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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!


Karan Goel said...

Way to go sir!!! You did it!!!
And you are right about network...It is THE MOST important thing today to grow...Best wishes for your future :)

Kevin said...

Great post and insight. I'm a little surprised that it seems harder to into Berkeley than Stanford. Why is that?

Well I really appreciate reading what you wrote because I just submitted applications to Stanford and Berkeley and Cornell for their computer science masters programs. It's strange to think that fate of my next couple years will be decided by these institutions. But it's good to hear from someone who made it through on the other side -- congrats on your graduation!

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