These are my old Personal Updates from 2012.
2/5/2012 IAP Personal Update
Classes start in only a few days. Let me give you an update about the semester past, my break, IAP, and the semester ahead.
Last semester was my best semester yet. I ended up with a 4.6/5.0 term GPA, despite taking the most units ever - 81 vs 79 last term. I got an A in 6.005, 15.387, 15.665, and STS.011. I got a A- in 6.034 and a B in 6.004 (just barely). I continued to struggle in math, squeaking by 18.03 with a C-. I went through 12.5 reams of paper - producing a 22.5 in stack, versus 19 inches Spring 2011 and 16 inches in Fall 2010. The typed and scanned notes from these class are now online.
Working out a System
Last term I recorded all of the policy and procedures that I have created to allow me to be as productive as I can be. I wrote down my time management, paper shuffling, studying, sleep, and food tips in Working out a System. I also proposed a "kanban" system which would help me and other students stay organized.
High School Papers
Over break I scanned many papers from high school. I scanned the papers I has remaining from 10th and 11th grade. These were the papers that had gotten wet in the flood. About 40% of each year got soaked. Luckily these were the years I had already scanned. I also scanned 9th grade files. Previously, I had added computer files, but no scanned files from 9th grade. 10th and 11th Grade had scanned papers - but most were scanned at pretty bad quality. The old files continue to be spread across image files. The new files continue to be large PDFs from my ScanSnap S1500. Unfortunately Scribd does not process files over 100MB, so you have to download the entire PDF. Look for the link under the Scribd preview.
I believe I forgot to mention in my last update that I added files from middle school. 7th and 8th grade now have typed assignments. I still need to scan my notes from then. Hopefully my basement does not flood again before that!
I went to Chicago with Melanie the first week in January. Check out my photos from the trip. I went to the Planetarium, the Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Chicago Theater, the Willis Tower, a Bus tour, the Museum of Science, and the University of Chicago.
Over IAP, I worked at Altman Vilandrie & Company as an analyst extern. I worked for 3 weeks on a data center due diligence. The last week I worked on the hospitality strategy for a major cable/satellite provider. I enjoyed the second project much more.
I am already noticing changes of how I look at a situation. For example at a HDC meeting last Wednesday, I felt like I was thinking more objectively about how to solve a problem. I thought about building an Excel model to solve a particular problem. I am also more confident with best practices. This was my first job truly in the "big leagues." I also feel like I am thinking more clearly. For example, I am noticing that I often start with a topic sentence that overviews the detail points and then I dive deeper into each of the points. Perhaps I always did that, but I seem to be more aware of it now.
My favorite part of the job was piecing the parts of the puzzle together. You're like a detective - always learning more information. And with consulting the whole puzzle starts fresh every month or two. I liked conducting the interviews and discussing the case with my coworkers. On the flip side, consultants are very aware about little issues - like how much to contact someone or phrase things. After seeing it, I think it does help in appearing professional and getting work done, but it is just something to learn. I think I certainly learned and got better at that as the job went on, but it irked me. It's just not my current personality.
I'm not sure what job I want to do after school. I still need to figure out where my competitive advantage is. So far I have tried coding, consulting, and next summer I will try product management again.
As I talked about in my last update, I have accepted a position at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online next summer. Parks and Resorts Online is the internet sales and marketing channel for the Disney parks, cruise ships, and guided tour businesses. I'm excited to get to work as a product manager. This has historically (ie. before MIT) been my dream job - so I will see what it is actually like. I ended up doing something similar at Deutsche Bahn on Touch&Travel.
I'm particular exited to get to work so close with Imagineering - which is the high temple of theme park design. As a kid I used to think a lot about experience design, floorplans, branding, etc to create an immersive experience. Disney is known worldwide as the pinnacle of branding/experience design. In middle school, I was involved in theater. After going to MIT and doing management consulting, I want to reinvigorate that creative spirit. Now, this is still a pretty much a "business job," but I hope to get to work with creative people.
Speaking of what I have done before, I have written or tuned up many pages on ThePlaz.com about things that I have done in the past. I added pages or added content to pages about places I have lived, MIT committees, theater, and my websites.
I have planned out a draft schedule for next semester. I have 18 classes left to graduate. I have I have to take 18.06 Linear Algebra (it's about matrices); I'll probably do poorly on that. Next I'm taking 6.006 Introduction to Algorithms. I am particularly interested in this class because most of the computer programmer interviews ask these sorts of questions. I am also taking the required 6.033 Computer System Engineering. I have no idea what that is about - but it's required. I am also taking an AUS 6.813 User Interface Design and Implementation because it fit into my schedule and it sound the most interesting. On the management side I am taking 15.571 Business Strategy and the Role of IT, one of the classes for the Sloan IT concentration. In addition, I've been interested in how IT can help big companies streamline while providing better service. I am also hoping to take 15.053 Optimization Methods in Management Science. I can't make the recitation, so this would be the first class I drop. I am taking 15.301 Managerial Psychology Laboratory, a required, basic course 15 class that I have not managed to take yet. Rounding it out, I am hoping to get into 17.50 Introduction to Comparative Politics a HASS-D #4 class to fill the second of my 3 HASS D slots.
I am concerned that my schedule this semester is too heavy on math, which I have traditionally spent more time on.
That's all for now. It's time to get geared up for the next semester. --ThePlaz 16:57, 5 February 2012 (EST)
7/23/2012 Summer Personal Update
I am now 8 weeks into my internship at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online. WDPRO builds the websites and mobile apps for the Disney parks and other travel operations. I’ve been having a great time here at Disney. I'm working on a project for Cruise Line and a project to improve reference material here at WDPRO. I'm a product management intern, working for the VP of the division. I'm getting great exposure to what it is like to be a PDM intern here. As at Deutsche Bahn, I have a lot of freedom to use my time where I think is most effective.
One change from last summer is that Disney cares about quality. In fact, quality is the number one concern here. This makes the work environment 180 degrees different. It means a lot of concern over issues that on the surface look trivial. But when you consider the millions of people that pour though our parks every year, it starts making sense. A Disney parks experience means quality. If you think about the newly opened Cars Land, every little detail from the type of grass to the building architecture has been obsessed over for years by teams of people. Disney has a lot of people, who are managing every detail. This means there are a lot of people involved in any project. It’s very different from the small team mentality of other firms – but those companies don’t have anywhere near the integration that Disney has.
Plus it's my job as a PDM is to manage this. Somewhat jokingly, my job is meetings and emails. A PDM is responsible to build the relationships with the business to be able to specify requirements and act as the “product owner” in Scrum/Agile terminology. Though it’s been somewhat awkward working as a PDM intern. You won’t be around after the summer, so it’s hard to take over a project full time. But I’m doing what I expected. I can envision what things would be like if I was doing this full time here.
I’ve taken advantage of a number of great opportunities here at Disney. Every Disney employee goes through a training program called Traditions, where you learn the basics of working in the park and see “backstage”. They also offer a program called Cross-U where office workers can help out in the park during very busy periods. I was assigned to measure wait times at the Cozy Cone Motel on opening day of Cars Land. I ended up giving out more help than collecting wait times, but it was fun to be part of Cars Land’s opening day. Plus I helped beta-test a new game at Imagineering R&D. They are working on some interesting questions! Imagineering also has a big library with lots of books about the topics Disney works on and archives of the behind the scenes on the Disney attractions. This was fun to pour over. We can also over to the studio lot any time we want for lunch.
I also flew out to Orlando to meet with colleagues. This was my first business trip by myself. I stayed at the Yacht Club. During the day I had set up back-to-back meetings with WDPRO and DCL colleagues in the Disney Celebration offices. On Saturday, I drove out to the Disney Fantasy to take a tour and meet with shipboard colleagues. After work, I visited Walt Disney World – my first time there since elementary school. I even go to walk around the Utilidors – it looks exactly like the MIT tunnel system.
Disney has its typical big company issues as well. There are so many managers for this and that everywhere that most of every project is simply coordination between different departments. I realize that as a temporary intern, I might be cluttering up things further. This is what I am trying to balance.
I knew this coming in, but my base salary is quite a fair bit less than last summer and the only thing free in the office is free soda and breakfast one day a week. We were also promised park passes, but those are still stuck in the Disney bureaucracy. Also my work address is wrong in the internal company directory. I think I’ve talked to 10 people about getting this fixed, and while one person was able to fix my work phone number, the address is still wrong. Disney is very good at being very specific with its polices to the public, but backstage it’s a mess. It’s certainly not Steve Jobs’ philosophy that good craftsmanship means doing a good job on even the parts not readily visible to the customer.
That being said there are a lot of very smart people here. Stuff still manages to get done with relatively little problems. But I think having a stable operational platform would allow things to get done more efficiently and would be less costly. I’m writing about this not to criticize, but to wonder if its possible to do better. Disney is also a very relational company. I've recognized this and on the advice of others, I’ve set up what seems like 50 informational/getting to know you meetings.
The culture is also fun here. Many of the people in other Disney units have worked their way up from the parks so they are always happy and perky. At certain business units, though not really at PRO, everyone wears their Disney name tags around the office. It’s a way of showing that you are helping out the parks. WDPRO Glendale doesn’t require it, but many people still dress according to the fairly strict “Disney Look” – basically be clean-cut and wear business casual.
Outside of Work This Summer
I'm really happy how this summer is turning out from a friendship point of view. I'm being a lot more aggressive this summer to reach out and organize weekends with friends.
At the start of the summer, I went to Atlantic City with my dad. I went to Universal Studios Hollywood, Warner Brothers Studio, and Venice Beach with Eddie and Jeremy. On my own, I walked around the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills and the X-Games at LA Live and Downtown LA.
One week I drove up to Silicon Valley to meet with many of my friends in the area. On the Fourth of July, I walked around San Francisco with Jon, I stayed with Jeremy in Palo Alto, saw the Computer History Museum, and Stanford with one of my friends from high school, Dave Groff.
While I was in San Francisco, my Nexus S cell phone broke. It would not boot up past the “Google” screen. I had to go most of my Silicon Valley trip and all of my Orlando trip without a cell phone! Luckily I had my LTE iPad which kept me connected. I could make outgoing calls on Skype, but not receive calls. This made me realize how much I depend on my phone. My phone has been fixed for a week now, but I still feel like I am without it and disconnected from the world. Battery life is also a great deal improved.
I’m also getting to do a lot more driving than I ever have. I think in my first week here I’ve driven more than I have my entire life. It has also given me the opportunity to listen to some audio books. I’ve listened to Working Poor, the Steve Jobs bio, Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick. I also read a book on the History of Software Development, and I am reading a book on Project Management.
This Past Semester
My junior spring semester was a solid semester. I finished 7 classes with a 4.3 GPA average. This breaks my streak of having my GPA climb semester over semester, but I still think I learned a lot. My undergraduate cumulative GPA appears to be fixed at 4.3; this is the third semester in a row where it has not changed. It's not a particular stunning GPA, but since I chose to focus on breath and leadership opportunities at MIT, I'm by-in-large happy with how this semester ended up.
6.033 Computer Systems Engineering covered designing complex computer systems. Most of my classmates hated this class; I didn't find it half bad. The class is not well designed - the very thing it is trying to teach! It seems that too many unrelated components have been slapped in. In addition, I wish it focused more on the human side of building a system (more of a project point of view). Anyway, I got an A in that class. 6.813 UI Design was right up my alley. I think most people in the class couldn't care less (it's the easiest AUS and department lab). Plus the professor was trying hard - too hard - to be objective. I was not that happy with my final project, RScanVP. 6.006 Intro to Algorithms was challenging for me. I think I easily grasped the basic concepts, but the problems seemed to come out of no where with the TA unable to offer robust strategies to solve them. I ended up with a C because I did not do well on the final. Your grade basically dependent on if you "figured out" the problem. I don't like making excuses, but I really don't know how I end up with a C in every math related class I take at MIT.
15.565 Management/Web 3.0 was a class I required to take. I didn’t like the class, so I didn’t spend much time on it. I even got in a big disagreement with the TA since I thought my approach was way better than his. I ended up with an A-. 15.571 Business IT Strategy is perhaps my most favorite Sloan class ever. I really like the work Jeanne Ross and the Center for Information Systems Research is doing at Sloan. I ended up with a B+ because the group project (which I really enjoyed) was graded lower than other students and Sloan has grade quotas. 15.301 Management Psychology was fun, although I don’t think the other students cared that much, but I really enjoyed the topic. I ended up with an A. 18.06 Linear Algebra was a challenge for me. Unlike other course 18 classes, this one was more about theory than calculations, though I am not very good at that either!
I think at some point I had 6 group projects active! This was a bit much, because there is a lot of overhead in scheduling group projects. I think I also did much more group P-Setting this semester versus before. I was much more conscious to take the time to cultivate relationships and set up times to work on homework. Overall, I'm glad I'm being more social. This is one of the life/soft skills where I am 180 degrees different from how I was when I entered MIT.
Outside of Classes
Also I was elected as the President of Baker House, my dorm at MIT. I was unsure about doing this role initially, but it has turned out to be a great experience. I have a budget of about $50,000 per year and about 20 people are involved in house government. It really is a fantastic leadership opportunity because you have to recruit really busy people to help out, train them, and then throw great events. You also have the autonomy to try things out and make mistakes. Our Piano Drop was a huge success with syndication on over 300 world-wide news outlets. Here is the big one from the Boston Globe. In addition, we had over 500 people at our annual CPW party. My term runs one more semester until IAP 2013.
This semester I continued to be involved in MITCET , the MIT Council on Educational Technology. I can't believe I forgot to mention it in my last update, but MITCET was one of the groups advising then-Provost Reif on setting up MITx and EdX. I was on the inside on the announcement of MITx and EdX and I met with then-Provost Reif to discuss the issue. I think MITx and EdX has the potential to revolutionize education. I think education has economies of scale which, if taken advantage of, could radically change the course of the industry. Why does every school need a different school curriculum? Instead of having each teacher re-invent the wheel - invest in a few good solutions. Then you are able to justify the extra work to refine the technology to be able to adopt to people's needs.
I made some small adjustments to the nav bar on ThePlaz.com. Gone are the separate TI-83 and Video categories and instead I've added an engineering and business header entries, as well as getting all of the classes up to date in the header.
Content from the spring is up. I have scanned a fair bit of old content that I still need to work though. Hopefully I get a few moments later this summer.
My brother is currently looking for schools. Over Spring Break I was in Pittsburgh with my family.
For planning ahead, I have 10 classes left in order to graduate with a double major in 15 and 6-3. I had originally thought I needed 11 more, but I realized I had actually satisfied a requirement without realizing it! This means I only need a normal 5 classes per semester! Plus, one of these classes is a PE class, which I have not historically counted in the number of classes I am taking, so we are down to 5 and 4 classes.
I am planning on taking 7.012 Intro to Biology. I've tried taking this GIR class every semester, but it always conflicted with my schedule. Well I am finally going to take it! It will be mostly freshmen - I've come so far in terms of my study skills from those years… (See Working out a System) I'm planning on taking STS.085 Ethics Online. I think I am going to really like this class; I enjoy working on the topic. It also wraps up my concentration in STS: Science, Technology, and Society. I will have to take 6.046 Advanced Algorithms. I'm not looking forward to this class at all! Plus my extremely smart 6.006 partner, Shri, dropped out of MIT (is technically on-hold) to do a start up. What am I going to do?
For my AUS class, I picked 6.858 Computer Systems Security. I heard that in the first lab with write a buffer overflow attack. I hope to pick up low-level programming skills (i.e. C) and learn how to actually write attacks. I heard that the labs are long and hard, but it seemed like the best choice as to what I was interested in. For my HASS D class, I picked 14.72 Capitalism and its Critics. This seems like an interesting class about different economic systems - I picked it partially because it is from the econ department, something I want more exposure to. My top choice was 17.30 Making Public Policy, but this has a time conflict with 6.046. As alternate choices, I put down 17.40 American Foreign Policy and STS.003 The Rise of Modern Science. I liked the book Legacy of Ashes, but I prefer econ more; and I think I've heard enough about the start of science with STS.050 and STS.011.
So with my 5 classes this semester I might be bored. I'm considering picking 2.009, the famous product design lab. I've always liked the idea of the class, so when I got an email from the professor announcing that the class was looking for non-course 2's I was intrigued. I do want to spend more time on self exploration on other topics and greater depth on in-class topics, but I'm skeptical how much that will happen once the rubber meets the road.
So in the spring semester I still have to take 15.053 or 15.058 as well as 15.075, both Sloan math classes. I probably should not be taking those so late, but that's when they fit in. Plus I need to do a third HASS D class, as well as my course 6 project 6.UAP. I also need to take 1 more PE class at some point. I also want to take advantage of cross registration with Harvard for some class to say that I've done it...
So what am I going to do after MIT? I don’t think I am going to do grad school immediately. I don’t feel like spending more time in school. If I were to go to grad school, and if at MIT, I would do either Sloan for research, or the Media Lab at MIT. I feel like I’ve already seen what a Sloan MBA would be like. I don’t quite have the grades for M-Eng and since I don’t see myself doing that sort of work, I don’t think another year of access to course 6 classes at MIT is a good investment of time. Looking at the class list, nothing really stands out.
So what do I want in a job? I want to be busy – at MIT taking 7 classes at a time forces me to get stuff done. Without that pressure, I tend to be a lot less productive. I want to work on hard problems. I want to continue to have new experiences. I don’t want to master a job – though I might master and formalize the process of working (as I’ve done at MIT). I might do business consulting, PDM at Disney, or product management somewhere in Silicon Valley. I might even do my own thing.
I think my 5 internships have given me good perspective on the good and the bad. For some of the other interns at Disney this is their first internship. Between my internships, school classes, and MIT leadership opportunities, I think I’m much more aware of the differences between places, the reasons those differences exist, and attempting to answer which is better. As to another major change I've noticed, I think I've become much more Establishment.--ThePlaz 21:57, 23 July 2012 (EDT)
9/9/2012 Back to School Personal Update
We are one week into classes at MIT. Well 3 days into classes.
This means I have had about one session of each class. 7.012 Bio looks interesting. You have to get there 15 minutes early to get a seat. We will see how long that lasts. Plus the Professors said they are focusing on learning the patterns, not memorizing. 6.858 Computer Security started out with a lecture on the systemic aspects of security - something I am familiar with. 2.009 Product Design seems like a fun lecture, but I don't know if I want to put the time into the projects, let alone the homework. 14.72 Capitalism and its Critics had some interesting reading - The Fountainhead - which is about individualism. Ted, one of my friends, pulled me into his 15.495 Quantitative Finance class. I'm not that into making money via hedge funds and the like - so while it would be interesting to learn, I don't think I will take it. 6.046 Algorithms looks like it will be hard, especially since they require formal proofs. I am still not really comfortable with that. STS.085 Internet Policy seems really fun. We have Hal Abelson, as well as Danny Weitzner, the former Deputy CTO for Internet Policy in the Obama White House, and Alan Davidson, the former Head of Public Policy at Google. While I seem to already be familiar with much of the classes' material, it will be a fun semester to dive deeper with these lecturers. My new iPad is turning out pretty handy both during the school day, and reading/studying back home since I am easily able to assess supplemental material.
Before classes started, I had already been on campus for over a week and a half (since 8/23). I've been on campus so long, because as Baker President, I had to entertain over 130 freshmen living in Baker House, plus the others who came to visit, during "Residence Exploration Week" or REX.
I think we had a tremendous REX. CPW and REX are our opportunities to brand Baker for the new students and establish the tone for the upcoming year. We made signs and banners to advertise our events - all in the same visual identity as the rest of Baker. We played music all weekend to try and liven up the campus area.
We gave out over 300 servings of Ice Cream and give tours to about 100 people. We had about 30 parents at our 2 parents events. I think most parents came during CPW and didn't want to go to the same event twice. About 200-250 people came to our stargazing event thrown by our former astronaut and Housemaster, Jeff Hoffman. We had to move Sunrise inside due to the rain, but I think we still did about 200-250 servings of waffles and freshly squeezed orange juice. It takes the dining hall about a month to go through that much waffle batter. Over 740 people came to our party Skyline - a record I think! (The school newspaper The Tech called it "boring" and "not well attended".  I'm not sure where they get their facts from.) On the other hand, Baker Confidential, a new event imposed system-wide by MIT Housing, was a total disaster. The administration also handed out meal tickets to other groups during that time who didn't respect our event. However, overall we had one of the highest retention rates ever - only 4 out of 130 people wanted to leave Baker. Normally, we have about 10 out of 100 wanted to leave.
Rooming also went pretty well. We added a BBQ outside to allow people to mingle and find their roommates and people they want to live near. For the BBQ we used our dining hall, Bon Appetite to provide pre-prepared food that we just had to cook. To stand out from the other groups, we also did better food than hot dogs and hamburgers. This all worked out pretty well. We had some icebreakers prepared - but everyone seemed to get along so well we didn't have to use them. I also redid the rooming forms so the instructions would be more clear. That was a fun exercise in information design. We took 4 hours to do the actual rooming. We were trying to design the floors such that the majority of the people would be happy. I think we largely succeeded. We had 2 rooms that were very unhappy, and a further 2-3 rooms that were somewhat unhappy. We were able to move the very unhappy rooms so that they were then happy with their situation.
Overall, I am really happy how the everyone worked together to make the events come together and be a big success. We did a much larger volume than most of the other dorms and it’s a challenge to move this many people through at such high volumes. We only had a few hiccups - the little details have degraded our REX events in the past. For example, we had a steady supply of cold drinks all night, arranged in an organized fashion.
I enjoyed my time at Disney. I got first hand experience in how Disney manages its Parks and Resorts Online operations. I got to think about not only the low level, concrete stuff (how often you release) but the larger strategy issues about team size, use of contractors, and team organization. I also had incredible freedom to explore. I met with MIT alumni around Disney, including both executives and recent graduates. I really enjoyed doing these meetings and I think it was pretty informative to learn about the different divisions of Disney. On really busy days, Disney has this program called Cross-U where office workers can work in the park. I did that twice. I also learned about Disney's attention to detail in how they develop products - both on our websites and in the actual parks.
On the other hand, WDPRO had mostly people who were in the later stage of their career because they enjoyed the 9-5 aspect of the work and the stability of working for a large company. I think I am looking for something a little different coming out of school. I think the right moment for me at Disney is later on - I think it would be fun to be a VP - but how do I get there? What is the best intermediate step? It could be the right role at Disney - depending on what they offer.
At the end of my summer in LA, I drove down to San Diego and drove to Las Vegas (Day 1 and Day 2) and Primm. My brother also came to visit and we saw USC, the Hollywood Sign, Magic Mountain, Pasadena, CalTech, Harvey Mudd, and UCLA. I also went to Disneyland and California Adventure one last time with my friend Eddie.
This is also the time where I need to think about what I want to do after school. I spent 6 hours thinking about what I liked about each of the 5 internships that I had. I came up with a list of characteristics. I realized that almost all of the items were related to characteristics of the work environment, not the industry or job title. Now certainly each job implements each of the characteristics to a different extent, and this is something I have to think through. Here's a short summary:
- I want a challenging work environment
- The industry/work doesn’t matter as much as being pushed to learn something new and improve
- I want an all-consuming project that I want to stay late for and to be proud of
- A group of super smart peers to work with and motivate me to improve
- A team that complements each other and provides unique perspectives
- A boss that provides constant growth challenges
- Somewhere where I can add unique value and make an impact
- Somewhere I can take responsibility for my work
I have already gone to a few info sessions and submitted a good number of applications for a full time position. This seems to be what I am most excited about right now at MIT. Hopefully the work wraps up before classes get hard.
That's all for now, back to work for classes, Baker, and job apps.--ThePlaz 11:10, 9 September 2012 (EDT)