Friday, August 16, 2013

My final entry

This is it, folks, the end of the road. I accepted, at the beginning of the week, a job! I am now a Strategic Planning Manager for NCSoft West. If you're curious about the role and responsibilities, here is a handy dandy link to the posting. I'm very excited about the opportunity. I'm the first hire in a new department - this means there's a lot of opportunity for me to make an impact straight away (which is what I was looking for) and it's pretty entrepreneurial without the risk of a start-up, again, something important to me.

I'll be in Orange County, CA. Unfortunately, there isn't an active Tepper alumni chapter in that region, or in LA. CMU, yes. For all those readers who are incoming students/current students, I'll most likely try to attend the Alumni reunion weekend that's held in March next year.

Thus concludes my blog. If you're interested about a career in Video Games or the business of the gaming industry in general, I'm looking at the possibility of blogging about that (maybe through Gamasutra), otherwise I'm always open to questions.

However, an incoming student hopefully will take up my mantle and blog about his experiences. So go follow now!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

For those who want to:

As of late, I've been getting multiple social network friend requests. I don't mind, but I need to emphasize these guidelines:

Please please please introduce yourself, tell me why you're adding me and that it was through the blog. I'm very very cautious about adding anyone I don't know (I have a brand to preserve) and it's just common courtesy.  Facebook: It's unlikely I will add you as friend here unless you're an incoming student (and followed the above advice). This is a personal space. I'd much prefer if you added me on LinkedIn, again, with an introduction.

There's also my Twitter handle, @julianneharty but that will slowly transition to more video-game related postings than MBA things.


No, this isn't retired yet because I am still on the job hunt! I think I'm one of about 20 people in my class currently unemployed. Not to say that I don't have opportunities, it just takes a lot of time.

Anyways, I stumbled upon the Tepper website earlier today and noticed a new video talking about the Operations capstone project. It got me thinking about two things:

1. Tepper really likes to downplay their technology opportunities and connections with the CMU brand. It's a little disappointing because that was one of the primary reasons that I chose Tepper, but I guess it's something I've known for a while. I start my cover letters introducing me as an MBA graduate from CMU; I develop rapport with interviewers because I come from CMU, not GSIA/Tepper. I guess in the tech industry, CMU is valued significantly enough.

2. New opportunities for Capstones: I heard discussion about the Entrepreneurship track (and possible Tech Leadership since it's essentially the same capstone) capstone having an option to be in Silicon Valley. One of the limitations of the Tech Leadership track is that is just pushed you to do something entrepreneurial with a product or business idea. What if a student just wanted to do business stuff in a tech company? I know for the previous year's capstone, there was a project on offer from LG. This year, the projects were all internally generated from the school of CS, and I imagine the same situation is happening for next year's capstone. Does Tepper's desire to distance themselves from tech limit the real world opportunities available in other capstones, like the Ops one in the video? As it stands, I think the tech company has to approach Sadeh, the head of the track, with the project; I don't think he goes out and tries to solicit projects.

I made mention in a prior post that I wished there were more opportunities for hands-on projects. It would be really neat to have a greater experience available for those looking to specialize in the things that CMU is good at.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Well, this is it. It happened. I have now officially graduated from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon, with a Masters of Business Administration and a specialization in Technology Leadership.

I'll call adieu to the blog when I take the last step - getting a job. But for now, allow me to talk about the graduation ceremony.

A couple of months ago, it was announced that our commencement speaker was Ratan Tata - except, that he wasn't going to be with us for the ceremony but Friday, the day before, with a Q&A session. He couldn't fit us in to his schedule. A couple of classmates were very upset with this - that we didn't really have a commencement speaker. I personally couldn't care. This would've been a person that would've provided the same spiel about having our lives ahead of us yada yada but didn't have any personal connection. Therefore, I was actually glad our Dean Dammon was speaking.

Now, Tepper has their graduation ceremony the day before the main CMU ceremony. We can attend both if we decide, but the diplomas get handed out on the Saturday. Turns out the commencement speaker for the main ceremony was going to be the out-going president of CMU ... and the guy whom 128 Days is based on.

Ultimately, the Tepper ceremony was pretty painless. I dislike ceremony anyway, but the whole thing took less than 2 hours, thankfully.

They hand out awards at the ceremony too - only the recipients are unaware they're receiving an award, unlike the awards granted after the first year. They were, if I remember correctly, Community Service, Outstanding TA, Highest Student Honors (for the top grades) and Best All Around Student. Some students wore a gold cord to signify that they were in the top 10%; others were noted for their distinguished service to the Tepper School (the majority of these were either prominent club leaders or GBA representatives). And.. that was pretty much it. Very short and sweet. I had to pick up a certificate stating that I completed the Tech Leadership Track.

Now, just the waiting game regarding jobs...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lucky # 100

How apt that my 100th post is possibly my last. Nah.

Anyhoos, for the cool news: I got nominated for Clear Admit's Best of Blogging awards. If you think that I've been helpful or interesting in any way, please mosey on over and vote for me.

I've been off the radar for the last two weeks for two major reasons. 1 - Final exams. These occurred over last weekend, and was really the only time in which I didn't do any "company research" (i.e. playing video games). I do have the results back from three of my 5 classes - A's all around, which makes me happy.

Second reason was a plethora of interviews. I was flown out for an onsite interview directly after my finals, and any travel to the West Coast is a good 48-hour trip. On top of that, I was doing my final exam grading as a TA, so it was a busy time.

I still have one final project left to go, but it's not a Tepper class (it's Game Design), and that's due on Monday.

One of my group members for this class asked me yesterday what Tepper courses I should recommend he take. This was not an unfamiliar question - I had been asked this about three times already by other students in this program. I had spent some time thinking on the answer for this also. How does one boil down the experience into the essence of a couple of classes?

The first answer was easy - entrepreneurship classes. These classes show businesses on the small scale, AND how to sell yourself. While I know some people scoff at the idea of going to school to learn small business, it's pretty valuable in terms of how, holistically, everything fits together. Small businesses and startups don't have the luxury of specialized functions like larger corporations do; therefore, a class on finance or marketing doesn't provide the most bang for the buck like entrepreneurship classes do.

The second class I recommended was the introductory OB class, I believe we call it "Managing Teams and People" or something like that. The simple fact for this recommendation: no matter what someone does, they're always going to be working in an organization. Work takes up more of our time than any other activity. Especially for graduate-level students, there is also going to be a heavy chance that one will be in charge of people. So, what is the best way to get them to do what you want them to do? People management is almost always overlooked in terms of competencies and education - there's this feeling that it's a natural thing because we interact with people all our lives. But, the thing is, interacting with people is easy; managing and motivating people is something that needs to be learned. And since the U.S is moving to a intellectual capital-based marketplace, it's no longer about the product but about the people creating the product.

Coming into my MBA, I've had alumni all tell me that their biggest regret was not taking all the OB courses. With the interview I just had, there was a huge emphasis on getting along with people - there was no mention at all on my technical skills and capabilities. (the presumption was that I am a graduate of CMU, therefore that in itself tells people how smart I am). I've always seen the value in this area. I know that some people think the MBA is pretty worthless; frankly, some of them are. But I feel the value is in the education I received about working with people, both in the classroom and out.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Holy avocado student debt

I'm writing this on a Tuesday evening, having just realised that I took my last class in my graduate program today. But now is not the time to reminisce - that's in a few weeks.

Instead, I'm going to talk about the heart attack I had earlier this week.

Since I'm close to graduation, the school sent me a reminder that I had to undergo Federal Student Loan Exit counselling. Oh, whatever, thinks I. I started doing it on Sunday.

Even though I had paid for one semester out of pocket and received two scholarships (of small amounts, but better than a kick in the rear), I'm looking at a debt burden of about $117K!

I personally hate debt. Some debt is good - mortgage debt, for example, because I get tax deductions on the interest payments. Technically student debt also gets some interest deducted, but I believe it's limited to $1500 a year. I had read a blog a while ago about a Harvard MBA who had paid off his $100K debt in 9 months - but he cashed out his savings, and didn't have anyone to rely on him. Unfortunately, when I graduate, I'm going to have to help maintain two households (my partner is enrolled at CMU also, but I'm probably going to be in California).

Immediately, I broke open a spreadsheet and started plugging in numbers about how much interest I'll end up paying in total if I just pay minimum, if I paid off early, etc. I also calculated what my monthly income would potentially be if I was on a $115K salary in California (holy 38% tax rate!) and what I could afford to dedicate to paying off loans, taking into account the ridiculous cost of living in the Bay Area.

Needless to say, it almost behooves me to draw up another blog to discuss my progress on paying that down, because it doesn't look promising.

There is a lot of chatter around in the media about the student loan bubble. Tepper increases their student fees by 3% or so each year, which is rather ridiculous. Someone told me that a lot of our fees go to pay for the PhD program, since it's one of the largest in the nation. I've already complained a lot about how I think Tepper is too expensive, so I won't jump back on that horse. Students aren't able to benefit from the record low interest rates - 6.8% flat is the government rate, and I believe 5% is the lowest private loan that anyone I've talked to has been able to get, and that was a variable rate loan pegged to the LIBOR. One of the scenarios I looked at for myself, I think was to pay back in 25 years, I ended up paying 150% of the loan in interest!

I did a calculation a while ago and came to the conclusion that the ROI timeframe for going to B-school was about 4 years. I neglected to take into account this crippling debt burden. If I was going to live in a reasonable city - let's say Pittsburgh - on that income, I would be able to pay it off rather quickly. Bay Area... not so much. But it's very difficult to find a job in the video game industry that isn't in California. The Tech Startup Boom is making things difficult for those who aren't making millions in stock options :).

The last comment that I'm going to make is going to resemble something thankful. I lived quite frugally over these last couple of years. I didn't go on any international trips, I kept my socializing and travel to a minimum, I lived in a cheaper part of town. A good number of my classmates went on every trip, went out every weekend, and engaged in other activities that would've cost a pretty penny. I can only imagine what their debt burden is. If they took out what Tepper had recommended each year, that's at least $140K. That recommendation didn't take into account all the trips and such, so there is a possibility that some students are looking at $150K or more.

Do I have regrets? A couple. But I think about it - that $3K trip to Peru for a week and a half ends up being a $7.5K trip if interest is factored in (at least). And all for what? Some memories and a couple of photos? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for travelling and experiences and such... but is it really worth having to keep paying off my student debt when I'm 53? It is too much - I'd rather do my travelling spending cash rather than credit.

Perhaps I'm just too boring, or didn't get to fully experience b-school. B-school is just 2 years of your life - that debt is going to linger for much much longer, and I'd rather not be in a situation where it could bite me in the butt.

Besides, I spent 3.5 weeks in Australia with my family and my partner and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef. For everyone else, THAT would be the holiday of a lifetime.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Final Tepper Experiences

As I was writing the last post, I discovered a topic I probably should talk about.

So I'm well into my job recruitment phase, much much later than the rest of my class. Last set of statistics said that about 80% had job offers. I'm in that lowly 20% :).

I had my first interview in a while last week, and so I dredged up my old interviewing notes and revised over my STAR stories. I needed to desperately update them to include the stuff I did in my internship. Interestingly, I also found myself talking about the two big projects I'm working on right now - my Capstone and my Mobile App. In fact, my Mobile App project has become a staple mention in nearly every cover letter I write.

Even though we've been told it's OK, I didn't really like talking about my assignments at school. The Mini mester is not set up to be an immersive experience, so all assignments I do tend to be quite shallow. The Teamwork STAR stories I could generate wouldn't be very insightful, as we all tended to divide and conquer. While there have been some good assignments for personal insight, that's all they were - assignments. Things we had to do because we were assigned them, with a narrow band of requirements.

My pro-bono consulting experience at the end of Year 1 gave me some good stories, although I'm not too sure I would go through that again. Then, at the end of last year, I was part of a group who had to develop a Brand Strategy for an existing company. It was a local burger joint called Stack'd. At the end of it, we presented out findings in a presentation and report that the owners actually used. Look, ma, verifiable proof that I can do stuff!
Now, I'm wrapping up my Capstone project, and amazed at some of the things I've been able to do during this time. But more importantly, I feel that my Mobile project is a truly shining example of my education. If we get this published in June, I can now actually point to it and say - "I ran the team that developed that. I identified the features, the target market, and user testing." It is a physical (ahem) showcase of my work, that is very relevant to my career goals.

So many of my classmates haven't had this experience, or have been able to relay this experience in interviews. There is a lack of opportunity to do real projects that people can point to as evidence of their skills.

It makes me wish that there were more project opportunities (outside of tech and/or entrepreneurship).

Inter-campus teams

I just finished an assignment where I was working with a teammember from another school at CMU (ETC). We had to design a game together, playtest it, then write up the analysis of the game. It was due yesterday, and we got it in all well.

I recounted the experience to my boyfriend Chris - I wrote up the game rules and ensured the prototype was ready for submission a week ago, I wrote up the playtests and analyzed them, I rewrote the rules and the cards that went with the game, and created the Marketing document that we were also to submit. My teammate - he organized the playtests and put a rather half-hearted effort in with one of the card set designs. Chris said that I should've expected this. I gave him a quizzical look. He explained that Softs (a term meaning a mid-term presentation of sorts) are due next week, with Hards (the final presentation, I guess) due two weeks later, and everyone is on crunch time to get it done. The reason my teammate had teamed up with me is that he was hoping I would do all the work.

Looking back on it, yes, it did seem like I did all the work. I wasn't complaining about that when I was relaying the story to Chris. I was making a statement about how easily my teammate let me do all that. Normally, in my business teams, we'd all be chomping at the bit to get things done. There's a level of work output expectation that we all seem to have. It was rather different - I won't go so far as to say novel - experience to work with someone who wasn't so driven by such a high work ethic. While I've had my issues with teams in the past in this program, in general they've been very good to work with. I'm usually the organizer, getting people together like herding sheep. I didn't really enjoy it - so I was very glad when my teammate took that duty upon himself to be the coordinator of the playtests. Therefore, I felt it appropriate to continue to do the other aspects of the project - i.e. the deliverables.

Now, looking back on it, I can kinda see how I was taken advantage of, but we had the option of doing this project by ourselves and by the fact I avoided having to organize playtests was worth the team setup.

The next assignment is going to be interesting. I'm with a group of students from ETC, and we are required to make a pitch of a game to a publisher. We're to have an organization, roles and titles, and a budget. I'm a little afraid that my teammembers are just going to "let" me do all the business-work while they work on the creative side of things. I'd much rather it the other way around, since I already know how to draw up a budget; they may not. Learning experiences all around is necessary. We shall see.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

GDC Week

I've just spent the last week in sunny, warm San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference. While this post is not going to be exactly Tepper-experience-related, it is related to my own ambitions post-MBA.
GDC, as it's known, is a week-long conference for people in the video game industry. They had a Free-To-Play summit at the beginning of the week, which confirmed my attendance for the entire conference. There was also a Career Expo in the latter half of the week, which is what I've been waiting for all second-year to truly kick start my fulltime job recruitment experience.

Last year, I only attended the Friday Student day, as GDC coincided with Mini 1 finals. This year, it only fell in with week 2 of Mini 4, so I figured it would be all ok.

I learned a lot about the industry and the state it's in currently. I found that to be very useful, as I'm finding myself leaning towards mobile and social games in terms of career - where my MBA will be the most useful - as opposed to big studios where MBA is usually concurrent with either Finance or Marketing. The Free-to-Play (F2P) business model is also fascinating to me - I don't think I've encountered anything like it in any other environment, so it seems unique to video games. Being involved in the early stages of a successful business model is very enticing, I'll admit. I also discovered that a lot of Product Managers in this space assist in the actual game design - to try and integrate monetization methods primarily - which is also just as exciting. To be able to help design a game would be very very cool and tap into that creative side of me that rarely gets any light of day under normal working conditions.

On the other hand, I was a little disappointed with the Career Expo. I was there primarily to network and get a lot of opportunities for fulltime positions. My experience last year looking for internship was tepid - very few people had opportunities for MBA interns; the majority was full-time hire. And there were a lot of companies at the Expo. This time, it seemed that there weren't very many opportunities at all because the number of companies there were fewer! Casino games have become the Next Big Thing, and I really really don't like casino games.

Overall, it was a fun but exhausting week. I reconnected with a contact I made on LinkedIn last year, who I've been in regular email discussions with, and he's taken it upon himself to be a champion of me of sorts - absolutely amazing! I met a good number of people too, of which I have to follow up on.

It was rather sad to have to come back to school and this learning environment after having been immersed in the industry. I wanted to go back to work to apply the things that I knew, not just sit on them to be later forgotten.

As an aside - I am one of the 8000 Google Glass Explorers!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Last Mini Evah!

Well, folks, it's nearly it. This is the very last mini I need to take and then I've completed my degree. What a crazy, wild, exhilarating two years it's been.

A number of my classmates are in Germany for the study-abroad mini. I've been inundated with pictures of Europe on my Facebook account, making me extremely jealous. Spring Break is traditionally when most of the international treks happen, so I got Israel and Japan pictures as well, although those lucky people have come back by now.

Typically, this last mini is usually the easiest for second years. The majority have jobs, have completed all the degree requirements, and are just taking it easy waiting for graduation and the Real World. I'm not in the majority - my recruiting kicks in seriously next week with GDC, I registered for 7 (!) classes, and I'm contemplating making my app project into a side business.

I registered for the 7 last year, and have held stubbornly onto the idea that I can take them all. I wanted to take them all. However, yesterday I came to the serious realization that it would probably be better if I put my focus on a smaller number of things than a larger number. Three courses can't be helped - they're semester-long and carried over from last mini (Game Design, Capstone, Mobile App Project). One course is a requirement of my degree - Data Mining. That left three courses up for the chopping block. Two of them are OB-related: Strategic Human Resources and Organizational Change. The last is Capitalism, and it's taught by Allan H. Meltzer . I decided to drop SHRM after sitting in class on Monday. It's an interesting subject with a lot of good lessons to be learned, but the value I would gain from this class would be slim given the fact I will be so overwhelmed - and I'll just read the book instead. It is also heavy on teamwork - which isn't a problem normally, but I don't want to let my teammate down if I don't do any work. Organizational Change is up tonight, but I am also inclined to drop this one. It's a class I've been wanting to take for a year or so - when I last registered for it, the professor passed away during the break before the mini. Now his wife is teaching it. I'm also afraid it will be heavy on the teamwork

I'm not dropping Capitalism. It's a rare chance to be taught by someone so esteemed in the economic community, plus it looks like it would be a lot of fun.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring Break

So I've been on Spring Break for the last week or so, and I'm looking at the conclusion of this break with mild trepidation and annoyance. Like I'm sure many have before me, I came into this break with a lot of intention to catch up on various school-related things - such as designing my mobile app UI, learning how to code for Android apps, applying to jobs, and reading a book or two. I haven't accomplished a single thing.

I did, however, get to level 18 on League of Legends.

My Spring Break wasn't completely unproductive. Not only do I have Monday and Tuesday next week to catch up on all that I didn't do (oops), I returned all the cases I marked for an undergraduate class I am a Teaching Assistant for.

I think that grading papers is a much better experience of learning than actually doing the paper itself, for myself. There is no "right" answer for cases, but there is a need to show thought and reasoning behind every argument. The answer key that the TAs are given can be specific in some areas but intentionally vague in others. It makes for some difficulty in being consistent in marking.

But I found that as I'm looking critically at other peoples' work, I'm finding myself come to conclusions that I should have considered in other aspect - for example, the very first case that my class did, we were accused of just restating the case facts. I'm seeing examples happen in the cases that I mark, and while I add comments to the cases about this, I'm noticing my own ability to critically analyze the case. I'm always writing "why is this important?" in the case when people restate the facts. I realize that the authors are restating it because they feel that there is a knowledge implied in the fact - but we want that assumption out in the open. I also found myself remembering a phrase that a senior manager at my pre-MBA job would always say - "so what?" He had coached us to always answer the "so what?" question... and I need to remember that for every aspect of communication, from capstone to an in-class discussion.

it's a lesson I will need to incorporate next mini I think.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

End of Mini 3

It has been a very long while since I last posted, but that is because a lot has happened over the past couple of weeks that has caused me to neglect my blog.

Everything people had been telling me was that year 2 was supposed to be a lot easier than Year 1. Ideally, one got a job early on, one didn't need to undertake as many classes, and there's a lot fewer extra curricular activities going on to be involved in (like case competitions). My experience has been dramatically different.

Firstly, I am still job-hunting. Granted, my industry doesn't start heavy recruiting until now, so most of my job efforts was reaching out to various people every once in a while to keep my network going.

Secondly, and most importantly, a lot of my classwork is project-based. When a class is homework-based, it's a lot easier to keep ontop of things because there is a clear, defined set of guidelines that one needs to accomplish - answer the questions! Likewise with exams - most of the work happens a couple of days before the exam. If it's individual assignments, that's even better since the only person who is relying on you is yourself! Not this mini for me, however.

My capstone is entirely self-directed. As such, my partner and I spent the better half of the mini floundering around trying to figure out what to do. My partner was a former project manager, so he fell back to habits that had worked with him in the past - schedule lots of meetings. I abhor meetings for the sake of meetings, so that didn't work out well with me either. It didn't help that I wasn't attending the "classes" set aside for us, since I had another class on at the same time that I was allowed to go to instead. I've worked with my partner before, and we've worked well together - but I think a lot of that is that I come up with the direction and the goals, and he performs the motions to get it going - this time I stepped back on this, my attention directed elsewhere, which made him feel like he needed to brainstorm ideas on how to monetize this technology. Needless to say, it didn't work out to well.. However, we did hit a turning point and jumped back on track. We just needed to define clearly the goals for the semester project, and now that we have it, it makes things easier to push forward.

The reason i had dropped my attention was because I was placing it in the project for my Mobile & Pervasive Development Class. While I had originally signed up for the 6-unit course, which was homework- and exam-based, I ended up enrolling into the full 12-unit course, which included getting a mobile app up and running. It's an app based on an idea I had - I went looking for this type of app or service and couldn't find it, and ended up in a team working on the project. I had taken ownership of it, so I took over the design role. It was ridiculously intensive, and I poured a lot of time and energy into determining the user roles, the use cases, and the UI. I need to continue doing this over the Spring Break - ideally, I can see a viable opportunity for this app to be somewhat successful. My work was rewarded somewhat - this is the only class I've had in which there was a $1000 prize for the best app, as considered by a panel of judges. My app was one of 3 finalists (as an aside, I screwed up the final round and wasted my 5 minutes pitching instead of showing off the app itself), and we received feedback both from other students and the judges saying they'd love to see something like this app become a viable product - they would use it! But this was a big concentrate of my time.

Another semester-long class is Game Design, which it too is rather work-intensive. It relies heavily on "playtesting" game ideas with a group of other people in the class. My playtest group have been only other ETC students, and they are in a campus by the river instead of the main campus. This hasn't proven to be an issue, since my partner is also at that campus, but they have little concept or grasp of the value of time to non-ETC students (especially MBA students). Getting the group together at one time is like herding cats. They work on semester long projects in designated rooms, and they determine their own schedule - so it's not unusual for me to turn up to a 4:30 scheduled play only to wait 2 hours while the others find their way in from other "just popped up" issues. This gets very tiring; I nearly lost it one time when I was taking time out to show them how to play a roleplaying game - I was the "expert" in the group - when I had other things that demanded my attention; and they pulled the same lackadaisical manner on me. Luckily I bring my computer and tell them that when they're ready, I'll join them, until then, I'm working.

Developing Star Performers and Market Research rounded out the classes I took for the mini, and neither was particularly intensive when it came to work requirements. That Mobile project just took all my energy, as did Capstone. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I still have to continue them into next Mini so there's not much of a reprieve. Regardless, I'm getting my money's worth from this degree!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


This last week/two weeks have been pretty horrendous for me. When a lot of my classes are project-based, like they are now, I make sure to have my main involvement in the each project to occur at a different time than the others - I spread out the workload. It didn't happen this time, so things were very hectic.

Additionally, I was trying to set something up outside of school. In my Star Performers class, one of our assignments is to develop and launch an initiative - an activity above and beyond what my usual "responsibilities" as a student are. I chose to plan a networking event between Tepper students and the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) students.

ETC is essentially the video game design program that CMU offers. They are housed in a building away from Main campus by the river - it's quite nice. You walk in and are immediately greeted by a giant Hulk. There's a Batman section dedicated to all the films. Across the way from Anthony Daniels' office (yes, THAT Anthony Daniels) is a collection of Star Wars memorabilia. It's a geek paradise. I've been aware of the program since my first mini, where I joined an entrepreneurial team led by an ETC student looking to create a collaborative iPad game. I reached out to a professor there to ask about the value of the MBA in the industry in Mini 2. Currently I am taking a semester-long course in Game Design.

The Business & Technology club here at Tepper also wanted to set up some sort of networking night and had turned to me for help, so I figured I'd hit two birds with one stone. We faced a bit of a problem however: while it would be fun for Tepper students to stop by and see everyone's projects at ETC, we could offer nothing in return. Ideally, for these things to work, there needed to be a mutual exchange. We pondered over this - what could Business students provide that would be beneficial to Game Design students? I know from my own experiences that Business folks - or "suits" - are not held in too high a regard with Game Design folks. I believe it's the thought that we're only focused on money and not fun. So I wanted to offer something that wouldn't be considered boring or too suit-y.

Most of the suggestions revolved around being entrepreneurial. I wasn't satisfied with that. It still seemed boring.

The ETC professors referred me to the ETC student reps, who turned out to be the GSA representatives, to work with them instead. I actually felt more comfortable that way; a student-led initiative was much more interesting that something faculty-directed. However, getting everyone in the same room was like herding cats. When we finally got most of the folks together, it was this amazing synergy of enthusiasm, creativity, and wonder. The ETC reps were immediately onboard and excited! We threw ideas around until something stuck that satisfied me and them. We settled on a date, a place, a time - it was crazy productive. We still were in the air about alcohol service and how much we had to spend.. but that was for later.

Over the last week, those details have been ironed out, and we're ready to start advertising for the event. It's for Feb 23, and I can't wait!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I was just assigned a task to find what the average cost for an MBA is for the class of 2015 for both CMU and on average. I'm supposed to use human sources right now to get this information (so sending me to a calculator won't work).

For those who have been accepted or are applying this year, could you please tell me how much you expect your MBA to cost and what you think your salary would be when you graduate? I'm good with multiple estimates, for example:

- My MBA at Tepper will cost me $110,000
- My MBA at UT:Austin will cost me $70,000
- If I become a consultant at graduation, I expect my salary to be $115,000
- If I become a product manager at graduation, I expect my salary to be $80,000

Please don't include opportunity costs in the estimation, but feel free to add non-salary compensation, like bonuses.

This would be super helpful, thank you!

(This is an exercise in networking, so feel free to contact me via email at jharty (at) tepper (dot) cmu (dot) edu if you don't want to post a comment or just want to generally email me for requests - I also have a segment about keeping track of any time someone asks me for information :))

Scale ratings aka how I can't be impressed.

About a year before I left my organization for my MBA program, a new directive passed down from the C-Suite: performance ratings had to be toned down. It seems like nearly everyone had super star employees; but the company wasn't performing like a superstar, so there must have been some sort of disconnect.

It turns out that the problem lay in the system. Like nearly every performance rating system out there, an employee was evaluated on a 5-point scale, with 3 being "performs as expected" and 5 being "performs extremely well" and 1 being "company is better off buying energy-saving lightbulbs than paying for this person to sit on FB all day." It turns out that nearly every department was rating their employees as 5s. The next round of evaluations, after this directive (plus other incentives - I think there was a limit on how many 4s & 5s a manager could give out, and he/she had to justify it), showed just how average everyone truly was since there were a lot of 3s.

This behavior always puzzled me because 3 is pretty self-explanatory - you did what your job requires you to do. A 5 should be a very rare occurrence.

Now, in some of my classes, we have to provide feedback to our teammembers in the form of an evaluation like this. To my surprise, the first time I did this, teammembers decided to give everyone 5s, regardless of the work. Again, a 5 indicates superstar performance, while 3 says "performs as expected." Second time around, I learned, and told everyone that I use the 3 as my baseline number - i.e. you do as expected, you get a 3. Go above and beyond my expectations, and that's when we get into the higher numbers. Thankfully, other people ascribed to this schema and also rated people with 3 as the baseline.
Now I'm in a class where we're constantly evaluated by our team members. I just had to provide a feedback form where there was a scale of 1-9 indicating our impression of a teammate: 1 is very negative, 5 no impression, 9 very positive. I rated people around the 5-7 mark; I can't say I had an immensely positive impression on people in my group. I went to check my own feedback report, and my average score was 8.53! Immediately I felt bad for the people I reviewed: they would walk away with my scores with a different impression than what I had intended.

Why do people think the baseline number for an evaluation is always the highest number? Especially when, in this case, our scores are aggregated and therefore anonymized?

My theory on this stems from the American education and grading system. I was a TA for an OB class in my undergraduate degree from the U.S. I was tasked to write up a quiz, so I did - according to how my degree program in Australia would do it. The Professor thanked me for the good job and said that the A students would get this, the B students would pass, but the C students would not do so well. I needed to simplify it so that the C students would easily pass the quiz.
In a conversation with another student this year, he remarked that the Australian university grading system was more flattering than the American system. In order of increasing magnitude, we have: 3- Low Pass, 4 - Pass, 5 - Credit, 6 - Distinction, 7 - High Distinction. Most students in the bellcurve fell in the 4/5 bracket; I had only ever seen less than 10 HDs per class I've been in, which weren't small by any means. He pointed out that a 4 seems less like a failure; whereas getting a B or a C seemed like a failure in the U.S. system.

So it seems like everyone is on the A basis and then gets dropped down, rather than starting from a C basis and working their way up (which is what I'm used to). I think this mentality of assessment (since school is the first and most frequent place we've ever had this kind of feedback) is what drives people to rate other people very highly without true consideration of what that 5 really means.

(Speaking of which, Tepper's grade basis is an A-; the CMU graduate schools all use B as the level of acceptable work for a graduate student with an A as the measurement of outstanding performance above and beyond what was expected.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

CMU Culture

I opened up my inbox today to receive a campus-wide email inviting CMU students to discuss the "culture" of CMU in response to an article that was posted in the (undergraduate) newspaper, The Tartan.

It turned out that a student committed suicide in December which triggered this particular article and subsequent discussion on the culture of CMU.

The author felt that CMU has a culture of stress and hard times, that the heavy workload on the student has caused many to feel depressed to that point of suicide. A number of people called out in support of that, feeling that the workload is too much for one person to bear. Tepper also has adopted this culture.

I'll admit, when I first read it, I was scornful. These kids came to CMU knowing it was an academic environment, not a "party" school, and yet complain because they can't "switch off".

But it was after a second read that I realised that the article was not blasting the culture, but rather the lack of support services available for students who are overwhelmed by this paradigm shift. It made me wonder why some people would be so distressed over the workload. We have had, in my year at least, a couple of people drop out mid-program because the stress was too hard to bear.

I mentioned in a post much earlier on that I had developed a level of humility by being in this class of highly intelligent people - I had these expectations built of myself that I would follow what I did in undergraduate: be the top of the class and get straight A's in everything. The first couple of weeks showed me that that probably wasn't going to happen, since grades are assigned on a curve. It devastated me, leading me to believe that I wasn't good enough, but I was so determined to prove I was that I spent every waking moment working on this stuff. Eventually, I realised that I didn't need to prove myself in this regard and I became a lot happier. I still worked, but I didn't despair on my (supposed) lack of ability. I no longer needed to be "perfect". This mindset later became really essential in the internship recruiting season because my value was held up against other people. I took rejection as a positive thing - "there were others who were a better fit" - than as a negative - "I wasn't good enough."

Just over the weekend, I was given an article to read which outlined a woman's research into people's mindsets: some people have the mindset that ability in inborn (you're either have it or don't), and others believe that an ability can be learned. Those students who have the former mindset despair in the face of failure, because they believe it's a reflection on their lack of an ability. Those students in the latter - it's best summed up in a quote that I wrote down and posted on my wall:

 "Those with learning goals take necessary risks and don't worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn."

To me, everyone who comes to Tepper has to adopt this mindset. I know a few people who still have the fixed ability mindset, and they've managed to alienate people with some of their coping strategies (like overwhelming arrogance). A couple of others, like I said, dropped out. But you can't fail at any subject at Tepper unless you really try, and even then I think it's very very difficult, and so a large majority of us have now embraced the mantra "grades don't matter" and subsequently take classes for the joy of learning. Putting the expectation of being the top of the class will lead to the dismay and depression - and, as it turns out, CMU doesn't have very good resources available if a student does go down that path.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Week 1: Capstone

Over the Winter Break, I went back home to Australia to visit my family, introduce my partner to both family and country, and took a small trip to the Whitsundays to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. During that time, I (purposefully) turned off my phone and email and rarely bothered to check my social networks. It was a switch-off from the last 1.5 years - no internship to worry about, no interview preparation, no networking, no worrying about loans.

It was thus I came back to my penultimate mini, relaxed, refreshed, and a tad disappointed*.

I'll post another entry in a couple of days for my usual end-of-mini elective summary, since obviously I had neglected to do so during the break. But my mini 3 is pretty easy. The only difference is is that I have a semester-long class that covers both minis and my capstone course (which also covers the two minis).

The Capstone course is meant to be the final jewel in your MBA crown, the summation of all you've learned in your degree program put to good work. Since I'm in a Track, my capstone is significantly different from what the "regular" students study (coincidentally, it also made me ineligible for the Germany-based capstone, where you spend 5 weeks travelling around Germany). It's called "Designing and Leading a Business" and it's with those in the Entrepreneurship track. Ideally, you take a product and make a business out of it. For those in the Technology Leadership track, the expectation is to be something that is technical, like hardware, software, whatever. We are also supposed to work in small groups.

The groups and the projects were already decided on by us at the end of last mini before the break. I was going to continue working on an entrepreneurial venture that I had tackled in a class in Mini 1: the facial-tracking software that was used in Avatar was a product of a CMU-faculty member who works for Disney, and we had decided that a good application of this technology would be in the video game industry (Disclaimer: this actually wasn't my idea! My team decided this). Ultimately, we decided that the inventor should open up his own studio and provide the motion capture services, similar to how Weta does. I had to leave the project after 1 mini, and two teammembers continued it through. However, when it came time to revisit the project to take it back up again for Capstone, the previous team said that the inventor had lost interest in the project and was unwilling to take it anywhere.

My team - consisting of a good friend and I - went to speak to our Track advisor about our predicament, since neither of us were willing to continue with a project that would go nowhere. A few ideas were thrown around, all of them based on one or both of us joining an existing team with their business idea/product. Then the professor mentioned a project of his called Livehoods. This technology had already been investigated as a business idea by another team in the Mini 1 class, and I remembered their presentation - they had concluded it was good for urban development. The concept seemed boring to me, and I wasn't too enthused, until I had heard that that team had pulled it together somewhat last minute for the class. The professor proceeded to show us emails from parties who were interested in using the technology and talked enthusiastically about the possibilities beyond basic marketing. I started to get a lot more interested. To cut a long story short, determining the business possibilities for Livehoods is now my capstone business project! Ideally, we want to go beyond targeted advertising (which is the easy answer) to something more exciting and useful.

It should be an interesting challenge in the weeks to come! We'll be working with students from the school of Computer Science, so this should be fun.