Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Looking Back at Two Years in LGO

I spent the majority of my adolescence avoiding mirrors, for even a passing glance could reveal a new imperfection staring back at me.  The strategy made sense to me, and on most days it probably reduced to a tolerable level my already rampant self-consciousness.  But there were surely days when this approach backfired; when, by ignoring my reflection, I missed that giant piece of spinach in my teeth, the messed up collar, or the pillow feather in my hair -- all embarrassing but easily mitigated flaws...if I had taken the risk of checking out my reflection.

Why in the world am I publicly reliving these traumatizing years?  Because I learned from this that reflections -- by mirror or by memory -- have value.  By allowing a look in the mirror, however brief, we can learn something about ourselves.  The value of reflecting was hammered into our heads over the past two years by professors, students, and industry leaders alike.  So, I thought it would be appropriate to finish up this blog with some reflections of my own from these past two years.  Specifically, I will recount a few things from the LGO/MIT experience that I expect to remember for many years into the future.  This is more of a snapshot than an all-inclusive list, but I hope it gives a glimpse into my two years at MIT.

Memory #1: The Uniqueness of MIT
MIT is different, yet, it is exactly what I'd expected it to be when I first arrived on campus two years ago.  Strangely enough, this surprised me.  I knew of MIT as a school of brilliant professors and students tackling the world's most challenging engineering and scientific problems.  But I figured this was an exaggerated version of the truth; a tale perpetuated by people like me who don't know any better.  Now, after being embedded in the MIT world for two years, I am astonished by how right I was.  MIT does not take lightly its position as a bastion of engineering innovation, as it routinely engages in efforts to solve our biggest obstacles in energy, medicine, and manufacturing.  The latter of these three was on full display during MIT's conference on "The Future of Manufacturing in the U.S.," hosted by LGO last month.  The conference included some fabulous speakers from industry and government, and the LGO students were fortunate enough to be intimately involved in the two-day event.  It was great to witness first-hand the crucial role MIT sees itself playing in these types of conversations.  More importantly, I have been pleased to observe how MIT goes beyond ideation by developing and implementing transformational solutions to these problems.  Being at this school has given me confidence in our ability as a society to overcome the obstacles we face.

MIT is also a collection of unique personalities.  I have overheard conversations on some of the most and least impressive topics (two students discussing how to overcome the physical limitations of traditional solar cells, and two different students seriously discussing -- for half an hour -- how to beat a level of a video game).  I have also witnessed the extreme nerdiness of the MIT populace (epitomized by the bespectacled, pony-tailed grad student in a faded 1980s Metallica t-shirt, jean shorts, and high white socks, running across campus, both hands on the straps of a 40-pound backpack; if you walk around campus for a day, I guarantee you will see someone fitting this description), and have been surprised by the athleticism of other students (how else would the LGO softball team have lost to the Chemistry Department??). 

Two weeks ago, I was walking through campus and thinking about what an interesting collection of people MIT has brought together.  In the midst of this thought, I ran into a member of my Sloan core team, and we began discussing a team reunion dinner.  She said something about how we should check with the rest of the team to see if a certain restaurant would be "amenable to them."  A passerby, closely resembling the person I described in the previous paragraph, stopped abruptly, turned around, and said, "It's 'they are amenable to the restaurant,' not, 'the restaurant is amenable to them.' Got it?"  Just as abruptly, he turned back around and continued walking as if nothing had ever happened.  We just stared at each other in disbelief, finally shaking our heads and saying simultaneously, "Only at MIT..."

Memory #2: LGO Sports
Over the course of my life, I have formed stronger bonds through participating in sports than by any other means.  The LGO crowd seems to appreciate this aspect of organized athletics, as teams were created in a variety of intramural leagues.  I wrote extensively last year about sports at MIT, so I won't add too much here, but I will say that playing hockey and softball on LGO teams, running in the Malibu half marathon with a bunch of classmates, and battling fellow LGOs and Sloanies in table tennis, gave me some of the fondest memories of my time at MIT.

Memory #3: The Thesis
The best part about the thesis?  Handing it in.
The LGO thesis is really only on students' minds for one semester, but it is completely and utterly all-consuming at times during that semester. Personally, I found the thesis to increase my productivity in other areas of my life.  I would do absolutely everything else I could before sitting down to write.  As a result, my apartment was the cleanest it had ever been, and I was weeks ahead on my other schoolwork. I heard similar stories from some of the other LGOs.  For one, the thesis even sparked a great business idea: the anti-procrastination computer.  It is just a well-marketed typewriter -- no internet access, no games, no applications.  The only thing it can be used for is writing.  Sounds awful.

Still, the thesis provided a conversation starter for LGOs (the conversations usually went something like, "Ugh.  Thesis."), so that's a good thing, right?  Despite the griping, in the end, I think most people had some small amount of pride in their thesis.  For most of us, it wasn't as strong as we'd hoped it would be, be it typically wasn't awful, either.  These documents might even be useful to the sponsoring companies (ha!). More than anything, they provided a multifaceted learning experience; we learned how to manage our time to meet a deadline, satisfy multiple stakeholders (advisers, sponsoring companies), organize a set of complex thoughts, and concisely and convincingly present an argument (or not-so-concisely in my case...34,000+ words!). 

Memory #4: The LGO Family
My LGO Summer Team, two years later,
and with many new additions!
As I wrote in my last post, one of the best things about the LGO/MIT experience has been the people I have met.  It was almost exactly two years ago that our class of 48 first came together to start our summer semester with a week-long leadership class.  I remember feeling very lonely that week, wondering whether I'd ever really connect with any of these strangers.  Fortunately, it wasn't long before my summer team was bonding during marathon group meetings and at LGO social events.  Since then, it seems like everyone in the class has connected in some way with almost everyone else.  This speaks to the personalities of the LGO class and to the incredible amount of time we spent together over these past two years.

But the LGO class does not constitute the LGO family in its entirety.  Every experience we had in this program was made possible by the LGO staff -- they are the backbone of this program and have built it into what it is today.  Their job is often thankless, catering to the needs of stressed, distracted, and generally unresponsive students, but they do it with enthusiasm, gusto, and nary a complaint (at least within earshot of us).  I really appreciate everything they have done for me; my experience in this program was much more enjoyable as a result of their hard work.

Memory #5: Life Changes
Just a few highlights of the past two years.
It's incredible how filled with life these past two years have been.  Four semesters at MIT, a six-month internship, a little less hair, a lot more gray in the beard, three apartments, a broken face, a new job, a new baby, a new house, graduating from MIT.  There was stress at times, but never enough to make me regret going back to school.  These were two of the best, most memorable years of my life.  From this experience, I will take more knowledge, friendships, and memories than I ever could have hoped for. 

Thank you, MIT and LGO.  It has been a blast.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Big Decision: MIT, Elsewhere, or Nowhere?

Two years ago, right around this time, I was in the midst of making a huge decision -- one that I knew could alter my future as much as anything I'd done before.  The question was this: Where should I go to school, or should I even go at all?  I suspect some of the readers of this blog are going through the same process now, so I thought it might be useful to share the story of how I ended up at MIT.  In short, it went a little like this: Weeks of anguish over whether or not to go to business school, then weeks of greater anguish over which school to attend, then, before I knew it, I was at MIT, loving life.  In long, it went a little like this:


Part I: Should I go to school?

By the time I had decided to apply to schools, I still had not made up my mind about whether or not to leave the working world.  I loved my job and the people I worked with, I had a comfortable life, and things ahead were looking bright.  So, why leave all that behind for a future with few certainties beyond the cash-strapped years I'd endure during and after school?   Well, jeez, when I put it that way...

It really came down to the fact that I wanted to learn How Business Works and couldn’t think of a better way to do that than through an MBA program.  Sure, I could have picked up some things on the job, but I was a scientist, and they generally didn’t let people like me near the real business stuff, so it would have taken years to accumulate as much knowledge as I could pick up in a single business school class.

In the end, there were three things that got me to the edge and nearly convinced me to take the leap:
  1. In the course of writing all those essays trying to convince admissions committees why I wanted to go to business school, I had managed to convince myself.  This, I later learned in class, was the result of the “consistency”and “commitment” principles.  I had been deceived because I lacked the very knowledge I sought!
  2. After taking the GMAT, writing the applications, and paying to submit everything, I had put a lot of time and money into the process.  I didn’t want this all to go to waste.  These, I later learned in the same class, are known as “sunk costs.”  Another principle.  Another business school trick.
  3. I was accepted at the three schools to which I’d applied.  It’s a good feeling to be accepted, a feeling of being wanted, of being appreciated, of being potential a source of funding. 
But what really convinced me was the wisdom of my older colleagues at work.  Many of them expressed regret over not going to business school full-time when they had the chance, and they didn't want to see the same thing happen to me.  I certainly didn't want to be in their position someday, tearfully telling a younger version of myself not to make the same mistakes I made.  So, that was it, I was going to school.

But any relief I'd felt over making that first decision quickly vanished, as I was faced with a new choice that made the first one seem no more daunting than deciding whether to put on my shoes or my socks first.


Part II: Where should I go?

From my list of three schools, I was quickly able to narrow my choices down to two – both local, both strong – HBS and MIT Sloan (yes, Harvard and MIT both made the same mistake).  Once I reached that point, I wavered back and forth between the two on a daily basis.  Part of the problem was that, despite both being MBA programs located within a few miles of one another, they each offered something very different.  HBS had the prestige, an amazing campus, a mind-boggling list of alumni, and would give me a chance to broaden myself.  MIT had the great analytical reputation, an incredible connection to the best engineering school in the world, and would give me a chance to focus myself (within the LGO program).  How could I ever choose one and leave the other behind?

A quick aside.  One thing pertinent to this story you should know about me: I am a terrible decision-maker.  I struggle to choose which cereal to eat each morning and am paralyzed by anything bigger than that.  So, to make it through life as a functioning human being, I have had to make some adjustments.  In particular, when making an important decision, I turn everything into numbers and choose the highest scoring option.  (Perhaps this should have been a sign that MIT was in my future.)   

In the case of the HBS vs. MIT decision, here’s how: I came up with a list of a bunch of things I considered important to me in a school (e.g. courses offered, classroom atmosphere, on-campus opportunities, post-graduation potential, etc.) and assigned each a weight based on its relative significance.  Then, I assigned scores, as objectively as possible, for each school across all categories.  Multiplying the scores by the weights and summing them generated overall scores for the two schools.  

Now, here’s the beauty of this approach.  The school with higher score is the winner.  If, however, I am not happy with the way it turns out, then I should choose the other school because it's clearly the one I prefer.  This method never fails.  In my case, this approach told me what I really already knew: MIT was best for me.  

Beautifully drawn chart of my business school
preference over a conflicted two-day period.
Still, after making this decision, I attended the HBS admitted students open house just for the experience.  Over the two days, I ran the full gamut of HBS vs. MIT emotions I'd dealt with over the past few weeks. My decision was so sensitive to all sorts of minor factors I hadn't previously considered or fully understood.  While the open house ultimately solidified my decision to attend MIT, there was a time when it nearly reversed my choice.  Afterwards, I even drew up a quick chart (see right) to show my wife how I close I came to choosing HBS.  

Having had this experience and thought about the many considerations that go into these types of decisions, I now present to you...


Part III: Things to consider in your decision

The most important thing to do when choosing a school to attend (or even to attend one at all) is to gather as much information about the school as possible.  Here's what I recommend:
  • Talk to students – past, current, and future.  I am generally bad at this because I don’t like to bother people, but students love talking about their schools and will give you lots of relevant and informative input.  You can also take from these interactions some information about the types of students who attend the school – their personalities, interests, motivation for being there, ambitions, etc. 
One of the main reasons I chose MIT was because of the people I met there.  I simply felt like I would fit in.  There’s an endearing modesty/self-deprecation about many MIT students -- especially among the LGO crowd -- that really appealed to me.  LGO students are also very considerate.  For example, a group I'm in with three other LGOs recently needed a meeting room in the main Sloan building, but all were occupied, some by single students.  Sloan has a policy that groups can ask single students to leave a room if no other rooms are available, and this was the perfect time for us to take advantage...except that none of us wanted to do it.  It just felt too rude.  So, we sucked it up and met instead in the middle of the noisy cafeteria at lunch time.  I thought this experience perfectly captured the classic LGO personality -- selfless, polite, able to get the job done regardless of the circumstances.  This is exactly why I wanted to be part of this program.
  • Attend a class (or two!).  While one class is in no way representative of the entire academic experience at a school, it can give you a sense of what you’re getting yourself into.  For instance, I went to a class at HBS, a school with an reputation for unparalleled learning experience, thanks to its mastery of the “Case Method." I wanted to see for myself just how amazing the HBS Case Method is, and to also get a feel for how well I'd fit in this type of learning environment.  Turns out, I hated it.  The professor teaching the course, though legendary, failed to bring the class to his intended conclusion, even apologizing for it at the end of the class.  While I'm sure this doesn't happen in every session, it showed me that this method has its flaws and is itself not reason enough to choose HBS over MIT.
  • Read!  There’s a ton of information on the internet and in books about MBA programs, and you can learn a lot about a school by reading as much as possible about it.  Just remember that not everything you read is true, especially when the source is a message board (or a blog!).  I derived a ton of value from the LGO blogs while making my decision.  In fact, they played a huge role in giving me a sense of the LGO students’ personalities, and I hope mine is doing the same for at least a few prospective students out there.


Part IV: Was I right?

Absolutely.  Honestly, I could not be happier with my decision.  MIT Sloan has been a great fit, and the LGO program in particular was exactly what I’d hoped it would be.  Here are just a few of the reasons why LGO worked out so well for me:
-          I immediately had ~47 guaranteed friends.  LGO is a very tight group.  This is great if you’re socially awkward and usually have trouble getting to know a group of strangers (not that I would know...someone else told me this).  You get thrown right in with the other LGOs, and real, actual relationships develop quickly.
-          I got the best of both worlds.  In addition to the great business school education I have gotten at MIT, I was also immersed in a bunch of MIT’s world-class engineering courses in some very interesting fields, including energy and biotechnology.  This was a bonus, since I really had gone back to school to learn about business.  It's really an amazing program.
          I got a job.  LGO's tight relationship with its partner companies means that LGO students have an excellent chance of landing a job with one of these companies.  We're also qualified to do lots of other interesting things and seem to be particularly appealing to consulting companies, though most of us have no desire to do that type of work.
      In short, LGO has been greatI highly, highly recommend the program, but you have to make sure it's right for you.  Do your analysis.  Hopefully, the numbers come out in LGO's favor.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I am a runner and have been one for more than fifteen years.  In fact, for most of that time, being a runner is what defined me.  From high school, through college and grad school, and into the workplace, people knew me first as a runner, and second as the gawky, nerdy guy I really am (I prefer “svelte,” but I’m the only one).
Me without running.  So sad.
So, when I started the LGO program in 2010 in the midst of an 18-month knee injury, there was nothing for the real me to hide behind.  To my classmates, I was that gawky, nerdy guy, nothing more.  
Fortunately, last summer, after months of rest and physical therapy, I was finally able to run again.  It was time to start reclaiming my identity.  In building myself back up, I practiced more patience than anyone should ever have to, going for 3-, 4-, 5-minute runs in those early days.  I could complete my entire workout during the seventh inning stretch of a Mets game.  Sadly, this meant that I was back in time to see the end of the game.
Once I was running continuously, my competitiveness got the better of me.  I have a hard time running for the fun of it; I usually need a goal to shoot for.  Naturally, I decided that my first ever half-marathon would be a good way to end my two-year absence from the racing scene.  So, without really thinking about the consequences, I signed up for the Malibu Half Marathon in November.
I promised them glory and fame.  They got this instead.
You know that saying, “misery loves even more miserable company?”  Well, I decided that I’d enjoy my training more if I had some inexperienced partners.  Fortunately, there were five gullible LGO interns living within 100 feet of me.  After saying things like, “best shape of your life” and “run along the Malibu beaches” and “Charlie Sheen will be watching,” four of the five of them signed up.  And just like that, I felt better.
One of the unanticipated benefits of training with my LGO classmates was building a camaraderie I hadn’t felt since my days running collegiate cross-country and track.  There are few things I’ve experienced that forge stronger bonds between people than suffering together through a tough run.  Together, we scaled mountains (literally), hurdled rattlesnakes, and sprinted from hundreds of mountain lions (or, as it turned out, tiny but noisy lizards).  These are things I’ll never forget -- some of the best experiences of my two years in LGO. 
Anyway, on race day in mid-November, we finally put our training (or lack thereof) to the test.  We started by proudly demonstrating the “just-in-time” concepts learned at MIT: we caught the last bus to the start, found the last porta-potty (thank god), and squeezed into the start corral five seconds before the gun went off.  The folks at Toyota would have been proud.   
The race itself could not have started better.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and we all were running faster than expected for the first few miles.  This is usually a red flag, but I was feeling so good that I thought I just might be able to keep it up.  Little did I know it, but I was falling right into the evil race director's trap.

Not an enjoyable course profile.  Not enjoyable at all.
To punish the overconfident and ensure no runner could walk for the next eight days, the organizers created a course that was flat for the first half and then followed the Thunder Mountain profile for the second.  It was brutal for everyone.  To make matters worse, none of us had even run the race distance during our training, and we were paying for it.  It was everything I could do to put one leg in front of the other for the last four miles.  We all suffered -- separately, but together— through the 13.1 grueling miles. 

Running the flats, looking relaxed.
Near the finish, wanting to die.

Did I mention the water was cold?
Mercifully, the finish line (with NO beach party! what?!) appeared and accepted each of our sweaty, limp bodies into its concrete arms.  We cheered for each other across the line, making sure that no one had actually died on the course, and then rewarded ourselves with a refreshing dip in the frigid Pacific.

As painful as the race was (not to mention the next few days -- I walked around Amgen's offices like I had two peg legs), it was one of the highlights of my six months in California.  And even though I was thrilled to officially end my injury-induced racing drought, it was sharing the experience with the other LGOs that had made the race so special. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Closing One Chapter, Starting Another

Okay, it’s been awhile.  Too long, really, since my last post.  In that time, I’ve finished up my internship, accepted a job offer, and the LGO site has been overhauled (and is now pretty darn snazzy as a result, though I do miss the old colors...or, rather, two shades and a color).  In this post, I’ll hit on those first two.

Finishing up the Internship

Goodbye, Malibu: A typical view from our road.  
The LGO internship is LOOOONG.  As I described in an earlier post, this is great for a number of reasons.  It also makes finishing it up that much sweeter.  Of course, Amgen didn’t just let us slide on out unnoticed.  Rather, we had to give a final presentation to a group of Operations vice presidents and managers in that last week.  Great exposure, yes, but also stress galore.  Must be what’s causing the hair loss…

My project turned out to be quite interesting, but for reasons I hadn’t anticipated.  There were no big revelations, and I didn’t find a way to save Amgen millions of dollars, but I did have a chance to think about strategies that could change the way Amgen’s Process Development organization works.  There wasn’t a ton of “strategy” in my previous work experience, so this was a nice introduction to that way of thinking.

On another note, while I cannot divulge too much information about the project here, I was amazed by how much potential there is to improve the way things are done at a successful and well-run company.  Turns out, companies like Amgen need people who understand operations and group dynamics and are willing to step in and make changes.  The internship really opened my eyes to the great opportunities (and challenges) that await LGO graduates in the real world.

Getting a Job

If you don’t believe me that I enjoyed my internship, here’s some more proof: I just accepted a full-time job at Amgen.  The position is as a Senior Engineer located in Amgen’s Rhode Island office.  While I do not yet know my exact job duties, I will be in the Global Process Engineering group, helping develop and introduce process monitoring models at sites around Amgen’s global network. 

One of the most intriguing aspects of the positions Amgen offers LGO students is that they are designed to expose us to various areas of operations over our first 4-5 years.  Specifically, we rotate through three 1.5-year positions (the second and third rotations being determined based on our career aspirations and Amgen’s needs), before slotting into a management position, assuming we’ve proven ourselves capable.  I’m excited about the possibilities ahead at Amgen and look forward to getting going this summer.

I’d also like to point out that I wouldn’t have gotten this job if not for the LGO program.  Amgen, like many partner companies, creates positions like this one specifically for LGOs.  Our job search is much less stressful than I imagine it is for the traditional MBA students who don’t have the luxury of the LGO program’s industry connections.  I’ve been thrilled to see so many of my LGO classmates also accepting jobs with partner (and non-partner) companies already.  

On the next episode...

I started a few posts over the last couple of months that I never completed, so get ready for old (but hopefully interesting) stories.  Next up: When Running and Business Collide.