Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Photo from last week's Silicon Valley trip

Scurrying out into the Yahoo! parking lot:

More about the trip here.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Speaking of Yahoo! coolness...

My friends in Metaverse Technology directed my attention to something Yahoo! has been up to lately: Pipes. If only I had some time to play around with that right now! I'll make a note to check it out in detail during Spring break.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Silicon Valley road show: quick observations

Thursday night, I flew down to Silicon Valley for a whirlwind company tour with a group of classmates. Bryan Tomlinson, who coordinates employer relations at our career center, did a great job organizing the whole event.

The fun company

Our day started off with a quick tour of the Yahoo! campus, followed by a presentation and Q&A session. I was struck by how friendly the campus felt: bright yellow colors are everywhere, both inside and out. I found the employees who spoke with us incredibly funny. At one point the recruiter thanked me for constantly laughing during her presentation. Always the jovial one, that's me.

One way they conveyed the Yahoo! culture to us was through a "sucks list": stuff that they're not about:
  • Decaf coffee
  • Bad grammar
  • "Too big for your britches" attitude
  • Early meetings
  • Formality (did I mention that we felt self-conscious in our suits and ties?
I left Yahoo! feeling quite excited about the company; I definitely plan on applying for an internship there. Out of the three companies we visited that day, I personally felt the closest fit with Yahoo!. I like the focus on unique user experiences, the refreshingly humor-friendly culture, and the nurturing environment.

Serious secrets

I never thought of Apple as a serious company, but compared with Yahoo! and Google, Apple is serious indeed. From the people to the architecture, there's much less wackiness at Apple. But still, I got the impression that it's an amazing place to work for. Jo Lawson, UW MBA '00, gave us an informative presentation on her experience there in small business marketing.

Both Jo and Gary Wipfler (Apple treasurer, also a UW alum), mentioned more than once that secrecy plays a key role in Apple company culture. As the recent stories about the iPhone attest, Apple's competitive advantage depends on certain employees keeping secrets: from their family, friends, and other employees. While these communication restrictions can be taxing on everyone, the payoff is huge: jaw-droppingly innovative products.

The center of the universe (for now)

Simply put, Google exceeded my expectations. It's like Disneyland for grownups -- very, very smart grownups. The architecture and landscaping really present a feast for the eyes. Micro-kitchens are spaced throughout the campus, none too far from the next, and they pipe out the most amazing odors of delicious food. Our tour guide, Vicky Wang, (also a UW alum) enthusiastically explained that Google hires top-notch chefs from the region, and, as is widely known, the ingredients are largely organic and locally-sourced.

The feeling I got at Google is that everyone there is always "on" -- everything is in a state of flux, and to fit in there, you should be ok with that. Nay, you should thrive on chaos. It seems like a truly fun, challenging place to be, but it's not for everyone. I talked with three employees there, and I got a similar feeling from them that I got from employees at back in 1999 (when Amazon stock was sky-high): we are at the center of the universe right now. It's an intoxicating feeling, but it never lasts forever.

Could I see myself at Google? Certainly, I'd love to intern there. I confess, though, that it's competitive to the point of being a bit intimidating. Our hosts described how many of their employees are former CEOs, and how, upon arriving at Google, they gladly accept mid-level management positions.

The reception

After the Google visit, we headed to Nola for a reception with UW MBA alumni. I had a great chat with Beth Gorell, UW MBA '86, who shared the story of her career. Later, my old college friend Doug swung by with his wife. Doug works in the area at eHealthInsurance and I crashed at his place that night.

Visa? Visa?

Alright, so we didn't visit Alaska Airlines, but most of us flew down on an Alaska flight. I must say, I found it very odd when a flight attendant gave an announcement that was essentially an ad for the Alaska Airlines Visa card. Clearly the flight attendant hated doing this; I could hear the annoyance in her voice.

Another flight attendant walked down the aisle with Visa cards in her hand, waving them and saying "Visa? Visa?" as if she were offering us peanuts. How strange! She was walking really quickly and of course no one was interested.

I can understand the cost-based argument that motivates Alaska to ask its flight attendants to do this sort of marketing work. There's a problem, however, with using your firm's employees to advertise for you on the cheap (or for free) -- they might not, um, want to. And if they're unenthused about the whole thing (who can blame them?), those feelings show through. The real risk to Alaska here is of its employees reducing the brand equity of its Visa card by creating negative associations in customers' minds. For me, certainly, this is now the case.

Final thoughts

  • Walk around in a Silicon Valley company in full formal attire, and you'll receive plenty of inquisitive stares.
  • While you can learn a lot about a company by reading about it, you need to physically visit the company to get a real taste of its culture.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

MBA field trip

I'm about to head down to the airport to join a group of my classmates -- we're travelling south to San Jose tonight. Tomorrow, we'll be doing a whirlwind tour of three very interesting companies: Yahoo in the morning, Apple during lunch, and Google in the afternoon.

Off I go! I'll post more about this on my return.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Case interviews: practice is key

A few weeks ago, I interviewed with Microsoft for a marketing internship position. A week or so later, they sent me a rejection email. I've been thinking about this and talking it over with folks, and I think part of what sunk me were my responses to case questions. I encountered questions such as the following:

  • What's your least favorite class right now? [I said econ.] Ok, how do you market that class to incoming students?
  • Suppose you're the dean of the UW MBA program. How do you elevate your school's rank to #1?
  • Assume you are the product manager for the Zune. You have $1 million, and 30 days to spend it. What do you do?
I realize in retrospect that I went about answering these questions all wrong: I immediately gave answers. No. This is not how you respond to case questions. As I have learned (after the fact, unfortunately) case questions are meant to invoke a discussion between interviewer and interviewee, a back-and-forth in which the case is constructed. As interviewee, you are to ask intelligent questions that demonstrate your knowledge of marketing frameworks. You should jot down the information that the interviewer reveals to you and then offer a recommendation -- preferably one that you can defend with strategic logic.

I know these things now, and I'll be better prepared the next time case questions arise in an interview. I really wish I would have done some mock interviews that specifically focused on case questions, prior to the Microsoft interview. If you're a prospective or first-year MBA student, let this be a cautionary tale to you -- don't let an actual interview be the first time you practice responding to a case question.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Inbox bloat

Oy -- I just noticed that there are now over 100 emails in my Gmail inbox, so it extends to a second page. I'd been trying to keep it under 30, but things got too busy today. I had an excellent informational interview with a Hitachi consultant in the morning, but that was out in Factoria, so I had to do some bus-juggling to get back to campus in time to meet with my team. We spent over two hours discussing our group paper for Strategy, and from there I zipped directly to another meeting...

...After that was through, it was about 2:30 and I realized I was rather hungry! Had an afternoon sushi meal, came home and took a nap (which was essential), got up at 5pm and basically worked from then until now on our group paper.

And now: sleep. Tomorrow starts off early at 7:30 with a breakfast with the Dean ... and tomorrow ends late at 9pm or so, when I finish meeting with my business plan team.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hello, midterms!

Time seems to be whipping right along this quarter. And lo and behold, midterms are here! I like finance a lot, but I suspect this morning's midterm did not reciprocate my affections. We shall see. I'm currently studying at Victrola for tomorrow's macroeconomics midterm. I'm hopped up on coffee and getting crazy with the IS/LM Model.

I remember, back last quarter, when I aspired to a stellar GPA. Those days are over, and it's a relief to "embrace the curve" as I hear many of my classmates saying right now. Slaving away for top grades is all well and good, but if you're in an MBA program, you do this at the expense of everything else: student leadership opportunities, projects in the business community, volunteering, interviewing for internships, etc. Those are the things I've been spending much more time with, and I'm feeling good about that.

Still, though, it's a balancing act, and I'm drilling back down into the academics tonight.

Just for fun (to procrastinate from my econ studying for just a few moments), I proffer you this look into my upcoming schedule:

  • Tomorrow: Marketing class / Macroeconomics midterm / Mock internship interview / MBAA (student government association) meeting
  • Wednesday: Informational interview with a UW MBA alum to learn about her job / meeting to discuss group paper for Strategy class / tentative BCN project meeting / work on paper throughout remainder of evening
  • Thurs: Finance class / Info session on Spring quarter electives / Lunch presentation on marketing opportunities at RealNetworks / Macroeconomics class / tentative group meeting / Business plan resources meeting / Meet with fellow business plan project collaborators