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Thursday, March 27, 2008

What it takes to get into stanford ?(short version)

Recently i have received a larger than expected number of emails and queries as to what it takes to get into stanford. I am not claiming that i am any sort of authority or any sort of seer - who knows what it takes. But what i do have it the opportunity of being in the company of people who make such decisions and people who got in as a result of those decisions and also i have been in a position to be able to influence such decisions. Here is a very short analysis of what it takes to get into a Masters program at Stanford:

  • Good Grades at undergrad
  • Make that great grades
  • A good/great recommendation from someone who matters or is well known
  • A publication at a top-tier conference or a journal
  • A summer that was well spent and you have something to show for it
  • Helps to be from a top-tier university already (though not a necessity)
  • As few mistakes as possible in recommendation letters/SOPs/Transcripts
  • GREs on the higher side are always and always better than low scores on GREs
  • Remember - all GRE sections are important
Elaboration coming soon...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Stanford? (Before starting with the course)

My last week at stanford starts tomorrow. And you know - its sounds so cliched, but - it went by fast!! I dont wanna say - "Oh it feels like just yesterday i was this boy in Gurgaon who was driving down to the Indira Gandhi International Airport to take the British Airways flight to San Francisco yada yada yada...". No - it went by fast, but it was not easy and more than my flight here - i recall the thousand or so instances in the past 1.5 years where i would so long to be back in the security of home/my country/my job at Tekriti/my family/loved ones - and still do - all in all - IT WASNT EASY - so back off!!!! :D

But hey i am almost at the last lap, hopefully Claire should be able to push my file forward at the end of this month and give me the go ahead so that i can walk on June 15th. And if you thought I was done - you are wrong - after graduation - the next tension is that of visa. Anyways...

So I was thinking...what did i leave the comforts of an almost royal life back home in Gurgaon and come here - away from family and friends - to this Valley called Silicon Valley! Well, here are some thoughts which might have helped me not only make the decision, but also, kept me going through this sometimes arduous journey as an international student on this campus.

For one, the brand Stanford University is a very positive brand to be associated with. I think this was one of the chief reasons for me to apply as well as accept the offer for MS - I very much liked the Cornell MEng program - 1 year in duration - and i had a full scholarship from Arizona as well - but i dont think these guys could beat Stanford in terms of the brand it has. Especially for engineering and more so for computer science, I think Stanford has, through years of hard labour and diligent effort, enshrined itself on the minds of students and non-students alike - as far as engineering is concerned (this is not to say that other depts are lack luster - in fact they are as good if not better!).

Also, the fact that Computer Science at Stanford ranks as one of the best departments anywhere in the world - this is pretty compelling - my first choice at that time was berkeley and in fact i was very keen on San Diego as well ( i was interested in bioinformatics) - but in the end - the fact that Stanford and Berkeley were at par and since i had received rejects from both Berkeley and San Diego - i was more than lucky to have received an admit from Stanford.

Stanford and Berkeley are the basic fuel for the Silicon Valley to function. And Silicon Valley in turn provides the next big opportunity to graduates of these universities. Its this virtuous cycle in this area which makes it so unique. It is hard not to grab the first opportunity to be here. A similar analogy goes as follows - i mean if you have the best schools in the middle of no where - you can attract good faculty and may be good students - but that doesnt necessarily attract good businesses - like consider for a second the difference between Allahabad and Bangalore. Allahabad has some really good universities in that area and some really top notch research happens there - but do you have any known big businesses there? Ever heard of a Microsoft office in Naini?? No right. But on the other hand - Bangalore has everything in place - good univs, good research, good students, good businesses. In general, the students there in Bangalore have it much better than those out there in Allahabad. I had felt this "distance pang" when i was in Allahabad and i did not want to face it again - so it was a no brainer to choose Stanford over another other university.

Network! I had a small network here at Stanford to start off - even before i came to Stanford. But just the fact that so many smart people i knew or had heard about were at Stanford or closeby - it was again a big plus - and in general - the fact that you have Stanford right in the heart of the Silicon Valley, right next to Sand Hill Road, and within a few miles of some of the most mind-blowing companies in the world - its a huge plus in terms of trying to build up a good network of people.

A few names like Jeff Ullman, Jennifer Widom, Hector Garcia-Molina, Don Knuth, Rajeev Motwani, Pat Hanrahan, Andrew Ng, Mendel Rosenblum - some of the names who have changed the way we think about computer science in the recent past - all sit in the Gates Building on Serra Street! It be able to take classes with them, to study under their tutelage - was a huge attraction.

During the time i was trying to decide which universities I would apply to - I actually did not even think of applying to MIT - even though it was among the best CS departments out there. The reason was that I wanted to go to a non-specialty school. I had spent 4 years at IIIT-A, which was a hard core specialty school - with nothing more 1 full fledged department with a number of related labs. I wanted to experience first hand classes in the history departments, classes in the philosophy department, go take dance classes, learn golf and/or tennis and stuff like that. I think a university like Stanford allows that very readily - many US univs also have this - but in general I wanted a broader education now - which is sort of unintuitive - as its the other way round - one gets a broader education in undergrad and then a more focused approach for grad school. But hey - who says I take the same old much beat path!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Passing Travelers

The past few days, as you may already know, i have been traveling. And if you have ever backpacked, you know its a lot of fun. But the worst part is if you are trapped in a hotel room alone in an unknown city, where you know no one. I mean the first day of my trip to San Diego i was bored to my boots as i knew no one in the city and as such was tired from travels and even my friends at the hostel well. But someone, later on in my stay in San Diego, i managed to meet people and somehow get an insiders view of the city. Such meetings with locals and their sort of guided tours and hospitality are what makes ones travels more interesting and enriching. Thats what you take away from the trip, not the hotel room or stuff like that.

But interestingly, this week i had this unique opportunity to show someone around Stanford, who was like me a travelers. Ajay Jain was on a business cum book promotion trip to North America and since i had a window of time Monday afternoon - i agreed to show him around campus. It was a nice meeting with a mechanical engineer/MBA turned writer. I have always enjoyed writing and hence, i felt it was good to meet a writer first hand. He gifted me a copy of his book - Lets Connect - Using LinkedIn to get ahead at Work. In general, an exchange of ideas is all important and that is what happens at times like these.

I think traveling and hosting travelers are unique opportunities to build connections, learn, grow in thought and openness and in general - a welcome change from the mundane activities of life. Highly recommend either of those options!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Traveling and Relaxing

First off, I dont know why i named my post Traveling and Relaxing - i mean traveling is ok, but there has definitely not been much relaxing in the past few days. Well then again, it depends on your definition of relaxation. I was out to San Diego this weekend and Monday for this conference - GSP WEST. So nice of Dave to get me the waiver, coz without it, i would certainly have gone bankrupt. It cost me a leg and an arm to get the tickets done for this conference to San Diego, but little did i know it would cost me even more to actually rent a car for 4 days there. I am on the streets literally now!! But hey, its fine - i had a blast in Diego and met so many nice people at the conference and in general along my trips. Well worth it.

I actually stayed at an international students hostel on 5th ave. By the way, if you are ever in San Diego as a student, i definitely recommend this place, its an absolute fantastic place to stay - 2 nights for $50 including breakfast and is very clean. They even have trips to Tijuana, etc. I met a Japanese guy - I so forgot his name right now - I think Takashi - but we had a nice cross-cultural share of thought over beer at a nice little down town pub. Mostly over what America came off as to us outsiders. He had interesting things to share. What he said was - he was most impressed by the way the Americans market things. For example, he said, he went to a LA Lakers vs Miami Heat game at the Staples Center and they gave out free stuff - and gave out free tickets to others, etc. He thought that the Americans really knew how to give a great customer experiences to their 'users' (sorry i am too used to software lingo) - and i totally agreed with him. He said, he thought American was much better than he had imagined. Well, thats basically a really satisfied customer right there.

Also, these past 7 days or so have been an extended lesson on how to pitch an idea in 3-10 minutes to people. Me and Suchit participated in the VC3 at Stanford and then I had meetings with people in San Diego and with people at DFJ, not to mention people in Stanford. This has been fun and at the same time exhausting, trying to explain an idea as succinctly as possible without eating up a lot of time - is an art and I need to learn it asap. As such, it helps to have faith in the idea that you are pitching.

I also just got over my work as part of the CS Admin committee - and i so want to blog my brains out about it and how - in the end - i was disappointed by many, many of the decisions that were made. But for reasons best kept unblogged - i will not blog about it in the recent future.

All in all, it has been a good learning experience for the past few days. I hope Suchit gets over his quarter soon, so that i can start some real work real soon.