Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My impressions of Stanford.

In response to a friend's inquiry re: Stanford and the MBA program...

I haven't seen much of the MBA school, just of the students. Most of my impressions are formed through interactions with them. However, I have looked at the courses offered in the program and they seem fascinating. Too bad they don't allow attendance by non-MBA students...

MBA students are a mixed bag. A lot of them are interesting and engaging people. A lot of them also have no real skillsets -- it's a common joke among the engineers. (I'm sure they have plenty jokes about our kin, too.) They all have stunning resumes: leadership, management positions, entrepreneurship ventures, etc... They are also good at being charismatic, which to me can seem disingenuous.

Stanford itself is an amazing environment. I love it here. It makes my head explode and crushes my self-confidence at times, but the challenge is welcome. Every quarter I have at least one class that is a crucible -- from which I emerge, stunned that I'm still alive. You would be hard-pressed to find a more stimulating academic and professional environment. Their emphasis on interdisciplinary work, entrepreneurship, and sustainability has fully integrated into the culture. If anything, it's only frustrating to meet so many fascinating people and not have enough time to get to know them better. There are simply too many things to do on campus, so you have to choose how you want to cultivate your experience. I've certainly enjoyed it enough that I'm now pushing to stay in school and do research.

Students work really fucking hard here. That's a good thing and a bad thing. Most maintain some semblance of a balance, though I find that I need more space for relaxation and social time. Still, it's truly inspiring to be in the company of such intelligent, driven, capable individuals. So many people go beyond academics and actively pursue real-world ventures, get involved with organizations, etc. So it's not just people who get good grades -- it's people who get good grades and thrive in the professional world.

For living, it depends on where you land. I'm currently in an off-campus co-op, and happy as a clam. There's plenty decent grad housing on campus, but I found it to be isolating -- by my standards. Weather is amazing. Palo Alto (the adjacent town) is hella upper-class and often yuppy, but you can find gems of genuine goodness anywhere (e.g. my co-op). Dancing is fun, though there's no blues on campus -- except for the classes I teach. There's a fusion venue in the south bay. Lots of dancing in the city, but a 45-60min drive each way quickly discourages one from making regular excursions. I have sometimes considered moving to the city and commuting to school via train. Many people do it and find it enjoyable.

As far as what is unique... well, I think I've pretty much covered that. The students, the stimulating environment, the interdisciplinary focus, the countless opportunities, the professors, etc.

Hope that paints a better picture of life at Stanford. Feel free to ask me to elaborate if you want. At the end of the day, I'd strongly encourage you to apply. I love the school. I'm not crazy about MBA students generally, but maybe that's why I'm an engineer. ;)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's one thing to read it...

... and another to write about it.

Borrowing conveniently from an email to a friend:

My research has picked up, which I'm really excited about. I get to spend hours reading about topics that I care about and fascinate me. There are definite advantages to independent study... Still a bit daunting, though. Right now I'm working toward a literature review to submit to my professor by the end of the quarter (in five weeks). Even though I've read a great deal on the topic, I haven't written nearly as much. And as it turns out, understanding something in your head is quite different from knowing how to explain it in writing. I think it will be a lot of work to figure out how to express myself and synthesize the many concepts I've picked up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More sexy rumpus!

Happy Valentine's Day.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crafting effective teams.

[Re-appropriated from the ESW class blog. Written by me.]

It's hard to believe that all this -- the solar kiosk project, the Chife Foundation, and now this class -- began with a simple officer application to ESW a year ago. That led to applying for the solar grant through SunEdison. I fell into a leadership role to design a solar device -- something I knew nothing about. I was more than a person among my student peers, trying to do something interesting with solar technology: people looked to me for vision, direction, and motivation. While daunting at first, I have come to genuinely enjoy this role. It is deeply satisfying to help create this amazing opportunity, which will also benefit people in need.

The challenge, of course, is knowing how to craft an effective team. Rarely are we taught the theory behind it. Most managers in the professional world are promoted to the position by default of seniority and expertise. This is odd. Management is not necessarily intuitive and is rarely cultivated in undergraduate schooling. I think we, as a society, underestimate the difficulty of the position. As an engineer, I still feel obligated to produce tangible work outputs. This translates into me spending time doing the work that my team should be doing. It's a common mistake, and easier to diagnose than to treat. For me, the challenge is to fundamentally recognize the value of management work and to focus more on team building than doing everything myself.

That said, I am absolutely ecstatic about the prospects of this class. Our class leaders have great technical experience in the field and will be valuable resources for guidance and knowledge. There are stellar students here, passionate about sustainability and eager to make real contributions to the world. It will be a real fun group to work with.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

In the right place.

From Ashcraft, the originator of the Integrated Project Delivery framework: "IPD is a collaborative, trust-based delivery method."

How can I not be excited about this field? It's a good sign that I don't mind working on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, simply because I want to learn more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Research makes me laugh.

I'm starting this book, An Introduction to Models in the Social Sciences, by Lave and March, as part of my research. I get a mere one page into the book when I unearth this gem:

"This book is about the social sciences ... It is a brief introduction to the pleasures of thinking about human behavior. To speak of pleasures is probably dangerous and certainly pretentious. Few people rely solely on any social science for their pleasures, and attaining a suitable level of ecstasy involves work. We regret the latter problem. It is a nuisance, but God has chosen to give the easy problems to the physicists. We do not regret the former problem. We have no intention of suggesting that poetry and sex be abandoned. Rather, we invite you, in the moments left between Byron and bed, to join us in speculating about ordinary human existence." -p.2