need of group thought processes to work out. I was in a group last mini where we did the homework individually then sent the work to the others to make sure we're all on the same page. In other situations, the group just partitioned the work out to others so that they did their piece and that was it.

I watched Susan Cain's TED talk the other day where she discussed the benefits of individual work, especially for introverts. Again, there are benefits to group work, but being pushed into group work for the sake of group work is exhausting. I haven't really found a good solution for this yet.

Group Effort
Thankfully, I have not yet been in a group where a member just rode the coattails of everyone else - no free riders. Sometimes I felt like a free rider when I was in a group with people who were a lot smarter than I and could grasp the concepts that were being taught/tested much faster than me, and rather than waste time asking for help or clarification I just let them steam ahead.

This mini, all my classes have a group work component. Thankfully, for four out of five, there's a group project in lieu of exams. I like that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things I love Thursdays

First entry in Things I Love Thursdays!

- Remembering the giddy feeling about this time last year when I got accepted into Tepper :D
- 76 degree weather that allows me to sit outside Posner Hall and work
- Getting two internship interviews last week, and finding out that I advanced onto the final round with one of them! (the other one I won't know until Friday/Monday)
- The feeling of satisfaction when my biggest portion of involvement in my pro-bono consulting project is nearly complete
- The great list of classes that I'm starting this mini
- Spring in Pittsburgh in general
- The warm fuzzy feeling of lending my spare laptop to a friend at school who had her laptop stolen while on Spring Break
- Buying MS Office 2010 for $40
- Seeing Diablo 3 comes out after finals
- Having no Final exams during finals week
- Did I mention the weather here has been absolutely AMAZING! No Pittsburgh horror stories for me!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Application Help

I spent some of yesterday cleaning out my study as a lot of crap had piled up over the last few months. I re-discovered my box of eBay items that I need to auction out. A lot are comic books that my former housemate generously left me (i.e. he got a new girlfriend and didn't want to be a "nerd" anymore), but I also found my old GMAT study material and a couple of books that gave me admissions help.

As a perused through one of the books, I remembered my thoughts and feelings about getting these books. I'm an inherently prideful individual and believed that using any sort of "help" was cheating in a manner. It wasn't for me. I also was an extremely tightass frugal individual who didn't want to fork out the money for the book.
But, I'll be frank, they were very very helpful. I got a lot of mental blocks around some of the toughest essays, and I found that just reading some of the example essays gave me good ideas on how to go about it.  There was also a certain way of writing that really helped - I have a tendency to ramble in my writings (if you haven't noticed in this blog:)) but the language used in the books and in the example essays really tightened up what I was saying. This is tough since the essays are getting shorter and shorter! Specifically crafting the message was also important.

One thing, also, was how there were sample recommendation letters. I actually didn't have a problem with my recommenders writing the letters as one was a Harvard grad and had been through the runner before, and the other was an amazing wordsmith who was very excited for me. But heck, if I had to write a recommendation letter for someone, I would seriously appreciate a template and I wouldn't procrastinate on it.

A lot of this was compiled in three books, and I'll admit it was rather confusing going from one book to another. So, I am going to recommend one guide that I got introduced to that should be able to cover all the great elements of admissions: MBA Essays Exposed. I believe they're having a 50% off offer going on right now.

Otherwise keep an eye out on ebay for my old, tattered versions :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Grades for classes are due out today.. (*checks grades; two released, both As*)... so I believe it's a good time to go over my elective classes I've been in so far.

Entrepreneurial Thought and Action (Mini 1, 2011). Taught by Art Boni
Background: I picked up this class when I exempted out of Financial Accounting in Mini 1. There were very few classes available at that time that didn't have pre-requisites or super long wait lists. Additionally, this is one of the two "gateway" courses - if you had an interest in taking a track or concentration in entrepreneurship, you had to take this course. So here I am, a first year student, in a class of second years whom I didn't know and who really had no interest in getting to know me.

Course Deliverables: There were three assessment items, essentially. The first was to develop an "elevator" pitch around an idea or product. Of course, we were encouraged to get into groups to do this piece, and it was due as our mid-term presentation. The second item was a final venture pitch for this product and that was our final assessment. Lastly, we were supposed to read a book called "Starting Something" and we had a collection of questions to answer related to different sections of the book. It ended up being a pretty interesting book. Oh, and there was a participation grade/aspect.

Good Stuff:
There were two great takeaways I took from this class.
1. My group. Because I was a "stranger" per se, I didn't group up with my friends. Instead, I ended up in a group with a fellow from the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a fellow from the Heinz School of Public Policy, and a fellow from the School of Computer Science. I was the only MBA student! This, I found, laid the foundation for my exposure to the other areas of the CMU community. In fact, it was because of Justin that I became aware of the ETC and what it was and thus subsequently came to where I am now. I guess they were lucky in that I had a background in business and therefore wasn't wading in without any clue right at the beginning of my degree program. I learned about working with people from other disciplines. Amazing experience.

2. The Pitch. Learning how to develop a pitch, and subsequently identifying the "special sauce" that a product or idea has, was extremely helpful. I used this education to win the Yahoo! Hack pitch competition; it also opened my eyes to what was vital to entrepreneurship - having dedicated managers. It's not just the viability of the business or the amount of money one will make, but whether the people running the show will hold on until the end. It also opened my eyes to my own entrepreneurial ability. I don't think I would ever start up my own company - I'm too risk-averse - but I love the idea of being entrepreneurial within an established organization.

3. Not so much a takeaway but an awesome thing: no exams. All project-based, which made the workload for mini 1 bearable.

The Bad Stuff:
  There wasn't really any bad stuff for this class. I quite enjoyed it and recommended it to many people who asked me about it.

Finance II (Mini 3, 2012). Taught by Burton Hollifield
Background: Finance II is a new course for us. Whereby there was once Corporate Finance, that was scrapped for this class due to the new curriculum changes that will come in next year. Like Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, Finance II is also a gateway course for all finance electives. I want to take a Venture Capital and Private Equity course later on in my degree (just for fun than any real desire to get into that industry), so I thought I would get this complete first. Finance I focused a lot on basic finance, corporate financing and valuation, and the CAPM. Finance II built on that foundation and focused a lot on WACC (i.e., determining interest rates to discount cash flows), fixed income, and portfolio composition and weighting.

Course Deliverables: There were four homework items to be worked on in a group; two were cases, two were just a list of questions we had to answer. The intent was to have us apply the concept we're learning in class. We also had a final exam (one of the rare classes that was closed-noted) worth 60% of our grade.

The Good Stuff: As soon as I understood what was going on, it was an amazing educational experience. There was some correlation between what we were learning in this class and what we were learning in our statistics class, and that was really cool. It was also entertaining to see how "conventional" wisdom really didn't fly in the face of what actually happens in the world.
Not needing to purchase a textbook was awesome, especially when the notes we were given as readings were articles from various publications that just talked about the concepts introduced in class, as well as the lecture notes themselves written out in a way that made it very understandable. I'm a learner by reading and doing; listening is not actually the best way I learn, which makes the lecture method of teaching a bit difficult for me. So I found the supporting material to be an excellent supplement.

The Bad Stuff: This is more a reflection on myself than on the class, but it was really difficult to understand what was being talked about in class sometimes. I'd go and read the notes over and over until it sunk in, but there were a number of times I'd stare blankly at what was going on. I don't think the professor went too fast, or that the lecture wasn't engaging, it was really my own learning failure there.

Negotiations (Mini 3, 2012). Taught by Richard Saavedra
Background: This was a class that I had selected as my No. 1 when registering for classes. Again, I consider this class to be a gateway class - there's an Advanced Negotiations class that I desperately want to take next year, since it's taught by Linda Babcock, the author of "Women Don't Ask", and having a Negotiations class is a prerequisite. Additionally, it satisfies my "1 OB or Communications course a mini " requirement, and a lot of Second years have said that it is a great course to be taking and very relevant.

Course Deliverables: Well, when all was said and done, we were required to submit a log of all the negotiation exercises we performed in class, a write-up of a "real-life" negotiation we performed, and present a topic on negotiation - a lot of my classmates chose to look at negotiation cultural differences; my group and I focused on power in negotiations.

The Good Stuff: Practicing negotiations was pretty good. Was was probably the better outcome was how other people initially viewed negotiations - one exercise I was in, my partner walked away from the negotiation because she felt we were being unreasonable and not meeting her BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). It turned out that her personal BATNA was actually unreasonably high (the exercise gave us BATNAs) and it would've ended up that if we acceded to her personal BATNA, we would've lost out considerably - i.e. there was no way we could've agreed.
Interestingly, that exercise discussion, amongst other statements she had made, caused her to be.. I guess, somewhat ostracised from the class. She had developed a reputation for being extremely hardlined and competition-focused and no-one wanted to deal with that.

Oh, and no exams. All project-based.

The Bad Stuff: The professor teaching this course was new to CMU and had just moved to Pittsburgh not 2 weeks before class started. The first session consisted of him talking about himself the entire two hours. The class lacked a lot of structure; we didn't have a syllabus until two weeks later, no idea on the course requirements, and decision-making seemed to be built around him prodding to determine what the class wanted to do.
However, I recognise that it was probably a lack of recognition that the mini goes by really fast, and that he was nervous for his experience, that caused a lot of this to occur. I'm extremely confident that going forward, the class would be a much better experience.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

GDC Experience

I returned from San Francisco yesterday with a happy cheer in my heart.

This was my experience with GDC:

- I arrived mid-Thursday. After getting to my hotel and paying $10 for 24 hours of internet, I sent off a bunch of emails to various ETC students who had reached out to me earlier to meet up, then promptly went for a nap - I was under the presumption that I would be partying all night and since I had been up since 3:30am EST, I was in need of sleep. After said nap, I met up with Justin, a friend of mine whom I had worked with in my Entrepreneurship class who is an ETC student, and then we later met up with his buddies, a couple of whom I had emailed with back and forth. The rest of the night was just spent moving from one location to another trying to find where the parties were. The Minecraft party had a line literally around the block. All in all, I went to bed about 11pm - the nap I had was not very effective.
- Friday! This was the only day in which I could go to the conference on a $75 student pass. I turn up at the conference center pretty early, but then decided to go get my resume printed at the local InterContinental. $1.50 a page! I must remember to do this ahead of time before going to downtown San Francisco. Back again to the career expo with resumes in hand and a smile on my face.

Coming into the conference, I had two objectives: network (either establish or build), and aim at internship opportunities. I had this expectation that the big companies, the Activision, EA, Warner Brothers, etc of the world would have a defined internship program that values MBAs - a lot of places I read say that the game industry doesn't think highly of MBAs. My experience, however, was completely different. There were a couple of large businesses that seemed interested in me - one, specifically, was probably because I already had an interview invite that I received just the day before - but there was one company in particular that stands out. I walked up to the bored-looking recruiter, gave her my spiel, she proceeded to direct me to the website, took my resume and literally dropped it behind her podium. I heard it hit the ground.
On the contrary, the smaller, lesser-known companies were excited to find out I was an MBA student. One place in particular stated that they didn't traditionally have an internship program but they would be willing to take me on as an intern.

As lunchtime rolled around, I went and spent it with the contact I had made through LinkedIn, which was great, and then I looked around the main expo afterwards. Unfortunately for me, it closed at 3pm, and I got back from lunch near to 2pm. I did, however, sign up for the Game of Thrones beta, talked to the MBA grad working at that company, almost pick up a Blackberry Playbook, won a Darkness II statue of a darkling, and made friends with the booth guys at Rackspace, a company based in San Antonio (where I lived for 5 years before coming here).

I think next year, I'm going to try to make it for the entire session. Now I need to catch up on everything I left behind :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

TEDxCMU Inspirations

I'm in the middle of listening to a live webstreaming going on now of TEDxCMU. It's an independent TED event. If you don't know what TED is, you should check it out. TEDxCMU happens every year; unfortunately, it's very popular so when I applied for a ticket (free), I was unsuccessful.. along with the other 700 people who didn't get one of the 400 seats. So live webstreaming it is - granted, though, it has the benefit that I can study for my Statistics Final during the parts I don't want to listen to, go check my washing, etc. The downside is I may actually skip over talks that I probably should've listened to.

One of those talks was by a blogger called Gala Darling. I didn't pick it up at first, but she's a Kiwi living in the states with a large following, primarily in fashion. When I listened to her talk, it seemed a lot of the same stuff that I've been hearing as a woman: love yourself, build up your self-esteem, so on. It's a message that I think has the ability to be distorted; telling a 350-pound woman that she should love herself and there's nothing wrong with her body size gives out the wrong message. But during her talk, she brought up a few ideas that I think I'm going to incorporate. One was to have a Things I Like Thursdays. My list will be pretty small at the moment, seeing as we're in the middle of finals and about to head to Spring Break, but I will try to maintain a similar blog entry about my time here at Tepper. The second and third suggestions are a little bit more personal; write a log book of things I'm happy about/feel good about, and write down every compliment someone has given you. One of the biggest aspects of this program (and probably any top-tier MBA program) is that is really throws your self-esteem into the blender and churns out a pile of tatters that you have to tenuously hold onto.

 When visiting her blog, I was also referred to this site called The Grindstone. I'll have to say, one of the most interesting and relevant blogs I've come across that talks about women & business. Or just life in Business. Very interesting.

I write this waiting for John Riccotiello, the CEO of Electronic Arts. I heard him speak when we visited EA in January as part of the B&T trek and it was amazing.

Since this is also the first mini in which I undertook some elective classes (well, I lie, I took one in Mini 1 but that was more convenience than desire), I'll post a write-up of my experiences in those classes. A couple of people I've talked to said that a lot of their decision on which school to attend was dependent on the types of electives that were offered, so I'm going to assume that it's going to be the same case here. I'll aim for that one on Wednesday after my last final, but before I head off to GDC. :)