Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The year that was

I expected the start of the year to be rough and it was. Recruiting for Summer Internship positions in a top Business school like Darden is very competitive and challenging. I came back from vacation early and put in a great deal of effort in preparing for interviews. As expected, I did not get many interview calls but was happy on getting couple of my top choices. Though I felt I was doing my best and interviewing well, I did not have much luck early on. However, things changed for the better in February when I made through to my top choice. Life changed dramatically. I was done interviewing and could relax and enjoy myself. Making a transition to a top consulting firm was one of my top priorities and I was pleased to have achieved it. Rest of Q3 at Darden went by in a flash.

‘Traveling’ was one the key ‘things to do’ that I had indentified earlier and Europe one of the primary destinations. The Barcelona GBE during spring break was my first opportunity to travel to a European city and it was even better to have done it with good friends. It was a great experience and set me up for the backpacking trip later in the year. My two week backpacking trip in May has to be the highlight of the year. I meant this to be a teaser to prepare for bigger and longer backpacking trips in the coming years. I was totally fascinated by the things I saw, people I met, and the freedom and excitement you experience while backpacking.

Quarter 4, for me, was the time between my two European trips. I played some tennis, soccer, partied a lot and did a little bit of studying. It was enjoyable time, Darden and academics were not high on my agenda. I was more interested in preparing for my upcoming trip to Sydney, Australia where I would be doing my Internship. I had never been to Australia before and was naturally very excited for both work and travel reasons. When I finally made it there, I absolutely enjoyed the work and culture at the consulting firm. Better still, I managed to find time to explore Sydney, Melbourne and surrounding areas and was thrilled by the quality of life in Australia. Not surprisingly I signed my full-offer soon after I received it. I felt extremely fortunate to have secured a full-time job in such a tumultuous economic environment.

I was back in Charlottesville in early August for the second year at Darden. First quarter turned out to be little harder than expected. In hindsight, I should have been better prepared knowing fully-well that I had front loaded my class and was also taken a couple of really tough courses. I was also really excited to meet the incoming class and be of any help in anyway. First quarter was pretty uneventful as I didn’t do much other than what was required. I spent more time hanging-out, playing video games with my roommate and partying, but having worked pretty hard earlier on I felt I deserved to take it easy. The exceptions to the rule were academic tutoring and career coaching for the First years.

Mid October I managed to take a few days of for a trip to Minneapolis. It was a wonderful trip as I got to hang out with the usual suspects, few of my closest and favorite friends, at the places we frequented so often when I lived there. We re-visited the good old times. Sometimes I wish I was still back there but then again, I guess you got to move on. For thanksgiving weekend I headed down to Atlantic City with another group of friends from Darden. Though the place was unusually quite we had our fun playing poker and blackjack. Trip was enjoyable and full of friendly banter, mainly attributable to the company rather than the location. Q4 like Q3 was more about outside Darden activities than inside. This included lot of going-out, a hiking trip, Wednesday & Sunday Salsa dancing, and little soccer and basketball.

Couple of years back I abandoned my yearly goals in favor of a continuing ‘things I want to do list’. I’ll write more about the list sometime later. Nevertheless, Year end is still a good time to reflect on things I and examine whether I spent my time on things most important to me. Traveling was key item for me and I especially wanted to travel to Europe. Having been on 4 continents during the year, including Europe, and having traveled to East coast, Mid-west and West coast in the US, I have a lot to be happy about. I am also quite pleased with my efforts at Darden both academic and career related. When I could I did help out others with preparation on recruiting and tutoring first years on academic. Overall pretty satisfied on this front too. On the personal side, I improved tremendously on my Salsa dancing skills and picked up little bit of other ‘Ballroom Dances’ too.

Even though I had plenty of free time, I did not pick up anything specific i.e. entrepreneurial, innovative or community oriented activity during regular academic session. This time could have been better used. I read a couple of interesting books but lesser than in any of the last few years. I planned to learn speaking Spanish but did not make much progress. Something I hope to correct soon. I am still not sure if I should have done something different day to day or it was just fine enjoying life. “Things I want to do’ list provides me more clarity on what’s important long term but as far as the short term goes I am happy to let things drift. I will have to think about that sometimes soon.

Looking back, it was pretty eventful and exciting year and I am quite pleased with how things went. I hope 2009 will be as exciting as this year was. Do let me know on exciting things you have been up to this year and plans for the coming year. Wish you all a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The real deal on Darden's rigor

I have fielded a lot of questions of late on the Rigor of the Darden program. Before I go into detail on our schedule and try to assess how rigorous it really is, I must state that it’s different for different people. Also, we are talking about being in Business school so I assume whenever someone says ‘rigorous’ it is in comparison to a Business School rather than a 9 to 5 job.

In my view I will divide Darden experience in 3 very different sections

The Choke: The day starts early and it never seems to end. Three back to back classes are followed on by company briefings, case preparations and learning team meetings. Most are busy from dawn till late i.e. 11-12 PM and still have things pending. Feeling of being choked is one of the drastic explicates used to describe this. The section typically covers your first 2 quarters at Darden from August end to the first week of December.

Easier said than done: Word’s that can best describe the period through Q3 and Q4 of first year. By now you have figured out how things work and what you need to do. However, it’s easier said than done. Though you are up to speed on academics, this is the time for recruiting. Balancing preparation, interview schedule and travel and can be a bit tricky. Start of Q3 can be very busy time but tapers off towards the end. If you get an offer early, your life transforms. If you don’t, though your schedule frees up you still live with anxiety and uneasiness.

The Cruise: Second year at Darden, as you would expect, is very manageable as far as schedule is concerned. Life couldn’t be better for those who have an offer from their summer and have decided to take it. For those who have an offer and are still recruiting, its little more work. It’s not so merry for those who are doing full time recruiting and do not manage to get an offer early. The curriculum is entirely elective and courses are by no means easy. However, the overall schedule is not that packed. For the overwhelming majority second year is enjoyable and relaxed time, though anxiety may be little higher for those without a full-time offer.

So this is my take on the Darden rigor. To summarize I would say Darden is rigorous, probably more so that other Business schools, but it is manageable. The subject perhaps is little over-hyped. Also, I think it’s great how Darden prepares you well for the Business world. All the effort we put in has great rewards as most of us learnt during our internship. I felt, and heard from all my Darden colleagues, that we were very well equipped and attributed it to Darden curriculum and teaching method.  Anyway, on the topic of Darden’s rigor, I have collected some other posts for you to refer to get a broader perspective. I would encourage you to check out similar sources from other schools for a realistic comparison.

The Darden Rigor (A graphic representation)

I Survived the first 2 months – Irene Mastelli

Typical day at Darden – Bill Gray

SY, it’s different… - Vika Osipenko

This too, Shall pass.. – Sania Chaudhry

Hope this gives you a better picture of the rigor and schedule of Darden life. Make your own judgment.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

India and how we stopped worrying about terror attacks

Terrorist attacks have become so common place in India it is surprising we haven’t done much about it. Why one wonders? Here’s my take on the possible reasons and why we have become so complacent.

Identity and tolerance: To understand the first cause, you have to go all the way back and look at the India’s History. India is an amalgamation of cultures formed over thousands of years. There were many kingdoms which rose and fell over this period. Many conquerors who came from all over the world and settled here, bringing along their customs. Many great kings that integrated these small kingdoms to somewhat close to the size India is today. Indians are known for their hospitality and they are very welcoming. Apart from its natural wonders, many say this is the reason why so many came and settled. Thus many Indians believe that the core to India’s identity is acceptance and tolerance. That’s what has made us what we are today. So if someone expresses a need to be different, it’s accepted. I am not saying that violence and terrorism are accepted. Hugely different thoughts, philosophies and cultures are acknowledged without any attempt to figure out how they would integrate together. When views are conflicting, it causes some tension. It’s true that diversity is what makes India so great. At the same time some legal and social framework is required to make everything compatible. 

Public Apathy: When there is some great tragedy Indians tend to react with fury and passion. However, this withers away fairly quickly. Of ten people reason that as long it doesn’t affect them directly, they needn’t act. “What can we do”, “what we do doesn’t matter”, “we can’t make a difference”, are all pretty common attitudes. The most typical of all is “Chalta hai” a Hindi term which means “it’s ok”. While Indians are known for their laid back, forgiving attitude, in some cases, like the one we are witnessing today, it’s not okay. We need to take it upon ourselves to raise our voice, take action and bring change. 

Hopelessness: though some people want to act, sometimes they are deterred by a sense of hopelessness. “It’s all because of things across the border”, “these guys are just fanatics, and how can we stop them”, “Nothing will change till, our politicians are all corrupt” typify this feeling. Well, not every problem is created across the border. Issue of marginalization, poverty and desperation is very real in India. There is a reason and motive behind every action. Politicians are elected by us and accountable to us. Let’s give it a try first and then judge if it made a difference. We have to find the root causes and make an honest attempt at fixing it. 

Lack of leadership: I saved the best one for the last. Whenever there is a terrorist attack on Indian soil the first thing we hear our leaders say “It originated from Pakistan”. Even if every claim was true, I am not saying that it isn’t, what are you doing about it? Protect our borders better. Raise awareness international through a systematic process. Address security gaps. The problem in reality is a complete lack of leadership up top. I am not referring to any particular party. All of them have always tried to use events to gain political mileage. Apathy of the general public lets them get away with it.

Will things change?

I believe they will. For some reasons things are different this time around. Terrorist made a huge mistake. While they carried out attacks in Mumbai they targeted westerners, particularly Americans, Britishers and Israelis. These three players have a huge say in International affairs. In fact they get to decide who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’. So for once, India has the world’s sympathy and backing. So this time when India says that Pakistan is harboring terrorists, World listens. In Pakistan’s defense, they have long abandoned direct support for these militant groups and just about turn a blind eye now. With International pressure mounting they will no longer be able to do so. In all fairness their current President, Zardari, is trying his best to manage the situation and not let things go out of hand. It is a very complicated situation after all. 

However, that alone will not solve the problems in India. With the brutality of the attacks and targeting of International citizens, the visibility on India has increased tremendously. While politicians, for once, have begun to look at the security situation and scamper for solutions, the public too are voicing their concern on the sorry state of affairs. Hopefully this results in real changes on the ground and improved security and Intelligence going forward. 

The final issue, however, is the grass root problem of marginalization. The economic boom in India does solve many problems but it will still take a while to alleviate poverty. The issue of is a difficult one but there doesn’t seem to be any talk about that yet. Last but not least, there is the Kashmir issue. Ultimately people’s whishes have to be respected. That’s how things work in democracy. 

Question remains on whether this is a sign of a turnaround. This is probably not the last big attack we will see in India but hopefully the real issues will be addressed and things will get better in future. Let’s do our part and hope for the best.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

India’s nemesis

India has been facing terrorism for over 30 years now, perhaps lot longer. I am not even sure when it started but it has existed as long back as I remember. Two Indian Prime ministers (head of state in India) have been amongst the 40,000 or so killed in terrorist attacks over the past 20-30 years. Not everything relates to Islamic fundamentalist. Fe w attacks were in retaliation of India’s peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka, Sikh extremism in Punjab, Naxalite (Communist revolutionaries) insurgencies among others. Majority however are related to Islamic fundamentalist fighting supposedly for rights of ‘Kashmiris’

Kashmir, a beautiful state in northern India, has quite often been called “Paradise on earth”. I lived in the southern part of Kashmir and from what I saw I can easily say it was amongst the most beautiful places I have seen. Kashmir presents an interesting quagmire for anyone to resolve. To be perfectly accurate in the sequence of events I will quote verbatim from Wikipedia

The Kashmir issue
“Ranbir Singh's grandson Hari Singh, who had ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1925, was the reigning monarch in 1947 at the conclusion of British rule of the subcontinent and the subsequent partition of the British Indian Empire into the newly independent Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. As parties to the partition process, both countries had agreed that the rulers of princely states would be given the right to opt for either Pakistan or India. In 1947, Kashmir's population "was 77 per cent Muslim and it shared a boundary with Pakistan. Hence, it was anticipated that the Maharaja would accede to Pakistan, when the British paramountcy ended on 14-15 August. When he hesitated to do this, Pakistan launched a guerilla onslaught meant to frighten its ruler into submission. Instead the Maharaja appealed to Mountbatten[9] for assistance, and the Governor-General agreed on the condition that the ruler accede to India."[10] Once the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, which included a clause added by Mountbatten asking that the wishes of the Kashmiri people be taken into account, "Indian soldiers entered Kashmir and drove the Pakistani-sponsored irregulars from all but a small section of the state. The United Nations was then invited to mediate the quarrel. The UN mission insisted that the opinion of Kashmiris must be ascertained, while India insisted that no referendum could occur until all of the state had been cleared of irregulars”

Terrorists groups fighting for Kashmir and based Pakistan
These organizations are banned by India, US and European Union

Others forms of Islamic extremism has emerged
Objective: “Demolish the faith (Hinduism) of India”

Objective: “Liberation of India’ from western materialistic cultural influence and to convert it into an Islamic society.”

For a full list of terrorist organizations
Interesting articale in NY times on the origin on terrorist groups in Pakistan

Obviously the situation is grim, attacks have mounted. This year India faced 7-8 major attacks in several big cities. 4000 innocent civilians have died since 2004. A British report put in India amongst the 20 most dangerous countries to live in the world amongst countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Israel, etc. How did we get here? How does one cope?

This brings to the real topic I wanted to write about. However you will have to wait until my next post.

“India and how we stopped worrying about terror attacks”

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