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Monday, November 05, 2007

Infosys - Making Us Proud

I just received an email from Connie Chan (if you are stanford CS - u her know all too well!) - who is part of the Stanford Computer Forum - basically our career maker - who interacts and setups up company info sessions. And what surprised me was the company which was holding info sessions is Infosys! Its amazing that an Indian company is hiring right from the intellectual heartland of the US of A. And well TCS does some hiring from Stanford CS as well, but thats mostly from the North America office. But Infosys is much more aggressive and recruits directly for its Bangalore office.

Some of the benefits mentioned are as follows:
"Benefits: Comprehensive compensation package that includes return airfare, allowances for accommodation, food, travel and a monthly stipend; first-hand exposure to one of the world’s fastest growing markets – India; access to senior executives through multiple industry and cultural workshops organized exclusively for interns; platform to interact with a diverse group of employees and interns representing over 50 different nationalities."

Reverse brain drain anyone!

Facebook and The Class

This quarter i am taking another one of BJ Fogg's classes. Its the much talked about Facebook class. Just for the purpose of being thorough - the official name of the class is - Create Engaging Web Applications Using Metrics and Learning on Facebook (CS377W). I love this course! I am just having a lot of fun in it. Now if you have taken any CS course (live databases, algos, programming, OS), you might know they are incredibly time consuming and require a lot of hours during the quarter. This course is similar in those terms - asks for a more than reasonable time commitment (though really depends on your motivation) - but its different than all the rest of the cs courses in a very important way - USERS! There is an incredible amount of emphasis which is put in understanding the user needs and their psychology in using apps - especially on facebook. Its surprising that all of computer science equips you with technical know-how of making a good software - writing good code - but somehow the users are pushed to the back seat. The usual considerations of performance, size, error checking, etc are common to almost all software designs - but for most of the courses that i have taken at stanford - the user hasnt really been a big part of the thinking process in designing the solution.

This course is really helping me put things into perspective from the users point of view - and i frequently quiz myself on - What do users want? What will make things easy for them? How do you measure this - quantify this? This is very important in attempting to make a good software - as important as putting in error checking I would say. BJ, Dave, Dan and Yee along with Greg and Rob (a massive 6 member faculty/CA team) do a great job in making students understand what goes on behind successful facebook apps - how to measure success - and once successful, what to do with that! The guest lectures from industry experts on issues most relevant to the class are also very insightful and thought-provoking. All in all - this is exactly why i came to stanford - to study cutting edge technologies. Someone from UK said on a class forum a few days back - that such a thing would never happen in the UK - it would take 6 months to get approval from committees and another 6 months to ratify the syllabus - and by that time the technology would have already been out-dated - ditto for India - but Stanford CS is not No. 1 for being good at hackey sack (which i am sure we are great at too!).

Working with team mates from the Business School (Brett Keintz) and Andrew Gadson (CS senior) is a great learning experience - since i see now the other aspect of making software to which i was never exposed to. In case you are wondering what my team has been up to till now - feel free to check out our app - Dodgeball. The next app due in class is going to be an educational app! Exciting times in the silicon valley! And before i end - here's an interesting piece of trivia - there are only 2 industries in the world which refer to their customers as users - Software and Narcotics. And btw, if you are into reading blogs (duh!), techcrunch ran a story on us.

PS: This post has been mirrored at The Unofficial Stanford Blog

Friday, October 19, 2007

Randy Pausch

I actually think that I am quite an emotional human being. But usually I try to hide that from people. But somehow I couldnt control emotions after i watched this lecture given by CMU Prof. Randy Pausch. I personally think that this lecture was the best I have ever seen. A brief back ground on the story - Prof. Randy Pausch is one the nation's leading authorities on Virtual World Technology, an expert in HCI and Software Engineering.

He was recently diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and has about 5-6 months of good health left. I think everyone has a lesson to learn from his talk. He gave a talk in a series which was called - "the Last Lecture" - if you had one last lecture to deliver as a professor, what would that be. But in his case, it was his last lecture in reality. What he said was so relevant and so sweet a story, one couldnt help but feel sad that such a wonderful person is not going to be with us in the near future. He spoke about how once should go about working, so as to be able to achieve their childhood dreams. Actually, there is a hell lot of meaning to what he said which i cannot possible put down in words here, his advise on how to talk to people, on how to respect people, on how to not get bogged down when you hit a brick wall. In fact brick walls are there to keep out people who dont want something, they allow only the people who really want that thing.

He spoke about why parents should let their children color the walls of their room and not worry about the resale value of the house. He was full of wisecracks about his school/college/grad-school life and very humorous in presenting the hard fact that he was not going to live too long.

You should definitely check it out here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

SIA's Welcome to Class of 09 and beyond

Stanford India Association (SIA) has started the new academic year with a welcome function for the new comers at the Bachtel International Center. The current office bearers of SIA seem to be a highly motivated bunch. Their self-driven methods and dedicated efforts actually bore fruit with the success of their Welcome Party. In a first of its kind panel discussion - SIA hosted a panel of (desi) Venture Capitalists (VCs) living in the Bay Area, all of whom had spent time as students at Stanford, in a discussion moderated by Anand Rajaraman (who, btw I think is one of CS Departments star consulting professors and highly recommend his class cs345a in Winter). The discussions revolved around the role of Stanford, as a univ and as a brand in their lives and how they could leverage it. Also, their views on how best to utilize time at Stanford and sort of the dos and donts of graduate education at Stanford, entrepreneurship, etc. Below is the transcript of the panel discussion which I could barely manage to type in with my meager 30 WPM speed. At some point my fingers bailed out on me, but the sheer energy showed by the panel and their keenness on getting their point through and reaching out to their fellow contrymen/hommies was what kept me going :)

CAUTION: This is written in a very journo-notes kinda way..

Moderator: Anand Rajaraman (Cambrian Ventures)

Panel: Naren Gupta (Nexus India Capitol)
Ajay Shah (Silver Lake Sumeru, Shah Capital Partners)
Neel Bhadkamkar (Monitor Ventures)
Navin Chadhha (Mayfield Fund)

Mohit Gundecha, started off the event - welcoming all the panelists on the dais and said - "our very own people who have made it big in their own way - they had the same dreams which u and i have today - they studied at stanford - an institution instrumental to silicon valley - they are going to talk about leveraging brand stanford and other issues revolving around it."

Anand Rajaraman, the moderator of the panel discussion, started off by asking the following questions to the audience :

how many of u watched 2020?
how many of u are engg majors?
how many want to be entrepreneurs?
how many are going back to India?
how many hv facebook accounts?

Neal and Navin hv facebook profiles..

Start with first question - most of u had the choice of which univ to go to - why did u choose to come to stanford?

Neal - i actually came to stanford as a mid-career person - graduated from iit delhi in 1976 - and i went off and did an mba at hbs and worked in mgmt consulting at boston - got bored - came back to engg - cmu/stanford were the choices I had - knew 0 people in pittsburg and 1 person in silicon valley and so Stanford it was!

Naren: 1969 - IIT Delhi graduate - went to Caltech for masters - stanford looked like a more pragmatic place - caltech more theoretical - broader education possible at stanford -

Navin: stanford 1992 - EE - IIT Delhi - when we are students we look for role models - we were enamoured by vinod khosla - limited horizon and we didnt hv PCs at IITD - we used to sit in front of main frames - curriculum here was very good - and lastly its weather -

ajay: i hd a couple of choices - northwestern - MIT - (engg mgmt.) - i chose stanford - weather - i had an uncle at stanford - Prof. haresh shah -

anand: one thing that the panel agrees on is the weather

anand: What are your best and worst memories at Stanford?

ajay: very tough experience - u actually had to work - another problem is the fees - work constantly between school and work in the computer center - and see how quickly one could finish - memorable exp - having vinod khosla - come by (he was with daisy systems) - talked about his experiences as an entrepreneur - was very inspirational - and at least made me think to want to be an entrepreneur.

navin: worst - orientation - worst nightmare at stanford - losing one of my nails during the first week - didnt know where the hospital was.
plus side: friends, learning from this place - its not only about grades, its the mentorship, the openness of the professor - learning is very diff - challenge ur professors, ur peers, sort of unlearn what u learnt in india and start with a fresh mindset.

navin: after i was here for a year - my professor told me that i am going to retire - did my phd in 2 years and 9 months - not too many negatives - it was much easier place than caltech - kind of a free ride -

neal: when i think back - my biggest hassle in life was always being off balance with a quarter system - coz i came from a semester system - and by the time the quarter had started, it had ended - on the +ve side - the first time i got a chip back after having designed it and sent it to mozes - flipped it on and it worked!

navin: came for masters and phd in 92 - get masters and get phd later on - few of my professors brain washed - they told me to do phd - they told me go to work on video - we came out with very kool technologies - jan 94 - to end of 95 - technology allowed to stream videos over the internet -

Yahoo guys told me to take one year leave of absence - 18 months into the company - very successful in video streaming - MS acquired us - on the same day i had my PhD oral exam. nothing comes for free - i had to make a choice - my parents said - really u are going to drop out of ur pHD?

Naren: i didnt think about making a company - i graduated and took a job with a small co with 50 employees - revenue had grown 100 times - a big co acquired - and bought and i resigned - and everyone told me not to start a company - except my wife and dad - 1990 - took company public - came up from having fun and doing what i love to do ... learnt what not to do when u hv a small company - when u dont hv a clear idea - go and work for a big co - make all the mistakes there -

ajay: reading business week every week, I was very interested in the business aspect of things - and my engg degree was an excuse to be close to business - money part of it is what happens after - not really the main motivator - most enggs particularly are not aware of the social aspects - sometimes bigger than technical aspects - and i think my advice to many of my friends - go work for a large company - see how they do business, how the corporate social culture works - how their internal processes work - and then i think u make a much better entrepreneur - working for a large company is a great way to start ...

neal: i didnt come to stanford to be an entrepreneur - reason - i fundamentally enjoy building things - from building software/hardware i migrated to building companies and help other people build companies - u really hv to do something which u enjoy - my migration in entrepreneurship - i left stanford to join a research lab - from engg i moved to tech commercialization - help spin out companies - saw the early stage action - headed up engg in one of those companies and had an incredible blast - when i was done with that gig - i was looking to be part of another startup - i ended up starting a company which happened to be a venture fund - we are still in the early stage - u hv team issues, u hv customers, various constituents that u hv to satisfy -

At this time, Anand makes an announcement asking people to make way for people standing outside, the room is almost bursting at its seams with people making an effort to soak in every bit of this really rare panel discussion in the Indian community - everyone is listening with rapt attention almost like reading a suspense, page-turner novel.

navin: about working in large cos - i think success can come in anyway - if you are going to sell to enterprises - if you havent worked before - just technology is not going to cut it - u need to understand how customers integrate - legacy systems, etc...

but in 1995 students like me or anand could come out with not friction apps/products - in semi conductors - u need to partner with someone who can help u manufacture - but internet changed all that - silicon valley is a unique place - as a student u are surrounded by mentors - if u know what u do well - focus on that as an entrepreneur - and the ecosystem can help u - if you are good at something how do u - bay area is the best place - first time entrepreneurs do well - an engg with 10 years exp will tell u 10 years why it cant be done..but 80-85% people hv exp..

anand: what are the hot areas for students to get into :

navin: we dont hv any ideas - if we had then we would be starting companies left right center - my job is to pick the best ideas out of the room - keep ears and eyes open - look for the best things which come -

naren: we are looking for ideas from the other side - we only invest in indian companies - my thinking is completely driven from the indian lens...Here is a methodology to find hot areas - what is a compelling need out there - technology is really not the answer to starting companies - what is a compelling need - what can enhance their cell phone exp - retail infra - think about what are the needs out there that u are uniquely qualified to fulfill -

company are about execution - bring people with u who have complimentary expertise - the goal is to the best not second best - be number 1 - u got to hv very high goals - and u got to fill a need - a crying need - and no body can fill that as well..

navin: (jokingly) i would work on number 2 as well...

neal: i get asked that alot - i dont know and none of our partners know - major reasons incubators for the most part all failed was because they thought they know what the hot area was and they pursued that - we look for ideas from other people - we screen those ideas - whether the startup has a unique way to meet that market meet - if you dont hv a team its not gonna happen - in general we find that u will find ideas and opportunities when there is something dramatic changing and change usually creates opportunity...

anand; we all came to the US to study - is the land of opportunity here or in India -

naren: i would say silicon valley (SV) is and always has been the land of opportunites - its a kind of a collection of people who want to do something impossible - and there is nothing that can take that away - india is creating a whole new set of opportunites - change is the biggest reason for opportunites - internet/pc/microprocessor
India is a very very significant opportunity - it is sorta both (india and SV) - leading edge technology and products - india doesnt hv infrastructure - if you have a look at the last several cos - they were not based on unique technology - (example: skype) - how product was packaged - etc - if u can come up with a different business model - can u hv a crm/erp software which is 1/100th the price - think beyond tech - there is a different way to develop drugs - same reliability same way of use - better price point and in a manner people want things to be used...

ajay: different take: in particular it is a very interesting time to be looking into India - lot of VCs hv decided its fashionable to be in India - managerial talents and proper conceptual and presentational talents are really important - in india still that talent is quite weak - and to top it all of - there is a little bit of a situation in india where people are not terribly loyal towards a company or an organization - - you not only have to be trained from tech/business perspective but also trained from a leadership stand point - and i think that many many companies would find that they would want to recruit in india - but they are not able to recruit management

naren: biggest challenge is doing things in time - get it done by friday means get it done by friday - almost every company at the senior management team has a person who has worked in the US - deadlines in India is not gotten thru - part of the communication challenge in India is in employees - cannot communicate vision to employees - that is very critical - that is a huge problem in India...its just the management capabilities -

navin: over the next 1 week, 2 months - write down what do u want to be - do u want to be technologist, want to be a professor, want to be researcher, want to be in business mgmt, or people mgmt,

if you are enamored with cutting edge - this is the place to be -

if u want to make money - more money has been made in india - learn here and go back there - its a rising time - its like appearing in the US in the 50s and 60s - 10 years back when we were graduating, it was hard to get a good job in india from iit - times have changed - really go understand - what u want to be - and once u hv a goal - keep it flexible, follow ur conviction - if you believe in ur self - do it - first answer the question - what u want to believe in -

From audience: How imp is an MBA?

Neal: It can be helpful and its obviously not necessary and it depends on what u want to be good it. SV is unique in that u can be a great engg and be successful but there are other parts of that world where that will not work - this is the place to do it - only place in the world where the rest of the infrastructure is in place to build the teams around urself and fill the parts of the puzzle which go into making a great co - if u go to FL, Boston - it is much much more difficult to find teams of people who hv been there done that who can get into a startup, ramp it up and build it - if you are into marketing/biz dev it would help - if you are in engg - u dont need it -

I highly recommend Tom Buyers course - for enggs..

Ajay: Master of business ADMINISTRATION - doesnt change things into starting a new company, u either hv a sense for it or u dont - MBA is particularly good for finance, not only models but the structure - Tom Buyers course is good for structure of understanding the terms like series A...

Naren: Agree - starting a company look at the talent u can buy and talent u cannot buy - cannot hire

Navin asks: fresh grad from IIT pitches and a fresh grad from IIM pitches- who are u gonna listen to - an MBA possible good for India Bulls, in certain situations MBA could be useful, but the beauty of things in India is that lot of them hv enggs degrees anyway - its good to get people who dont know what cant be done..

Audience Question: What help did you get from Stanford in starting a company?

Navin: In the hall ways of EE, CS - the VC will be roaming around in the hall ways

Aud Q: Talk about failures and mistakes in ur lives

Naren: I think the biggest mistake - was under estimating the competition - we had a unique tech in 1989, and the mistake we made was that we didnt get an exclusive license - under estimating the competition - and the competition we worry about the most is one we dont know about - as Andy Groove said - being paranoid is the best approach - dont worry about the M$/IBM - its gonna be a small companies, since they are very agile.
kEY TO a companies success if adaptability - create a company that is going to last for a long time -

Neal: a consistent and repeated mistake i hv made and many people do - falling in love with the technology and forgetting the market. That a company is making a product for a customer, not a technology.

Navin: If your product is not a pain killer, but just vitamins - dont go for it. Startups dont die of starvation, they die of indigestion - they want to take over M$ the first day.

Ajay: I was an entrepreneur who was not venture funded, and at various points we would not invest, try and make the best with the least, and in many cases we let entire markets go by - its the opposite of picking carefully. (Goes back to the Indian baniya connection). Mistakes are easy to make on every side. Having a few short feedback system - a smaller company has this to its advantage - tech doesnt sustain over time - but a co with the right kind of DNA is they can move quickly and correct quickly..

How best to maximize ur time at Stanford?

Ajay: Great place to meet a lot of people, enjoy and many folks are so immersed in their work to get out of their degrees that u actually miss many parts of benefits of what stanford can bring to you - and u say in hindsight that there are so many things you could hv done - get out of just the indian community - and in 1981, there were not that many indian students, we couldnt hv filled this room - that also pressured us to meet new people and meet a lot more of the world - the forumla u learn are long gone - but there are people u meet..

Navin: the first thing is that remember u are here for a particular reason - dont try to prove urself again and again - leave some hours in the day and week to learn from its environment - and be open to go to the events that happen here - and everybody wants to talk to you - develop certain other extra curricular hobbies - do well in the US - u MUST have leadership skills - play tennis - go look at some other things - what u are doing today might not even be relevant to what you are doing 10 years from now - unix/windows/java

Naren: when i came to caltech - 11 people - when i came to stanford in 1970 - less than a 100 indian students, just to emphasize what ajay and navin said - dont just be in ur comfort zone - get outside - how to interact with people u hv never met - give a talk - and MOST IMPORTANT - be a good listener...customers, employees, ur spouse! Treat people with respect -

Neal: very little if anything - 2 points i jotted down - people and risk - u are ob going to do what u are going to do academically - it will be obsolete and u will start again - get to know the people - make effort to stay in touch - when u graduate stay in touch with the peopple that u hv met - SV is all about risk - force urself to take risk - take risk academically - take courses that u cannot do - take risks career wise - best time to take risks when u are younger...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fag End of Summer

So its been sometime before I blogged. Mostly because I have become lethargic - which is a bit of an understatement. Well may be I am being too hard on myself - it becomes a bit tiring working 2 jobs - and getting paid for just one - working almost 15-18 hour days. But hey, I am headed home in just a few days and I am looking forward to that. But its been a hard summer over all. Looking back (mid-way though it may be), if there is one thing that this summer had made me realize is importance of family - and how precious is the feeling of being able to call your life your own.

Also, i now have a dream for myself! Yes, an aim in life if you will! I want to get married at the Stanford University Church. And I am working towards that :-) I guess i realized this only a few weeks into working full time (in case you didnt know - i m at Oracle HQ for the summer) - that i had no one to come home to and I would stay back in the office for insanely long hours. Just like today. This sorta makes me feel bad - I guess the marriage thingie could get rid of that.
This summer I also made many trips to the indian consulate in SFO. I had some passport trouble which i had to sort out. Thankfully, it did get sorted out. But as a side effect, i got to experience that Indians really need a course in "smiling and speaking politely". Thankfully they are efficient - it would have been hell of earth if they were inefficient and impolite. But you have to give it to them for their efficiency. I guess they are also not to be blamed for being impolite, dealing with people like us you really need to be assertive! I must thank the Mr. Bagchi and his staff, Consel at the Indian Consulate General at SFO for being really helpful.

There is just so much i can write about summer, but i think i should head off to home and start work, try to end another ground hog day only to start a new one tomorrow.

Friday, July 27, 2007

rakoFi.com code base acquired

Well its been a long time since I have blogged, but believe me I spend a lot more time on blogger.com than would be visible. I was actually spending time on other aspects of blogger.com that might interest the developers. Anyways, this post is not for that. I just wanted to let you guys know that my side project with friends from undergrad - rakoFi.com - a web based college market place service has sparked some interest among the start up/entrepreneurial/VC circles here in the Bay Area. One of the founders of studyplaces.com expressed interest in buying us (our code base) out. And after some amount of thinking, we thought that our baby would be nurtured and brought up in a better way in a bigger company. Hence, we signed the papers and off went rakoFi.com into the studyplaces.com.

Anyways, its encouraging to see that something we create was actually of value to someone else. That's the good part about being in the bay area. As I have always mentioned, networking is everything. The people responsible for bringing us and studyplaces.com together were Tekriti Ltd. - my previous work place in Gurgaon. Thanks Gaurav!

Anyways, we are onto bigger and hopefully better things. So keep watching this space closely!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

College Crush

So actually it turns out I am really getting addicted to blogging. I mean who the hell blogs on his way to Vegas. Me and a few of my friends are right now on our way to Vegas - we are driving down US-101 currently and vegas is still 8 hours away. And one of the songs that is playing now reminds me always of a really crazy thing I once did back when I was in undergrad at IIIT-Allahabad.

So back in undergrad I had this thing for a girl in college. She was nice, dark brown complexion, great hair, nice height and she had many other talents which were displayed aptly at Effervescence. So now the thing was that I had really little excuse for talking to this person as she was not in my batch. And of course i had to talk to her, or get paly or whatever. I mean I just had to, but I could find no way to do this. After a month or two of trying hard, I was getting no where. And my frustu-pana was soon approaching its limit. So I can up with an ingenious plan! At least I thought it was ingenious.

I knew that person was taking an economics course, like I had the previous year. Also, I had a thing for economics myself. So I thought why not give a talk in an area of economics which is not covered in class!! Crazy! I know - I was kinda getting interested in game theory and its economics implications and so thought why not take this route to learn GT better and at the same time get a good first impression on her. So I walked up to the professor and told her about my plan (sans the girl motivation behind it!). She couldnt have been more delighted at my proactive-ness, in fact she invited me to give an additional lecture to the MBA class. I was like - WOW! She is a real nice person and really liked the fact that I was interested in economics, not something you see in an engineering school often and also the area was something she was only tangentially covering in her class, so a more detailed lecture would really go a long way - she thought.

So i studied my ass off for the next 3 days and at the end of it - i had a ppt ready for both the MBA class and the BTech class. The class for the MBAs was not something to write home about, but the professor was really supportive and backed me up at places I was exactly crystal clear.

In the class for the BTech guys, I was really excited. Things were going according to plan, and of course she was there! Suchit was accompanying me - sitting at the back - a source of constant support. The whole lecture was over before I could say John Nash - but I thought it could have done the trick and so I was happy with myself.

We sort of got talking from that onward, but I guess it never really clicked between the two of us. And anyways, with time I was beginning to live more of GT. At the end, I ended up using the lecture gig as a whole paragraph in my SOP. That person graduated successfully and of course we are still in touch, but I guess this one was not meant to be! But I smile every time I hear that song - which song - I would prefer not to tell so as to avoid making things so obvious!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Do you still eat your dinner on a leaf?

Ok so been a long time since i blogged last, mostly because I have been lazy but also because i have been running around a lot. So anyways, has it ever happened to you that you are outside your country (India) and some one who is not from India (and who has really the IQ of a frog) comes up to you and says - "hey so do you guys in India still eat on leaves?" What do you do with such a person? I actually start out by laughing at them, on their face. And then go on to have this debate with myself whether i should start by punching them in the eye or in the stomach. Not really! But I mean for the past few days I have been meeting people who are so ignorant of the minor details and are so stuck in time and still hold on to idiotic stereotypes about us. And what is funny is that when you try to correct them - they feel they are right and we are just bullshitting them. And this is especially true of the Europeans.

Actually I guess its us who are part of the problem. I mean of course we have problems in our country, but that doesn't mean a person from Romania should come to me and ask me how in the world does your country have enough money to buy fighter jets. My reply to him would have been that not only can we buy fighter jets, we make'em and sell them also and not to stop there, we can buy your country as well which is smaller than our smaller states.

I mean i think we should start being a bit more aggressive in asserting that we dont take things sitting down anymore, not that we did this before but we had a lot more to be humble about few years ago than we have today. People of our country are working hard to make a mark for ourselves in the global arena and also for our country. We are racing ahead in terms of economic growth and prosperity. I mean you all know how well we are doing, I dont want this post to turn out like another India Shining Ad but just want to ask people out there who are abroad to start standing up against any bullshit thrown at us by people who owe a lot of their economic development to the plunder their ancestors committed in our land and people who are ignorant enough to think that we still use elephants to get to work.

And even if we do use elephants to get to work, we create a lot less pollution and keep things clean, unlike those guys who are possibly single handedly responsible for making earth a worse place to live and are bringing us closer to the brink of environment doom. Call it the brown man's burden, but today not only do we have to work to reach the level of development reached by the G-7 or something but we have to do it in a clean and green way coz the white man messed things up. (Ok, i think this is way too much criticism - i respect my american collegues a lot and dont mean any disrespect - i am sorta echoing the thoughts of Thomas Friedman when he lectured on similar issues at Stanford).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Distracted at Green

Till i give my neurons enough sleep, I wont be able to write as well as I would like to. But during the finals when I was camping in Green Library, here is something I wrote just as an expression of what I was doing! And also as a needy distraction..

"i realized early in life the importance of indexes. and well i guess so did Albert Einstein when he said - i don't need to know everything, i just need to know where to find it when i need it. And i guess Larry and Sergey did too. and as the sweat drops trickle down my torso from my armpit, even as my hands tremble while typing this having drowned myself in coffee for the past few days, i struggle to come up with the appropriate indexes. but that is the single most important thing - indexes - especially in open book exams"

One of the more comic parts of this quarter's finals was that this - there were just too many papers to read and also part of the exam. So in the finals one brings all papers to the exam room since the exams are open notes and in fact open everything. I sorta tried my best to come up with indexes in those papers, and I thing to a large extent succeeded in doing that well, but there were just so many papers, that in the middle of one exam i lost my answer sheet within the stack of papers/notes. For a second, I was like - ok now i know what exactly to write, but where do I write it! I spend 20 sec laughing and trying to find my answer sheet - it was just too funny to be silent about it!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

India's no. 1 engineering college - HACKED!

No kiddin - and it was so hilarious. I mean thank God it was just hilarious and not offensive. I am talking about what happened to IIT Kanpur's site around noon time (PST) yesterday. Here is the screen dump. No one's to blame really, though I am just sad that they lay it hanging for more than 6 hours, I mean people at Stanford were talking (and laughing) about it till evening! The new content mentioned that IITK was bought by McDonalds for $40 Billion. And that IITK was adjudged world's no. 1 Burger Institute! Obviously someone was really hungry :-) Click on the image above to see the details (and get ready for a hearty laugh).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

An evening with Omid Kordestani

So as the ensemble(which it never really was) of spring quarter turns into a harsh, grating crescendo of the dead week - I find myself writing a blog yet again, perhaps as my own version of the primal scream. One fine May evening, I decided to go to this talk organized by the Persian Students Association at Stanford. So for people who think that Indians and Chinese rule the silicon valley, it would be a rude awakening to find out that the top non-founder posts at Google, AT&T and Cisco are occupied by Iranians. I happen to like the Google guy in particular. Omid Kordestani - Senior Vice President for Worldwide Sales and Field Operations at Google, also named among the TIME top 100 people in the world who shape the way we think. He gave a great talk, and to my mind probably the best talk I have heard at Stanford (which is a big thing because i have heard 'many' people give talks at the Farm) and in fact things he said made me re-think some of my own decisions and would probably act as a clutch I balance on while taking bigger decisions in the near future.

Why do I think Omid was great? Well, for one, he speaks fantastically and stands straight on stage - so many people I see often end up being bananas on stage. Also he appeared to be a pretty grounded person, even after being one of the wealthiest people in Northern California. He is probably one of the more famous Persians around, no wonder that I had to stand in line to get inside the Annenberg Auditorium (there are really not many opportunities when one has to stand in lines here in the US - well at least with my kind of life style).

Now here is what he had to say:

  • One of the most important reasons for my success was something some of you in the auditorium might be aware of, especially who were not born in the US - the immigrant mentality. Immigrants who come into the US generally tend to have this thirst to succeed, this laser focus and the mindset that there are no boundaries to confine oneself in.
  • Also, it is important for one to have a sense of community and what it can do for you.
  • In trying to decide which company to work for, try to go to an organization where you are building things
  • Dedicate yourself
  • When building a company - only A grade people hire A/A+ grade people, B grade people hire C or below
  • We (his company) is based on a pipeline of innovation. Why? Because economies change, markets change - so dont put all your eggs i one basket.
  • Listen to your gut
  • Career is not one right decision after next. But once you think you are at the right place, focus and put a huge drive behind what you are doing
I liked a story that he told in the beginning of how he ended up where he did. He said that when his father passed at the age of 14, he and his family shifted to the US (San Jose). Being an Iranian you have two choices for your career - doctor or engineer, he said. At San Jose State Univ he did well as a EE major but toward the end of his BS there a college recruiter told him that Omid have you ever thought about sales rather than engineering. Omid said that he was a good engineer but he was really not the engineering types, he was this extrovert kinda person who loved talking about things with people. So even though he didnt like the idea initially of sales, he decided to visit HP and he felt in his gut that that as a right place for him. He spent 5 years there in sales, but he figured out that he was missing something - he needed that MBA to be a good sales guy. Again, he said to himself, it was to be Stanford GSB or no MBA. Back in 1989, he used to get stares from people in downtown San Francisco where he went about refining his Statement of Purpose on his new laptop (imagine a laptop in 89!). And the rest is history..!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Corporate India vs Government of India

If you have read a few of my previous posts, you might recall that this quarter I actually embarked on a rather adventurous (and according to some desis both within Stanford and without) a rather heretical journey of trying to understand the organized retail sector in India. Both me and Rahil Kacheria (Stanford '08) have been working our asses off these past few days with Tom to get the final draft of the paper ready in time. This paper will be featured on the Stanford Technology Ventures Program website and will be available for download to anyone and everyone. We have read a lot of documents and reports released by management consultancy firms, both big and small, to get a feel for things and try to understand not only the what and how of things, but as Tom says, the "Why" as well. Because the fact that a kirana store waala Chotu will come to your house, open your bridge, stack the Rasna bottles in the right place and leave saying "bhaiya aapke khaate mein likh deinge" (dude am gonna add this on your tab at the store) - is just not comprehensible to people in the US!

But some interesting things happened along the way of coming up with this report. One of those I am going to share with you in this post. So since Mukesh and his Reliance Retail Ltd. are making a huge foray into the organized retail sector, we thought it only appropriate to do a case study on them. For any case study, you need data. And unfortunately for us, RRL does not have any publicly available data that we could make use of in our study. So I tried LinkedIn! (btw, if you are not on LinkedIn - now would be a good time to get on it). A few people in my network, I saw, were in the networks of the VPs at Reliance Retail. I did get my friends' references, but in a space of a few days I realized that I was on a fool's errand. Nothing came off it. So the next thing was to go to the website and go to the basics - call the receptionist at Reliance Corporate HQ in Mumbai. (Btw, I have this knack, i think (:P), of scaling up from the receptionist to the President of the company!) And so in a sweet voice and with a little bit of accent I spoke to the receptionist who directed me to another reception - this was the RRL reception. Again, I introduced myself there and got the receptionist to somehow understand that I wanted data on a study and not a job! Nonetheless i had to talk to the HR dept. as that was the max the receptionist could do for me.

The HR person was helpful, she went out of her way to get the number of a VP who she thought might be able to help me. With the number, i called up the VP. I did get him, and again I introduced myself and told him about the study, but he interrupted me telling me that he was the wrong person to talk to. He then gave me someone Else's cell number. This time, he had hit the hammer bang on the nail - Vice President, Corporate Communications! Finally, I had my man. I gave him a ring, and he was, to my delight, reasonably forth coming in his tone and attitude towards my description. He told me to email him the details that i required and he would get back to me same time the next day.

This was 3 weeks ago. Not only did he not get back to me the next day, he decided to forget about me, until I sent him a third email saying that we were running out of time. He responded immediately saying that he would have the data in a few hours. 2 weeks from that, I am without any shred of data from RRL.

I also needed data from the government, regarding some policy documents pertaining to the 51% FDI in retail, a few tax laws, and as such anything which could help me. Awantika was kind enough to put me in touch with a gentleman working in North Block. I spoke to him on the phone and in detail explained my study and its scope. He also asked me to send him an email. I did and after 4 days, I received more than i could have asked for. Not only did he give me what I wanted, being an economist by training the gentleman went out of his way to send me data which I should have asked for, but for my lack of background in economics couldn't get around to requesting them. He didnt stop there, he told me that he would be sending some documents via post as they are only available in hard copy format.

Government of India 1
Corporate India 0

My study now has a case study on Pantaloon, which, now that i think about it, looks more poised to soar the retail skies in India than others in the race. May be because they have retail formats which cater to a wide spectrum of the society, unlike the others. Anyways, that was that. Here is a video clip I saw on CNN-IBN which has a really interesting new format of retail coming up. This sure as hell is an innovative strategy. If you cannot view it here, go here.

And what is ironic is that the channel ran this story on the same day as the above story, man if India is not a land of irony then I dont know what it..here is the video.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The below average student and Prof. Dweck

There is a professor at Stanford, a psych professor - Carol Dweck. I think she is smart, not because I attend her classes but because the Stanford Daily (the campus newspaper) says so. And her opinions based on her research surely are enlightening. So here I want to share with you some of what she said in an interview to the Stanford Daily - "Everyone was at the top of their high school, probably feeling smart. Many Stanford students dont feel smart anymore. I want them to know that this experience is widely shared. Almost nobody coasts by and does well...Everyone puts in a lot more effort than you think or than they show...The important thing in your time here is to find something you love and work at it as hard as you can." I think this is possibly the best advice one could get while at Stanford. This place has so much to offer, so many smart people that if you started to fathom it all - you would dig a very deep abyss for yourself and later find it very difficult to crawl out.

I mean I was not necessarily smart - I mean I didnt think of myself as smart when I came to Stanford. Probably the only time I considered myself smart was in middle school. That myth began to sway during early years of high school, and this sway turned into frantic oscillations as I was graduating high school and finally shattered in me any thought of being a smart guy after I left for Allahabad. So I approached college on a fresh slate, and tried to build the smarts in me. But alas, same results as in high school. I mean one would think I would be near top of the class for having made it to Stanford - but I was just barely in the top 10 - in fact there were 9 people in a class of 66 who were head and shoulders ahead of me - but some how I made it to Stanford ( I know - weird huh!). In fact let me digress here and share with you a joke my friends make about me. My friends from my alma mater who are now making big bucks at Microsoft and other big companies happened to see my resume on my Stanford CS Dept website and saw an unusually high GPA listed there (this was only after first quarter - i took only 2 courses). So one guy says to the other -"Thank God we didnt end up going to this university - it seems their bar is very low!" - HAHAHA :)) But running after grades in college really left me with no time to atleast try to find what i really want to do or would love to do. So now while at Stanford I am trying hard to see what I would love to do with my life. But this comes with a cost - grades!

I guess that is my approach to education here - I am trying hard to understand what they teach in class, try to experiment with stuff outside of course-curriculum. But sometimes it doesnt pay off and you find yourself staring down that grade which is also how you would call a flying insect which makes honey! Anyways, I am trying to follow the advice of Prof. Dweck - find that one thing I really love and go after that with all my might. Sometimes its discouraging to see a dismal standing in class, but at the end of the day - I try to keep my conscience clear and be true to the task - and if it does yield returns - well too bad, tomorrow is a brand new day! And at the very least, a below average student is better than a below average human being!

Being an Indian grad student on campus, one of the things which is oft discussed in boring conversations is - "So dood what is ur GPI?" or "Where are you interning?" or "How much are they paying you?". I mean not that often, but desis cant help but bother about such things. I bet if you ask people "Are you doing what you love?" - the answer would be difficult to produce (not in all cases though). Viewing graduate education only from the angle of GPA is being myopic. Well at least this is what I feel anyway. What do you feel? Have you already found what you love?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Piss for a Piss, an arrest warrant for a Kiss

Yes, welcome to India in the 21st century my friends. Welcome to a country where it is absolutely ok to take a piss anywhere at anytime under the sun, in the rain or on the snow - but when someone kisses a lady in public - we will thank you with an arrest warrant. Welcome to a country where it is ok to worship the temples of Khajuraho but if an arts student make full use of his imagination or a world renowned artist paints naked Goddesses - they get harassed by the police. What the hell is happening? Probably these should be the last things on my mind in the middle of the week approaching the finals, but somehow time and again I feel the freedom that comes from being an Indian and living in India is really slowly being chicken necked by unemployed people who have nothing better to do than to hold the artistic thought hostage to their lack of tolerance and respect for other peoples' views and ideas. This is what will happen when high school dropouts will do the thinking for the country. Anyways, these thoughts sort of came to the overflow point when I read the following piece by Taslima. And makes me sad..
India is a vast country. From the beginning of history, innumerable people ended up in this cul de sac. Some have visited and then left, others have stayed, sending their roots firmly down. India has always warmly embraced every stranger, people of different colours, languages, religions, ethnicity and opinions. The door was ever open to an outsider. With hundreds of languages and cultures, India is unique in its generosity to the stranger. So why is there no place for me?

I’ve never asked for political asylum from India. All I want is to be able to live here. I might breathe in a distant land somewhere, but my heart is in Bengal. So why is my appeal to live here dealt with politically? Some argue that if India were to grant me citizenship, then her relationship with Bangladesh would worsen. As if I were a common criminal wanted back home that India is harbouring! Fact is, Bangladesh doesn’t want me.So if India gives me a home, why should it concern Bangladesh at all? When I stay in Europe and America, does it worsen their relationship with Bangladesh? Instead, I imagine Bangladesh heaving a sigh of relief if India grants me shelter, like going to an aunt after fighting with your mother.

I can’t help recalling those days when authors from the West joined together to save me. They not only put pressure on their own governments but also prevailed on the European Union to save a writer from oblivion. It was thanks to their efforts that governments in the West were compelled to save me from being hanged. Then followed a kind of tug-of-war between various countries. Norway, Sweden, Germany, everyone wanted me to live with them. Granting me residency or even citizenship was a prestige issue for them: it would ensure them fame.

I don’t know who decides whether or not I stay in West Bengal. Some say the government wants to please the Muslims. Some say it’s the intellectuals who’re afraid, or jealous. Did West Bengal ever love me? Yes, she did. Annadasankar Roy, a famous free thinker, once said affectionately that “Bangladesh is Taslima’s mother and West Bengal her aunt”. When I talked of women’s rights, I got a hard kick from Bangladesh and a kiss from West Bengal. Actually it’s not the country which kicks or kisses, but the people. I have noticed that the number of secular and rational people here is far more than in Bangladesh.

And just as I love East Bengal, return again and again at its door even when I’ve been thrown out, just so do I love and return here to West Bengal.

The whole point is - Hey dudes up there in the government and polity, leave us citizens alone and away from your vote bank politics.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Grad Students Notes in Black and White

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the latest master piece from the master lensman, Rahul Thathoo, of the Department of Computer Science - any correct guesses of the course during which these notes were taken will be rewarded with a surprise gift!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

An interview with Hema Phadke

HP: Welcome Mr. Rahul Thathoo, nice to have you in our studios!
RT: Oh, the pleasure is all mine. Nice to be here actually.
HP: Just to remind members of our audience who might have just joined us, Rahul is a bright computer science student at Stanford University...
RT: Just wanted to add to that.. (looking at the camera), when Hema ji said bright, she was actually referring to my complexion, which btw is actually pale..so I am a pale computer science student at Stanford.
HP: (ahem ahem)...yes, and today Rahul is here to discuss one of his two master pieces in the field of applied sciences. Rahul recently published findings in the renowned science journal "Birds of the Same Feather Flock Together", which have startled the scientific community - and that is probably the understatement of the century!
RT (laughs): Thanks Hema ji! Well yes, the findings have been quite startling and in fact even though I expected something new, I never knew it would be such a stark contrast to what we humans have always believed to be true.
HP: So lets dive straight into your work, what have you been up Mr. Thatoo
RT: (ahem) Its Mr. Thathoo...so basically my work, for the past 2 months, has been on trying to find exactly those places on a piece of clothing, where a person, who had previously worn that particular outfit, dirtied the clothing by his/her sweat. So, in a nutshell, trying to find out areas on a piece of clothing where people sweat is what i have been upto for a long time now - 2 months to be precise.
HP: Wow, so how did you go about this sort of research?
RT: Well, Hema ji, you have to note that the research community for long has been trying to do this in a way which does not destroy the piece of clothing in the first place. If you go back to the time when all of us were still in kindergarten and were still learning about Heisenberg uncertainty principle - you might remember that our class teacher told us about the fact that you cannot observe a particle without disturbing it! And that was the reason why the research community couldnt measure those spots exactly on a piece of clothing.
HP: And then you came on the scene! Tell us your methodology Mr. Thathu
RT: (ahem) Its Mr. Thathoo...well so I knew there was no way one could deceive the Uncertainity principal - there are somethings in nature you really cannot defy. So I just decided to play Holi!
HP: Holi??
RT: Yes, the wonderful Indian (Hindu) festival of colors, Holi. And boy, did I play Holi or what! I mean I just went on a rampage, throwing people in water, after throwing a ton of color on them. But of course people colored me black and blue, actually more like yellow and green! The bottom line is - I was looking like a "red-Indian" at the end of it all.
HP: So how is that related with you research?
RT: You didnt let me finish..
HP: Oh, I am sorry..please continue Mr. Thattoo..
RT: (ahem ahem) Its Mr. Thathoo...so after the Holi thing, I came back and threw the dirty/colored clothes into my laundry basket. This laundry basket also contained a wonderful shirt which i wear to all my interviews. That shirt cost me a fortune, it was totally white in color, and I actually wore it on a hot day - that was my previous interview with Amazon.com. After the interview, I came home and had to throw the shirt in my laundry basket as I had sweat a lot!
HP: ahaan...and then what did you do sir?
RT: Well the next week, when I was out of clean underwear and on the verge of re-cycling old/dirty ones, I rushed to the Rains Laundry room and did my laundry. After about an hour, when I came back to throw the wet clothes into the dryer, I found - to my horror - the white shirt which i used to wear to all my interview - was no longer white. It was red! It had gullal all over it. But I was keen enough to notice that it was not red everywhere, only at specific places.
HP: ahaan!! So those places where the shirt was white were actually...(RT interrupts!)
RT: Dont even try to steel my thunder...so contrary to what you might have been thinking... the places were there was red on the shirt was actually the places where i had sweat!
HP: But that was what I was also...
RT: Forget it girl...next question please..
HP: So what were your findings?
RT: Well humans have always thought that we sweat at all the odd places, but my experiments revealed that we sweat in our armpits the most! And that is what got me the publication in "Birds of the Same Feather Flock Together" titled - "Detecting Human Sweat Regions on Clothing using Butea monosperma, from the Faboideae/Papilionaceae family". And I am invited to give a keynote address at their upcoming annual conference which is being held at University of NewFoundLand this year.
HP: Wonderful!
RT: Yes and actually to validate my findings, I tried this experiment again, I threw in a wonderful tshirt gifted to me by Prof. Hector Garcia Molina of the InfoLab, at the Computer Science Department here at Stanford (for being the second best joker in the class) with those dirty clothes which got colored in Holi and to the world's amazement and my contentment, the results were re-produced!! The armpit area on the tshirt was red! That is when I decided to finally publish my findings for the benefit of the rest of the world. And immediately, I knew that all the books on this topic would have to be re-written now that I had come up with this finding.
HP: That is just super. So with one stroke you have put India on the world map for bleeding edge research in human-textilo-hyperhidrosis.
RT: (Hehe) Well thanks, you are too kind Hema Ji!
HP: Thank you Mr. Rahaul Thathoo for joining us this week. Stay tuned next week for more exciting breakthroughs in applied sciences!

....(camera's go offline)
RT: You bitch, why cant you get my name right, its R A H U L T H A T H O O. Somebody get me the President, I mean the Producer!!

Monday, April 30, 2007

In the papers!

Hi! Well guess what, yours truly is in the papers again along with 3 of his best pals! And whats more, its all for good reasons!! Check it out here. And if you wanna see a scanned copy, thats available too here. Finally some hard work pays off. I should really thank Pallavee (Dhaundhiyal) of Education Times (Times of India - Delhi) for having interviewed me and preseting a clear cut story about what we guys have been upto. I love the photo that shows up in the story, of course we provided it to her, it was taken around the last days we guys spent at IIIT together from Suchit's camera. Notice the laborer in the background - I think he worked in our mess. Also notice the channa-jor garam waala in the extreme right - well that is India for you - some of the brightest and smartest technocrats and some of the really poor and under-privileged within the same picture frame. It is out duty to bridge this gap, and well even thought we may not be doing anything about that directly (at least right now), even a sensitivity to the issue itself would go a long way.

On a personal front I have not been keeping well, hopefully (inshallah) with the grace of almighty lord and with the help of my friends and family (fuelish people, A/A and mom dad) I should be back into the action soon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mira Kamdar at Stanford (Planet India)

Hi. I am sort of breaking a personal pledge i took sometime back of not writing anything for a few days - a personal reason that I am not willing to share just yet, but anyways, I thought I heard a few ideas which were really new and brilliant and deserved peoples' attention.

Mira Kamdar was at Stanford today. She is the author of the book Planet India. I loved the way she spoke and well frankly, I had no idea of who she was until yesternight when I found out about her talk. She gave the talk in the same room in which ambassador Ronen Sen had given his talk while he was in campus, in the grand Encina Hall of Stanford. So lets cut to the chase and talk about what she actually had to say:

So what she says is that India is this great big test case for all that has to come in the world. She says that with so many diverse groups and as such the inherent nature of the culturally, socially, economically diverse society, India looks like a good tests case. In the sense that given the set of constraints which India and its people live in, the entrepreneurs there come up with so many creative solutions to problems facing everyone in the world, the most out of the box solutions are seen in the Indian landscape. And why is that important? That is important because most of the world is like what India is, not like what Palo Alto is. That is to say, India is a good picture of what the world is and what problems it faces, unlike EU or North America.

Another point that she made was that a lot was hinged on the success of India. A lot was hinged on whether India succeeds in feeding all of its over 1 billion people, succeeds in generating employment for its people. And why is that? The reason is this. Remember the talk about the race between India and China. Well according to Mira (and I concur) there is NO race. China is already a century ahead of us and doing very well and so there is no race - china wins hands down. So there are these nations in Africa which are saying - Hey so whats this whole noise about democracy, why don't we just do what China is doing! India has to succeed in that it has to show the world that the success can be theirs WITH democracy in place.

Well that was all I could soak in, rest of the time I was busy eating the moderately good Indian (desi) food that on offer there. I feel I should attend more of such talks!

On other news: I am doing an independent study on the organized retail sector in India with Rahil Kacheria (Stanford' 08) and Prof. Tom Kosnik. In case you or someone you know are in the retail sector in India, please feel free to get in touch at thathoo@stanford.edu

Monday, April 02, 2007

Trying to get in, even after getting in!

Actually the title of the blog pretty much sums up what i started to feel in the last legs of the winter quarter here at Stanford. Even after you get into Stanford, it is not smooth sailing. I mean of course its hard, the course workload and the research work are heavy and take their toll, and of course if you are used to Indian food, you get terrified even thinking of the bland food out here, etc etc. But here is the thing, i am not talking about that - so what the hell are you talking about Mr. Thathoo?? I am taking about trying to take courses at Stanford. Every now and then there come along courses which are offered by the very people who invented that field of study, and of course you want in on that, dont you - you greedy grad student!! So you see this email from Terry Winograd himself advertising this course he is offering next quarter along with - are you ready for this - Hasso Plattner and Zia Yusuf. If you dont already know, Hasso founded SAP AG., and Zia is ex-HBS exec. VP of SAP. And of course the "admission" to this course is application based and Mr. Thathoo gets tossed out just liked he did at Rudy's the other day by the bouncers.

Then another email is received - this time talking about an inter-disciplinary course with 2 trips to Switzerland and lots of fun in building a real neat thing - yet again - "No Vacancy". Its sort of amazing the amount of rejection a person has to put up with in life. Especially if you are interviewing for tech companies, and that too on the phone, you know what I am talking about!

Of course then there was this course which Zakir Hussain is taking ( wah Taj waale!), and do i get in?? Of 'course' not - all the seats have already been filled by ABCDs and people who otherwise just want to brag about taking a course with zakir hussain (btw, i fall in that category!)

That is why I went to the Gurdwara in San Jose today, to pray to the almighty as he alone saves, and also to eat delicious food at the langar!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The One where the quarter ends

So the best time in the quarter is when it ends! And you are basking in the California sun in the spring/summer/winter break! Yeah, welcome to CA baby, its sun-shiny all year round. Weather news apart, its interesting to see how the classes that i took this quarter designed their last class of the quarter in a real fun way! So the three courses I took were (in short), Databases(CS245), Global Entrepreneurial Marketing (MSANDE 271) and Intro to Biomedical Systems Design (BMI211/CS271).

CS245: So Hector has this real kewl idea of having a joke-break in the middle of his classes - just to wake people from going into deep slumber. The class is usually in the afternoon so people cant sometimes help going to sleep. The thing is that one guy has to volunteer to tell a joke, of course its not necessary that one do it, and in that case Hector comes prepared with his own list of poor jokes, but usually some or the other wise guy cracks a very smelly and geeky joke. Anyways, at the end of the quarter, the guy with the best joke gets the Stanford InfoLab Tshirt (pretty much a collectors item as larry and sergey were both part of the InfoLab here - though it was called the DB group then). And yea, yours truly won a Tshirt this quarter. But yet again, I was second best, Hector had 2 prizes, 1st and 2nd. Ushah won the first prize, so I am happy that both prizes stayed in Allahabad! So I am the official comedian of the class, and judging by my grade in that course, I probably was just that - a comedian!

GEM: The last class just blew me over, if you have got access to SCPD, you better watch this class - coz it was by far the most i have laughed in a class here at Stanford. All the teams (about 8 of them) had to come prepared with a 2 minute thing (could be anything from a song, a skit, a youtube video...) to present as a lessons' learnt exercise in class. And by God the teams did a jolly good job of it. Here are a few excerpts:

By Rachel Dyke and her team:

Wallace: Sons of GEM, I am Donna Novitsky.

Young soldier: Can’t be - Donna Novinsky is 7 feet tall.

Wallace: Yes, I've heard. Raises money by the billions, and if VCs were here she'd win them over with only a 2 slide DDART and an economic analysis from her arse. I am Donna Novitsky. And I see a whole army of entrepreneurs here ready to TALC any product. You have come to cross the chasm, and chasm crossers you are. What would you do with the marketing toolkit? Will you market?

Veteran soldier: Market? With only the toolkit? No, we will join the Fortune 500.

Wallace: Aye, market and you may fall into the Chasm. Give up and take your offer. And collecting your pension many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our competitors that they may spend their millions, but they'll never take our market share!!!

Wallace and Soldiers: GEM Forever! (Scotland forever!)


Wallace: Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.

Young soldier: William Wallace is 7 feet tall.

Wallace: Yes, I've heard. Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I am William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?

Veteran soldier: Fight? Against that? No, we will run; and we will live.

Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you'll live -- at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!

Wallace and Soldiers: Alba gu bra! (Scotland forever!)

(Probably wont make much sense unless you have taken the course).

Grant and our team did this youtube video(final version differed from this one):

Of course the last presentation the teaching team made was such an inspiration and I totally recommend this class.

BMI211: Amar has always been great and brought good people to speak in his class, but this last lecture he got a former alum of the class to come and speak on CPOE systems from San Francisco, who has his own startup and he gave a really inspiring talk. Left a lasting impression.

So all in all, my take away from the last quarter:
  • Jokes win TShirts
  • A successful business is a Tango - it takes 2 - product and product marketing
  • Speak few words but speak convincingly like you totally believe in it

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Back to School - this time Stanford.

Hey! Finally the finals are over. And phew what a relief! That they were disastrous - is another story. Screw it, this post is mostly a sort of an answer to more than a couple of queries I have been getting over the past couple of weeks since the people who are gonna be at Gates and Packard started sending out admit emails!

Some of the questions are about the fact that people get admissions, not only from stanford, but from other top cs/ee programs around the US as well, and in some cases they also get a tuition waiver and stipend etc, so it sort of makes it difficult for them to decide where they should go. My suggestion - "Forget about every other college/univ if you have an admit for MS in CS at Stanford or for that matter in any other dept". As with nearly every other engineering department in Stanford, the Computer Science Department is arguably the best CS department on the planet and it is right in the middle of silicon valley - in fact stanford and berkeley together fuel the entire silicon valley and are responsible for much of the innovation around here. So if you are involved in high tech/engineering, there is no better place to be at than Stanford. And if you are someone with a slightly entrepreneurial bent of mind, then you better get your ass here, this place has entrepreneurship in its air! (Disclaimer: There are specific areas with CS/EE which are perhaps better at other CS/EE Depts in the US, but overall, nothing beats Stanford)

Another question is that of Research Assistantship at Stanford and also Teaching Assistantship at Stanford. Well if you can code, and also demonstrate that you can code well, then there is a lot of opportunity for an RA in the numerous research groups all over campus. The CS department itself has many positions open and so does the EE department, but if you are also in the mood of phd, then its slightly more easier. But even without that, EE is like the biggest deparment on campus (or so i have heard) and hence has lots of positions. But people get a lot of programming related jobs at SLAC, Medical School, Medical Informatics, Radiology, Genetics Research, Mechanical related research groups, vagayra, vagayra, vagayra...and of course other engineering deparments, etc. You need to convince people that you can do the job and have some past expertise/experience in that field, and you are in! You cannot expect to get an RA if your chief motive is to learn!! Although, what you can get is a chance to do an independent study under a professor here for units that may count toward your degree, in case you want to learn something and again it needs some convincing.

I dont want to be biased here, so for other departments, especially like Mechanical, there also exist a lot of research assistantship opportunities. And people in the MS&E program also manage somehow to convert an independent study into a 25 or 50 % RA over the course of a few quarters. And so is the case with other departments also, but not everyone is assured an RA.

The TAs are actually called CAs here - course assistants. So the thing is that you need to take a course to actually TA for it! But that could change if you are a PhD candidate and not a Masters candidate. Oh, and btw, to CA for a course, you also need to have scored an A- or above to be able to become the CA for it ;)

Another thing on RAs is that the only thing that determines that you get an RA in the first quarter is - are you ready for this - luck! Believe it or not, the only thing that will get you an RA right in the first quarter is basically keeping your eyes and ears open. And of course persistence. Here are a few reponses i got when i was looking for an RA. People who are nice try to help out but then its not that simple. But most of the guys(CS and EE) have an RA by the second quarter and the rest by the third quarter. It may also happen that you get an RA for a few quarters and then have to look for another the rest of the quarters. I forgot to mention above that, just like the more than one tax slabs that we have in India, there are more than one kind of RAs - 2 to be exact - a 50% RA (which covers 100% tuition and pays really good stipend! - 20hrs per week) and the 25% RA(which covers 50% tuition and pays 0.5 times really good stipend - 10 hrs per week). God only know why they call them 50% and 25%, am sure some guy missed a multiplication or a decimal point somewhere!

Campus jobs - so till the time one doesnt get an RA, they can work at other places on campus - these are jobs which pay by the hour (in the range from 13-25 $ per hour) and are good for pocket money - and there is not dearth of such jobs on campus. These jobs range from everything from administrative (think clerk) to jobs in the lib, to programming jobs on short term, etc. In fact there are lists that people should join in case they are not already on it regardless of their dept - ee-jobs@lists.stanford.edu,
wics_jobs@lists.stanford.edu (dunno if this works)
soccerforfun (this one is if you like soccer - not for a job)

You need to send an email to
majordomo@lists.Stanford.EDU with the body - 'subscribe recruting' if you wanna subscribe to recruiting list, without the single quotes.

Monthy expenses?? Well good question, really depends on the person as such. But here is a brief financial analysis:

Housing+Medical Insurance = $600 - $900 per month (depends on where you live and what medical insurance you have - i suggest Cardinal Care as it is comprehensive but expensive, Housing - if you go for a 1room/double occupany - its going to be 200$ cheaper than a 2room/double occupancy, per month)
Food - (going by an average of $15 per day on 3 meals (roughly $5 per meal) you can do that math which amounts to - $450 per month (this can be significantly reduced if you cook yourself - around $200 if you cook yourself)
Groceries - keep aside $150 here per month
Phone calls - with a $10 Reliance Call Card here you can talk for more than 2 hours to your girlfriend in India - so there is hope for those entering a long distance relationship!
Travel - if you are a good boy and study is all that you do - you wont be doing a lot of traveling to San Francisco or even Palo Alto, within stanford the idiotic Marguerite Shuttle is phokat ka $0!
Initial (First Time) Expenses - Microwave($30-50), bike ($50-$300), Laptop ($700-$1300), rest of the things depending on person($anyones guess!)

These figures would really depend on your kind of lifestyle, so keep that in mind. Also, the biggest expense is always gonna be the tuition - $7620 for 10 or less units per quarter, and if you want to have time to breathe, there is no point in taking more units than that in a quarter. But if you wanna be a smarty pants - its over $11k per quarter for over 10 units in engineering.

Books - well unless you really know what you wanna study here its difficult to decide on which books to bring, i did in fact bring books from india to this place, but i ended up not taking those courses and so it was really not worth it. You can also try to get books from people who took that course last year, so you really dont need to bring all books, some can a be brought along. Many books are not that costly on amazon - especially the ones which are 'used and new'. BUT - If you are planning on giving quals, then you might as well bring the whole basta(bag) - as much will fit in your boria-bistar.

Internship paisa - In an internship here you can easily make anywhere from $4k to $8k, average being $5K (this is my guess), per month. So for a 3 month period, you can probably make some good amount of money, if you dont squander all of that on alcohol, clubing, and gambling ;)

More fundas:

  • Stanford opens so many doors, its sorta a ticket to... well...many thing which wouldnt be possible elsewhere, so if you have an admit here, dont give it up that easily.
  • Plus the weather! If you have traveled in the DTC buses from Dhaula Kuan to Iffco Chowk in the middle of summer or a packed BMC bus from Majestic to Vijaynagar in April, you know what heat is like. Welcome to Hotel California, where the sun always shines but never too brightly to scorch you. This part of the world has some of the best weather all round the year.
  • Great companies are near by - so internships and jobs are much easier to come by as compared to going to a college which is not in the middle of so much industrial activity - but dont think its going to be a cake walk, competition is so high that sometimes getting even a single offer could be really really tough.
  • Indian stores are nearby, in fact I am munching on Haldiram's Khatta Meetha Mix as i write this - damn its getting over fast!
  • Great pedigree and peers!
  • Great opportunity to polish those social/extra-curricular skills in terms of classes on dances, singing, playing instruments, playing any game that exists (count cricket out), though with 3 courses and an RA (which is 1.5 courses worth of load) you probably would be lucky to get proper sleep, let alone take that Salsa class with sweet chics in it.
There are probably many more questions that you might want to get answered, I would try my best to answer them on email/blog. Though i may be a bit sluggish in replying, depending how hard i am getting whipped here!

Hope this helped :-)