Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Grades for classes are due out today.. (*checks grades; two released, both As*)... so I believe it's a good time to go over my elective classes I've been in so far.

Entrepreneurial Thought and Action (Mini 1, 2011). Taught by Art Boni
Background: I picked up this class when I exempted out of Financial Accounting in Mini 1. There were very few classes available at that time that didn't have pre-requisites or super long wait lists. Additionally, this is one of the two "gateway" courses - if you had an interest in taking a track or concentration in entrepreneurship, you had to take this course. So here I am, a first year student, in a class of second years whom I didn't know and who really had no interest in getting to know me.

Course Deliverables: There were three assessment items, essentially. The first was to develop an "elevator" pitch around an idea or product. Of course, we were encouraged to get into groups to do this piece, and it was due as our mid-term presentation. The second item was a final venture pitch for this product and that was our final assessment. Lastly, we were supposed to read a book called "Starting Something" and we had a collection of questions to answer related to different sections of the book. It ended up being a pretty interesting book. Oh, and there was a participation grade/aspect.

Good Stuff:
There were two great takeaways I took from this class.
1. My group. Because I was a "stranger" per se, I didn't group up with my friends. Instead, I ended up in a group with a fellow from the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a fellow from the Heinz School of Public Policy, and a fellow from the School of Computer Science. I was the only MBA student! This, I found, laid the foundation for my exposure to the other areas of the CMU community. In fact, it was because of Justin that I became aware of the ETC and what it was and thus subsequently came to where I am now. I guess they were lucky in that I had a background in business and therefore wasn't wading in without any clue right at the beginning of my degree program. I learned about working with people from other disciplines. Amazing experience.

2. The Pitch. Learning how to develop a pitch, and subsequently identifying the "special sauce" that a product or idea has, was extremely helpful. I used this education to win the Yahoo! Hack pitch competition; it also opened my eyes to what was vital to entrepreneurship - having dedicated managers. It's not just the viability of the business or the amount of money one will make, but whether the people running the show will hold on until the end. It also opened my eyes to my own entrepreneurial ability. I don't think I would ever start up my own company - I'm too risk-averse - but I love the idea of being entrepreneurial within an established organization.

3. Not so much a takeaway but an awesome thing: no exams. All project-based, which made the workload for mini 1 bearable.

The Bad Stuff:
  There wasn't really any bad stuff for this class. I quite enjoyed it and recommended it to many people who asked me about it.

Finance II (Mini 3, 2012). Taught by Burton Hollifield
Background: Finance II is a new course for us. Whereby there was once Corporate Finance, that was scrapped for this class due to the new curriculum changes that will come in next year. Like Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, Finance II is also a gateway course for all finance electives. I want to take a Venture Capital and Private Equity course later on in my degree (just for fun than any real desire to get into that industry), so I thought I would get this complete first. Finance I focused a lot on basic finance, corporate financing and valuation, and the CAPM. Finance II built on that foundation and focused a lot on WACC (i.e., determining interest rates to discount cash flows), fixed income, and portfolio composition and weighting.

Course Deliverables: There were four homework items to be worked on in a group; two were cases, two were just a list of questions we had to answer. The intent was to have us apply the concept we're learning in class. We also had a final exam (one of the rare classes that was closed-noted) worth 60% of our grade.

The Good Stuff: As soon as I understood what was going on, it was an amazing educational experience. There was some correlation between what we were learning in this class and what we were learning in our statistics class, and that was really cool. It was also entertaining to see how "conventional" wisdom really didn't fly in the face of what actually happens in the world.
Not needing to purchase a textbook was awesome, especially when the notes we were given as readings were articles from various publications that just talked about the concepts introduced in class, as well as the lecture notes themselves written out in a way that made it very understandable. I'm a learner by reading and doing; listening is not actually the best way I learn, which makes the lecture method of teaching a bit difficult for me. So I found the supporting material to be an excellent supplement.

The Bad Stuff: This is more a reflection on myself than on the class, but it was really difficult to understand what was being talked about in class sometimes. I'd go and read the notes over and over until it sunk in, but there were a number of times I'd stare blankly at what was going on. I don't think the professor went too fast, or that the lecture wasn't engaging, it was really my own learning failure there.

Negotiations (Mini 3, 2012). Taught by Richard Saavedra
Background: This was a class that I had selected as my No. 1 when registering for classes. Again, I consider this class to be a gateway class - there's an Advanced Negotiations class that I desperately want to take next year, since it's taught by Linda Babcock, the author of "Women Don't Ask", and having a Negotiations class is a prerequisite. Additionally, it satisfies my "1 OB or Communications course a mini " requirement, and a lot of Second years have said that it is a great course to be taking and very relevant.

Course Deliverables: Well, when all was said and done, we were required to submit a log of all the negotiation exercises we performed in class, a write-up of a "real-life" negotiation we performed, and present a topic on negotiation - a lot of my classmates chose to look at negotiation cultural differences; my group and I focused on power in negotiations.

The Good Stuff: Practicing negotiations was pretty good. Was was probably the better outcome was how other people initially viewed negotiations - one exercise I was in, my partner walked away from the negotiation because she felt we were being unreasonable and not meeting her BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). It turned out that her personal BATNA was actually unreasonably high (the exercise gave us BATNAs) and it would've ended up that if we acceded to her personal BATNA, we would've lost out considerably - i.e. there was no way we could've agreed.
Interestingly, that exercise discussion, amongst other statements she had made, caused her to be.. I guess, somewhat ostracised from the class. She had developed a reputation for being extremely hardlined and competition-focused and no-one wanted to deal with that.

Oh, and no exams. All project-based.

The Bad Stuff: The professor teaching this course was new to CMU and had just moved to Pittsburgh not 2 weeks before class started. The first session consisted of him talking about himself the entire two hours. The class lacked a lot of structure; we didn't have a syllabus until two weeks later, no idea on the course requirements, and decision-making seemed to be built around him prodding to determine what the class wanted to do.
However, I recognise that it was probably a lack of recognition that the mini goes by really fast, and that he was nervous for his experience, that caused a lot of this to occur. I'm extremely confident that going forward, the class would be a much better experience.

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