International Student Recruiting

As the international student representative for my section, I strive to maintain an understanding of how well our international students are integrating into the classroom as well as recruiting for internships and jobs. My understanding of the current pulse is that though international students are becoming more comfortable engaging in the classroom, recruiting has been a bit of a struggle. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to chat with as many international students as possible one-on-one to find out how they are doing in the recruiting process. I wanted to compile several issues I’ve noticed, and hopefully provide some actionable solutions to help students, both international and otherwise, to perform better in the process. Please note that I am writing specifically about the consulting recruiting process, but this advice should hold true for just about any recruiting.

  1. Get feedback. One of the most common answers I hear when I ask people how they are doing in the process is “I don’t know.” Failure to get an invite to a closed-list event should not be the first data point you get in regards to how your recruiting is going. Students succeeding in the process are constantly seeking feedback from their peers, second years, and even recruiters. After chatting with a recruiter in office hours, ask people who sat next to you how they think you did and what you could improve on. Talk to peers who are recruiting for the same positions to get a gauge on how many phone chats they’ve made. You can’t succeed in networking if you don’t know where you stand.
  2. Know yourself. One of the most basic questions a recruiter will ask you is “Why consulting?” You’d be surprised how many people cannot even answer this question. The key to answering this question is not to memorize the “About Us” page on their website. The key is to understanding yourself, what your strengths and goals are, and how those intersect with consulting. If you can’t answer this question on your own, recruiters are certainly not going to answer it for you.
  3. Don’t treat recruiting as an academic exercise. Some skills in life may be learned through careful study of textbooks and other material. Soft skills cannot be learned from any sort of guide. The way to become better at recruiting is to practice beforehand with others. You should be practicing your pitch, your “Why consulting?” answer, and everything else before you try it with recruiters. To quote Sun Tzu:

    “…the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won…”

    There are so many people around you who can help you prepare, whether it’s your second year coach, your peers, second years, or the CDC. You cannot learn how to network or perform a case interview by simply reading a book. Get out there and practice with others.

If you are struggling with recruiting please don’t wait for others to ask you how it’s going. I and many others are willing and available to help. Be proactive and reach out.

Lessons Learned from MBA Competitions

This past weekend I competed in two different competitions at Darden. The first competition was the Accenture Innovation Challenge, organized by members of the consulting club. In this competition, groups of four worked together to find a solution to a problem posed by Goodwill Industries. Over the course of five hours, we huddled together in a conference room, drew issue trees on chalkboards, and built a slide deck to present our strategic conclusions. This competition was designed in many ways to emulate the consulting process.

The second competition was the Darden Capital Management Stock Pitch competition, organized by Darden Capital Management. In this competition, individuals evaluated equities, performed valuation and analysis, and presented their ideas and thinking.  This competition was designed to emulate the process by which you sell your ideas in an investment management institution.

Though the two competitions were focused on different industries and functions, they shared two common themes. I believe that the skills developed by these competitions are fundamental skills necessary for being an effective leader in any organization.

  1. Story telling ability. In both competitions, understanding whom your audience was and how to communicate to them effectively was the key to success. For the Accenture Innovation Challenge, the judges identified the distinguishing factor for the winning three teams as their ability to connect with the Goodwill vision and really speak about the human element of the problem.For the DCM Stock Pitch competition, being able to tell a clear, cohesive story was key. While stock pitches often include multiple reasons to buy a stock and address different risks associated, making sure the thesis was clear was crucial to success. There were several pitches where multiple theses were presented, and this made it difficult for the judges to buy your story.Story telling ability is crucial leading any organization. Great leaders are able to effectively convey their vision and mission to their organizations. At the higher levels, you must tell these stories to shareholders in the market, your board of directors, and your company as well.
  2. Dealing with ambiguity. For both competitions, there was a tremendous amount of ambiguity due to the time constraints. For the Accenture competition, we had only five hours to evaluate the materials provided and come up with a solution. This meant that inherently our solution was not as developed as we would have liked it to be. As a result, the questions asked could be fairly tough. One of the toughest questions they asked was “Summarize your plan in one sentence.” Luckily, one of my team members came up with a succinct statement on the spot. If you had a solid plan but couldn’t come up with concise answers on the spot, it would be really tough for you to succeed in this competition.For the DCM Stock Pitch competition, the primary constraint was finding time to work on my pitch after allocating time for coursework and recruiting. One of the struggles for me was that the pitch I had was not the caliber of pitch did not have the rigor behind it that I would like to have. As a result, even though the questions asked were not really that rigorous, I had not had enough time to think about them beforehand.There is ambiguity in every organization. The ability to prevent ambiguity from affecting your performance is essential. Conveying your ideas confidently in the face of ambiguity is crucial to your ability to convince others to trust your judgment.

Although I still have a lot to learn about both the consulting and investing worlds, the skills and experience I developed through these competitions is applicable across many fields.

Coming Out as an Ally

This weekend, I’m heading down to New Orleans for the Reaching Out MBA conference (ROMBA). When I tell people this, the response is often confusion as I do not identify myself as LGBT. I’m writing this post to explain why I am interested in LGBT issues, why I’m coming out as an ally, and why I’m attending ROMBA.

Growing up in the South, it was common to hear sexual slurs used casually at an early age. Often these were used with some negative connotation, not necessarily directly attacking people. As a result, I became accustomed to overlooking casual discrimination, whether it was regarding sexual orientation, or race, or any other way that people cast judgment upon wide swathes of human beings. As time went on and people matured, slurs were used less as people learned to be politically correct. While it was certainly nice that these slurs were being used less, the fact that people were still holding on to these prejudices was not great. On top of that, the political correctness prevented dialogue, and these issues were things that I never really considered before.

Fast forward a few years to 2010, I was in Hong Kong for work for a couple days, and was able to meet up with my cousin Whitney, who had relocated from New Zealand to Hong Kong after graduating college. I was asking about our other cousin Carla, as I knew they were close and I hadn’t really kept in touch. Whitney responded: “Yeah, Carla is great, Harry and Julia are doing well too!” I had no idea who Harry and Julia were. “Is Harry Carla’s boyfriend or something?” I inquired.

Over the next few minutes, I found out that Julia is Carla’s partner, and they have a son, Harry. I had no idea about any of this. Many aspects of Chinese culture are very conservative, and views on sexual orientation are no exception. My aunt and uncle had kept this a secret from much of our extended family for nearly five years. Discussions with Carla and ultimately meeting Harry and Julia really pushed me to think more about LGBT issues and helped me come to the realization that these issues touch on very basic human rights which should be inherent to everyone.

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve realized that although my thinking has become more supportive of LGBT issues, I have allowed my experience growing up in an anti-LGBT setting prevent me from actively discussing these issues and growing. Not only that, my inability to discuss these issues restricts my ability to help others within my class to grow as well.

Coming out as an ally is an important step for me to continue to grow as a person and to avoid the complacency of passive “open-mindedness.” Being passive makes it too easy to err on the side of heteronormative thinking, i.e. assuming everyone is heterosexual. By coming out as an ally, I hope to correct my own thinking, and become a stronger resource for those who identify themselves as LGBT, as well as those who are also interested in becoming more active in supporting others.

Why Diversity and Inclusion are Important to Me

Last week, I was honored to be elected as Section D’s international and diversity student advisory group representative. What this means is that I will be meeting with the International Student Advisory Group (ISAG) and the Diversity Student Advisory Group (DSAG) to facilitate conversations about diversity and inclusion at Darden, advocate on behalf of international students, and promote understanding and awareness to build a stronger Darden community. To be elected, I submitted a statement to explain why diversity and inclusion are important to me. I want to share this piece to provide my perspective.

I am passionate about connecting people of different ethnicity, religion, sexual orientations, or any other label people use to put people into buckets. No matter what your background, each one of us is the same. We’re all human beings with hopes and dreams, successes and failures, triumphant wins and heart-crushing defeats. I’d like to tell you a personal story of one of my heart-crushing defeats that I hope will show why I’m so passionate about connecting people of different backgrounds.

On July 4th, 2011, I was celebrated Independence Day by driving 190 miles to Austin to meet up with some high school friends from Dallas. Over the next several hours we reminisced about the past, caught up on each other’s lives, and had a blast watching fireworks. After I’d had enough, I took my leave and started walking back to my hotel.

Suddenly, a car screeched by. A man leaning out the window yelled at me, “GO BACK TO CHINA!”

Go back to China? I’ve lived here all my life. Am I Chinese? I thought this was home. I thought I belonged here. Am I American? Who am I?

Am I Chinese? Over the last four years, I have spent a substantial amount of time working abroad in China. Even though I speak Mandarin fluently, my Taiwanese/American accent was obvious and Chinese people could always tell that I was not Chinese. They could tell even before I even opened my mouth by the way I dressed. I am not Chinese.

Am I Taiwanese? Although, I have relatives in Taiwan, I cannot even communicate with my grandparents because I cannot speak the local dialect, Taiwanese. While I’ve visited Taiwan many times during my childhood, it’s never felt right to me. The very environment seems to reject me. Too hot. Too humid. Too many mosquitoes. It’s as if the entire climate of Taiwan is trying to make me recognize that I don’t belong there. I am not Taiwanese.

Am I American? I worked at a chemical plant with mostly blue-collar workers. Here I am even more different. Not only am I a different ethnicity, I am the ethnicity that is stealing jobs from them. They associate me with the Chinese sweatshops that are taking food off of their tables. I tell them I’m in the same boat. I’m fighting to keep a job in America as many engineering jobs are getting outsourced to China. They can’t see past my skin color. I am not American.

After the incident, I posted a status update about it onto Facebook. I was instantly flooded with sympathetic Facebook messages and texts. In times of crises, none of these labels matter. I am not Chinese or American, Christian or Buddhist, Republican or Democrat. I am a human being with friends and family that love and support me through thick and thin. I am passionate about diversity and inclusion because they are essential to the development of strong bonds that will last beyond the time we are here at Darden and endure across cultural, religious, and political borders.

Startup School 2012 Themes

After having some time to decompress and re-digest my notes from Startup School 2012, I’ve collected my primary takeaways in the form of themes echoed by multiple speakers. There were many interesting anecdotes and nuggets of advice that I have not attempted to list. Note that these are my subjective views and it’s likely different people gained different insights from the speakers.

1.   There are still many opportunities for startups to leverage the Internet

Ron Conway believes that the Internet is still in its infancy. When asked about whether he felt Facebook could have been founded earlier, Mark Zuckerberg pointed to university e-mail addresses as necessary to its early success. Zuckerberg speculated that there is some social-networking equivalent of Moore’s Law that dictates the long-term, exponential growth of sharing. Mark pointed to Wikipedia as an example. In his eyes, Wikipedia was able to achieve success earlier than Facebook because it needed less sharing to sustain itself. Thus, as more sharing occurs in the future, there will be new opportunities for startups that did not exist before.

2.   Big growth opportunities in eCommerce

A few speakers pointed at eCommerce as an example of a space now reaching the sustainable sharing threshold necessary for success. Hiroshi Mikitani cited Rakuten’s rapidly growing mobile revenue, currently growing 300 to 400 percent year-over-year. This point should certainly be taken with a grain of salt, as several of the speakers addressing this topic have vested interests in this industry that could affect their objectivity. Both Mikitani and Ron Conway have made substantial investments in Pinterest, whose success is certainly tied to the success of eCommerce. On the other hand, the fact that Mikitani and Conway have made a number of substantial investments in eCommerce shows that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to eCommerce.

3.   Technology as an extension of fundamental human wants and needs

To Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook is a natural extension of the fundamental human need to connect with other people, noting that humans are highly geared toward social interaction. To that end, Facebook extends the number of meaningful social relationships humans can maintain beyond the Dunbar number of 150. In the same vein, Ben Silbermann stated that Pinterest is not just about eCommerce; Pinterest is about helping people find others that have similar interests and helping them find their passion. Ben Horowitz noted that the line between wants and needs is not real. Many people have made statements to the effect that technology development was at its end as people’s needs had been fully met. Ben pointed out that over time “wants become needs.”

4.   Startups are difficult

Many speakers described long, arduous journeys to success. Ben Silbermann challenged the commonly used maxim that startups are like running a marathon, stating that there was much more uncertainty in a startup than a marathon. Speakers identified several common difficulties:

i.  Gaining traction. David Rusenko related how weebly did not really gain traction until 48 months after the first line of code was written, in spite of early publicity from TechCrunch, Newsweek, and Time. Patrick Collison of Stripe recounted long hours spent coding and an alert system that guaranteed someone would be available to provide customer support at all hours. Ben Silbermann stressed how important it was for startups to “be great one thing,” and to ship when they have their “one thing.” He also related how long finding that “one thing” can take.

ii.  Funding. Many speakers including Ben Silbermann and David Rusenko related personal stories of investor rejection.  Jessica Livingston of YCombinator and others described a common “herd mentality” problem whereby investors refused to fund “ugly duckling” startups due to other investors not having funded them already. Ron Conway acknowledged this challenge and cited several successful startups he had failed to fund when given the opportunity including salesforce.com, Pandora, Palantir, and Kickstarter. Amusingly, even Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s early growth was limited by the number of $85 servers they could afford.

iii.  Unique problems. Several founders described non-technical problems that were crucial to the success of their startups. Travis Kalanick of Uber discussed process management and operations problems that required logistics expertise not typically necessary for most startups. In addition, he touched on the regulatory issues facing Uber, stating that all truly disruptive startups would face resistance from entrenched, outdated industries, and the governments supporting them. Ben Silbermann described how Pinterest focused on marketing campaigns like “Pin it Forward” and user meetups to tackle non-engineering problems necessary for Pinterest’s success. Patrick Collison said he feels empathy for business people attempting to break into tech because he felt similarly out of his element working with the financial industry to build Stripe.

5.   People are important to a startup’s success

Ron Conway described how he funds people and not startups. His practice of following founders regardless of whether or not their last startup succeeded allowed him to get in on the ground floor of Twitter after following Evan Williams from Odeo. Unfortunately for most, Ron also said that within 10 minutes of meeting someone, he has already decided whether he would invest in them. Tom Preston-Werner described how a company’s people, product, and philosophy were all interconnected and necessary for success. Jessica Livingston stated that incompatible co-founders was a common reason for startups to fail. Ben Horowitz said he looks for “Founders with courage and skill to build.”

6.    There’s more than one path to success

While founders described common themes, their startups addressed very different needs and markets. Joel Spolsky related two very different personal success stories in Stack Exchange and Fog Creek Software. He described a dichotomy of startup growth options:

i.  Get Big Fast. These are startups like Facebook and Stack Exchange, which rely on network effects and lock-in to be successful. Because success is market dependent, it is important to grow rapidly. As a result, problems are solved with money from venture capitalists. Quantitatively, expected value could be viewed as a 1% chance of a 10 billion dollar valuation.

ii.  Organic Growth. These are startups like Ben & Jerry’s and Fog Creek software, which develop products that are valuable to even just one customer. These companies must focus on being frugal because mistakes can kill you. For these startups, it’s important to bootstrap and break even quickly, rather than taking outside funding. Joel expressed the expected value of an organic growth company as a 90% chance of a 10 million valuation.

While the media focuses on the success of “Get Big Fast” companies, millions of companies go the route of “Organic Growth.” Ultimately, Joel said said that failure to choose one of the two methods of growth kills startups.

The US needs a Department of Nerds

During the recent House Judiciary Committee hearings, it seemed every other statement began with the following disclosure: “I’m not a nerd, but I think…” Through the course of the hearings, the word “nerd” was used quite often. Some were derisive. Others, respectful. However in all cases, it was an assertion of general ignorance about the matter at hand.

It has become painfully obvious that our US representatives fundamentally do not understand new technology. But who can blame them? The average age of the 112th Congress was 56.7 years at the start of the term. This demographic was middle-aged and well out of college before the inception of the personal computing era and the Internet. While many in Congress have adopted social media, nobody would expect them to understand the intricacies of IP addresses and DNS servers. Most millennials outside of the technology industry would be hard-pressed to describe these concepts.

So why then are our Congressmen seeking to enact legislation about something they do not understand? While it is certainly impossible for Congressmen to fully understand all the details of every bill they work on, it has always been their responsibility to interface with leaders of respective industries to make the best possible decision with limited information.

The problem is that technology as a whole is moving too quickly for legislators to understand the latest innovations to pass effective legislation. As technology has continued to improve, the knowledge gap between the engineer and the layman has increased. The field has become too specialized for “non-nerds” to understand well, nonetheless our representatives. Furthermore, technology is important to a number of industries, sometimes with conflicting interests. To make effective decisions in this regard would require a very comprehensive understanding of not just technology, but how it is applied in different industries.

The technology industry represents the most significant US innovation in the past few decades. It should be encouraged to grow as quickly as possible, but this growth cannot be unregulated. Nor should those who are unfamiliar with the field be the ones regulating it. 10 years from now, will our Congressmen understand enough about the complex algorithms and programs that operate Google’s self-driving car to make an informed decision about its safety and efficacy for use by the general public? Certainly not. However, this does not mean that this service should be unregulated. As technology is integrated more and more into everyday life, there will need to be people in government that do understand the intricacies of technology.

The US needs a Department of Nerds. Maybe more aptly named, a Department of Technology. This branch of the executive arm should regulate technology as a whole.  It should encourage sustained organic growth of the technology industry. It should help regulate computer security to prevent hackers from attacking America’s public facilities and crucial infrastructure. It should service other departments to improve efficiency of everything from agriculture to veterans’ affairs. Most importantly, it should be run by nerds. The appointed secretary should be someone who understands technological innovation and someone who champions its safe and effective utilization in America.

While the current Departments manage technology in their respective fields, there are significant inefficiencies that are incurred by this framework. While the Department of Defense has access to highly advanced computer security knowledge, a millennial hacker recently accessed water infrastructure management systems using just a three-character password. While certainly there should be some level of disparity between the two systems, it is clear that the latter industry could use a significant security upgrade. A centralized Department of Technology would allow for more effective distribution of technology to improve efficiency and security of all sectors.

In the future, the balanced implementation of technology will be the hallmark of all successful nations. Technological innovation and development will be necessary across all industries in the public and private sectors. A centralized authority that understands technology is necessary to regulate the introduction of new technologies to different industries. As the integration of technology into our day-to-day lives increases, the more important it will be that this technology is well understood and reviewed.

The present is being built by nerds, but regulated by laymen. The future must be regulated by nerds.

Why I love Facebook’s seamless sharing

Recently a number of articles have decried recent Facebook changes allowing seamless sharing of information. Using Open Graph, several news sites such as the Washington Post and the Guardian have released “social reader” Facebook apps. These apps, once enabled, allow Facebook friends to see the articles you have read in much the same way that Spotify shows friends songs you have listened to.

Molly Wood at CNET released a scathing article entitled “How Facebook is ruining sharing.” Molly insists that sharing and recommendation shouldn’t be passive, and this sort of passive sharing will “overwhelm our interest and deaden us to the possibility of organic discovery.” I would argue that the exact opposite is true, that seamless sharing improves organic discovery.

Seamless sharing improves organic discovery

How many times have you been sitting in a car with a friend and heard them play a song you liked? Prior to the advent of the smartphone, you would have to remember the name of the song, then at a much later point in time, download it… if you could remember the name. Spotify now allows you to see what your friends are listen to and quickly try the song or artist yourself. Spotify for me has quickly become an easy way to explore new music that I never would have heard of without this service. While initially there was a chorus of boos from people complaining about the lack of privacy this spread, this chorus quickly faded as those who demanded more privacy found the option to stop sharing.

How was news promulgated prior to seamless sharing? You might receive an e-mail from a friend with “Fwd: FWD: Fwd: FWD” appended to the front of the title. Often you’d find that some people never shared anything of value. This might be an elderly relative who only sent fake inspirational stories or urban legends. In the end, many drew the same conclusion that I did. These forwarded e-mails were generally marked as unread and never opened.

The new social reader is one of the first things that allows people to catch glimpses outside of the filter bubble described by Eli Pariser in his TED talk. Very quickly, I found myself catching headlines that I normally wouldn’t have read if not for the fact that another friend had checked out the link beforehand. Of course social readers might introduce some level of junk into your feed as certain friends read low-value articles about say Kim Kardashian’s recent divorce. However, just as in the past, these sources will be mentally filtered as you realize that specific friends might not have the most important contributions to your media digest.

The important thing here is that you are seeing things outside of your curated digest. I posit that when people are overly conscious of what they are sharing, in the end you miss out on information. Some of this information may or may not be useful, but with seamless sharing you get to make that decision. With curated sharing and without seamless sharing, people you follow make a decision for you.

Facebook privacy decisions

It is true that the default privacy settings in Facebook have become looser since its inception. As I have argued above, I believe that this creates more organic discovery opportunities. Nonetheless, Facebook has allowed for close management of privacy settings, allowing for users to manage their information in a relatively easy manner.

It seems many Facebook users do not understand the model under which they are using Facebook. As a Facebook user, you are allowed access to a powerful medium that allows you to connect to your social network in a way that has never been possible in history before now. Although you don’t pay any money to use its services, Facebook is not free. The cost is privacy. This is information is sold by Facebook to 3rd parties for cash. You control how much privacy you are willing to give up to use Facebook, and in exchange you get some degree of connectivity to the world.

As a frequent traveler, I am more than willing to give up more of my privacy in order to be more connected to my friends around the world. I love being able to see what my friends are reading and listening to on Facebook, because otherwise I would be totally disconnected from them for months at a time.

Facebook’s seamless sharing is another way for me to remotely participate in the water cooler discussions about recent news, which I would normally not be privy to being overseas. It allows me to be anchored in my life at home within my group of friends while working on the other side of the globe. It allows me to see the introduction of new members of my family when I am unable to be at the hospital for the delivery.

Others choose to severely limit or completely disable their Facebook accounts, as the benefit they gain is not enough to overcome the value of the privacy they give up. If you have never consciously evaluated the value of the Facebook product and how much privacy you are willing to give up to use it, you should. However, I think I and many others will agree that the benefit is significantly greater than the cost.