Monday, December 06, 2010

On My Way

Uneasy as I am with periods of transition when I am neither here nor there, I already hate to be out of Charlottesville. The City seems cold, big and alien. I can hear the wind whistling outside my friend's thirty something storied apartment on the other side of the Hudson. I still have a 2500 hundred word paper to write which I just cant seem to get started with. To be fair, though, I did manage to turn in a 3 hour / 4 pages maximum exam this morning which I completed in 2 hours / 2 pages. Clearly, I wasn't aiming for the highest grade.

So a few days ago, I bought this book - In Other Rooms, Other Wonders because it has been a while since I bought one without knowing about the author or the book itself. Amazon cannot replace the charm of browsing through a bookstore on a Saturday afternoon and hence my habit of buying books based solely on titles and blurbs has taken a serious hit. 
Anyway, so the name is what made me buy the book in the first place. And I've been thinking about it since then. It's only now that I realized the slight similarity it has with the title of the last post I wrote about visiting this city.

Can't wait to get on the Wednesday morning flight to Delhi. Thursday and Friday night catching up with old friends and then off to Kolkata on Saturday. And then all would be good again. It's these intermediate periods that I don't quite like.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Snippets From The Thanksgiving Road Trip - 2

Travelling without my iPhone and watch

I always have these 2 things on me. On this occasion, however, I had neither. My watch battery died a couple of days before the trip and 3 hours into it, I realized I had forgotten my phone charger and had 10% battery left. No phone meant no constant status updates and check-ins. It also meant, as we realized in Charleston, SC, getting lost.

After having a delicious meal at A.W. Shucks, (AB had a seafood casserole and I had Lowcountry Crabcakes), we decided to check out the Market where local artisans sell their stuff. From the Sweet-grass baskets, to the trays made of flattened alcohol bottles, to the photographer who used Photoshop to lend a painting like quality to her shots, it was a market rich in variety and style. It was past 10 o' clock and the artisans were leaving so we decided to take a walk on East Bay Street which led to the waterfront. Having reached the shore, we kept walking for a while till it got a little desolate. Instead of backtracking, though, somehow we figured out that by taking a particular route we would get closer to the parking lot in shorter time. Then for the next half an hour or so we kept wandering with no clue as to where the streets were leading us. It was dark and there wasn't much traffic so it became a little frustrating after a point of time. Luckily we found this lady sitting outside one of the houses. AB asked her for directions to Queen Street and we were set. We missed the street, though and had to get into a shop and ask for directions again. It was funny and strange to not have the iPhone to find my way. But I think it made for a more interesting walk.

Helicopter Ride at Myrtle Beach, SC

AB spotted the $20 helicopter ride as we were entering Myrtle Beach and that's how we came to know of it. Again, it was a a chance discovery and was not planned which added to the charm. We ended up taking the $40 one but it was totally worth it. First helicopter ride ever!

Snippets From The Thanksgiving Road Trip - 1

Natural Bridge, VA

We had driven for about 2 hours and it was breakfast time. Pink Cadillac, with its name and color jumped out as the perfect stop. I took the exit and was soon inside this really huge place with Elvis pictures on the wall, a motorcycle at one end and pink coffee mugs. King Kong crushing airplanes outside the restaurant was awesome and the sausage and scrambled eggs tasted great. Perfect start.

While having breakfast, we figured that Natural Bridge was worth a visit. Since we were in no hurry to reach our destination for the day, we decided to take the detour. And this is what we found. Pretty impressive, huh!

Marion, VA - the birth place of Mountain Dew

Buoyed by the Pink Cadillac experience, we decided to avoid eating at big chain restaurants to get the authentic road trip experience. AB, with the help of the map and iPhone figured that Marion was this really small town where we could have lunch. So the via point was set in the GPS and we reached  Marion. 
The town seemed like a movie set. Very small, very beautiful, and very quaint. What made our day, because it's one of those totally cool, unexpected things that you hope to encounter on trips such as these, was this sign on the sidewalk. Second accidental discovery of the day!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dave Matthews Band in Charlottesville

Watching Dave Matthews Band in Charlottesville. Check.

I never expected to see as many concerts when I came here in July last year. It's a small city and I had naively assumed that concerts happen only in the NYCs and the SFs of this country. The websites about Darden and the city kept talking about a thriving music scene but I wasn't sure how that translated to big name concerts. In the last sixteen months, though, I have been pleasantly surprised. 

Dave Matthews is huge here. It's home for him. This is where he started. People from around here have bullet points like 'Been to 47 Dave Matthews Band concerts' in their resume. No, I'm not kidding.

To me, the best concerts are the ones in which the artist doesn't just play studio versions of his songs. Concerts in which there is a lot of spontaneity and 'live versions' of songs. Concerts in which the singer lets the instrumentalists take the stage and go wild. And that's why, in terms of sheer quality of music, this Friday's show is right at the top.

The first surprise of the night was Joe Lawlor. I never expected a 5 minute guitar solo in a DMB concert. But that's exactly what he gave us. A scorching solo high on style and melody. JM, who was standing next to me said, 'That, right there is worth the 60 bucks'. I couldn't have agreed more.

The star of the show, undoubtedly, was Boyd Tinsley. He made the violin sing, he jumped around the stage, he got the crowd roaring in between his riffs and he did it all with a perpetual smile on his face. He was in a zone. 

Seven, Everyday, You & I, Spaceman - there were a few songs that I knew but it didn't matter if you could sing along or not. The saxophone, the trumpet, the violin, the bass guitar - for two hours they wowed us and  kept us swinging to the melodies.

Eagerly looking forward to the next DMB concert. I hope they come to Dallas! But for the time being, thank you Charlottesville.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Diwali Weekend

So it was Diwali this weekend and there was a lot happening. It started with Thursday's Diwali Cold Call at Darden complete with butter chicken, chole, papdi chaat, vegetable jalfrezi, and kheer and a couple of fabulous group dances by a first years which culminated in a 5 minute impromptu all-jump-in dance to 'Desi Girl' (we also made a train and went around the PepsiCo Forum!). A few drinks and another party later, we were hungry again and ended the night with a trip to IHOP where JJ kept us entertained with his jokes and the 3 words of Hindi which he has managed to master!

On Friday, I had my most expensive meal in C'ville at Mas. Caipirinha, bacon wrapped dates, lamb chops, croquettes, and a couple of other fancy dished I don't remember. From there we went to The Backyard for another Darden get together. The two cute girls at the door convinced JM & JJ to buy the cups for the fashion show since it was a good cause. How could I say no after that. The cups got us drinks specials, though. I broke even after the first couple of drinks, so it was indeed for a good cause. 

The next morning, we went to watch a series of short films which were being screened as part of the Virginia Film Festival. Verdict - some people should not make short films. A few of them were good though. 

AI's son, M had turned 2 this week and the Birthday Lunch was on Saturday. JJ, JM, MI and I made a trip to Toys R Us. We unanimously agreed that MI was the most capable of deciding on gifts for 2 year olds. The three of us followed her to the section which had games based on alphabets, bought a couple of them and then decided to give M something more fun. And so  the bowling kit was bought. 
The problem with having 20 different things to eat is that even if you take a small portion of each, you end up with a food coma. That's what happened to me at AI's place. It was the most fun I've had at a gathering which didn't have any alcohol! The highlight was when little M opened his bowling kit and went crazy hitting the pins.He absolutely loved it.

The fun continued in the evening with a Diwali Potluck. Great food, more Bollywood music, an after party with guitar and songs and dumb charades till 4:00 in the morning, which included movies from the IMDB Bottom 100 list.

I don't miss Indian festivals as such. By that I mean, I don't miss the food and festivities or the tradition bit as long as I am having a good time. Of course it would be nice to do all that - visit pandals during Durga Puja and burn firecrackers during Diwali. But to put it bluntly, it's another day. And it's no big deal if I don't get to eat a special dish or go to a special place because everybody else is doing that. Yes, it wouldn't be fun to spend such a day alone doing work, or worse, nothing, but so would any other day.
What I do long for are my friends, family and the tastes, smells and sounds that I can't get here.

Happy Diwali everyone.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Beautiful Virginia

No, the fall colors aren't here yet. So I'll have to keep looking. 
One of the most beautiful drives I've done on an absolutely gorgeous October afternoon in Charlottesville. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Second Year Awesomeness

Went to listen to Carbon Leaf last night. It was much more than I expected. I had gone to the concert having listened to only half a dozen or so of their songs. Most of them were kind of pop rock-ish with good melodies. I had been planning to go since I heard about them playing at the Jefferson Theater but wasn't so sure since there was nobody to go with. Luckily, BW reminded me of the concert a couple of days ago and we decided to go together. 

We had more an hour and a half to kill before they started playing. So we talked about our summers, second year so far and her amazing business plan ideas, writing a book, not becoming consultants or bankers and life after Darden. It was fun catching up since we don't have any common classes. 

They played for 2 hours. From 10 to 12. Their lead guitarist was really talented. Apart from the fact that he played the guitar, mandolin, banjo and violin, his riffs were melodious and had a flowing quality to them. The mandolin and banjo added a folk/bluegrass feel to some of their songs. And the lead singer came up with a few flute solos too! A lot of variety on display. Totally enjoyable. We even bought a CD each - buying into their request to support local musicians (they are from Virginia and have decided to cut their own records severing ties with the record label they were with earlier). No, really, it was because the music was good.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Afternoon drive to Shenandoah

So I finished my only exam at 12:30 in the afternoon and had about 5 hours to kill before going to the Darden International Food Festival. I was pretty sure, I wouldn't be working on the paper I need to finish by Monday. The weather was warm and sunny so a short drive to Skyline Drive seemed like a good idea. The fall colors are yet to come but it was pretty scenic nevertheless. We stopped at 'Beagle Gap' and walked along short trail before driving back.

They were all over the place. The bright red a stark contrast to an otherwise ordinary foliage

Taken from a 'Scenic Stop'

I love taking pictures of the rear view mirror. This one came out good.

I want to come back when all the leaves change color.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The New Darden Student Bloggers

...have been announced. Go check them out as they talk about all too familiar topics like Darden Cup, TGIT, DA spreadsheets and settling down as a grad student in Charlottesville.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Second Year - Is it really worth the hype?

It is. And it didn't feel like that in the first couple of weeks. Especially when we were going to classes on Fridays while the first years had the day off. 'Oh, you guys have classes, right', said a first year one day with a hint of a smile. 

Then the first long weekend happened, I went to NYC and thereafter things changed. I went to Shenandoah one weekend, got my Driver's License, drove to DC and generally started to enjoy second year. My roommate bought a TV and I got back to watching re runs of sitcoms. No 8 o' clock classes meant I eased into the day much like old times in Bangalore. Wake up at 9, turn on the TV, check emails, have tea. Lots of free time meant, I would loiter around Darden for no apparent reason looking to chat up with people!

Last weekend was particularly satisfying. I had thought I would actually do some work like starting on some of the final papers that are due and study for my Valuations exam (about which I have very little clue as of now). But procrastination got the better of me and I ended up being happier for that. Take Saturday for example. After the usual slow start to the morning (the weather was absolutely gorgeous, by the way), I was just about thinking of starting on my paper when a friend emailed about going to the UVA Vs FSU tailgate. A couple of hours, a few beers and chicken nuggets later, I came back home. 

Next stop was the Crozet Music Festival. A 20 minute ride through very picturesque roads brought us to the Misty Mountain Camp Resort. It was essentially an open field with a couple of stages where the bands were performing. We sat down there, had a glass of locally brewed beer, met a couple of other folks and just relaxed while the music played.

The evening followed from where the afternoon had ended. An Asian Business Club social where we threatened to throw the president in the pool, followed by watching The Social Network in a packed theater (Yes, that's a rarity in Charlottesville. Our small group of 15 odd people had to split up and find separate seats).

Although Saturday was an extremity, I think I have reached a point where I am only doing things I care about. I no longer bother about giving my 100% to everything. Yes, that means going to classes unprepared at times (a lot of times, to be honest). That also means cooking more at home and hitting the gym pretty regularly. I'm quite liking this part of my life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Different Places, Different Lives

I was in NYC this weekend. Meeting friends. Chilling out. It was my third visit to the city and the first during summer. The weather (particularly on Saturday) was absolutely gorgeous. 

The point of this post however, isn't describing what I did. Which anyway, was pretty commonplace. What struck me was how different the lives of my friends was from my own. How it's tied so closely to the city and the experiences they've had. 

The married friend who recently moved from Boston. The MBA student who is looking forward to spending his last year in the city and the country. The Banker who misses Charlottesville but is totally looking forward to his new life. And the friend who spent two years in the city, fell in love with it, and comes over almost every weekend to catch up with her scores of friends.

I was talking to S who is doing his MBA. And his experience has been so different than mine. True, he recruited for banking and I ran away from anything that was related to Finance. But more so was the influence of the city he was living in. For him going out meant exploring cuisines and new clubs. For me, it meant half a dozen bars. For him, campus was a building. I, took the courtyard with benches for granted. I had missed my first class at Darden to get to NYC. He was thinking of not missing as many classes in second year as he did in the first. I had applied to his school too. Primarily because of the lure of NYC and my goal of going into Digital Media. It's interesting to think how different my life would have been if I had got the admit. It's not a question of good or bad. To be frank, I hadn't given much thought to these issues while applying.

When someone asks me if I like a city, I give them my standard answer. Living in a city is different from a short visit. And liking a city depends a lot on the people you know there. Again, I'm not in any way trying to 'compare' Charlottesville to NYC. Doing so would be foolish. Its just fascinating how the experience of being a student in C'ville can be so different than being a student in NYC and working in NYC. And how those experiences can in turn change who you are. To some extent, at least.

I met N on Saturday. We talked a lot. Useless, nonsensical things. And sensible, serious stuff. As usual, she did most of the talking because she always has these stories to tell. Some of them, I couldn't relate to. Others, got me thinking. We have different ways of looking at life and going about it. She likes to plan and break down the bigger things into smaller, tangible lists. I like to think I am more prone to taking things as they come. Both of us have changed though. From extremes, to a more measured, balanced middle. As one of the few people who have read my blog since I started writing, she remarked how my style and content has changed. I remember telling her that it's in a way a reflection of my life. I'm not clueless about where my life is going but a lot of it just happens.

You don't miss something unless you know what it is. This trip did that for me. Showed me a glimpse. And for the first time in a year, on the first two days of the week, I had trouble not letting my mind wander away from my here and now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guest Post: Pakistan Flood Relief - The uphill battle to rebuild lives -- Jawwad Farid

17-20 million affected
5 million without shelter on the streets and roadsides because relief camps are overwhelmed
1.6 million people are already being affected by waterborne diseases
800,000 people still cannot be reached because bridges have been washed off
170000 acres of crop land has been affected

The water came at night in Nowshera.

Not silently like a thief, nor on tip toes, but with all the ferocity of a moving sea mixed with the weight of mud, stones, trees and swept away dreams. 2 am at night, all you could do was wake up and run. But unlike a tidal wave that comes in, takes what it needs to pacify an angry God, and goes, the water in Nowshera kept on coming. Days later when the flooding stopped, like an unwelcome and over bearing guest it stayed. And it brought company with it to keep away the boredom of lesser lives it haunted; misery, hunger and silence.

You could change the name of the city and repeat the story throughout the length of the mighty Indus. By the time you would reach Sind and Thatta, the late night rush to safety, the breaches in river embankments and the loss of life, livelihood and loved ones become one practiced orchestra. No audience except the three that water brought with it to Nowshera; misery, hunger and silence. No post performance celebration other than the one where millions of souls slowly start re-threading their lives, one battered tin clad suitcase at a time.

With the water slowly receding the relief mosaic across Pakistan is looking more and more like a drive in movie in an endless loop across multiple time zones. Upnorth, we need food, clothing, medicine, water purifiers and shelter. Down south, we are still waiting for Thatta and nearby cities and villages along the Indus Delta to take on the first wave of flood waters.

The widespread devastation and damage to infrastructure has added a new dimension of difficulty to relief efforts. And so if you can’t find food or support in the enclave over run by mud that you used to call home, you walk to the relief camps being set up near larger urban centers.

A school for children now houses 30 families and 150 kids. It is not women and children first. The men have opted to stay behind to guard livestock or land for in the chaos caused by a raging river there is more room for tragedy, robbery and outright villainy by your fellow beings. Possession is nine-tenth of law, especially if thy neighbor has been claimed by the rising waters of River Indus.

A white collar family is not used to handouts or being treated as landless destitute. But the tragedy that is unfolding across Pakistan across millions of lives, hundreds of cities and thousands of camps is just that.

You may have escaped the water; but will you ever escape the fate and the company the Indus brought with it.

Misery, hunger, death and silence.

Jawwad Farid is the founder and CEO of Alchemy Technologies. He is an actuary by profession, a computer scientist by training, and a Columbia Business School MBA.

Jawwad has worked directly as a founder, mentor or advisor at multiple startups including two green field life insurance companies, multiple technology product businesses, financial services consulting operations, product focused distribution as well as micro insurance, micro pensions and micro finance startups. The ones he remembers the most are his failures.

He came to Darden in April for his talk "REBOOT - Everything you ever wanted to know about STARTUP FAILURE" and is a regular contributor to the DesiBackToDesh, Learning Corporate Finance and Oil Insight  blogs. 

You can view the original post here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guest Post: Doing Business In Africa - Joe Andrasko

So here it goes, the first ever blog post about summer internships and recruiting from a guy who has yet to write his first cover letter…  

From a recruiting perspective, my first year at Darden was a bit atypical. I came to Charlottesville focused on entrepreneurship and, throughout the first year, I couldn’t seem to shake my interest in working for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to be interested in “real jobs.” I polished up my résumé last fall, made sure I used action words in all my bullet points, tweaked margins and fonts, the whole nine yards. I even went to some company briefings and “networked” on the recommendation of the good folks at the CDC who kept urging me to “trust the process.” At the end of the day though, my buy-in for the “the process” wasn’t quite there. By October, I decided to curtail the briefings. By November, I had all but written off the traditional summer internship.

Here’s the way I saw it: I was 27 years old, single, no family to support, and had a meager savings sufficient enough to provide sustenance at least in the form of ramen noodles and Natty Light for a year or so. If the actuarial folks at big insurance companies have it right, I also have roughly 50 more years of life expectancy (knock on wood) during which I can work long and hard for whatever big corporate brand deems me worthy of employment. So, where was the value in spending 10-12 weeks slogging away for some big company over the summer? The full-time job offer? I thought they had second-year recruiting for that. The learning experience? I thought we had cases for that. Bragging rights? Touché… but I thought those had already come with admission to Darden.

So what should I do? Like the protagonist of any good HBS case, I gratuitously mentioned my elitist business school credentials and “consulted my notes from first-year finance” for the answer. After careful analysis, my cost of capital (in this case, 10-12 weeks of time in July and August) seemed too great for me to justify the investment in a formal internship. 

If you’re still reading (which I realize is highly unlikely after the above reference to DCF-ing my life – no pun intended), you’ll be happy to know that I didn’t simply trade off a summer in corporate America for a summer on the Jersey Shore. Instead, I did what any good entrepreneur would do and took advantage of one of the best kept secrets at Darden: The Batten Incubator. (For anyone interested in entrepreneurship, the Incubator is worth checking out)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I started two small businesses prior to Darden so abandoning the formal recruiting process was perhaps somewhat expected. I did also cave-in to interviewing for one job in the spring. Truth be told, I had a pretty difficult time deciding against taking it. But here’s why I did: As part of his sales pitch, the company’s founder told me what a great experience it would be to work for more experienced entrepreneurs like himself. After all, he reminded me, he had sold his first company – the one he started in his late twenties – for $180 million. I’m not sure he intended it, but that statement actually convinced me not to take the job. Why would I go work for him when I could go take a shot at building my own $180 million business? Game on. 

So I traded the traditional route for a shot at never having a boss and enjoyed an exciting summer. The business that I’m trying to start, a small private equity fund focused on agribusiness investments in southern Africa, allowed me split time between Incubator meetings in Charlottesville and farm visits in Swaziland. Needless to say, however, I still haven’t managed to sell anything for $180 million. 

So, what does that mean? Well, if first-year finance can continue to enlighten us, it’s time to employ a hedging strategy. I’m back on the recruiting train, secretly jealous of classmates with fancy offers, and trying my best to get back into the good graces of the CDC. I’m still hopeful about my business prospects and still wary of corporate America but at the end of the day, Darden does expose us to some pretty great opportunities and writing them all off on principal seems somewhat shortsighted. The good news is, I can sleep at night knowing that I put together a summer that was as educational and enjoyable as it was untraditional. And, if I need to spend a little extra time tweaking bullet points and actions words this fall, so be it.

For more info about the Africa endeavor and my summer in the Incubator feel free to check out this blurb by the significantly more eloquent folks in the Darden communications office.

Joe, apart from being one of the smartest kids at Darden also happens to belong to the most awesome Learning Team here. LT 32. When he's not flying off to Swaziland, or running his tutoring business at Nantucket, he gets kicks out of making excel models without moving his hands off the keyboard.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Cab Driver

Almost all cab drivers that I have met, who are originally not from the US, have a love affair with India. Ali Dani, who took me to the DFW airport today, was no different. Only, he lead an immensely interesting life.

The conversation started with him talking about how he had rented his 6 bedroom house in Dallas to an Indian family who had frequent visitors. It had saved the family a lot of money and he had, in turn, found a reliable and  harmless tenant. He had "retired" a few years ago he said, and drove the cab for 5-6 hours a day. Only so that he had something to keep him occupied. He had taken a year off after retirement to do nothing and had gotten very bored sitting at home. He was so bored that he had taken to cutting the grass in his backyard twice a week! But then he kept a couple of lambs in the backyard which ate all the grass and he was jobless again. I don't know how much of it was true, but it made for an interesting conversation so I didn't interrupt him.

"I go fishing on the White Rock Lake", he says. "I have my spot. I take a tent and my radio and sit there all day long. Sometimes I go to another lake which is far from Dallas. It's an old radio. I also get an Indian channel here. They play Indian songs."

His 28 year old son lives in Boston. Working with an insurance firm. But he wants to become a criminal lawyer. He visits Dallas more often now since his girlfriend is here - Ali says with a smile. His other son is studying at SMU and wants to be a CPA. I ask him where he's from and how long has he been in the US. "Iraq.", he says. "15 years. But I've been in Dallas for only 6. I was in Seattle before that."

My curiosity heightened at this, I asked him what he was doing in Seattle. 
"I was a lawyer for the UN", he says nonchalantly. I'm in half a mind to believe him but for entertainment's sake, I urge him. "Very interesting.", I say. 

"Yes, it was a lot of travel. My body couldn't take it anymore so I retired."

"So, where were you before Seattle."

"I had to travel between New York and Seattle a lot. But I started with the UN in Geneva. Moved to Oslo for a few years. Brussels. Lot of travel, man. This was in the 80s. So they had different currencies. I was so exhausted that I wouldn't know where I was or what currency to use. Ha Ha."

"I've been to India too. Calcutta and Delhi."

"When", I ask.

"1989 and 2002. India is a very nice country. Nice people. Always ready to help. And I love the food. In England too, they love Indian food"

"Yes, I know. Chicken Tikka Masala is their national dish, I've heard"

"Ya, you're right. And the naan. It's so soft and tasty"

The customary Indian food chit chat behind us, he goes on to talk about his experience negotiating with Colombian officials on the Colombia, Venezuela border. And that Australia has fewer women than men so you're lucky to have a girlfriend there! He loves China too and thinks people are very polite there since the shopkeepers give back change with both hands and bow their heads. Also that he had been friends with a Chinese girl over the internet and she had come to receive him at the airport when he had gone there.

By this time, I'm just listening to him speak without asking any questions.

"So would you come back to Dallas", he asks after getting to know about my internship.

"Maybe." I say, realizing that we're at the airport.

"Alright man. Here is the US Airways Departure. Stay healthy and come to Dallas sometime again."

"Thanks. It's been great talking."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

15th August

So it's India's independence day. 64th, as the status updates from Facebook have told me. What does it mean to me. Nothing. Till 2008, it meant a day off (I was already unemployed in Aug 2009). From work or college or school as the case may be. In school there was still something special about it. Going to school, singing the national anthem and getting sweets It felt a little different from other holidays. This year, but for Facebook, I wouldn't have noticed. The only date I care about right now is 21st August. That's when I get back to Charlottesville.

I find the 'India, I love you and miss you', 'Proud to be an Indian', 'It's India's time' themed messages and emails to be hilarious and confusing at the same time. I don't get it. I am as proud to be an Indian as I would have been to be a Chinese or a Kenyan. I don't have any control over that, right. My nationality and my country's past and present. More correctly - I haven't done anything to show my patriotism for my country. Lead a pretty comfortable, safe, normal life and pursued my self interests which will satisfy my materialistic and intellectual needs. Will I ever do something helpful for my country? Do I at all have any intentions to do so. Maybe and Yes. I don't know how or when but I do have this deep seated desire to contribute. No, not give a huge donation to charity when I am a millionaire. Something more lasting. Something which is not as easy as giving money. 

I do realize that I am saying this sitting in the US, pursuing an MBA and planning to get a job which keeps me in this country for a few years. Double standards, right? I agree. And that's the reason I feel a little uneasy on such occasions. It bothers me (not as much as I would want it to, though) that so much of my life is centered just around me and nothing bigger. My dad gave the best years of his life and more to a steel plant. Yes, it gave him back a lot, but he belonged to the generation which saw the birth of the great Indian middle class. He contributed to it. He was part of the 'Nation Building' which Nehru had started. True, circumstances were different and had at times more bearing on his life's choices than intent. At least, that's my hypothesis. So this is not a comparison of character. It's more a stating of the facts.

And this brings me to my original point. I don't like it when people fool themselves by sending out emails and forwards on 15th August. It's almost like a compensation for not doing anything at all for the rest of the year. Of course, there are people who are saving lives in villages, fighting corruption and at the same time indulging in the mass forwards. My apologies to them. But I think that the majority is more or less like me. Actually a little worse, because at least I don't spam! I wish someday we would be able to come out of this. I wish that we would realize that a lot of us would lead very selfish lives and not try to put on a facade for a day to portray otherwise. I hope, however, that most of us get tired of it and end up doing something which has far more impact than a million status updates. That as the fortunate, highly educated, forward thinking 'future' of the country, we are able to change a few things.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2 Weeks To Go

I'm not a very good finisher. I'm a restless one actually. As a school kid, that was my attitude with exams where after having realized that I had got most of the stuff, trying to perfect it would take a monumental effort. So more often than not, I would just submit my paper rather than waiting for the full duration trying to fine tune my answers or finding silly mistakes. As a software developer, the finishing touches to make the code 'cleaner', removing the small issues here and there, used to irritate me and I almost felt someone else should do it so that I could move on to the next task.

With a couple of weeks to go before my internship ends, I find myself in a similar predicament. Deleting a word here, adding a picture there to my final presentation; timing it and trying to make sure that I don't repeat stuff and sound like I've actually done something over the summer; and tying the loose ends of the last project I am working on - the finishing touch, I have realized once again, is not what I do best. The fact that most of my friends are done with their summer or would be, by this week, and are out traveling and unwinding, makes things a little more harder. 

I'm a little bored too (my evenings are mostly spent streaming sitcoms on Netflix). Also, anxious about a few things which will hit me soon. You know, the life, career kind of stuff. And excited at the thought of new opportunities. So, it's a mixed bag. I want to get back to Charlottesville now, To familiar places and people. Talk to my friends and exchange notes on the summer experience. 

Dallas has been a fruitful experience. It has answered quite a few questions and posed a few more. I can add the function and industry to the 'Can Do' list to go along with the 'Will Not Do' list currently populated with CPG Marketing and Banking. That's progress, right ?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Have I Met You?

How do you prefer meeting people for the first time? In person? At a common gathering or a one to one setting? Email? Phone? Facebook?
Apart from the last one, I'm pretty comfortable with any of them. Although email followed by an in person meeting is the best combination. But apparently for a lot of people these days, it's Facebook. And although I can see the ease and obvious benefits, I'm still not comfortable with the fact of befriending someone I will most probably get to know in the near future; on Facebook first. I end up accepting the requests as long as I see common friends and know the context. But I'm just curious at the motivation behind doing so. If I really wanted to talk to someone or ask something would I not rather send her an email? Or if discovering the email id is too difficult, a Facebook message? I just find the 'adding people' without any purpose a little perplexing. I mean, why? No, I don't have any privacy concerns. Nothing major anyway. It's ok if you did so to stalk me. (It would be interesting in fact!)
Well, one thing I can think of is that when we do meet, it would save us the formalities of narrating our basic 'About Me' info. Provided, of course, that both you and I took pains to fill that section and were curious enough to go through it when we became friends AND most importantly, remembered it.

As for me, I still prefer to Facebook friend people only when I have known them for sometime. Why ? Because I'm afraid, I would come out as some sort of a creep otherwise.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Perfect Lazy Sunday. Well, Almost

Of late (and by late I mean the last couple of years actually), my attention span has reduced significantly. I keep moving from one task to another without being able to concentrate for more than 30-40 minutes. To some extent it has been accentuated by the B School life, where you are constantly trying to cram in as much as you can within a given time. But that apart, the two main evidences that it's more than just a passing phase is the fact that I had all but stopped reading and watching movies. Don't get me wrong here. I still go out with my friends to watch Avatar and Iron Man II. But whereas earlier, in my spare time I wanted to update my 'movies seen from the IMDB Top 250' list; nowadays even 90 minutes seems too long a time to sit still and do one task. And I cannot watch a movie in bursts. And reading. I guess this was more because of an actual lack to time. I would manage to read for a couple of hours in a week and by the 4th week, would lose the thread and abandon the book.

I also have a tendency to get bored of the setting of the house/room I live in. So when I woke up today; instead of sitting at home and aimlessly trying to move between watching a movie, reading a novel, calling friends or killing time on the internet (yes, my Sundays are really that happening) - I took my novel and went out to have breakfast. I got my bagel with sausage and eggs and a coffee and found myself a corner. And for almost three hours, amidst murmurs of people coming-ordering-talking amongst themselves, the soothing sound of some jazzy music playing in the background, and a few coffee refills - I read. 
I came home at noon to do some work and went back at 2:00. Ordered a sandwich and iced tea, found the same place and spent another three hours.

The book resonated with a few of the things I have been thinking about (and talking to my friends) of late. What kind of life do I want. What makes me happy. What matters. Choices. It's a little unsettling to say the least, that in less than a year, school will be over and the 'real world' will come back again. Decisions would have to be made regarding everything. And this time around, most of them would be long term. You know, the really important ones. So far, all the phases in my life came with an expiry tag. Even with the job I had before, I knew I would eventually get an MBA (it's cool to say it now that I am actually doing it!). I have a feeling, the next phase doesn't necessarily have one. Not a clear defined one anyway. And no, I'm not saying I'll have the same life for the rest of my life or will do the same job or live in the same place. But I think you get the point.

Which also means that in the 10 months or so that I do have, I should make sure I visit the places and people I want to, soak in as much as I can so that there are very few (if not none) 'Ah, should have done that' experiences, and to use the cliche, make the most of it. With some effort and luck, hopefully the rest will fall in place.
"We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Months

A few days ago a friend from IIT had '9 years' as his Facebook status. Apparently it was 9 years to the day that we had attended our first class. It got me thinking about all subsequent summer months (May, June, July) and how I've spent them. And more often than not, they have been characterized by changes and transitions.

2001 was when it started. College. The weeks leading up to that day in July were amongst the most anxious and most joyous days of my life. It was sweeter because it had come after a year in the dumps. I wasn't quite sure if I was more happy for myself or my parents. The weeks after that very first day, however were memorable in a totally different way. But for the bunch of us who underwent the arguably necessary ritual of ragging; things would never be the same again. Inhibitions were shed once and for all, swear words hearted, physical and mental tolerance levels increased, and a sneak peek given of a world full of quirky, smart, different-from-me, nice, not so nice people that was to be our home for the next four or five years.

2002 was my first 2 1/2 month long summer vacation. A lot of my friends from school had come home. We would later realize that it was the last time we would have such a big gang. Get-togethers happened practically every day at each others' house. Dinners. lunches, movies and just chatting about stuff. I was in the stage where I missed school and my friends and had not yet totally become comfortable with college life. So it was a return to my comfort zone, so as to say. 

By 2003, I had assimilated the IIT culture and known myself a lot more. Although not by choice, I had also realized that I wasn't going to break any academic records. So I decided to pursue other activities and learning the guitar took more importance than anything else. Just before coming home for the summer vacation, I had my friend teach me how to hold the G, C Em and D chords. He told me that if I could play them and do the transitions, I could play practically 90% of all the songs that I had ever heard. I believed him, went home, convinced my parents to buy me a guitar (it wasn't hard in any way though. I had quite a bit of music sense in me and my parents knew that) and spent the better part of 2 months trying to string together Greenday's Time Of My Life and Poison's Every Rose Has It's Thorn. When I went back to college, I had added Take It Easy to my repertoire. It was a thrilling experience. 

2004 was my first real experience with the city of Bangalore. Hard to believe, but I didnt drink alcohol back then. Bad life choice. Watching the Euro with my friends in the common area of the place we stayed in, the trek on the railway track at Sakleshpur, working in a company (the most exciting part was getting the ID and being able to swipe in and out!) and working for a boss, the feeling of getting the first pay check, and for the first time being able to buy something for my parents - those two months were full of first experiences.

It was in 2005 that I finally got to feel the summer heat of Delhi in its full glory. We had to stay back in campus to start our final projects and I was also beginning my preparation for the CAT. The 45+ temperatures forced me to a very scheduled life. Swimming pool at 6:30 followed by breakfast at 7:30. I would then rush to the library or the lab to either give a mock test or meet my supervisor and get some project work done. Lunch was mostly taken at the nearby canteen and I would come back to the library to study or read a novel but mostly ended up taking a nap. It wasn't until after sundown that all of us would return to our hostel rooms which were like furnaces. It was impossible to sleep there. So we would have dinner, go out at times and come back to grab a place in the common room in front of the cooler. It was obvious therefore that finally when it rained in Delhi, all of us just went berserk. Windows were opened to let the rain come in the room as we went outside to get drenched.

2006. I remember feeling a void after my final presentation was over. 5 glorious, memorable years had ended. There was more than a tinge of sadness amongst us. It was relief rather than happiness which was the dominant feeling. I had to pack up everything and send it home to Bokaro. A new life in Bangalore was about to begin in June and I don't think I was looking forward to it. I hadn't achieved what I had been striving for the last year and was utterly disappointed. It was a tough couple of months. Suddenly I felt uprooted and very unsure of myself. There was however, a new job in a new city. And thankfully, a lot of my friends were coming too. And there was the World Cup. July was spent house hunting with my future room mates which was nothing like any of us had experienced before. I started my life as a coder in Java, cheered for Zidane and started discovering the pubs of Bangalore.

My parents left Bokaro in 2007. That was the biggest change for me that year, I think. Home took on a different meaning when I went there for the last time. A year into the job, I loved my life and had actually started to like my job a bit.  But apart from the usual weekend trips and hanging out with friends, the summer of 2007 did not have anything particularly different. The usual highs and lows.

By 2008, I had finally realized that I wanted to do an MBA in the US. So I began seriously preparing for the applications. That was the main theme of the entire year, let alone the summers. And yes, I watched Euro with my roommate. We made french toast and maggi and tea during the half time break. Good times.

And finally last year. Well, Darden happened. I quit my job in June, left Bangalore and really had mixed feelings towards where I was headed. It's always hard to leave behind something permanently. Knowing that there is no coming back. No matter how much you disliked it when you were there. I didnt hate being a software engineer. I just didnt like it as much as I should have if I wanted a longterm career in it. And there was house #40 and Bangalore and all my friends. 3 terrific years of a continuation of life after IIT. It was hard to let go of all that. 

So there it is. I have successfully been able to keep myself occupied for almost two hours now. Which takes care of most of my evening. If you are still reading, you're either really jobless or know me pretty well enough to read through the summary of my summers. This one? Well you already know about it, I guess. It's quite significant in the scheme of things. How much impact it will have on my future is hard to say. But like most of the summer months before, it has been different than the rest of the year.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Month To Go

At lunch today, a fellow intern said -"I'm ready to go back to school". No, she's not done with her project and I don't think she hates her work. And if I remember correctly, over the last week or so, I've seen the stray Facebook update from a couple of my Darden friends saying the same thing.  It got me thinking. Am I ready to go back to school? Like most things, I don't know.

I miss C'ville. I miss the energy and the familiarity. And a host of other things. But that is for another post. Next year, same time, maybe. 

At the same time, the summer has been an interesting experience so far. A self discovery of sorts. A perfect transition, as far as I can think of - from the no business, all coding software engineer to this mixed bag of technology trends, competitive analysis, consumer habits and the art of converting bullet points to fancy looking shapes which provide second order insights.

Getting to talk to heads of various divisions has been great. Product Management, Business Planning, Content & Services, Product Marketing. They mean more than just titles now. Also, the 'real world' aspect is becoming very clear. With everybody from the OEMs and the Carriers to the Content Generators and the App Developers trying to take a share of the same pie, so often, it's the framing, the positioning, the negotiations and the compromises which see a business proposal through. There is absolutely no dearth of innovation or crazy new ideas in this space. But not every idea is making a million dollars. Not every app is getting a million downloads. 

But enough of trying to sound intelligent and MBA student like. Dallas is like an oven now. And somehow, more than the temperature, it's just the brightness of the sun which fries my brains. There are no evenings. I mean when the sun sets at 9:00 PM, where do you squeeze in the evening?
More alone time has meant longer and more frequent emails to some of my friends. Then, apart from the Despicable Me's and the Inceptions, I've managed to watch an eclectic range of movies. The Visitor, Religulous, The Big LebowskiApocalypse Now (I also read Heart of Darkness after it which I thought was too wordy to enjoy or understand in one read).

Exploring good places to drink beer has been fun. And it's given me the opportunity to hang out with my friend from IIT. It's funny how having lead very different lives since our college days and pursuing very different careers, we still have so much to talk about. Some of it revolves round the very differences and trying to understand the other's perspective. Then there's recounting hostel days and people. A good part of it is about our current state of being - internship, bosses, decisions and  the changes ahead. And lastly, there's music and a bit of physics thrown in. I guess the alcohol helps a lot too. Particularly memorable was last weekend's chance visit to 'Bavarian Grill' - a family owned German restaurant in Plano. I had some of the most amazing tasting beer ever. So smooth. There was an old man playing the accordion close to us. Our waitress was super helpful in deciphering the German menu for us and suggesting beers based on what we liked. Even my 'not too hoppy, wheat, kinda light - yes, I like Blue Moon' was enough for her to suggest me a couple. Both of them were fantastic.

And lastly, I read this book. Loved it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Updates From Dallas

It's my first time living alone. I've always had roommates before this. At undergrad, there were a bunch of us in the hostel (or dorm, as it is called here). After the first two years, we had single occupancy rooms but that hardly meant anything. Most of us would keep our doors open throughout the day and people would be shouting out and walking into each other's room every now and then. Then Bangalore happened and I was lucky enough to find three friends from college to lodge with. It became a mini hostel and anyone that we knew, who came to Bangalore, would stay with us. In fact, throughout the first year there were only a couple of months when only the four of us were staying in the house! Charlottesville hasn't been very different. A roommate, the occasional birthday celebration and the impromptu get together for beer, meant that my habit of having quite a few people to talk to, to eat dinner with or just to go out for a drink on a day to day basis, stayed.

Not anymore. And 3 weeks into this, I have mixed feelings. I'm leading a pretty disciplined life. Office, home, go out for a jog at times, watch football highlights while having dinner, read a book or surf the net and go to sleep. And I can't say that I'm bored or particularly feeling the need of having people to shout out about a FaceBook status message, a news item or some stupid joke. It's a little weird. For the first week, I would go to sleep really early for lack of anything else to do. So then I started reading and have managed to finish my first book in a year. About A Boy by Nick Hornby. Quite liked it.

Weekends are fun. Coincidentally, one of my very close friends from undergrad is also interning at Dallas. We hang out on weekends. I talk about my MBA experience and he updates me on the trials and tribulations of a PhD student.

Work's picking up. It has been a good learning experience so far. Just getting up to date with what's happening in the wireless industry and getting a sense of current and future trends. My day typically begins with going through endgadget, gizmodo and similar websites to keep up to date with the iPhones, the Droids and the EVOs. Have been able to see and play around with a few. And I must say, there's a new found appreciation for non iPhone (read Android) devices. No, I'm not switching anytime soon but it's a really fascinating and continuously evolving space. There are an insane number of things that are being done by the startups and app developers - from location based services to media streaming to content aggregation to social networking. Reading about them in itself has been an eye opener for me because prior to coming here, I  thought that I had a fair idea of what was happening in the Smartphone world. Turns out, I knew very little!

Haven't really explored Dallas much apart from a few bars and pubs. Weekends are pretty much spent watching the World Cup. Praying for an Argentina - Ghana final which Argentina wins 3-2 in Extra Time. Is it asking for too much ? 

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Of Ringtones, Crying Babies & Bar Code Scanners

The last 30 days have been a mad dash. After 16 flights and over 70 hours of flying, I'm finally taking a breather. If this even remotely resembles the consulting lifestyle - spending half of your day in airports through endless lines of security checks and waiting in the departure lounge for the connecting flight; making a complete mockery of your food habits and sleep cycle - then I'm glad that I didn't get a chance to try it out.

Interviews, traveling across the world for a $150/day India trip, visiting ex flat mates and  friends in Bangalore and finding the house to be just like it was when I had left and finally the super exciting exercise of packing up for eleven weeks, leaving C'ville and arriving at Dallas - life's been pretty hectic of late.

This first thing which hit me upon arriving at the New Delhi airport after a 15 hour non stop flight from New York were the ringtones. Loud, gaudy and ringing for ages while the owner of the phone basked in the glory of his awesome choice of music. We keep hearing about the telecom industry in India. About the potential and the scope. I think people's obsession with flashy ringtones and caller tunes is a major contributor towards it. Anyway, I clearly wasn't expecting this.  Not after the ordeal which I had just been through. The kid in the seat behind me on the flight had made it his favorite pastime to kick my seat every 15 minutes for the entire journey. My occasional glance and request to his mother would only increase the interval. To begin with he was doing it unknowingly. But I think later he found a sadistic pleasure in it - to see me twitching and turning in order to get some sleep. He knew that I knew he would strike sooner or later. The certainty of the event combined with the uncertainty of the exact moment of the assault was what made it lethal. After sometime, I just gave up and watched Young Frankenstein and a crappy Bollywood movie instead. 

That was not all. There were a hundred kids in the flight and it seemed all of them were seated close to me. What more, they seem to synchronize their crying so that one would pick up immediately after another stopped. And somehow their moms seemed least bothered! Clearly, saying 'Stop crying Beta' to a 2 year old isn't going to work because a) his linguistic abilities are not yet developed enough to process that sentence and b) he's crying because he's pissed off about something (like alcohol not being offered for a second time, say) and the only way to make him stop crying is to find out and solve the problem. Action, mothers. Not words.

It's good to see India beating the Govt. forecast of GDP growth and surging ahead at 7.4%. It's sad to see simple things not being implemented especially when the Infys and the Wipros have had that technology for ever. Take bar code scanners to scan boarding passes for example. Or simple displays to help transit passengers figure out the details of the connecting flight. Instead, at places we have a person ticking off names from a list while collecting boarding passes and another one crying out 'All Kolkata passengers to the left and Amritsar passengers to the right' on top of his voice as we come out of the plane. The result - longer queues, greater confusion, more noise about nothing in particular and pissed off passengers. Having the technology is of no use if we are not able to find ways to put it to use in our daily lives.

Internship begins tomorrow. Should be exciting. New city. New people.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So What Are You Doing This Summer

Caveat: Long rambling post about very personal experiences and views

The most common was "I'm still looking". Or sometimes a blunt - "I don't know". And on rare occasions - "I have applied for this job and am really hoping to get the interview invite"

Then suddenly, first year got over. Toasts were raised and year end parties were hosted. I was still as far away from the answer as I was in August. Did I 'trust the process' or 'believe in myself'. I don't know. I was just waiting for something to happen.

Take 1

So I went in to the interview last Friday with a very uneasy mindset. It was in an industry and function I never thought I would end up in when I started B School. At the same time, it was exciting to be working with a startup in Charlottesville. Add to it that it wouldn't require me to move and I was more than willing to take the internship. And he gave it to me. Just like that. 

"So you're from IIT and have a good GMAT. You also seem like someone who's comfortable in interviews. So why is it that you don't have a job?', he asked.
I almost laughed at it and blabbered something on the lines of spreading myself too thin and actually having no clue why nobody wanted to employ me.
"See, I'm a first impressions guy and I like you. And we need people. So we can shake hands and you can begin working from the Monday after."

I wasn't prepared for this. I requested him to give me a couple of days to think about it and decide if I wanted to take it up or pursue another final round interview.

It felt like a burden had lifted off me. I had something to do this summer.

Take 2

After a series of emails and phone calls over the weekend, I managed to extend the offer acceptance deadline and pull back the final round interview date with the other company. I had to fly out to Dallas on Tuesday and interview back to back with four people. They would tell me their decision on the same day giving me the chance to take either of the offers if I got it. Perfect.
So I fly out at 5:00 PM from Charlottesville and after one of the most uncomfortable and boring 6 hours in 2 tiny, 70 seater planes, crash into my bed at the hotel at around 12 at night.

The first interview is with the same guy who interviewed me on phone earlier. It goes really well. He talks about the team and the long term strategy, his crazy schedule, what kind of manager I would like, what languages I coded in while working, what's my view of the wireless space and people's habits when it comes to consuming media on the go, what excites me. He goes out of the room saying "Hopefully I'll talk to you again" and I know I really need to screw up from there on to not get the offer.

The next two interviewers, however do not give me any such signal but instead grill me about everything from strategies to launch a product, to ways and reasons to prioritize one over the another. 4Ps of marketing, first mover advantage, technology adoption, iPhone, Kindle, consumer surveys, analyst reports, how many mobile phones were sold in the US in 2009, why people change phones, AT&T, Netflix - we touch upon almost everything in the Digital Media / Wireless Telecom space. It's the one thing which excites me and I make sense most of the time.

The last person supposed to interview me is stuck in a meeting, so another guy from his team comes in. We have a very casual conversation. We talk about the food in the cafeteria, housing options in Dallas, wearing jeans to work (yes, you can do that),  having an iPhone, and cultural differences between Nokia, Motorola and Samsung.

The day gets over. I take the flight back to Charlottesville with a stop at Philly. Reach the Philly airport and get an email from the HR. I had got the offer. And it was as close to a dream job as it could be.

what has this process meant to me. 

Has it made me know myself better? No. I knew my strengths and weaknesses and I still have the same beliefs. I suck at faking conversations and being passionate about something which I like but not love. At the same time, I can very easily talk about the fact that I am CS grad, I listen to Pandora, I blog (though I hate Twitter), I like downloading apps on my iPhone, the "cloud" is really just another client server model, Darden's been great because it has made me aware of so many issues while looking at businesses and I want a job which has a little bit of all of this.

Do I understand this process better? Not really. Getting interview invites has been the toughest part for me. And it could be because I've just worked for 3 years and in a field which really didn't involve making business models or revenue forecasting. 
On one hand, it was this small exposure to software development in a telecom domain which I think got me this interview in the first place. On the other hand there were internships which said having such a background is a big bonus but I never heard anything from them. So it's anybody's guess but I'm inclined to believe that 'relevant' background does have a huge role to get your foot in the door. What is relevant, though, is the tricky bit.

Has it changed my view of Darden as a school? No. I came here for an experience. An experience in which getting a job formed just one part. Yes, I would have been disappointed  with something else. But I would have blamed it on things not working out for no apparent reason. That's the way I am. It's too late to become objective, I guess!

Have I learned anything from the process? Yes. There are a host of immensely interesting jobs out there. Whether you get them (in fact, even get to know about them) is dependent on a host of factors which can be grouped under networking, google skills, timing, plain luck and a dozen other. What worked for me, though, is to convince myself that no matter what, I won't go into anything related to Banking, Corporate Finance, Health Care or CPG Marketing. Yes, there were a couple of exceptions but I never got to interview with them anyway!

So finally on Tuesday night, I had my answer. Samsung Telecom at Dallas. 
Calcutta, Bokaro, Delhi, Bangalore, Charlottesville and now Dallas - the cities I live in always seem to begin with a B,C or D. Clearly I shouldn't be looking for jobs in San Francisco, Seattle or New York.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This is why Darden is so unique

This was the last video at the Follies. And clearly it made all of us feel privileged to be part of this huge family. Where else can you find a faculty which is so sporting and cares so much for the students. Even as a first year, it made me a little emotional to be done with half of school. Here's to making the most of the next year.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of courses, cases, clubs and career

Q4 feels like a mad dash to finish first year. I feel like I've been playing catch up for weeks now. So much for this quarter being the end of the super intense and busy Darden core curriculum!

There's been a ton of group projects and team simulations. Some planned, some sudden. Some enjoyable, some just a burden. It also screws up the calender because you are constantly juggling to meet commitments and reach a compromise as far as schedules are concerned. The courses this quarter have been a mixed bag. Which brings me to the point that even if everybody says a course if helpful and really interesting, you can take it and have a totally different opinion about it. But it could also be the fact that for the first time, in this quarter, I have been slacking off a little. Call it the Learning Team effect. Actually, the lack of it. For the last 3 quarters, by virtue of having the best learning team in Darden (in whatever way you define "best" as), I was always trying to get my cases done and be prepared. With nobody to push me now, I have found time to procrastinate. I have gone into classes with half prepared spreadsheets and unread cases. Which make me ask this question. Am I doing it because the course doesn't excite me or is it the other way round.

The highlight in terms of academics has been the Global Financial Markets course. It's as current and relevant as B-School gets. You have the Federal Open Market Committee meeting during the day and at night the professor emails you the 1 page summary of the meeting so that we can discuss and debate what Bernanke thinks of the fed funds rate. Super cool. We have discussed almost all major economic issues. Greece, European bond markets, currency trends for Korea, Russia, Brazil, the Asian financial crisis, yield curves, price parity. Let me tell you that I am very average in that class. But I love it nevertheless. It's a lot of 'value add' for me. Really. I mean it.

The job hunt mystery continues to be exactly that. A mystery. From optimism to getting excited about functions and companies I didn't know earlier to frustration to anger to I-deserve-this-more-than-that-guy to I-don't-care-anymore to plain curiosity as to where I will finally end up - the whole experience has panned a gamut of emotions. It always helps to talk to people though. And there's a fantastic lot here. Who keep you grounded and give you a real sense of things. It's easy to crib about life being unfair when you have 99% of the things going for you. While applying for B Schools, I remember being perplexed by people at top schools talking of things that were not going for them and were worried. I had told myself I would never be that guy. At times in this quarter, I have come close to being that guy. But time and again, there have been friends - new and old - to remind me of that. And as a second year told me a few days ago I'm just waiting for the CEOs to realize in the first week of May that they need a few more interns!

On a different note, the last few weeks have given me a glimpse of what life in the second year might look like. All that I talked about earlier plus running a couple of clubs. Planning farewells and speaker events, ordering food and taking care of the logistics, getting all the information from the second years' as they prepare to leave and realizing there is so much that could be done. It's exhilarating and overwhelming in some sense. Also, the passion and energy of the guys who ran the clubs before us is infections to say the least. 

They say that the second year is what you make out of it. It's what you want your B School experience to look like. You have the power to design it. With a couple of weeks to go before phase one of this journey comes to an end, I find myself at this crossroads where I have some sense of the next phase but no clue about the bridge in between. But for what it's worth, I'm looking forward to it when it happens.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Spring In C'Ville

The weather's getting better by the day and sitting in classes or home is becoming tougher. I decided to get my cases done this afternoon but ended up spending almost a couple of hours walking and clicking pictures.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3 emails

It's been a rough day. Somewhat of an emotional roller coaster. A few reasons to smile and a bunch of not so pleasant outcomes.

It was a gorgeous day in Charlottesville. After having talked about exchange rates and purchasing price parity in the Global Financial Markets class, and sitting out in the sun (yes, the professor asked us to go out and enjoy the weather) talking about diversity at Darden for the Leading Organizations class, I was done for the day.

Things started to get a little rough after this.

First up was a series of emails which reinforced the disadvantages of being an international student. The result - no travel, no interview.

With nothing to prepare for, I went about reading my ethics case for the next day. ExxonMobil in Cameron and Chad. Midway through that, I get a rejection email from a recruiter. I already knew the outcome so it wasn't a surprise. What caught me off guard was the honesty and genuineness of the mail. I had talked to the guy a few times before. In fact, I had emailed him even before coming to Darden when I was 'school hunting'. He had graduated last year and so totally knew the hardships of this whole process. Our conversations had been very friendly and casual. It was one of the only 'networking' attempts which had gone well for me. Moreover, he was friends with one of my learning team mates. Talk about being a small world! 
To say that it was the best rejection mails I have received wouldn't be wrong in anyway. So much so that, it didn't feel bad. Also because, the guy who did get through to the next round is a good friend and really deserves it. 
So I emailed him back and we talked about some other stuff besides jobs and internships.

The day was getting over and I was at my house thinking of what to do when I received another email. Guess what, another reject. This time from a project that I had applied to. Again, not really surprising considering that I didn't have a good background match. But it's always hard when they all come together. For a moment, it felt like a classic Catch-22 situation. You don't get picked to do it because you don't have the background. And you don't have the background because you're never picked!

In between all these, a dear friend got perhaps the most prestigious scholarship at Darden as we cheered for him during First Coffee.

Tomorrow's another day. And I have no idea what's it got in store. The weather, at least, should be good.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Barcelona Diaries - 2/2

Besides the fact that the group going to the Barcelona GBE (Global Business Experience) looked like one I would easily get along with, the major pull through for this trip was the course itself - Strategy As Design. In layman's terms - go sightseeing in Barcelona and write a journal with pictures at the end of it.

Note: for an incredibly detailed account of the entire trip read this blog post.

The City... absolutely gorgeous.  Antoni Gaudi took up the first two days of our trip and to be very frank, I would rather have done it in less time. The snowstorm which hit Barcelona on Monday (the first one in nearly 50 years!) made matters worse. Nevertheless, he deserves a mention. 

Gaudi 101 - Blending in with nature and unfinished grandeur 

The first thing that struck me during the visit to the unfinished church at Colonia Guell, was the fact that it didn't look anything like a church. True, it was unfinished and would have been much larger had the upper storey been built.  But yet, the rough cut twisted pillars, the uneven levels to match the topography and the broken ceramics – all combined to give the impression of something human, almost flawed, something with which you could associate yourself and not feel insignificant. I'm not sure I was too impressed with the beauty of the architecture. It defied conventional aesthetics and wasn't particularly pleasing to the eye.

Park Guell confused me. The contrast between the slanting, rough cut stone pillars which mimicked nature in form and color, and the fantastic entrance with its ceramic dragon looked conflicting to me. I am told Gaudi meant it to be a journey from the spectacular (almost garish) to the natural. But to me it was very sudden. It threw me off a particular mindset. Ironically, though, I liked visiting the place. Again, it defied conventional aesthetics but this time around, at least the 'park' looked quite spectacular.

If day 1 was about Gaudi being simple and natural, day 2 was about him surprising us by conjuring up gigantic structures. The Sagrada Familia, although only partially built is one of the most massive structures I have seen. The fact that he made the people believe in it so much so that billions of dollars are being spent to complete this Barcelona landmark by 2030 - is testimony to his belief in his art and himself.

I think I would have liked Casa Milla on a bright sunny day. Its wavy walls and colors gave a feeling of a wonderland. Unfortunately, after spending 2 hours inside the bus, all I wanted was to get back to the hotel room and get drunk on Sangria.

The heavy snowstorm meant that I had kept my camera inside the bus for most of the day. On Monday, the Barcelona GBE stock had taken a severe hit. Snowstorm and 2 days with Gaudi hadn't gone down well with a few (read the guys occupying the last few rows in the bus - me included). From Tuesday onwards, though, the stock kept climbing up.

From breathtaking views of the city to the architecturally alive city squares, in Barcelona, you could keep clicking pictures and hardly go wrong.

We also visited the Gothic Quarters of the old city and the church it housed. More traditional and more awe inspiring - it conformed to the vision of a church which I have.

Art and history apart, we also went to the Barcelona FC stadium - Camp Nou. One of my friends who went a few minutes before us saw Messi! We weren't that lucky. More disappointing was that Barca was playing on Sunday, the day after we left. Yes, it was the same game in which Messi scored a hat trick.

"More than a club"

The museum inside the stadium is worth mentioning. The long touch screen panels with rare video footage and summaries of the club's finest moment were a great way to keep the visitors engaged.  We played around with them for quite sometime.

So while we attended classes and roamed around the city during the day, the nights were dedicated to getting drunk and club hopping. Our favorite haunts were the La Rambla and the Porto Olimpico - places we would hit every alternate day to party till the wee hours of the night. The music was catchy, the women were attractive and the company was awesome. Dancing on bar tables, blacking out, craving for chicken wings at the sight of Hard Rock Cafe, drinking challenges between people weighing 100 something  and 200 something pounds respectively, and just insane amounts of alcohol - it would be an understatement to say that we had a BLAST!

Throughout the trip, we spent quite some time loitering around  La Rambla. Had it been a little warmer, it would have been the perfect place to sit outside a cafe and drink coffee or sangria or beer. There's always a ton of things happening. From street performers to Flamenco shows (which we attended). The fascinating part about Barcelona is how design and architecture is a living part of the city. It's not something which had to be seen in isolation. It's woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Balconies - La Rambla

Bicycles - saw them everywhere

End of La Rambla leading to the Port

I need another post to finish. To write about the 2 small towns we visited outside Barcelona - Girona and Besalu. Should be mostly pictures I think.