Graduation

May 28th saw us reach the end of our two year journey as Harvard University’s 364th commencement was held in the early morning. In excess of 40,000 people from all over the world gathered in Cambridge to celebrate this momentous occasion and the weather could not have been better.

This year’s commencement address was given by Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, while the day before, Natalie Portman took on the role of class day speaker. Inspiring speeches aside, the gathered Harvard affiliated students in cap and gown was an inspiring sight to behold.

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HBS’s commencement was held in the afternoon on the HBS campus down river. The ceremony was held on space created within the lawn area in front of Baker Library, and was witness to 940 newly graduating HBS students gathered under a sunny blue sky.

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All graduating students were called by name, one by one, and went to the stage to receive their diplomas enclosed in crimson-red envelopes from Dean Nitin Nohria. Looking at the faces of classmates with whom we had studied for the past two years was an emotional journey, and no doubt the most excited people in attendance were the students’ families. Thousands of videos and cameras were working hard not to miss a moment of their honored family member’s unforgettable day. When the last student received their diploma, our two years at HBS had come to an end.

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Over the next two to three days, most students will leave campus and fly off to start a new journey. We will be spread all over the world (although approximately 80% will remain in North America). I will see them again, next year at the reunion.


Post-HBS

We are now approaching the end of our last semester. After we finish next week’s final exams, we have a break of two weeks and then finally reach Graduation Day on May 28th.

This week we have a special academic period called “Bridges” – newly initiated this year. Bridges is a kind of capstone program and there are a series of events in which we reflect upon our learning experience during the past two years at HBS. To be honest, I’m growing tired of academic events and not particularly excited about cramming any more new things. However, a good aspect of Bridges is that we have an opportunity to sit in the section with the people we spent time with during first year. It has been almost a year since we all studied in the same classroom, and it’s quite exciting to see the familiar faces of section mates once again.

Bridges 

Our conversations naturally turn to our post-MBA plans. Of course most people decided on their career plans over summer internship, but a few are still considering what path to take.

In Bridges, a professor shared some quick stats on the post-MBA careers of the latest HBS graduates. As usual, consulting and finance claimed the majority. The proportion of those entering finance had plunged after the financial crisis in 2008, but has almost recovered to pre-crisis levels.

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Worth noting is the proportion of startups. Over the past decade, the number hovered around 10%, but this year saw an increase of approximately 5%, putting it at the highest level since the dotcom bubble in 2000. The recent increase in the number of successful startups, such as Dropbox, UBER and Airbnb, could be one of the reasons for the flow to the startup world. I think it’s a great trend. I hope more and more HBS graduates create startup companies and make a difference in the real economy.

Just in case, my post-MBA career lays over green and orange.

 


If you are a finance guy, you should start coding!

It’s been two months since I began to learn how to code. I’m using Codecademy as my main learning platform and now I am able to setup a server, write very basic code and several languages such as PHP and Ruby. As well, I am attempting to create a new, time management mobile app for myself.

As many successful leaders and business people will tell you, coding is one of the most valuable skills on earth. Learning coding enables us to innovate, understand technology, and communicate with tech people all around the world. Reading many cases about tech companies and interacting with tech entrepreneurs at HBS, I even feel it’s impossible to lead recent tech-driven companies without coding knowledge. And this year, at long last, HBS has finally started offering Computer Science courses!

Before I started coding, I thought, as many people do, that learning code was similar to learning a new language. That’s true to some extent. There is vocabulary, grammar, and a variety of languages to learn. However, unlike languages, we don’t need to speak or listen to code.

Recently I realized there is one thing more akin to coding than it is to language – financial modeling! I have discovered that coding is very similar to developing a financial model. Just as coding has different languages, finance has different accounting standards. Similar to programmers using tag and style to write code, financial analysts use formulae and functions to develop a financial model. Programmers and financial analysts are frustrated when they find a bug, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they create a simple and clean program/model. When I code until the wee small hours of the night, it reminds me of my days spent in investment banking. The only difference is what I’m looking at: text editor or Microsoft Excel.

Learning coding for a while, I can now say, with complete confidence, that finance people can learn coding twice as fast as non-finance people. Finance people already have the agile fingers and architectural thinking skills. Learning coding for finance people is simply a matter of learning new formulae and rules.

If you are a finance guy, you should definitely start coding!

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Harvard Business School vs. Kennedy School

Perched on the banks of the Charles, two well-known and highly regarded Harvard graduate schools face each other, Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). There are some similarities and differences between the two, and applicants are often torn about which school they should apply to, some actually deciding to apply to both. These two schools also jointly offer a “Dual-degree Program”, in which students spend one and a half years at each school, obtaining two Master’s degrees in 3 years.

HBS vs HKS

So, what are the similarities and differences between the two schools?

Similarities

One of the biggest, and the most important commonality is their concentration on “leadership education”. Although they have differing viewpoints regarding their educational objective – HBS focusing on private sector and HKS focusing on public sector – both schools’ primary goal is to educate global leaders. The two schools’ missions are very well known: HBS “To educate leaders who make a difference in the world”, HKS “To train enlightened public leaders and to generate the ideas that provide the solutions to our most challenging public problems”.

Therefore, as one would expect, leadership classes are the most popular of any at both schools. At HBS, LEAD is one of the required curriculums for first year students, and there are many related classes in second year. HKS also offers a variety of leadership related classes. For instance, classes by Professor Ronald Heifetz are the most popular at HKS, and there are a lot of HBS students cross-registering in these.

Differences

Yet, taking several classes at HKS, I see many differences between the two schools.

One is diversity. As I mentioned in a previous post, while HBS upholds “diversity” as one of its core values, the students’ background is very skewed. People with consulting or financial industry experience account for the majority of the class, and the average age is 27, ranging by only +/- 5.

When it comes to HKS, I would say the “diversity” is more authentic. In addition to the fact that more than 40% of HKS students are non-American (many of whom have never actually lived in the U.S. before HKS), their work experience is extremely diverse: company employee, researcher, military, NGO, government staff, city mayor, etc. And the age demographic is wide-ranging (from early 20s to 50s).

HKS’s diversity is especially effective when we discuss universal issues, such as religion, international affairs and politics. I am constantly impressed by the breadth and depth of the class discussion, and at no time have I ever left class without a takeaway. In no other place would I be able to see Israeli and Pakistani students argue heatedly over religion, immediately after sharing an identical perspective on the political issues of China.

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Another big difference is the class structure. After spending a year and a half at HBS, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no place in the world offering a more structured and sophisticated class than HBS. The 80 minutes class is like a show, and the time just flies by while a hotshot professor orchestrates the class discussion. After experiencing this, I feel classes at HKS are somewhat slow, and the students are not sufficiently aggressive.

The primary reason for this is that HKS adopts, for the most part, a lecture style compared to HBS’s case method. Additionally, I think the difference in diversity level is also affecting the class dynamics. At HBS, we may be able to get on with such a speedy learning environment due to our classes inherently limited diversity – a kind of homogeneity.

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At any rate, I much prefer HBS’s teaching methods but do feel that taking classes at HKS is complementing my learning experience. Personally I don’t think the joint-degree program maximizes cost-benefit for many people, but I definitely recommend students cross-register.


Final Term

The storm has passed and some semblance of normality has returned to campus. It seems everyone has settled into their new schedules and the busyness that accompanies “normal” here at HBS.

Final Term

So, what’s my final term like? Following is my course selection for the spring term.

  • Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise
  • Power and Glory in Turbulent Times
  • Launching Technology Ventures
  • The Art of Leading in a Diverse World (Harvard Kennedy School)
  • Independent Project with a faculty member

Compared to last semester, in which I was deeply immersed in the world of healthcare, this term I’m going to be focusing on developing my soft skills and my startup business. In fact, this course selection gives me more free time than last semester, allowing me to “output” what I have “input” over the past 16 months.

Above all, the course I am eagerly looking forward to is Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise (BSSE) by Professor Clayton Christensen. As many of you may know, Christensen is one of the best of the faculty at HBS and is known as a living legend. The course is largely based on his renowned publications, such as “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Innovator’s solution”, and adopts a unique teaching style in which we read both a Theory and a case and apply theoretical frameworks to the realities. Even though this is an elective course, it is said that about half of HBS second year students take this course.

Simply reading the case titles is very fascinating: “Level 5 Leadership”, “How Can We Beat Our Most Powerful Competitors?”. I cannot graduate without learning these concepts. Also, the last class entitled “Applying the Theories to Your Life” is related to Christensen’s latest publication, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” It is abundantly apparent that there will be a tremendous takeaway from this class!

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Recently we have been receiving emails from HBS regarding our commencement in May. The realization that the end of our second year is fast approaching has sprung upon me. This is stirring some very ambivalent feelings deep within.


The final term has begun

It’s been a while, so please allow me to wish you a belated Happy New Year!

It’s been more than a month since my last post and I would love to tell you that it’s not because I was too busy to write, but truthfully I was just too lazy. During winter break, I ate a lot, slept well, played hard, and spent the laziest days of the past two years. But break is now over and my final term started yesterday.

For EC students, the first week of each term is an “Add/Drop period” during which we can attend all the classes we are interested in, deciding which courses to take. As a result, this week was supposed to be spent enjoying the “window shopping” and visiting with friends we had not seen in a long while. Nice and leisurely.

However, as some of you may know, the Northeast region (along the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor) has been pummeled by an historic blizzard, Juno, which may turn out to be the biggest storm of many years, and it totally slammed cities today. Snow totals may exceed 2 feet in Boston, and we have been cautioned not to go outside. In anticipation of the shutdown, throngs of people rushed to supermarkets yesterday, making it difficult to even buy a bottle of water.

HBS is not immune to the whims of the weather or its consequences. All lectures and events were cancelled today and I could see no one on campus. HBS is known as a tough school, even in the Harvard community, and rarely cancels lectures due to bad weather, even when other Harvard schools do so.

In my memory, this is the second time HBS has been closed due to an emergency during the past two years. The first was April 19th 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombing when the suspect traded gunfire with police in the center of the Cambridge area. At that time, I was staying at a hotel in downtown Boston, and even though it was daytime and the weather was fine, I could see no one on the street. It was like a ghost town – the strange scene is engraved in my mind’s eye.

The blizzard has been getting fiercer this morning and I can see nothing from the window because of the whiteout. I hope everything returns to business-as-usual before long.

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My second year at HBS – lifetime analysis

I am now at the midway mark of my second year and into the long awaited winter break. Unlike last year when I spent the break traveling South America, this year I will be devoting time and energy to my start-up.

In retrospect, I would have to say that second year (EC) is radically distinct from first year (RC). As regular readers of this space are aware, I have been tracking my time usage since arriving at HBS. Below, for your consideration, is a comparison of my time utilization between RC and EC.

Life Time Analysis 2

Anything stand out as blatantly obvious?

Let’s have a look at Study and Class time. Compared with last year when I spent 38% of my time studying, prepping and attending class, this year I devoted about a third of that time to these activities – 12%. Why the disparity? A portion of the reduction can be attributed to increased efficiency on my part, and the remainder is a result of taking project-based courses as opposed to the heavy load of case-based studies in first year.

So, what did I do with the time?

It would be nice to say that I spent it with family and friends. But this year’s 15% was about the same as last year. I did manage to get 2% more sleep this year, but the variation is so small as to make no difference.

There are two new endeavors I undertook this year which have notably altered my time usage.

The first is golf. I took up the game this summer and have already invested 162 hours (4% of my time) in improving my score. Please note – I do not use the word “invested” lightly or facetiously. I want to emphasize that I consider this as an investment – a conduit for business networking! My game is still “under development”, but I have managed to reduce my score by 32% over the past six months.

I have also spent a considerable amount of time (7%) on my start-up company. It feels as if I have spent a disproportionately greater amount of time as it consumes my every waking thought. Over the past six months, my team has done holistic market research, intensive customer interviews and business model development, as well as successfully verifying feasibility. I’m going to incorporate the company next month and commence raising capital. Undoubtedly I will invest still more time on this next semester.

I could easily have had more free time than last year (increased from 14% to 26%), even with the added duties associated with golf and my startup. But, as often happens with free time, it was consumed by mundane matters – as daily chores, conferences, lunch and dinner, and just for relaxing. It seems the amount of time required to do these everyday things expands as the time becomes available.

Overall, contrary to the general perception that HBS students are extremely busy throughout the two years, I would say that the second year is far more flexible and humane than the first. Largely due to the fact that so much depends on students’ choices. Given this fact of life at HBS, I strongly recommend future students seriously consider their plans for second year before they arrive at HBS.

 


Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day today. At this time last year I was in NYC, watching the rambunctious and animated Macy’s parade from an unbelievably crowded sidewalk on Broadway. In sharp contrast, this year I’m staying here in Boston and spending a serene, peaceful day. Most of my fellow HBS students left a couple of days ago to spend the holiday in their respective hometowns. Campus is now very quiet and very empty. The city of Boston, as well, is eerily empty, and the majority of the stores are closed.

Glancing at the calendar, I notice that I am only 180 days (!) away from graduation. Looking at it another way, three-quarters of our life at HBS is over. Time really flies.

Recently I’ve been working hard on preparation for my start-up company. After spending considerable time on the market research, I’m anticipating an auspicious future. In conjunction, I’m developing a detailed schedule of next semester and will be spending a large amount of time on business development. I’m hoping I can post my start-up’s progress next year.

Today I visited my friend’s home and spent a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with her family. Colorful, sumptuous appetizers, a huge turkey with delicious gravy, crispy baked apple pie and chocolates. I’m super stuffed…!

Turkey

Thanksgiving


Learning coding

Boston had its first snow this week –  about two weeks earlier than last year. Last year’s snow taught me an important lesson: don’t underestimate the fierceness of a New England winter. We will soon have to bundle up in bulky coats, gloves and scarves if we are to venture outdoors to see the Charles in all its frozen, snow covered glory.

Snow

As the bitter winter approaches we, out of necessity, will be spending more time indoors. The most disappointing aspect of this is, as you may have already guessed if you are a regular visitor to this blog, is the closure of Boston’s golf courses. I can take some solace and comfort in going to indoor golf schools in order to maintain the cadence of my swing, and by reading golf books while I visualize the progress of my skill (which won’t happen).

What am I to do with this time that golf used to occupy? Since I had devoted a great deal of time playing golf during the fall semester, I now have plenty of time which I can use for other endeavors. I quickly wrote down potential options and narrowed it down to a top priority. Coding!

Although I am quite cognizant of the importance of coding skills, I’ve stayed away from that world in the past, using the lack of time required as my excuse. But it’s becoming painfully obvious that being familiar with coding will benefit me as a company manager as I will have need to work with tech people. Last week, while I was drinking with several MIT students, they informed me, “Engineers are important to you, but you are not important to them if you don’t know about code”. This shocked me and I resolved to learn the bare minimum needed to communicate with engineers.

For starters, I’m going to start dabbling in PHP this week. It will be a perfect way to kill time!


Going Charles River

Do you know the top 3 most popular sports in Boston?  Baseball (Red Sox), ice hockey, and regatta. Last week, there was a famous regatta competition named Head of the Charles and the street along the Charles River was wall-to-wall with a gallery comprised of people from all over the U.S.

First held in 1965, Head of the Charles is the world’s largest two-day rowing competition, and every year more than 10,000 athletes and 400,000 spectators converge on Boston for the event. The three mile course, starting from Boston University’s DeWolfe Boathouse and finishing at Northeastern University’s Henderson Boathouse, passes just in front of the HBS campus and luckily I can see the exciting race from my apartment.

Head of the Charles

It’s not only the athletes who enjoy recreation on the Charles. There are several rental shops along the river, and from spring through autumn, many Bostonians enjoy kayaking. Since the Charles has no current, it’s extremely easy to paddle up and down the river, enjoying the beautiful riverside view of central Boston. The most spectacular of which is, when you pass by the Hatch Memorial Shell which is located across from MIT, where, with any luck, you can hear the sound of an orchestra playing classical music! All while sitting in the comfort of your kayak.

Hatch Shell

It’s almost the end of October and in a very short time, Boston will get into severe winter weather which will freeze the Charles. And now I’m wondering how much time I have to enjoy the beautiful view of the Charles from my room.

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