Foundations of Network

When in business school, people often think of network as the group of people you are connected with socially and professionally. And one might naturally think of interpersonal communication skills as the foundations of network. The Foundations of Network I am about to write about today, however, is something completely different.

This is actually one of our tech core class, taught by Professor Lakshmi Subramanian from Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. The network in discussion in this class is the network of computers – PCs, mobile phones, routers, servers, cloud and many other devices connected through the internet. The participants of this class include us (the Tech MBAs) and the students from the Courant Computing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MS-CEI) program, whom we already know very well through some of the business core classes we took together in the summer.

Taking such a class within the computer science school might seem too technical and irrelevant for MBA students – after all, we are unlikely to be creating the network architecture or writing lines of software codes for the companies we will be working for in the future. But having a high-level understanding of various pieces of the very network that is so essential to our productivity nowadays can be hugely beneficial to understanding the risk and opportunities behind a product or business. On a practical level, some high-tech companies are known for asking MBA candidates questions like ‘what happens behind the scene when you type the address of the website in your web-browser?’.

Professor Subramanian has done a great job this semester at explaining many engineering concepts to non-technical audiences and covering a wide range of topics that are highly relevant to current landscape in the tech industry. We started with the foundation of the internet – communication protocols between devices of different complexity, location or form, to how data packets are routed through the internet, to how a web page is downloaded through the http protocol onto our browsers, to how signals are sent over the wireless and cellular network, to cloud computing services, to more advanced topics like 5G network and data center architecture.

As the capstone of this class, we are supposed to submit a project at the end of the semester – either build (code) a functioning product or write an in-depth case study about something related to the content covered in class. Our class is roughly split half and half between ‘build’ and ‘case study’ projects. It is very exciting to see what my classmates have come up with for their projects: interactive ads for mobile games, google phi case study, finger print authenticated QR code for login, Amazon data center in Chile case study, multi-user web-based games, case studies on mesh network and many, many more. Don’t be surprised if you see some of our apps pushed to app stores or case studies published in the near future!

This class seemed a bit odd at the beginning but it has quickly become one of my favorite classes. Tech core classes like this class provide us with a unique opportunity to get exposure to the intersection of tech and business from the perspective of the tech side. Last, I want to give a shout-out to our Teaching Assistant Talal Ahmad, who is a PhD student in Professor Subramanian’s lab researching on mobile networking and mobile systems. Besides the fact that he is passionate and empathetic toward his students, he has also done amazing things with his research like deploying software-defined network base stations in Ghana. Talal is graduating soon – can’t wait to hear his new adventures!

Here is a screen shot of my network project – location based android app telling you where are the nearby public recycling bins in NYC

We are all in this together

By this time of the semester, we all tend to feel like we are drowning in meetings and deliverables. Yes, you heard me right, drowning. Every class we take has a group project component which is a significant portion of the grades, plus assignments, plus potential midterm / final. And that’s only for the academic side. There are also student club activities ranging from networking to skill-based workshops to case competitions to company treks or information sessions. Then on top of that, don’t forget about one of the biggest missions in business school – finding a job. For each company participating in on-campus recruiting, you start with a corporate presentation, followed by a coffee chat and round 1 on-campus interview, then potentially round 2 or many further rounds of virtual or onsite interviews. Each of these steps takes a few hours. And multiply this process by 10 to 20 employers depending on the industry you are recruiting for. Now we can start thinking about job applications to employers not conducting on-campus interview . . .

Naturally, things start to fall behind schedule. Then one day we wake up to 5 deadlines coming up and piles of to-do items on our list. One of the skills you will definitely come out of business school with is time management and prioritization. You are pulled in so many directions that either you have to let go of something or you risk burning yourself out. At the beginning of the summer when we just started the program, Tiffany from the Office of Student Engagement made it an assignment for us to create a vision statement for this upcoming year. We were supposed to write down what a successful year at Stern meant when we graduate in May 2019, with as much detail as possible – not just academically, but also professionally and personally. The statement was for sure hard and time consuming to create at the time. I am sure not all what I wrote will be achieved by the time I graduate. But I am very thankful that I created this document: though the details might be unrealistic at times, it definitely outlined what I wanted to prioritize this year of my life at Stern. At moments when I felt overwhelmed with action items, I always referred back to this statement for how I would spend my time and energy in different aspects of life. (For more on how to strategize what to spend energy and time on in life, I strongly recommend this episode of the Stern Chat podcast with Professor Sonia Marciano, our strategy professor who made a great metaphor with a ‘sock puppet’.)

Apparently, I am not alone in feeling the lack of infinite time to accomplish all things. When I look around at school, it is easy to think I am the only one falling behind on deliverables – I mean, look at my classmates, everyone is doing 10 million things outside classes, from running student clubs to connecting with the next class of Sternies, from participating in innovation challenges to developing their own businesses, from writing and publishing books to helping early stage ventures as Insite fellows. But here is what makes Stern a great community – we are all in this together, we feel safe to share our struggles with each other, and we are supportive of each other’s endeavors. The support from fellow classmates can come in many different forms: group dinner delivered to whichever random classroom we find available so we can catch up and bond; cheering each other during difficult times; teammates carrying the workload in the week when another teammate had an interview; setting up cloud based Jupyter server such that classmates can accomplish assignments more easily; or doing mock interview and providing resume suggestions for each other. On top of all that, faculties, career coaches as OCD (Office of Career Development) and staff members at OSE (Office of Student Engagement) are all eager to jump in and help, usually just an email away.

At this time, we might all be treading hard to stay afloat, but I cannot ask for a better group to be in this together. I can’t wait to see what we all will achieve in just one short year when we cross the finish line together in May.

Recruiting Season

Fall semester in the Tech MBA program comes with new classes and friends, endless fun club activities, and everybody’s favorite… recruiting season. Tech is different than more traditional business school paths like consulting and banking, in that the timeline of recruiting varies based on the companies you are targeting. If you are targeting medium-sized companies or startups, they usually can’t predict headcount too far in advance and do just-in-time recruiting that will happen during the spring semester. But if you are targeting Big Tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft or Google, then you will likely be applying and interviewing during the fall semester.

But preparation for interviews happens long before that, in fact, it will happen before you even step on campus. A few weeks before starting school in May, you’ll need to submit your resume to the Office of Career Development (OCD), who will go over it with a fine-toothed comb and provide feedback. Then over the summer, OCD conducts a number of helpful job search related workshops. Once the fall semester begins, you’ll start preparing in earnest for interviews.

Earlier this semester, the Stern Technology Association invited Lewis Lin to campus for a full day workshop on tech interviewing. If you aren’t familiar with Lewis Lin, he literally has written the book on interviewing for product jobs at big tech companies. It’s never too early to start preparing for interviews, so if you’re searching for reading recommendations, take a look at his books. The first half of the workshop focused on the types of roles that tech companies are looking to fill. The second half of the day went even more in-depth on product management, with lots of practice problems covered that you might receive during an actual interview.

While this workshop provided a solid foundation, there is no substitute for good old repetitive practice. To prepare even more, I partnered up with a few fellow Tech MBA classmates who were also recruiting this fall, and we spent hours lobbing practice questions at each other and providing feedback on answers. The Stern Technology Association provides guides on each company, so we were able to use that to tailor the practice problems based on the next interview. The last few weeks I have had multiple interviews at big tech companies, and all of this practice proved invaluable. The format (phone/virtual/in-person) and questions will change depending on the company, but with the right practice, you will feel confident in any interview situation.