Saturday, May 21, 2011

Leadership roles I played this year

I've spent two semesters at CBS already! The next wave of newbies will arrive, come fall. Looking back, the year had enough ups and downs to make it interesting and worthwhile. It's funny to note that the 2nd years who graduated had a "disorientation party" in May. The class of 2013 will have the "orientation week" in August. Where does that put us, the class of 2012? I for one am eagerly looking forward to the 2nd year. With one year at CBS, now I know what to do and what not to and there's so much left to do. I wonder how it feels if you do a 1year MBA. How much quickly can you get settled, when do you try out new things and when do you have the liberty to do course correction? Oh well, I'm a proponent of the two year program then, I guess!

I know I've to blog about many topics that occurred through the year. For this post, I'm going to focus on some of the "leadership" activities I contributed to at CBS in the past two semesters. As I wrote long ago, there are many avenues at CBS where one can develop these skills. My resume lists the following.
  • AVP Careers, South Asia Business Association (2011)
  • Member, Hermes Society (2011 & 2012)
  • Volunteer, India Business Conference (2011)
  • Co-chair, India Business Conference (2012)
  • Peer Advisor, Class of 2013 (2012)
If you are a serious applicant or already been admitted you'd have learned that there is an AVP role available for every single first year who wants one :-). That's not to disregard the importance of these roles but to say that there are enough opportunities to showcase and build these skills. As an international first year student and on top of that a career changer, recruiting was on the top of my mind from the day I set foot in the campus. Therefore, I gravitated naturally towards a role that would work on getting together the various 2nd year students who have been there and done that and set up discussion panels and mentoring sessions for the 1st years.

One thing, I would recommend is to develop relationships with 2nd year students during my first semester itself. First semester life is very busy and there are more than enough things to do everyday when you are recruiting for finance/consulting. And also you prioritize getting to know your cluster better, figuring out accounting and any other difficult subjects that you may more or less forget these 2nd years are also in the same campus. The various clubs do a good job in getting the 2nd years and 1st years to mix especially during the first semester, but not every 2nd year is an active member in these clubs.

Hermes society is a club that assists the adcom. There is an application/interview process to get membership. It was a great experience being part of Hermes. I met with many prospective/admitted students, replied to many emails especially from applicants in India and also got to call/email and congratulate a new bunch of admits from India/South Asia.

As a first year, one gets involved in many things on campus. It's a chaos and you just try to live in the moment. After two semesters of that, a time comes when you might think more deeply about how you wish to make a real difference, like leaving a mark/legacy for the future. To me, the India Business Conference fills that void.  I had great fun and enjoyed the experience of volunteering for this year's conference with a bunch of 2nd year and 1st year students who were part of SABA club. The commitment to the conference, the positive attitude especially during challenging times that I observed in two of the 2nd year co-chairs - Surya Mohan and Saurabh Malpani really inspired me. And the way the team of 2nd and 1st years jelled together, the camaraderie was outstanding. Needless to say, the conference was a great success! So when the time came to apply for the co-chair position, this is what I wrote.

We learn many aspects of leadership at CBS and even pass judgments on various cases that we study in courses like Organizational Change and Leadership Development. But only platforms such as IBC actually provide us with a real world experience on leadership. My experience volunteering for IBC 2011 was phenomenal. As a volunteer, I enjoyed working with the IBC team and also developed my own organizational skills. I believe a co-chair has much more responsibility and many more opportunities to develop such skills. Given the chance, I will work diligently with my co-chair, the SABA and the IBC volunteers in ensuring we raise the bar even higher!

And I am thrilled that I was selected to co-chair along with Shobhit Datta who was also a strong contributor in the 2011 conference.

Considering this has been a long post, I shall write about Peer Advising as a separate one. Peer advising is one of the most sought after leadership roles on campus and I think it will be worthwhile to write about it separately.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nominated for Clear Admit Best of Blogging Awards

Update: Thank you for your support! Feels great to be among the top five!!

I remember when I voted for this contest earlier, now to get nominated makes me feel proud.
If you enjoyed reading my blog, please consider voting here.

I will be wrapping up Spring semester in 2 weeks, hoping to make up for the lack of activity then!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

David Pogue on Consumer Technology

A great thing about academics at CBS is its interesting courses offered by practitioners/adjunct professors.

This semester I'm taking a course by David Pogue, the famous technology columnist from NYTimes. The course focuses on consumer technology and why products become a hit or a flop. If the first lecture is any sign of what's in store, this is going to be a riot! Our first assignment was to write our own take on a consumer technology product that flopped. Here is what I wrote.

                             Google Wave -A Tsunami that never came

When I first heard about the Wave I was hooked on. Who wouldn’t when Google introduces it by saying something like, “how would email look like if we invented it today?” Wave was supposed to take over the world like a tsunami; no one at Google anticipated that it would be on life support within a year of releasing to the entire population. Reflecting back, one can identify many reasons why this failure materialized.             

What is a Wave? makes their product managers write a press release even before first line of code is written. The idea is that if you can’t explain in simple terms what the product is and what you’re trying to solve, then something is wrong. When we look at Wave, this is the description we see - A wave is equal parts conversation and document. A wave is shared. A wave is live. It doesn’t take too much effort to figure out this is not the best written product description for a general population.  A product is not a laundry list of features. When a software product is introduced and especially when it’s something as forward looking as Wave, more thought should have given in coming up with a simpler one or two liner describing the product focusing on what it’s trying to solve or what it is offering new.                                
Who uses Wave?
Wave was first previewed for developers early May 2009 and 100,000 invitations were sent out five months later. The product was opened to general public about one year later. For a product that was supposedly targeting communication and collaboration, this was a doomed release strategy. The hype in the technology community around Wave was huge around the time it was introduced. Everyone wanted to desperately get access. In hindsight, this moment should have been capitalized by Google. Instead only 100,000 invitations were sent out and that focused mainly on the developers. A better strategy would have been to identify specific communities of users/networks so that if I were given access, chances are at least some of the people whom I need to communicate/collaborate with a lot also have access. This didn’t happen till about a year later when everyone could sign up. In that one year period, the limited number of people who got access didn’t have a real use case to use the product. If only, those who got access could also import all their top Gmail contacts into Wave automatically, this was going to be a non-starter.  And that’s exactly what happened and by the time general population received access, this mistake continued. None of their current contacts in Gmail were added automatically; instead everyone had to sign up individually

How to use Wave?  
 “We built this and then put it out there to see what users would do with it”, remarked Google. This was a risky strategy and unfortunately didn’t work out for them. Regular users required at least one compelling use case and the community whom astonished at the product for its technical finesse, were not a critical mass for the product to succeed. These regular users of Gmail and other Google products were taken aback by the complexity of the product. The Wave managed to wash them away into the middle of an ocean and they had no compass either. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the case of Apple Ipad in this scenario. There was no compelling use case for this product on introduction either but the masses embraced it and created the use cases. The difference in outcome can be directly attributed to the simplicity of the Ipad in its user interface which was essentially lacking in Wave. In this aspect, ironically the wave indeed became an unmanageable tsunami within a few minutes of collaboration with multiple users and required its own time machine (Wave replay feature) to understand how it all happened in the first place.   

Overall, though Wave is a technology marvel and definitely worth a lot of potential, in its current form failed miserably as a product. I’d argue that the complexity in its design which essentially contributed to the convoluted marketing message and the wrong release strategy were the main causes for its failure. Google has done the right thing by making many of Wave’s great innovations open source and I expect this Wave will continue to evolve and someday a new Wave will be born and ready for the masses!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Into the world of finance

My marathon coach once said, "You can never be fully prepared for the marathon. You never know what will happen on that day. All you can do is believe in yourself and not give up too soon." Looking back at the on-campus internship interview period I feel the same way.

CBS did a great service to the students by starting the interview season about two weeks before classes begin. This way, we didn't have to worry about readings, team meetings and homework at least till we got a taste of the interviews. Some of my friends and I celebrated the end of first semester by going to Atlantic city for a few days. We were recruiting for finance/consulting positions so essentially we wrapped up the vacation festivities late December and started our prep in full swing. As I was recruiting for a finance position, I focused on brushing up accounting and corporate finance while the consulting folks where busy doing case prep. Being a career switcher I wanted to make sure I nail any technical questions thrown at me. The resources I used (Vault guide to finance interviews, CBS interview guides prepared by the clubs, Training the Street etc) where really useful in  improving my knowledge and confidence. Interview prep was not just focused on these technical stuff but we also focused on the behavioral/fit part. This is somewhat similar to what you'd expect during an MBA admissions interview (Tell me about a time when you ....) and sometimes involved describing the decision making process for a hypothetical situation (relevant to the role we are pursuing). As such, we needed to be on top of our game from the get go.

One of the most important part of our preparation included polishing the "pitch". This is basically a 1-2 minute long monologue where you cover your background, why you want to work in this function/industry/company and why you are a great fit for this role. I'd say this was the most difficult one to nail. In the last few days prior to the beginning of the interview, I might have "pitched" more times than I could count and this was pretty common across the board.  Second year students helped calm our nerves by conducting mock interviews and giving pep talks. Soon, the day arrived and we were as ready as we ever could be. The suits were new, the shoes were shiny, and the eyes were dreamy.

To cut a long story short, I experienced both sides of the coin just like so many of my friends. Happiness and sorrow. Joy and disappointment.  Stress and relief. Looking back, I think I learned a lot about myself- how I handle these emotions, these pressure-cooker situations where you win and lose on margins. Another thing that I really cherish about this period is the bond I further developed with some of my friends. We were all looking to get our foot in the door at the same places. We experienced similar challenges and we tasted success and failure at different times. Nevertheless, we were always there for each other. Whether it is to share the joy or the pain, whether it is to vent the frustration of a bad interview or share what clicked during a great interview. Cheers to our friendship!

As for me, I'll be here in NYC, gaining experience in Corporate Finance and Investment Banking! Now, if you really must know how many $$$ we will earn during the summer, go check out the 2010 career report. The numbers are still the same mostly :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Final sprint & Columbia admit events

We had our first recruiting event within weeks of joining school. If memory serves right, we started working on our resumes within a few days after orientation. Whoever said recruiting is a marathon and not a sprint was spot on. It's been a long journey and over the next few weeks more than a dozen firms will conduct their interviews (mostly for positions in finance/consulting) - the journey will come to a successful end for many. For some, they would continue their marathon hopefully in a better position from the experience they gained through these events.

I've been fortunate to receive over half a dozen interviews from many top firms. God willing, this could be the final sprint for me. Wish me luck!

Before I forget, Columbia Connect I for the next batch is on Feb 10th and 11th. I recommend everyone to make an effort to attend these admit events. If you wish to know what happens in these events, here are detailed reports from the ones I attended.
Admit event I -
Admit event II -

Happy new year!