Monday, February 28, 2005

The travails of a poor ol' engineer

I’ve learned a simple but largely unspoken fact about a B-school. If you want to get an MBA, don’t be an engineer. If you unfortunately are already one, learn to live with a sympathetic look on yourself, and learn to pray God often. Being an atheist doesn’t help. You know, when you have nowhere to go, better be a religious person.

An initial bit of deviation from the topic: I remember the animation clip that I developed while in the final year of Engineering College which, after looping through several jazzy Matrix-inspired clips, displayed “Engineers make the world”. The fact that the clips were amateur is a different thing. But the message we tried to convey was that Engineers build and transform the world. I should’ve known that I was destined to make that job tough for engineers – by aspiring to become a manager. :)

Coming to the core issue, while Engineering *attempted* to teach us to hit the bulls eye in a half-shot, much of Management seems to be designed to beat around the bush. Some of the case studies glorify this phenomenon. Ofcourse, we do learn things (I’m not speaking for myself!), but one thing I barely understand is why the theme of the case that could concisely be conveyed in 5 pages is conveyed hazily through 20 to 30 odd pages. Maybe the length adds credibility to the material and makes it sellable across B-schools, but the length of some of the case studies and reading material bowls me twice over. I’ve seen myself spending hours and hours (if you could pardon my exaggeration!) over the cases and reading materials and later wondering what the author is exactly trying to convey. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think I’m all that bad in comprehending English. :) This is tolerable to an extent because it is the case with anyone who takes up management education. When everyone suffers, and sinks with you, you probably don’t realize the pain as that of sinking alone! But for engineers, the travails don’t stop here.

We have courses from most fields – Finance, Marketing, IT, Strategy, Quantitative methods, Economics etc. Most of them are *supposed* to start from basics and hence people who did their under-graduation in the respective fields get benefited, provided they had studied well. For the most part, Strategy, Marketing and HR are new and hence are level playing fields. Quantitative Techniques, where Engineers are supposed to be strong, is a level playing field too for two reasons: First, most of the material is new, except may be for IITians and second, engineers like me didn’t really learn during Engineering. Mind you: flipping, mugging and reading are phenomenon associated with jumping the wall – clearing exams that is, and are not meant to be for overloading the brain – learning for lifetime. Information Technology courses, which are supposed to be a cakewalk for Engineers – atleast for the ones from IT or Electronics streams, are unfortunately extremely elementary. Add to that the chillness levels of the professors, IT subjects become the ‘chill’est possible ones. Imagine open book exams, direct questions from the PPTs, courtesy reading materials which are never quizzed on, most grades ranging from B- to B+ etc. There is fortunately some leverage for Economics grads in the economics courses. Most benefited are the ones from Commerce or Finance backgrounds.

The Accounts and Finance exams are like the mystique language spoken in West Spain/Portugal, the name of which came in The Hindu last month which I don’t recollect. For the record, it is supposed to be the toughest second language to learn since the pronunciation and some of the elements of the language are so complex that only people who grew up as a child in the same atmosphere can twist the tongue to create the unique sounds. That the previous lines are over-statements is implicit, but I guess I conveyed the point. Some engineers do make it big, but unfortunately - or fortunately - yours truly isn’t in that category. I might be fortunate here because I’m more interested in preserving my brain for future use. Ofcourse, I tried studying Finance-I with all possible might (again, pardon my exaggeration), refusing to believe that Finance and Accounts aren’t for me. But the results just didn’t add up. The Finance II mid term was as tough as it can get. I remember studying with a very decent concentration but I found myself in the exam hall thinking about Calvin with the mysterious multiplication problem before him. Calvin atleast enlisted the support of Suzie for solving problems, but for some vague reason I don’t enlist other Calvins or Suzies for help. End of the day, I’m facing the same wall that reads: Poor ol’ engineer, finance isn’t for you.

I still refuse, but I guess it’s not long before I’ll get the answer. I curse; I drudge on, hoping that salvation is somewhere...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

From rags to riches - the true IIM-I story

This is a true, honest story cum tribute to the Class of 2005 of IIM Indore, our seniors, who are leaving the campus. Little is spoken about the batch and their achievements. When I started finger counting what all they’ve accomplished in a matter of 2 years, it’s quite astounding. Honestly.

When our seniors joined the course, IIM I was functioning in some old and an arguably dilapidated Government College building in a dusty town in Indore. The old 'campus' - if you can call that one – was just a building and some parking space. Outside the boundary, there were only tea shops and some unobtrusive establishments – true old rural Indian style, not the ones you can look for in downtowns. The roads outside were broken, dusty and water clogged during rains. Inside the hostel blocks in the new campus, there was no permanent internet connection. They had to go out to the old campus to browse for two hours a day. The Class of 2005 was 115 strong, the first batch to cross the 60 numbers. Understandably, they must have had one hell of a lot of apprehensions about their decisions of joining. As the academic buildings in the new campus was getting built on the hill some 10 Kms from the old one, and as their batch was of double size that the earlier ones, they had to travel in the college bus everyday from the hostel blocks in the new campus to the classes in the old campus. Although the curriculum was good and rigorous – it had just stopped receiving support from IIMA - the institute was on the continous process of recruiting professors and building infrastructure, library etc. The placements for their seniors (Class of 2004) – both summers and finals – never got over in the typical 3 days/4 days timeframe as it is quoted across the top B-schools. Attendance requirement was, hold your breath, 100%. Library was housed in the old campus (and hence inaccessible for the most part since hostels were in the old campus), electives weren't as comprehensive as it is now, and hence most candidates took similar electives offered by the institute. And then things changed. Our seniors probably wouldn’t have dreamt the transformation of things before they leave the institute.

As the need for basic facilities – library, permanent net connection etc was increasingly felt, our seniors started fighting for these. Things started to change slowly.

In the second term of their course, the academic blocks were ready in the new campus, and they officially stayed and studied in the new environment. They fought for the internet connection, and during their second term, a LAN network was up. They started several interest clubs. They achieved a 100% summer placements quite fast – in relation to their own seniors. They fought tooth and nail for good professors and electives. The library with online facilities was up, the auditorium was ready, and, by the time we came in, things were ready and perfectly smooth. 3 start type hostel rooms, a breathtaking campus on top of a hill, library with online facilities, electives offered in many streams, more faculties and a 75% attendance norm were in place. Little did we realize that all these were premium privileges that we assumed for granted. During this one year, the second year for our seniors and first year for us, things have changed dramatically. Foreign exchange programs are in place, our summers got over in no time, lots of new faculties are in place, and more importantly, our campus is wireless enabled. Yes, some of us have Wi-Fi laptops and could connect to net from any place in campus without an inch of wire.

As sentimental feelings run high, and amidst all the ‘last’ activities – parties, quizzes, mails, games, eat-outs, movies, music and the like, most of us don’t exactly realize the batch that our seniors were. PGP2, hats off to you! You guys really deserve a bow!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

From FRIENDS-o-phobia to FRIENDS-o-philia

I haven’t seen a single episode of FRIENDS ever in my life. Not until today. This isn’t a crime or a mistake, but I guess with about 75% of the people I know and can relate to watching this episode, I’m most likely expected to know who Ross or Rachel is. I don’t think it is right on my part to be an ignoramus anymore. This episode has been the table topic for a long time, and there is probably a good reason for so many people to be crazy about it. I’m joining the bandwagon from today. I can’t really recollect why I missed it for such a long time, but I guess it’s because of my anathema towards TV serials (some of those late night Sun and Zee TV serials really suck!) and due to I not owning a TV when I was working. Additionally, I really hated every bit of the background laughter (or chatter), apart from not wanting to waste time. 

But this time around, with our LAN filled with multiple copies of all seasons, I’m not really in a position to find a reason to evade. I started today with three episodes, and I can’t really say I’m obsessed with it. In terms of amusement, Joey and Pheobe seem damn cool and has so far been the best of the lot. FRIENDS looks like a nice way to pass time, and to know more about the American culture – [here, I’m willing to take our HR prof’s suggestion to be receptive to other cultures, particularly since, according to his prediction, most of us would be loitering around the globe before 2010 :) ].

I still hate the background laughter, but I guess that isn’t reason enough for abstaining myself from the serial. Oh FRIENDS-omaniacs, is there any other character to watch out for?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Of healthy sundowns & spicy nights ...

I’m on the verge of making a spoof of my own lifestyle. Correction: ‘our’ MBA lifestyle. Tonight, it’s going to be the sixth eat-out in a span of ten days, and there’s no sign of letting down.

Life has become real funny of late. We eat-out and party for all sorts of vague reasons humanly possible. The first eat-out ten days back was ‘just like that’; second, an eat-out after a second-show movie (Page 3); third, another ‘for the heck of it’ eat out; fourth, a farewell party to our outgoing seniors; fifth, a farewell to some close seniors. Since people are never equal, and all Indians aren’t brothers and sisters, and some friends are closer than others, the fifth party stands justified. Tonight, we got a treat for a marketing fair that we conducted a month back.

A year back, when someone told me that MBA life is fun, frolic and round the clock 360 degree action, I didn’t realize that the ‘all round’ 360 degree action encompasses these eat outs. Gone are those days of limited eating, limited working and limited fun. All things seem to be King-size, and funny at that. Picture this: Eat outs go on one side, work outs happen on the other side, and a Body Purging Program (BPP) starts somewhere in between. An enthusiastic guy I am, I enrolled for the BPP, little realizing that I’m a normal down-to-earth human with petty longings. The full BPP runs for 7 days with different diet every day to ‘purge’ the body of unwanted fats and harmful fluids. The first day was a strict fruit-only menu, and I barely survived the breakfast and lunch before things overtook me. We had the fifth eat-out scheduled that night, and the thought of those Red chicken cauliflowers, Roasted peanuts and Chocolate delights was too good to resist. Add to that the stupid back-of-the-mind genie that kept bugging me that I’m arguably fit and “don’t really need a BPP” types, I chucked the program and joined the party that night in no time.

I started cursing myself for pulling out, but things look funny now. Out of the 30 initial BPP enrolments, only 3 survived the end of 2nd day, and there are five more days left. I’d probably give a toast to anyone who makes it to the last day simply coz that’s like an out-of-world unreachable destination to me, like making me run a 43 Km marathon. Speaking about marathon reminds of our visits to the Gym. Thanks to the other able-bodied and never-let-go soul named Chandoo, both of us made it to the Gym almost regularly in the past two weeks. I really felt an energy ring around me after the gym program every day. The 30 minutes workout was worth every bit. But it appears that what we are doing is peanuts compared to what’s ‘supposed to be done’ in a gym. I read yesterday that a 20 minute of 7 Kmph tread-milling is the bare minimum and that’s when things really start to happen. I’ve barely breached the 12 minute 1.5 Km 8 Kmph margins, but things are really promising. From a 500m 3 minute run two weeks back, the current levels are something. We’ve definitely reached somewhere.

The eat outs work out exactly counter to these workouts, and that’s why life is funny. Eat out and work out side by side. Sounds like a perfect combo - only that the eat outs in a business life are bound to continue, but God knows what will happen to the work outs. For now though, treadmill, here I come…

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The buoyant, neglected city...

I was really glad to see that Coimbatore is the topic of the cover story in the latest issue of Frontline. The city which, according to me, is one of the most neglected ones, just needs some publicity to go the place it really deserves. Even after making it to the top-6/7 cities in umpteen issues of magazines analysing the business scene, it just doesn't have the magnetism that some of the other cities have.

An amazing climate, cleanliness, education levels and a cosmo outlook notwithstanding, making it to the cover story of the magazines is one thing, but reality is another. It would be interesting to see the developments, particularly with the city-wise competitions for attracting business. Add to that the fact that Coimbatore is in TN, things only get interesting! :)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Quo vadis India?

I got the following clip while surfing the blog space when I stumbled upon Apparently, or, allegedly, the story is that the respectable duo are cozing when the national anthem was on, which is plausible since all others seem to be paying sincere attention.

It's kind of funny, this democracy thing.

Monday, February 07, 2005

IIMs set to increase the number of seats – Boon or bane?

The article (link below) confirms the speculation that IIMs are increasing the number of seats. It’s kind of surprising to all of us that even IIMs A, B, C and L are increasing the seats since all were speculating an increase only from IIMI and IIMK. But then, no one disagrees with the fact that IIMs are known for throwing surprises.  Most of the increase seems to be in the courses other than the regular 2 year PGP course, but IIMs K, L and B are increasing PGP seats as well. In all possibilities, IIMI would follow with an increase in a couple of years. id=13664251&headline=IIMs~to~st

This must be some news for PGP aspirants since an increase of 100 to 200 is enormous, and a lot of the candidates in the borderline who had lost hopes would get benefited. And, more importantly, the conversion of CAT to an IIM seat is becoming easier by the day, particularly from 1995 levels after the heavy focus on IIMs. The other advantage is the increase in the pool of IIM graduates for the corporates. I guess the seat increase would continue till all IIMs have equal number of seats since the total seats in IIMs – which is hovering around 1200 now – is far less compared to the IIT pool. Ofcourse, Engineering education by itself provides lot more streams that cannot be matched by Management in variety.

The interesting part of the story is whether such a rapid increase is good for the respective institutes and for the larger interest of the IIM community. One major concern is the quality of offers that IIM graduates would get on graduation. In simpler terms, there seems to be a lot of difference (placements wise) between the students who are in the top 10 percentile from ones in the bottom ten. For example, while the top 10 percentile students (particularly in A, B and C) might get into Investment banks, the last ten percent can’t possibly dream of such stuff. Considering the fact that there is a limit in such high end offers (atleast in the short run), the increase in the seats would further augment this divide, and the competition would increase multifold since not many would want to be in the lower rung in the batch. This could have a direct impact on the extra-curricular activities and other interests. For example, with my little experience, I could note that students would normally fall into two broad categories: One category is those who make sure that they don’t miss a single thing academics-wise, and others who participate a lot in other activities – which could include sports, clubs, functions etc. Ofcourse there are some who do both and achieve both. But if the batch size increases and if there is a huge difference in placements between the top 10 and bottom 10, students would easily attribute it to academics and hence would stop concentrating on other interests, which *might* not be good in the long run to the institute and the students. Excessive competition isn’t that healthy! 

Other B-schools might also get affected since the top sect tend choose IIMs before the rest. All said and done, it would be interesting to see the developments that await us.

Friday, February 04, 2005

When a spade is never a spade...

Well, if you had even been remotely watching the university and grad school scenario for some time, you probably know what I’m going to write. This is one of those one-off ‘inquisitive’ kind of posts, the likes of which I generally tend to avoid. But of all the things I don’t understand in the Indian college education culture, one is this: never say the truth, come what may.

Every street corner guy knows that the salaries top Engineering institutes and top B-schools quote are oft inflated. I myself don’t know what the relative truth is, but perception does percolate, even to me. Why can’t information be quoted as is across all grad schools, or, for that matter, across all universities and colleges across India? What really is the problem if everyone calls a spade a spade? As far as my brain-search goes, such a culture is deep enmeshed in the life and blood of all grad schoolers. You start speaking about something that’s remotely wrong with respect to the institute; you’d find nothing less than one thousand souls barging on you. But then, it’s perfectly understandable, because that seem to be the culture everywhere. Be a Roman in Rome. All this happens just because no one wants to be the root cause for his/her ‘alma mater’ getting a stained image. What’s the net effect? Information asymmetry, as it is called in business terms. People in an institute know far more than what outsiders thought possible, and nothing comes out, like information being sealed in a watertight container with zilch exit points. Heavy duty censorship makes sure that ‘bad’ things are siphoned off somewhere, and what really goes out is a bleached version of truth.

Who really is the loser? Prospective students, for one. Umpteen universities dupe students in the name of ‘excellent placements’, and ‘foreign exchange programs’. Mind you: excellent is relative, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan count as ‘foreign’ too. You don’t get into an IIM? Now dare to think beyond IIMs. Why? You don’t really have a choice. Last when I heard, they didn't have a worthwhile campus to mention about. Another B-school in Coimbatore promised a 100% placement - only that the salaries are like 10 K a month, which never reaches the news. Or take the engineering college scene in TN. There are 40000+ seats, the highest in the country, and the number of eligible candidates is 30000. But still, most of the colleges brag about God level professors, state of art infrastructure etc. Is all this even remotely possible? My own experience in my Engineering college was 'revealing' - to be euphemistic. Ours was informally rated number 4 in TN, ignoring IIT Chennai. It was quite an achievement to get into the college - I had to get 95% in standard XII since I had no reservation backing me up, no rural quota backing me up, and no good higher secondary school backup. I was excited at the prospect. But the kind of professors we had didn't impress from the very beginning. End of the day, although a managed to get a campus offer in Oracle, I couldn't exactly figure out what I did that can't be done studying in lower rung colleges.

As far as B-schools are concerned, IIMA is simply numero uno, which is evident from the impressions even our professors have on IIMA. Thank God IIMA is good, coz IIMI, which is a direct offshoot off IIMA, tries to depict its mentor all the time. We have exactly the same cases, exactly the same load. But then, its a known fact that faculty in IIMA is a class apart, at a level every B-school aspires to.

As far as the main subject of this post – information asymmetry – is concerned, I would love to see a completely transparent system in Engineering universities and B-schools. I’d long for the day when they call a spade a spade, when everyone quotes a bad experience a bad experience, and when everyone sees transparency as an ideal that’s sanctimonious. But, somehow - at the risk of being called a cynic - I suspect I would be 120 years old then.

P.S: The haziness of this post is completely intentional. Edited once to add more haziness. :)