Apr 072016
 

It’s crazy to think that the internet, the whole network that today’s information age economy depends on, was such a recent development that some of its original founders are still actively working on it. At the Google office in Washington DC, we (as a member of UMD Smith’s mQuest program in partnership with University of Maryland’s Quest) had the opportunity to personally meet with one of these founders.

Vint Cerf was a co-inventor of TCP/IP, one of the core technologies that ties together the vast interconnected global network of computers we know simply as “the internet”.  During his years at the research center DARPA, Vint developed the networking protocols that allowed these early machines to communicate with one another. He later led an engineering team behind the first commercial email system. These days, he’s now a VP at Google, as the Chief Internet Evangelist, as both researcher and advocate for promoting internet adoption and evolution.

After making our way down to Google’s downtown DC office, we had an interesting fireside chat with Vint in the media room, where he elaborated on his experience developing the internet, and his current efforts at Google. There was also ample time for Q & A with audience members within the Quest and mQuest programs. It was a great opportunity to see one of the original pioneers of the internet and get a sense of Google’s efforts today on promoting its adoption.

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Mar 012016
 

Last week, the Net Impact club at Smith celebrated its 10 anniversary at Denizen’s Brewery in Silver Spring, MD. As a social impact focused student club, Net Impact continues to promote, educate, and connect students with businesses and leaders with a focus beyond the traditional bottom line. It’s a thoughtful departure from the traditional underlying goals of organizations we consider as “businesses” vs. “nonprofits and charities”; one that looks to balance and optimize both profits and having a positive impact on the world around us.

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Net Impact president Katica Kiss gives the opening speech to commemorate the 10th Anniversary event.

Given the size of the Smith full time MBA program and the 2 year turnover cycle, 10 years is a milestone for a student led organization–not to mention a testament to its staying power. Smith MBAs come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including many from the world of nonprofits and public service.

The event served a modest buffet, along with a sampling of Denizen’s signature craft beers brewed on site, in their showcase brewing facility. Along with fellow students, Net Impact alumni and staff from the business school came out to attend the event, held on a Friday evening in downtown Silver Spring.

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Getting a picture with Net Impact award recipients.

Feb 222016
 

If it’s February, it means the Monte Carlo Gala has finally arrived. The Smith School’s signature event of the year brings together current MBAs, part-time MBAs, Masters students, Alumni, Staff and Faculty together for one special night in some of DC’s finest venues.

Last year, it was held at the cavernous Andrew Mellon Auditorium across from the Smithsonian; but this year it was held at the historic Willard Intercontinental. Just a block down Pennsylvania Ave from the White House, we were celebrating in the very same rooms that hosted DC’s top politicians and generals dating back to the Civil War.

Scheduled late enough in the year when we could all gather and reminisce, but not quite enough yet to feel tinges of a farewell sendoff, the Monte Carlo Gala is a priceless opportunity to form lasting memories of the MBA experience.

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Feb 122016
 

Full time programs vs. Part time programs. Each has its pros and cons, depending on your personal circumstances. But one undoubted benefit of full time programs is the sheer amount of time available, especially in the form of breaks throughout the academic year. After all, when else will you have 4+ weeks off, in any job?

This year, I embarked on the most far-reaching trip feasible, fueled by a plentiful mix of frequent flier miles scattered across a variety of accounts and all 3 global (airline) alliances. Star Alliance (via United), OneWorld (via American Airlines, British Airways), and Skyteam (via Delta). Four continents, 5 weeks and 30,000+ miles later, and I can look back on something that was almost like its own study abroad program.

Key takeaways from the trip:

  1. People all over the world speak English. At least basic, limited English. At least among the more educated and younger crowd. Especially those who work in tourism and hospitality. Globalization continues to make the world a smaller place, and (simplified) English is the common tongue of this global village. It’s gotten to the point where, instead of pointing out where English is spoken, it’s more accurate to point out the exceptions where English is NOT commonly known in at least its basic form. Examples: Peru (Little need for secondary language beyond Spanish, maybe a little Portuguese), Morocco (Secondary language tends to be French)
  2. Uber is incredibly useful if you have a working cellular data connection. Go from Point A to B without any communication necessary with a driver, haggling, ensuring the correct destination, ensuring proper denomination of cash on hand, etc.
  3. Standards have caught up around the world’s largest cities, but not prices. Private drivers? Fancy dinner in a nice restaurant? Mexico City or Saigon can deliver the same caliber of food, decor, and service to a comparable place in New York, but at a fraction of the price. Feel what it’s like to be in the 1%, even if it’s just for a day.
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A misty day on Machu Picchu (Peru)

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New Year’s festival-goers in traditional clothing at a local temple in Kyoto

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The evening comes alive in light and activity in the historic center of Hoi An (Vietnam)

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Just one of the sights and sounds on overdrive at Robot Cafe in Tokyo

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Admiring the view from a rooftop bar high above Saigon

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A long exposure brings out the lights on a perfectly preserved canal in Kyoto

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Gearing up for Christmas celebrations in downtown Mexico City

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Volunteers hand out Christmas presents to local children in a coastal village (Peru)

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Manga and Anime central: Akihabara District in Tokyo

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Locals settling into dinner in a bustling souk in Doha (Qatar)

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A lone oasis in the middle of the dunes (Peru)

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Snowshoeing to a view of the Appenzell region (Switzerland)

Oct 262015
 

Where did you study abroad in college?

All too often, we–including yours truly–treat it like an extended vacation, a grand tour of some far-flung corner of the world. Not so with the 27 undergrad students in this year’s Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps, who spent their summers helping to empower local communities across Nicaragua, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic. I was assigned to cover last night’s Forum, an opportunity for all the students to gather with donors, faculty, and their families & friends to showcase their international experiences.

It was a great example of the unique, community-focused culture we have here at the University of Maryland, and the Smith School of Business in particular. It was appropriate that the Business School here shares the building with the School of Public Policy. Because, like any one country relative to the rest of planet Earth; despite all the emphasis on competition and the bottom line in business–at the end of the day–it’s all still a small part of the big picture.

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 Posted by at 8:14 pm
Oct 072015
 

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This year the city of Washington DC hosted the second annual DC Tech Day, an open forum for the startup community in the DC/Baltimore area to come together and share their products with the public. Once again, it was held in the magnificent National Building Museum, a historic building right off Gallery metro stop with a vast, light-filled space interspersed with massive columns.

The free event was sponsored by larger businesses in the region like CapitalOne Labs, providing a once-a-year opportunity to survey the DC area tech scene all under one roof. As you would expect, most of the companies there are smaller startups just trying to get off the ground and lock in that big Series A investment. But, among them are much larger technology firms that have hit substantial traction and funding from the marketplace. And then there are the sponsors, also manning their booths to spread awareness and scout for new talent from the DC tech community.

One example is Uber, a perennial attendee of these kinds of event, this year their DC office was on hand to promote their newest service extension, UberEats. A meal delivery service available right from within the app that promises 10 min delivery times in select areas of the city. The two most impressive ones I saw:

1. On-demand valet parking service ZIRX. Parking in congested city centers has never been easy, cheap, nor convenient, and our limited range on two feet effectively limits the options available for finding large parking spaces in dense cities. But with location-based valets ready to step in on-demand, everything changes. Cheap garages outside the city center are now suddenly viable. Pickup/Drop-off is greatly helped by scale. Competitor Luxe has been getting a lot of the attention in this space, but ZIRX is actually leading when it comes to raising capital and finding customers.

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2. Local startup (is it still a startup once it turns 10..?) Optoro has so far raised $100+ MM for building an online marketplace for distressed retail inventory. Any kind of retail. Catering to everyone from individuals to discount retailers, Optoro has found treasure in the retail world’s “trash”.

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Sep 292015
 

Last week, a few intrepid Smith MBA students including myself set off for our first ever Smith MBA West Coast trek. It was hard to believe that no-one here from previous classes had ever undertaken such a trek, especially given the tremendous impact that tech innovations are having across the economy. Even if your future career has nothing to do with the new iPhone, there’s no doubt that today, in 2015, the impact of technology—across sectors ranging from from healthcare and education to consumer marketing and HR—is only accelerating.

An unsupervised tour of Google campus in Mountain View, on wheels, before our Googler friend showed up.

An unsupervised tour of Google campus in Mountain View (on wheels!) before our Googler friend showed up.

The over-arching goal for the trip was to get immersed in the heart of the the world’s leading tech innovation engine, San Francisco. The main event was TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the highest profile events for up and coming startups from around the world. With tickets running between $2,000-$3,000, we were also very fortunate enough to take advantage of the student discounted rate at $300. The re-purposed Pier 70 facility was to be the center of the digital world for those 3 days, with the tech media, investors, and industry figures all in attendance. Past winners include Uber and Airbnb, but good luck spotting the next gems from among the 450 booths on exhibition. If nothing else, these events provide strong practice for quickly evaluating and homing in on the most promising outfits from among the crowd vying for attention and validation.

Also, did I mention that Snoop Dogg was on hand to announce the launch of his very own startup? A premium cannabis lifestyle media site dubbed Merry Jane. And the Disrupt winner this year? A cloud-based management system for indoor farming operations. I’m sensing a theme here…

An awesome discussion over drinks with EMBA alumni Peter Hazlehurst, who's done just about everything one can do in Silicon Valley

An awesome discussion over drinks with EMBA alumni Peter Hazlehurst, who’s done just about everything one can do in Silicon Valley

We also had some serious networking planned while out there, including dinners with various Smith alumni in the Bay Area, and tours of Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn through personal contacts within our group. And that’s not even counting the after-parties all three nights after Disrupt…

I really hope this is something that gets carried on to next year, and becomes a tradition in the Smith school. Shane and Shwetha, we’re counting on you!

All in all, it was a great trip, and looking back I’m a little amazed everything we managed to fit into the time we were there. I’m thoroughly exhausted now, and could probably use a nap…

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A tour through downtown Facebook

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What kind of trip would it be though, if a few of us didn’t get to join the rest of the class in Orlando for a little R&R afterwards?

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Sep 152015
 

Every summer internship comes to a close, and usually that means a final presentation to everyone invested in the internship program. For us, this meant a free trip down to headquarters in Northern NJ, within an hour’s drive of New York City. All hands on deck for this one, every intern is expected to present on stage. We were divided up into two teams within our site, and present alongside the other teams formed at Product Development sites from San Jose to Los Angeles. It helps to have a vision that everyone can buy into in this case, since ours was almost like a case competition covering a topic that was unrelated to our actual projects this summer.

So after painstaking rehearsals that included more than a little bit of public speaking 101, a well-delivered final presentation, an HR mixer that lasted through the evening, it was only natural to stop in the New York before returning home. After all, we were already in the area…

A tip for those who have never been, after you’ve checked off Times Square and the Statue of Liberty–and do so quickly–it’s time to explore the real New York. The New York that keeps its residents and attracts more by the year despite the crowds, the aging and woefully under-maintained subway system, the sidewalk piles of trash awaiting pickup, and some of the highest cost of living in the country.

It’s the city unlike any other, a global crossroads of finance and media with the sheer scale and density to offer a dazzling variety of, well, anything. There’s always something new to explore, to taste, to see.

Here were a few highlights we enjoyed on this particular trip:

A stunning view of Mid-town from the highest rooftop bar in the city. (Hyatt Times Square)

A stunning view of Mid-town from the highest rooftop bar in the city. For a city of skyscrapers, surprisingly most rooftop bars in NYC actually aren’t situated very high up. This one is. (Hyatt Times Square)

While most people navigate New York by subway or taxi, few think to take advantage of the ferries. On a nice day, this under appreciated way of getting around delivers excellent views for visitors

While most people navigate New York by subway or taxi, few think to take advantage of the ferries. On a nice day, this under appreciated way of getting around delivers excellent views for visitors

Subway connections between lower Manhattan and the more interesting areas of Brooklyn are actually not very convenient, requiring at least one connection. Instead, just hop on a ferry and enjoy the panorama of Manhattan slowly pass by on a direct trip to waterside center of Williamsburg.

Subway connections between lower Manhattan and the more interesting neighborhoods of Brooklyn are actually not very convenient, requiring at least one connection. Instead, just hop on a ferry and enjoy the panorama of Manhattan slowly pass by on a direct ride to waterside center of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. And for a taste of everything NYC has to offer without the aforementioned crowding and trash, definitely check it out.

For a place called Burger and Lobster, there's not much confusion with the menu, everything's $20. The burgers, the lobsters...and, that's about it.

For a place called Burger and Lobster, there’s not much confusion with the menu, everything’s $20. The burgers, the lobsters…and, that’s about it.

Sep 082015
 
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Our hotel. San Jose, CA

There are times when it pays to be an MBA intern. The pay, for one, is literally better compared to one’s undergrad days (for most folks). You’re a bit older, a bit wiser, and for most of us, this certainly wouldn’t be our first lap around the block when it comes to working in a real office. The surprises might be fewer, but on the other hand, so is the terrifying uncertainty.

We had just one more perk.

By intention or accident, our division was split between two major offices, Boston and SF. The new members of our team, one of whom literally had just started when we were about a month into our internship, were also in SF. I was working all summer with another MBA intern, from a different school, and together we were the only two MBA interns in our site. So our manager gave us an opportunity, the new hire had to be brought up to speed, and not just on the work ahead.

The following week, we landed in San Francisco. A quick drive around the Bay and we were in San Jose, amidst the world famous Silicon Valley. That was our hotel. I looked around, it being my first trip to the Bay Area, and took it all in. Who would have thought that this unassuming bay-side suburban area would become the very center of technological innovation for the entire…world? Yes, they have Stanford. And yes, the weather is just about perfect. From the garage of William Hewlett and Bill Packard to Gordon Moore’s little startup called Intel that believed it could develop better microchips than the industry titans of its day, dreamers have always dreamed and entrepreneurs have always forged ahead in this narrow strip of land tucked between the mountains and the bay.

Reflections aside, we spent about a week there, discussing current projects, product strategies, internal outlook, and capped it all off with dinner over team bonding. When your team is scattered on opposite coasts, there’s nothing like real face to face interaction time to build a highly functional team. When it comes to real human familiarity, a webcam just can’t compare.

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Staring into the future, right there, on a visit off the clock to a fellow Smith MBA intern at Google in Mountain View, CA

No, unfortunately this is not our office. Still in Mountain View.

No, unfortunately this is not our office. Still in Mountain View.

Sunset walking back from dinner.

A West Coast sunset, palm trees mandatory

Sep 042015
 
Downtown viewed from a bridge over the Charles River

Downtown Boston as seen from a bridge over the Charles River

This past summer, I was a Product Manager Intern at Verizon Innovations in Waltham MA, just outside the charming city of Boston on the Route 128 corridor. The area was a bit like New England’s Silicon Valley, home to a sprawling community of healthcare, technology and biotech offices. On top of that, there is downtown Cambridge, an area within walking distance of MIT, Harvard, and Boston University with a surge of new offices for the likes of Google and Microsoft. On a per-person basis, at least, Boston easily takes the lead over New York for high tech jobs, with a much stronger tech presence in the local economy and workforce.

As an MBA, be prepared to begin orientation with the other summer interns, many of whom will still be undergrads barely over 20. Hopefully, with the bounty of real world experience and wisdom that you’ve accumulated in the years since college, they’ll naturally look to you for some level of guidance on any intern projects that HR might come up with.

Otherwise, summers in Boston are the best. Memories of snowy winters are cast aside for warm, breezy summer afternoons, without the oppressive heat and humidity of mid-summer in the Mid-Atlantic. Most days, it’s about 10˚ F cooler compared to DC, which makes all the difference between a hot 90˚ day and a perfect 80˚. (Or the difference between an unbearable 100˚ July afternoon and a merely 90˚ one.)

The historic Fenway Park

The historic Fenway Park

4th of July fireworks with the Boston Pops

4th of July fireworks

 Posted by at 7:15 pm