Saturday, November 28, 2009

This Week Last Year...

...I was a first time visitor to this country. Everything was happening very fast. Black Friday shopping was a necessity because the jacket I had was good only for an Indian winter. And that too was borrowed from my 6' tall friend so it wasn't exactly a fit. 26/11 had just happened in India as I stood in the hotel lobby watching images of the Taj Palace under siege, feeling a sense of disconnect which internet or cable television doesn't quite fill. The weekend brought the season's first snow. I remember waking up in the morning and finding everything covered with a thin layer of white. It was my first encounter with sub zero temperatures. Over the next couple of months, that would touch -25 degree Celcius.

That was Minneapolis. A year on, everything's still moving past at a hectic pace. But the setting is so different. There was time and money to spend last year. The money is still there though. Just that it's a huge loan. And don't even get me started on time. My Darden application wouldn't happen until January and so if you had asked me where I saw myself a year from then, Charlottesville wouldn't have come up as one of the answers.

This has been a much needed (shall I say much deserved too?) break. And I've successfully done what I do best. Chill out. It started off with drinking wine and sangria and singing songs at our place. Next day was the Thanksgiving party courtesy Jose and Lucas complete with touch football and LOADS of food and wine. We followed it up with a game of cricket the next day and dinner at Ariana Kabob House and a round of Taboo. In between there were futile attempts to string together a cover letter. There's still one day. So there's still time.

One more day till everything comes crashing down again. Resume drops, cases, exams - all thoughtfully packaged into two weeks of madness. And then the winter break. And New York. And San Francisco. And Seattle.

Let's get over this quickly, shall we.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

If the glass is half empty, at least you can't drown

The best week in Darden so far. And all because it had less of Darden in it. Don't get me wrong. I like the intensity. It makes me stretch myself. But once in a while, you do need that break. To explore and experience some other things. To sit back and relax and just enjoy doing nothing. Black November as it is turning out, already happened in October.

It can get a little intimidating at times. Case studies, class participation. exam grades, cover letters, networking calls. It's a lot to handle when you have never done it before. And that's why this week was so special. So needed.

Monday and Tuesday went as usual with inventory management trying to match up to Capital Asset Pricing Model and the IS/LM curve. From Wednesday, however, things started getting really good. First, we had this Operations filed trip to MicroAire. Seeing the push-pull strategies of marketing and the lean manufacturing principles of operations actually being used in real life was quite a kick. And since MicroAire was into manufacturing surgical instruments like those used in Carpal Tunnel and Knee Replacement surgeries, there was the ethics angle to it too when it came to how much should the market be driven by the manufacturers and not by the doctors.

The rest of the week was easy and didn't involve case preparation. This meant that the entire evening was free. I spent the afternoons playing Racquetball; had Thai food one evening and just enjoyed being relaxed. Wednesday night, in particular was great not only because of the dinner but also because of the fact that it was one of those rare nights, when unwinding did not mean getting high on alcohol and being with hundred other first years in a bar. We walked down to Tara Thai at Barracks, had dinner and then came back chatting about first year and our expectations from this whole MBA experience.

The Virginia Film Festival was in progress and so some of us decided to catch a few films. Meet John Doe, Departures & Wonderful World. Three very different movies. But three very satisfying experiences.

Meet John Doe is a classic about the power of press and how it can create and destroy public figures. My friend had told me that there was a Hindi movie - Main Azaad Hoon which was inspired by this one.

Departures (last year's Foreign Language Film winner at the Oscar) is as unique a movie as I have ever seen. An unemployed cellist takes on the job of 'preparing' dead bodies for the funeral. It's a beautiful commentary on life and death and the emotions the death of near and dear ones can evoke in us. There's a lot of dry humor and drama in the script but I particularly loved the closure that the ending brought which seemed to reconcile all the different threads - the main character's tension with his wife regarding his not so glamorous job and his memories of his father who had left when he was a six year old.

I could talk about Wonderful World but it's better if you watch the trailer. Matthew Broderick puts in a controlled and powerful understated performance as the pessimist who would start believing in the general goodness in the world once he sees "fish falling from the sky". The dialogues are crisp and even though I would have liked the script to be less abstract and more explicit; this works.

And in both these movies, the soundtrack is really melodious. Loved both the classical (even haunting) cello pieces in Departures and the acoustic guitar pieces in Wonderful World.

And yes, we went bowling last night and played a First Year Vs Second Year cricket match today which we narrowly lost.

Quite a week.

By the way, the title of this post is from the movie Wonderful World.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

From Engineering to Economics

Stack means LIFO and Queue means FIFO. The most basic data structures in computer science.
Well, apparently, they are also inventory costing methods used in Financial Accounting.

So what's the best thing about coming to a B-School from an engineering background?
Quant skills? Structured thinking? A sense of confidence that you would be able to survive it? Knowing the equation of a normal distribution and being able to handle probability?
No. If you ask me that is.

The best thing is that none of the courses are a repeat of what you did in undergrad. Which means that the balance sheets and the bond pricing and the supply, demand, interest rate graphs are all new for me. Yes, for some of the things, (and this is mostly in economics) Wikipedia had already given me a foundation to build on, but learning about how the Fed might lower interest rates to bolster investment in a formal setting is certainly helping me get a stronger grasp on it. Suddenly the articles in the WSJ have started to make sense. Like when they talked about Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target not being able to discount price books in Europe or when they analyzed various industries on the basis of cash as percentage of assets.

It's tiring and frustrating at times. Being asked to do so much in so little time. But at least so far, it takes just a moment to sit down, take a few steps and realize the tremendous potential these two years have. And I'm not talking about getting a great job and walking out with a fat paycheck. I'm simply talking about the perspective a B-School can (and already is) give to someone who hasn't studied about business before.