Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer of Gratitude

Sometimes I get so bogged down or stressed out with work that I forget to stop and appreciate how atypical (in a good way) my life is.  While waiting on the McKinney Trolly today, I was able to reflect on the past year and everything leading up to it.  I couldn't help but to be overcome by a sense of gratitude at all of the amazing things that have happened...from my time at IBM, to my fantastic first year at Kellogg, and now my summer at BCG.

And so, I am kicking off my Summer of Gratitude by pledging a percentage of my post-tax salary to some charities that I'm digging via PinkDingo (hat tip to my classmate Tom and his website for clueing me in on the service).  I'll periodically post a SoG update with a list of things I'm grateful for. This time around it's all Kellogg-based:
  1. My time at the Kellogg School of Management
  2. My professors, for trying their best to impart a small bit of wisdom on me...even when I was too tired or stressed out to appreciate it
  3. The amazing people that I've met through this experience
  4. The amazing opportunities that it has opened up for me
  5. All of the people that I've interacted with via this blog, Twitter, and email (you know who you are!)
  6. The Class of 2010 graduates and alums that helped guide me through the first year
Although I'm calling it the Summer of Gratitude, I'm thinking it will be more of a permanent thing.


Week 2 in review

Everything is still ramping up at work, but I was still able to get some firsthand experience with this crazy little thing called consulting.  I've been working closely with the members of my team on a daily basis, and I've been able to interact with everyone on the team to some extent.  I've gotten familiar with the main resources that are available within the firm, first by reading about them during orientation, and then by actively using them the past week.  When I was asking my classmates for advice on the internship, one of their recommendations was to use the resources as much as possible because they can make your life a lot easier, and I can definitely see why that's the case.  I'm hoping that will help me become a net value add sooner than later....something that we discussed in Power in Org based on the First 90 Days. The basic idea was to get some "wins" in as early as possible because that can shape the rest of your experience via The Matthew Effect (success breeds success).

All of the interns I've spoken to are entering their projects at different stages, so the experiences have varied in terms of workload, type of work, travel etc.  Things have been on the slow end of the spectrum for me, but I fully expect that to change in the coming weeks when we begin traveling.  From what I understand, the team will be spending a lot of time together when we travel, so I'm glad that I've been placed with a very nice set of folks; I'm pretty sure this is where the "fit" part (working with people you like) will be most critical.

My favorite experience so far was a brainstorming session that I was able to participate in with the team.  It pretty much encapsulated everything that I expected strategy consulting to be like in its purest form.  We started with some high level questions, and then started open discussion to put together an initial framework to determine how to proceed. At first, I wasn't expecting us (the interns) to be a part of it, but sure enough, we were invited, and we definitely contributed to the discussion.  The whole thing was like going through the first part of a case interview (problem, clarifying questions, setting up a framework) with a team, and once we begin, it didn't really matter who was a Partner...or an intern.  It was fun to watch it all play out as things were drawn up on the whiteboard, erased, improved, etc.

In the first two weeks, I've also been reminded of why I don't pay much attention when someone says that something in class is "completely useless" or that you'll "never use it outside of that class again."   During the end of the quarter, I was telling a classmate about the crazy hours that we pulled to wrap up the project for Research Methods in Marketing when a 2nd-year student volunteered that I'd never use that stuff again.  Then I get to BCG, and sure enough, one of the projects that just wrapped up made heavy use of exactly the things we learned in that class, and it was a pretty big deal what they found with it.  I think the takeaway is to keep an open mind even in classes that you think are useless, because it is impossible to predict the future.  (that's why I love Steve Jobs' story about how a calligraphy class he took in college helped shape the first Macs)

The end of the week wrapped up with the office going out to a baseball game (Texas Rangers v Houston Astros). 

Rangers ballpark

It was the second office-wide event in so many weeks, and I had a great time.  At the end of the game, they put on what must have been a 10-minute fireworks was seriously ridiculous how long the show kept going.  I think the ballpark must have gotten an amazing deal on their fireworks.

At this point, I have a very favorable impression of the environment and people at BCG Texas, but I know that's not enough for me to truly enjoy the career. It will be interesting to dive into the work in the next few weeks and see what that is like.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Year 1 - How much did it cost?

Before I get to the topic at hand, I wanted to call attention to Stephen's excellent post on Navigating VC waters as a first-year MBA.  If you are looking to transition into venture capital with no prior experience in that industry, then Stephen is an excellent person to talk to.  He managed to secure an internship with a VC firm in Houston through some crazy diligence.

I finally had time to update my finances to see how much I spent during my first year at Kellogg (August - June), and it was a lot. During that time I spent (drum roll please).....

Total ~$35,000
Bills 40%

The Kellogg website estimates first year non-tuition expenses to be $27,000, so I definitely overshot that by a lot.  Bills includes rent, utilities, phone, etc; Food is self explanatory; Misc is everything else, including books, supplies, etc.  Here are a couple of additional points about my expenses.
  1. I'm living alone, so that means that I took on all of the costs of furnishing my apartment.  I tried to minimize this by buying as few things as possible, but it still adds up.
  2. Since I'm interning in Dallas, I had to cover the rent for 2 apartments in June and buy a bunch of duplicate stuff down here.
  3. I bought a lot of my meals at local restaurants, and when I did buy groceries (mainly during the 2nd and 3rd quarters) they were from Whole Foods, which is very convenient if you don't have a car but also pretty pricey.  There are definitely things that you can do to save money on food: use Amazon Subscribe-and-Save for any non-perishables that you buy on a regular basis, brew your own coffee, bring meals to Kellogg when you have to stay there all day, not live close to Bennison's Bakery....
  4. I did not go on GIM, which would have added on something like $5K, but I did go on KWEST and the Ski Trip.  I also traveled a few times to Austin and vacationed in Mexico during Spring Break. Again, this adds up (especially the taxi fare to the airport - $52 to Midway and ~$34 to O'Hare each way).
  5. I didn't go out very often to clubs or bars, which can be expensive in Chicago/Evanston.
Hopefully this gives you another touch point regarding how much grad school will cost, but please don't let it in any way discourage you from attending if it makes sense for you. If anything, just realize that you should start saving money the moment you decide to attend grad school, if you aren't doing so already.  In my opinion, cost should only be one factor in the decision, because there are so many awesome benefits that you can also get out of the experience that are hard to quantify (like having an unlimited supply of free peanut M&Ms in your office during your summer internship).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The terrace at work

Terrace view at work's pretty awesome.

I think the BCG office in Dallas is easily the nicest looking office (internally) I've ever seen. As far as external goes, Microsoft's site in WA is still at the top. Their offices are located in what seems like a big park, with little streams running alongside the buildings.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First day summer to go

I went to work today for the first time in nearly a year, though I must admit, it didn't feel like work. It felt more like a day at summer camp spent getting to know all of the other campers and eagerly waiting to hear about the upcoming activities. As expected, all of the other interns are very interesting and amiable; the more I learn about their backgrounds, the more impressed I am by the diverse set of people that ended up here for the summer. I expect things to get a lot more serious and "realistic" pretty soon, but for now I'm just enjoying myself.

The offices are pretty new, and as such, they are pretty nice.  BCG is the only company in the building with terraces (not one, but two) overlooking most of downtown Dallas, and it sounds like they are put to good use for office activities.  My office (got to avoid cubicles once again) is dangerously close to one of the kitchens, where peanut M&Ms flow like water.  I promised myself that I wouldn't succumb to their deliciousness, but I've already had some. I'm hoping that whomever restocks the dispenser doesn't keep track of how often they have to do so; otherwise, they would probably notice an increase in refill activity for just that location starting in June.

We went through a lot of administrative stuff today, but by far my favorite parts were getting "equipped" for the summer with laptops and phones and learning our staffing assignments. When I received my Blackberry (first one I've ever had), I felt like the Dude in the Big Lebowski when he gets a pager.  It was awesome.  The staffing was easily the most anticipated thing on the agenda, and it was handled in an almost gameshow-like manner that made it pretty fun. It was pretty crazy to hear about the amount of thought that gets put into staffing projects by the Staffing Team.  I took it as a really good indicator of just how serious the firm is about proactively developing its people. Really neat stuff.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crazy week

This past week was pretty crazy, but I have a feeling that things are only going to get more interesting from here on out.  As you may or may not know, Kellogg's schedule runs pretty late compared to other schools. As a direct result, there isn't very much turn around time from when you finish finals to when you begin your summer internship. I know some classmates whose internships started in the middle of last week (finals week), and yet others who were moving after their last final on Thursday to then begin working on Monday. 

Fortunately, it seems that a lot of Kellogg courses offer early finals to help students manage the short turnaround.  I opted to take my Operations final early, and that allowed me to wrap everything up on Tuesday instead of Wednesday night.  I could have finished on Monday, but then I would have had to make an aggressive schedule all the more brutal.  I'd like to say that I used the two days before my trip out to Dallas on Friday to rest and relax but that wasn't the case. Instead, I spent the majority of that time packing up my things and cleaning my apartment in Evanston.  I have everything boxed up and waiting to be moved to my new (smaller/cheaper) apartment in the same building sometime in July; I'll have to fly back to Chicago just to do that move, but it's worth it for the money I'll be saving.

I took 4 bags with me to Dallas that had my laptop, an external hard drive, a few gadgets, and my clothes for the summer.  Needless to say, I'll be bootstrapping it all summer long.  My apartment is bigger than I need, but the location is absolutely amazing.  I live within blocks of the BCG office; I can literally see it from my window, and it takes about 5-8 minutes to walk there at a slow pace.  I'm also a few blocks away from the Dallas Uptown trolley, which runs along McKinney Avenue and makes it pretty easy to get to restaurants, a grocery store, Target, and any other things I may need. I've opted to not pay for internet service, so I am leaching it from the common area in the apartment building. Unfortunately, it only seems to work in one corner of the area, so I am currently sitting on the floor in the hallway typing this up as the other residents walk by.  The apartment building has a gym that is actually pretty nice, so that saves me the hassle of trying to find a place to work out.  As far as cooking goes, I intend to mainly rely on restaurants and meals that don't require any major prep, like salads, fruits, etc.  I'm hoping that I'll be traveling most of the time for work, so that I won't have to worry much about food except on weekends.

Tomorrow is my first day at work, and I am pretty excited. During "sell" weekend I got to meet a lot of the folks in the office, and I can definitely say that I drank the koolaid. It was a lot like Kellogg's DAK weekend; the people were unbelievably nice, the events were all well-staged, and we got to experience some of the nicer aspects of consulting.  The first week of work is filled with training sessions, and presumably I'll learn what I project I am assigned to during the first or second day.  All of the interns from both the Dallas and Houston office will be in Dallas for the training, so I'll get to meet most of the people that were at sell weekend once again.  I still don't know what BCG's policy is regarding social media, so I may or may not be able to write about the experience.  I am hoping that I'll be able to post some things periodically, even if they are kept very generic, just to give people an idea of what the experience is like.  If I can't, then I'll probably end up working through the backlog of school-related things I wanted to write about eventually.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Halfway there!

Atlantic Highway_Z7085L

This round of Finals Frenzy is over. I'm decompressing a bit tonight while I continue packing. I leave for Dallas on Friday, and I start the internship on Monday!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First patent application sighting!

Before coming to Kellogg, I worked at IBM, and I did a lot of geeky things while I was there. How do I know they were geeky? Because whenever I described those things to people outside of my department it normally took about 10 seconds before their eyes glazed over regardless of my enthusiasm (and trust me, I was enthusiastic). During that time, I got to do a lot of stuff that I am extremely proud of, but one of my favorites by far is that I was on several patent applications submitted to the USPTO via IBM.

I originally set my sights on getting an application filed about 2 years in as a full-timer for several reasons.
  1. The money  - I won't lie, this was a big motivator. IBM used to pay out handsomely for each filed app, but then they changed the system shortly before I left to make the review process more rigorous and reduce the bonus paid out per app.
  2. The challenge - I saw it as a challenge to get one approved, especially because it wasn't something normally done in my department (server testing from an end-user perspective); it was much more common to the development departments. I only knew of one person in my group that had gotten one, and he was laid off shortly thereafter.
  3. The career - At the time, I still hadn't decided to attend grad school. Instead, I was still intent on pursuing a technical career, and in my division at IBM you had to have some patents under your belt to get the tech cred factor going in your favor.
I'll never forget the first app that I submitted (and the only one that I went solo on).  The idea hit me at night on a Saturday just as I was gearing up to go to bed. I got so excited about it that I was up until 5 AM looking for any prior IP, writing it up, and then trying to find out the process to submit it. It took nearly two years for it to get approved (after the one below). The review team kept putting it off because they were certain it was already covered by prior art given how simple it was, but they couldn't find they kept looking.

Since leaving the company, I've periodically searched the patent application database to see if any of them have made it into the system, and the first one finally came up two years after being approved internally.

All told, I had 4 out of about 16 applications get approved for filing after being reviewed by the internal review team and the patent attorneys.  Three of the applications were for usability and serviceability enhancements (that was my area of "expertise" as a tester), and one of them was for an architectural enhancement to Dynamic Logical Partitioning that we stumbled upon while reviewing some test data.  I worked with small teams to develop 3 of the 4 ideas, a few of which I originated.  I can't say enough how invaluable it was working with other folks (especially ones with different backgrounds) on this type of thing because it was much easier to ideate and sift through all of the different ideas for potential "winners."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Marketing Marathon!

This is my favorite part of the quarter: when I start knocking off classes one-by-one. It's normally a little bit more stressful than the other parts of the quarter (except for week 7...good gosh that was rough), but being the goal-oriented person I am, there is something extremely gratifying about scratching classes off the list and knowing I am done with them. I have pretty much wrapped up two classes so far, Research Methods in Marketing and Power in Organizations, and I have three left (amounting to 3 finals and 1 group project). Sometimes it is easy to wrap up a class, and sometimes...well sometimes, it is an all-out sprint to the finish. Marketing was one of those instances.

As part of the course, we had a quarter-long group project that involved performing a market research study from start (problem definition) to finish (analysis and recommendations) for a client.  Fortunately, I found my way onto a great team, and we had a lot of fun working on the project throughout the quarter.

One of the key takeaways from the project, and the course in general, is to always approach marketing research via a backward approach, where you have your final goal in mind and work backward to structure the project to accomplish that goal.  For us, that meant having some concrete hypotheses laid out that we would aim to prove or disprove via our online survey.  In order to form those hypotheses, we did quite a bit of qualitative research, conducting one-on-one interviews and collecting use-case/daily diaries from our undergrad volunteers.  Afterward, we were able to do a "sticky note" session (see pic below) where we looked for recurring themes that we could use as a basis for the hypotheses that we would research further in our survey.

Hypothesis synthesis for marketing research project

At the end of the course, we had to submit a written report detailing the project, analysis, findings, and recommendations, as well as a presentation, which we had to present during the last day of class yesterday.  Everything was due at midnight on Tuesday, so of course we set in for a long day early Tuesday to finish everything up.

When we started working on it, I don't think any of us realized just how long it would take to get everything done. We spent 16 hours (most of them consecutive) working on the project the day before it was due.  Ultimately, we knew that there was no way we would be able to submit it by midnight, so we decided to just keep working on it, turn it in late, and take whatever penalty there may be for missing the deadline...but it turns out that a lot of teams were in the same boat, so I don't think there will be one!  Here is the team, MOSFET, hard at work in one of the little study rooms in Jacobs at 1:30 AM.

Marathon session to finish MKTG450 Project

It was a crazy session filled with gypsy jazz, delicious thai food, youtube videos, a thunderstorm, and miscellaneous conversations, and by the time we submitted the project at 4am, we were all extremely grateful to be done with it (though we still have to present it to the client next week).That is probably why we were so upbeat as we made our way back home in the middle of the night, not more than 4 hours following a reported robbery in the area, in a strong thunderstorm (getting caught in snow is so much better than getting caught in rain).