Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Noor Inayat Khan - 'The Princess Spy'

I love history and more so when it's brought alive by the likes of Nat Geo, History Channel & the BBC. Take World War II. What we studied in school was an itsy bitsy part of the story. 65 years after the war ended there is still so much to learn about those fateful six years.

And so it was that on Sunday I learnt the fascinating story of the 'Princess Spy'. Did you know that Noor Inayat Khan, a young woman of Indian origin who worked as a radio operator behind enemy lines? For her courage and her contribution towards the war effort, Noor was posthumously awarded the George Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry not on the battle field.

It is a truly fascinating story!

Noor's father was the great grandson of Tipu Sultan, but he was a musician and Sufi scholar who lived in Europe. Unfortunately, he died when Noor was 13. Her mother fell apart and thr young Noor brought up her three younger siblings, even as she studied child psychology and music. At age 25, she brought out a book on the Jataka Tales and would probably have made some impact in the gentle world of the arts when World War II broke out.

Noor was brought up as a pacifist, but she wished to contribute to the war effort. So, she joined the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) and trained to be a wireless operator.

She was later recruited to join a very dangerous 'special operation' where she would be dropped in Nazi occupied France and transmit vital information about the ground situation there, by wireless. Although her superiors had their doubts about her suitability for the job she scored on two counts: fluent French and proficiency as a radio operator.

Now the reason this job was so dangerous was that you would be operating in civilian clothes and hence classified a 'spy'. That meant, the Geneva convention did not apply. If caught, you would be executed.

'If' is actually a wrong choice of word - 'when' caught, more like it! The average stint of an undercover radio operator was 6 weeks. But somehow Noor managed to do her job undetected, for 4 months. The wireless was a bulky contraption of 16 odd kgs and she carried it around with her from place to place, evading the Nazis.

Sadly, the entire undercover network was compromised by a double agent called Henri Dericourt and she was eventually busted. The place she had been transmitting from was just a stone's throw from the Gestapo HQ in Paris!

After being captured, Noor showed exemplary courage by refusing to part with any information. She tried to escape more than once and was classified as a 'highly dangerous' prisoner.

On 13 October, 1944, Noor was beaten and then shot to death in the infamous Dachau concentration camp.

You can read her full story here but do try to catch the documentary (by the BBC) being telecast in India on the Fox History & Entertainment channel. Incidentally, the documentary has a personal touch as it features her sister's son visiting the places where she lived, operated from and finally breathed her last.

Two things that really struck me:
a) When the underground network collapsed, HQ offered her a safe passage home. She refused.

b) She was provided a pistol but left it behind in England as she did not believe in killing anyone, even in self defence.

Noor Inayat Khan's story deserves to be in our history books. I am sure one of these days a Bollywood film will be made on her life and although what we see on screen will be a masala version I think it's okay.

Her spirit is beautiful enough to shine through.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I know what you might want to do this summer

1) Apply for a scholarship to Cannes
This one is only for students of advertising, markting and communications between 18-23 years of age but hey, there are so many of you out there! Last date to apply is Tue April 28, so hurry. Details here.

2) Work from home
So many of you applied the last time I advertised transcription work, I'm sure you will find this opportunity interesting. It's a company based in Goa called Perennial solutions, looking for part time & freelance workers and I quote from their ad:

The job involves internet-based online audio transcription (general) and can be accessible from home itself and can work during leisure hours. If you have computer with internet connection you can work from any where in India. Application details here.

A couple of other interesting openings on JAM's sister site Jobokplease:

a) GMAT trainer: The company is C-Square learnings and looking for a graduate who can teach Maths/ English. The position is in Hyderabad and offers Rs 15,000 p.m. Details here.

b) Product Development Internship: This position is based in Delhi and being offered by 'Flying Minds Knowledge Partners'. Candidates should have an MCA / B.E. / B.Tech. (CS / IT / EC) background and they add:

To be able to successfully complete Internship with us, we desire certain level of interest and curiosity among the students along with some prior experience of basic programming in any of languages like C/ C++/ Java/
.NET and basic HTM
. Apply here

c) Market research study (this is for all you BMS, BBA and MBA types). Retailscape is a retail consulting & design company looking for sincere freshers for a Market Reseach Study, for a MNC FMCG client.

Job involves a retail study with traditional retailers and Modern Trade outlets, in 6 metro cities. Apply here

Last but not the least, JAM magazine is looking for script writers for 'JAM TV'.

Professional scriptwriting experience is not necessary, but creative ideas and knowing the JAM attitude is a must. Should be able to lucidly deliver creative ideas for short web videos
. Apply here

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop

Sudhish Kamath sent me this info and I thought some of you might be interested in signing up. So here goes the press release!

Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop

Do you want to be one of the chosen 250 to attend a week-long masterclass by some of the best screenwriting teachers in the country?

Kamal Haasan, in association with Indian Institute of Technology, Madras presents a first-of-its-kind international workshop and seminar on screenwriting in South India. “It’s a strictly instructional event. Basic education is compulsory and candidates need to demonstrate their seriousness to get selected,” says the writer-filmmaker-actor.

The Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop to be held at the IIT-M campus between May 29 to June 3, 2009 will feature few of the best screenwriters and filmmakers from around the world.

Veteran writer Jean Claude Carriere has confirmed his participation via video conference.

Mr. Kamal Haasan himself will join the discussions and don the role of faculty during the workshop and seminar. “Students will be able to pick up copies of my scripts and get their doubts clarified,” he adds.

The screenwriting workshop will be conducted by K.Hariharan, Director of the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, Anjum Rajabali, Professional screenwriter and head of departments of screenwriting at Film and TV Institute, Pune and Whistling Woods, Mumbai and Atul Tiwari, Professional screenwriter and well known playwright.

“We will be approaching screenwriting from two angles”, says Mr.Hariharan. “How to turn words into images that you see on screen and also how to do the opposite – putting in words what you see as images in your mind. Every day, we will have two sessions of guest lectures by reputed writer-filmmakers from the industry.”

For long, screenwriting has been a neglected discipline even in film schools. “While all good writing is essentially intuitive, it is essential to understand the basic principles of storytelling and the form of the screenplay to be a competent screenwriter”, says Mr. Anjum Rajabali, who founded the screenwriting department at FTII and at Whistling Woods.

“We all agree that it is impossible to make even a half decent film with a bad script and that a good script is the first and foremost requisite to make a good film. But even then we have seen that pedagogy of the screenwriting has not taken roots in India,” adds Mr. Atul Tiwari, who has who has conducted similar workshops in New Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Manipal and Pune.

The workshop will culminate with a seminar, which will be open to industry professionals. The event is an initiative of Raajkamal Films International to bring screenwriting to the forefront.

To apply, students must send a copy of their resume, a passport-size photograph along with a 200-word synopsis on their favourite film and a list of their five favourite films to before May 5, 2009.

More details are available on For further queries, email

My observations:

250 students seems to be a large number for such a workshop. I suppose if that many register, they will be broken up into smaller groups.

I hope Kamal Haasan really is able to put his ego aside and don the role of faculty. He's giving students an opportunity to 'pick up his scripts and get their doubts clarified'. Considering that some of his recent films like Dashavataram are very doubtful, I hope he is prepared for some serious interrogation!

The output at the end of it all is unclear. I hope it's something tangible and practical - as a good workshop should be! There could be a follow up 3-6 months later where participants come with their screenplays and get feedback from the experts and peer group.

Here's to more kickass scriptwriters coming into Bollywood, Kollywood or even... Hollywood!

Monday, April 20, 2009

JAM Engineering Guide - updated edition

I am in the process of updating the Engineering Admissions Guide published by JAM last year. And once again, I need your help :)

The guide was a labour of love, made possible by so many of you sharing your experiences and participating in our survey. Although I can't claim it is a 'best seller' I know it has helped a lot of students. And I feel it is my duty to update the content, as every incoming batch needs a credible source of information!

So here's what I'll be doing:

* The ratings remain unchanged (as I don't think colleges move in terms of quality in a single year). A fresh survey will be conducted over the course of this year and published in 2010.

* The cover design is being changed, and any factual errors which crept in will be taken care of :)

* The articles will be refreshed - and here is where I need your inputs.

Much has changed over the last year. The idea that engineering guarantees you a software job no longer holds. Neither is it a passport into other glamorous sectors like i-banking. 'Core' is once again king.

How does this affect the engineering aspirant? I've listed some of the topics on which I would like small articles or inputs from readers of this blog.

From engineers working in the industry:
1) What is a 'core' job? What are the work and growth prospects like.
Inputs wanted from
* Civil
* Chemical
* Mechanical
* Petrochemical
and all other branches

2) Exciting things Indian engineers have done recently:
- produced the Nano car
- built the Delhi metro
- sent Chandrayaan into space

Anyone who has worked with these projects and would like to share the excitement - please do write a small piece to inspire the next generation. Idea is for at least some students to take up engineering out of a sense of passion!

3) How to achieve despite being from a lesser known engineering college.
We all know that only a few can make it to IITs. But the truth is you don't have to be from a brand name college to be 'successful' in life. If you are from a relatively 'unknown' college but doing well in your chosen career, please share your story!

4) Engineers who have become entrepreneurs.
We would love to have some stories - again to open young minds to the various possibilities.

5) 'I am an engineer but my current job/ career has nothing to do with engineering'.
Yes, many engineers are now film makers, IAS officers, musicians, bankers - and what have you. The truth is you can study anything and make a career in a completely separate field. Does engineering provide a solid foundation for life? Pls feel free to share your views & experiences!

From engineering students:
1) If a core job is what you want, you need more than a superficial knowledge of your subject.
Share the hows and whys of falling deeply and madly in love with your branch of engineering. Even if it was not your 'first choice'! Even if the college wasn't the one you always dream of joining

2) Extra curriculars that add value to your CV

3) Think your college is an 'unsung hero'?
An institute that more students should know about? Send us a small write up!

4) 'Why I am doing MTech'

5) Exciting things engineering students are doing.
Whether it's making a racing car, a robot dog or..a computer program to make girls fall for you (just kidding). If you've done anything worth trumpeting, let us know.

6) Small tidbits about engineering college & hostel life

7) And yeah, some boring but 'most wanted' tips on how to crack various engg entrance exams. Just share what worked for you.

The above is an indicative list. If any of the topics touches a chord (or you have a topic apart from this you'd like to write on) drop me a line at rashmi_b at

You can either:

* Write the article yourself (ideally)
* Answer a short q'nnaire by email

You will get credits and a copy of the book when it comes out :)

Lastly, if any of you is 'in between jobs' or just has a bit of time on their hands - I have a small (miserably paid but v meaningful) assignment for you. Can be done from any location in India as it's mainly online based.

Will send details to those who are specifically interested.

Phew. That was quite a long list of requests. Kya karoon. Yeh kaam bahut zaroori hai, aur main ise akele nahin kar sakti.

I know, as always, you folks will chip in and make it possible! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If you want something badly enough...

You get it!

And here's a feel-good story for a Sunday evening that tells you how you can make it happen. This example is of a guy - let's call him G - who cracked the CAT exam but it could apply to anything in life.

I am sharing the letter he wrote to me, after being accepted at four IIMs ( reproduced as is, punctuated by my comments in italics).

Dear Rashmi,

I hope you remember me. I was one of the 9 or 10 CAT aspirants who took part in the survey you conducted on your blog, sometime last year.

I scored 99.86 percentile in CAT 2008. I got GDPI calls from IIM Calcutta, Lucknow, Indore and Kozhikode, and managed to convert all four of them. I'll obviously be going to IIM Calcutta.

Yes, I was a victim of IIM A's policy of looking at the 10th and 12th standard scores: I had a comparatively lower score in my tenth standard. (IIMA's loss, I am sure! :)

This is the time when I pause and look back at my CAT preparation. And one thing that instantly flashes to my mind is your Kung-fu Panda post written sometime last year.

"Lesson # 1: If you want something badly enough, you get it somehow."

Believe me, I wanted it badly enough. I shifted to a lower paying job in an IT firm, from a high-paying "core" firm, so that I'd get time to study for CAT. I was assigned to a project, and the timelines were tight- we had to work on weekends also.

Initially I whined a bit because I had shifted here to study in peace, but later I managed to 'beat' the system. On Saturdays, I juggled with CAT classes(4 hours) and office work(8 hours). I was determined not to come to office on Sundays(others in my team did come) by working harder on Saturdays. On Sundays I took two mock-CATs: one from IMS and the other from TIME.

(Many others would have given up - but you found a way to juggle both work and study. I do think this is a better strategy than quitting your job and only focussing on preparation - a question I am commonly asked!)

I did not score high consistently in the mock-CATs. Yet, I had a vague inner feeling that I'll hit a sixer on the last ball, and do extremely well in CAT. I just meditated on the last day before CAT, and repeated 15-15-25 in my mind. The numbers referred to the number of questions I would solve in Quant, DI and Verbal sections respectively. It ended up being 13-12-40.

(Meditation is a *must* no matter who you are and what you do. We brush our teeth everyday, but what about all the cobwebs in our minds?)

Frankly I find it very tough to determine causality, i.e. I did 'X' and scored well in CAT. All I can say is that if you are not convinced that an IIM is the only place for you, then it is impossible to succeed in CAT. One more thing: many people take CAT to escape from their IT jobs.

I quote from that post of yours:

"Clearing these super tough exams is like running a lawnmower through your own mental garden. It crushes the weeds of self doubt and self pity which we've allowed to grow. Exam or no exam, you can choose to yank out those weeds. Then look the guys who think they know better in the eye and declare,"My soup is as kick-ass as yours."

I couldn't agree more with you on this. The whole process of cracking CAT, clearing the interviews has changed me a lot. It is not that I have become cocky, or that I have acquired a "Bring 'em on" attitude after getting an admission into IIM-C. It is simply that I don't care about anything else.

I have become less self-conscious about my appearance. I am less anxious about what others will say. I know I can stretch myself to do bigger things after cracking CAT- after all if I could manage a tough office schedule and crack CAT(and eventually the interviews), I can face most (if not all) of the challenges that come in front of me.

And now I realize that those were the weeds of self-doubt and self-pity which CAT yanked out. The whole experience gave me confidence, yet it was humbling too.

(True confidence is really about humility. You know you are capable of anything, and that 'others' do not matter. You are really only competing with yourself... But, no matter how much you 'achieve' you accept that there will always more to seek, to experience, and understand.)

Well, that's all I have to say. Let me take this opportunity to thank you for the wonderful blog that you write. It has inspired me on more than one occasion. Believe me, I view self-help stuff with suspicion, contempt and even derision, but your words work for me.


Thank you, G, for sharing your experience. Wish you all the very best in the journey of life. May the panda in you continue to kung fu, even in that suit and tie.

More 'kung fu panda' experiences shared by readers here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mochamojo - the art of reinventing yourself

I was passing by Hill Road last evening when I was ambushed by something big, pink and psychedelic. It's 'Mochamojo' - or good old Mocha@Hill Road - back with a bang.

When did it reopen? April 15.

Why is it a big deal? Because Mocha Hill Road was a hangout place with a difference. While all Mochas are cool and interesting, the Hill Road one was something else.

Has it changed for the better? Surprisingly, yes!

Gone is the old, grungy look
Gone are the hookahs
Gone are the waiters with fez caps

Mochamojo is inspired by 70s pop-art. The theme is 'bright, shiny and happy' - which is a great idea, in these slightly depressing times. You enter and immediately your mood is uplifted. Which is not something you can say about a Barista :)

So what about the menu?

Well, it is much the same but a little different. The menu card is now designed like a vinyl record (complete with the hole). Inside are most of the old favourites - the paninis, poutine, desserts and coffees.

But there's more healthy stuff now. Like fresh fruit juices (complete with calorie count), a salad bar and 'raw food' spaghetti (raw food being a big thing in the US).

Again, I think this reflects the changing times, the health consciousness among people. Not that they will necessarily order it every time but it's good to take a 'leadership' position in that area for a brand like Mocha.

What did I have? Belgian waffles - although it was four in the afternoon. Because they said 'we serve 'em all day'. And I find them on the menu so rarely!

The staff is also rather nice (right now). Apart from the fact that they've got a makeover in terms of uniform (bright pink aprons!) - they are quite 'concerned' about your wellbring. The guy serving me apologised profusely, for taking 20 minutes to get my order.

Theek hai bhai - maaf kiya.
As I was happily occupying a whole comfortable white sofa and enjoying the ambience I did not really care.

And by the way, it may be a 70s theme but they play 80s and 90s music :)

The only silly part was that the manager did not allow me to take pics. Officially. He said:"You will have to contact our PR manager XYZ."

But he didn't stop me from taking pics from my cellphone. Or videos from my (brand new) Kodak Zi6 HD camera (that too looks like a phone.. so I guess no one notices :)

It's not that I want to 'not follow the rules'.
But I love this place and want to share what I saw.
And I don't have the patience to deal with bureaucracy.

So more power to Mochamojo. Check it out on a dreary afternoon when you want to get away from it all.

And for marketing types flogging thakela brands, as well as each one of us feeling stuck in a rut - here is a lesson to be learnt.

On the power of reinvention!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of star studded skies

Whats wrong in being mediocre if you are satisfied with your life...

asks Sirius Black in response to my post Software roulette

Well, nothing, I guess. You can go through life like a 20 W bulb, dim and feeble. Or you can find purpose, glow from inside and be like a 100 w bulb, lighting up the world you live in.

I came across this beautiful (very short) story by Novoneel Chakraborty. A conversation between an MBA and a 'struggling actor'. The MBA advises the struggler to first get a job and this is what the actor replies:

"Have you ever seen a star studded sky?”

“Why, yes.”

“You may like the star just above your head or the one in the right or to the left perhaps but you got no right to question why the star to the left is in the left.

I believe the point of our living is to find the coordinates where we know we belong and respect it irrespective of whatever difficulties or humiliation we encounter.”

Beautifully said. Where to start looking for these co-ordinates.. well, we'll keep discussing that on this blog!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book review: Don't lose your mind, lose your weight

I am not the kind of person who buys books on dieting, or tries out those famous 'crash diets'.

Yet, I picked up this book. Because Rujuta is someone I am intrigued by. She is a dietician and fitness expert with a difference.

Rujuta was Anil Ambani's personal trainer at one time, and then of course went on to become even more famous. As the nutritionist who helped Kareena Kapoor her 'size zero figure'.

The intriguing bit is not Kareena losing weight (after all, she in an actress. Actresses will go to any length and on any diet to do such things :)

No, the interesting bit was the many interviews Kareena gave proclaiming that she did not go on a 30 day diet of lettuce leaves and lauki juice. This babe claimed she was eating... And could we be hearing right? Eating parathas!

So yes, the book heavily leans on the 'Kareena Kapoor' connection with both a foreword and a blurb on the cover which reads:

"Rujuta has changed not just my body but my mind and soul. She is the best thing to have happened to my life."

But the truth is, once you read the first five pages you know this book packs its own punch.You forget about Kareena (she is a character who appears now and then but so do many other clients).

Page by page, chapter by chapter Rujuta explains how practically everything we have accepted as the gospel truth when it comes to dieting is wrong. Let's start with this simple thought:

"There is no such thing as going 'on or 'off' your diet. Eating correctly is a lifelong commitment, and the diet should be a reflection of this."

And what works is the way Rujuta gets her point across. Totally candid, down to earth, bindaas. Sample this (pg 25):

"Where is the bravery in losing weight? People with diarrhoea lose weight. So do people with jaundice, malaria, TB, not to mention cancer and AIDS."

Or this:

"Why do we pay so little attention to our stomachs? Is it because it never attacks us?"

She goes on to discuss the ad on TV where the son-in-law dabaos everything that is cooked for him and the clients whose burp gives away everything they have lying undigested in there. And she tops it up with the comment: "Some wise person rightly said why fart and waste, when you can burp and taste?"

Hmm. Some readers may find that disgusting. But the thing is, in the context of the subject she is writing about it all makes perfect sense. And although her style may be very conversational at no point will you doubt the wealth of knowledge and insight she has on everything she is talking about.

There is just enough 'technical stuff' - on carbs, proteins, vitamins and transfats - to make a serious point. But everything she advises is easy to understand and implement.

"Love and respect your body"

"Everything is ok in moderation"

"Think of nutrients, not calories"

This is a book grounded in a philosophy of life. A confluence as it were of all that Rujuta has learned (and is still learning) from her study of yoga, ayurveda, sports science and nutrition.

Well, I could go on and on but I will leave it to you to pick up the book and find out for yourself. Incidentally, 'Don't lose your mind, lose your weight' is currently a # 1 bestseller @ Crossword.

Accha hai, it is a book that will shape so many minds, so many bodies... Spread so much love and happiness!

Don't lose your mind, lose your weight is published by Random House India.
Rs 199/-

IIM Calcutta admissions goof up

After issuing admission offers to 700 students on Friday 10th April, the next morning IIM Calcutta pruned its admission list by 100 leaving these students in the lurch. They have been put 'on hold' indefinitely.

This is the first time an IIM has made such an error and it is causing quite a bit of heartburn among students. This morning The Telegraph reported:

Euphoria turned into despair for MBA aspirant Vijay Joshi (name changed) in the span of 12 hours this weekend, with IIM Calcutta suddenly pruning a list of 700 selected students by almost 100.

Vijay, a Mumbai boy, sensed something was amiss the moment he heard about the “first list” being revised. He went online immediately to check the IIM Calcutta website, only to discover that he was among the unlucky few whose selection had been put “on

The same website had flashed the message “Congratulations, you have been selected” across the 22-year-old’s computer screen when he keyed in his registration number and date of birth less than 12 hours earlier on Friday.

Not getting in is sad.
Getting in and then being put to pasture is worse.

But if it is a genuine mistake, it's better corrected in the first 24 hours - isn't it?

Saibal Chattopadhyay, the dean of programme initiatives on the Joka campus, is quoted in The Telegraph as follows:

“The original list was drawn up taking into account the likelihood of some students with multiple offers from IIMs opting out, apart from the usual dropouts. But as it turned out, there are very few students with multiple offers this time and the dropout rate could be lower than previous years. We were compelled to revise the list,” he said.

This could well be true. Each IIM has created its a very distinct criteria in terms of the importance accorded to CAT score, work experience and past academics. Which is a great thing but then, it needs to be managed efficiently.

Question 1: Can all IIMs please share information pertaining to overlap prior to releasing final offers and avoid such errors?

IIM Calcutta has increased seats in the PGDM program from 318 to 408 this year. But 700 admit letter for 408 seats seems excessive in any case.

Question 2: Wouldn't it be safer to issue only 10 or 20% more offer letters than the number of seats and then take in people on the waiting list? Well, each institute has its own estimation of what is 'safe' and therein lies the challenge.

An unconfirmed estimate posted on a pagalguy discussion thread estimates last year's wait list scenario as such:

1. IIM-A - 0 buffer calls....waitlist moved till 45.
Total no dropping out=45
2. IIM-B - about 50 buffer calls....waitlist moved till 47.
Total no dropping out=97
3. IIM-C - Secretive abt no of buffer calls. But there are abt a 100 ppl in IIM-A who also had C converts, and guess atleast 25 odd in B had C also....waitlist of 20 cleared out. Total no dropping out= 145+

Given that this year the employment scene for freshers is bleak, one would expect more students to accept the admission offered at any IIM. Thus even 600 calls for 408 seats seems to be on the higher side.

The 100 'on hold' students will apparently be given preference over 'wait listed' candidates. Which means wait list waalon ko to koi chance hi nahin hai.

12 hours is a pretty short period of time and I hope these 100 'on hold' candidates were too busy celebrating to dash off a 'sorry I cannot join you' letter to any other bschools they were accepted by! You know, sometimes it does pay to be a late-lateef.

And if it's any consolation at all, last year Kelloggs had made a similar mistake with 50 odd students. (Thank you Ankit for this link)

In that case 'the school's automated mail-merge process mistakenly attached acceptance letters to candidates who had been declined'.

Ouch! We are only human and fallible... so is technology and so are the profs who decide who gets into a bschool.

Which, in the larger scheme of things means this. Even if you were rejected outright - their loss!

Unko kya pata tumhari capabilities kya hain.
You didn't fit their formula - that is all.

Software roulette

A tiny news item on pg 7 of Economic Times * today declares 'Wipro Tech to honour job offers'.

The gist of it is that Wipro will honour all offers made to all 6000 graduates during 2007-8. These grads would join the company between May and December 2009 and undergo training for 2 months.

Thereafter, 'if they are not engaged in any billable project, they would only be paid a stipend of Rs 6000 per month'. The report adds that Wipro had made offers to 14,000 graduates with 2008-9 joining dates at a salary of Rs 2.75-3.25 lakhs per annum. 40% of this lot is still waiting to be inducted.

I am wondering, if I were this young engineering graduate how would I look at the situation:

a) Option A: Hope and pray for the best - maybe I'll be one of those on a billable project.

If that hope is belied, I will still be grateful for a chance to be in a software company (because that was my dream job). And I'll use this time to learn all that I can - from my seniors, from books, from the internet.

Kabhi to mera number aayega!

b) Option B : Take the Rs 6000 per month and use the time to prepare for CAT. Better than sitting at home and preparing for CAT
... earning nothing.

And well, in any case I joined Wipro only to pass time while I look for something better. Preferably a million miles away from software!

c) Option C: Not join Wipro at all. Because you know... I know this is not the job for me, whether I get billable projects or not.

Sadly I don't really KNOW what I want but one has to start somewhere. And better today, than ten years from now!

Now I have not done a scientific survey but I bet 90% of you would choose option 'b'. In fact this is what the average software employee was thinking anyways, even when the company was paying full salary.

I know many of us think,"One has to be selfish in this world. I've got to put *me* first."

The only trouble is this strategy doesn't necessarily solve anything. You slog it out, make it to a bschool and at the end of it are still left wondering,"Is this it?"

There are no fireworks when you hold your new offer letter in hand.
Heck, it doesn't even have as many zeros as you thought an 'MBA salary' should.

Ab kya?

Kuch nahin. This is the life you have chosen - accept it with all your heart and be the best you can be!

Or, refuse to 'play it safe' and figure out where you would rather be.

There is no third path - except mediocrity.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Rahul Gandhi and his dubious Cambridge degree

UPDATE: This post stands stands WITHDRAWN in light of the clarification issued by Cambridge University that Rahul's MPhil degree is valid and was indeed issued in 1994-95.

The New Indian Express which I had quoted continues to stand by its report. But I am satisfied by the clarification and no longer find the points raised in the post to be relevant.

Accordingly I see no point in retaining the post online. However, I have left the comments untouched :)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Friends, Romans, greedy MBAs...

Elite business schools in the US are facing a backlash. What did you teach those stuffed shirts, anyway... Russian roulette??

Bloomberg's Oliver Staley reports: Harvard Business School, stung by criticism that it hasn’t prepared alumni to cope with the economic meltdown, will dissect its performance using a practice it employs to examine corporations in crisis.

A task force, created in November at the direction of the dean, is writing a case study to scrutinize whether the school is failing to teach students to understand and manage risk in the current environment, according to Paul Healy, co-chair of the panel. The case study method is the technique Harvard uses to analyze decision making by executives during times of duress.

The idea is to put professors in the students' seats and ultimately use the discussion to promote curriculum changes.

Harvard's less than illustrious alumni at the moment include the likes of Stanley O’Neal and John Thain (ex Merrill Lynch), Rick Wagoner, (ex General Motors Corp) and Christopher Cox, former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The article goes on to add that "many of the graduates involved in failures attended the school 20 or 30 years ago, before classes on risk management, macroeconomics and leadership were required". But another Bloomberg columnist, Kevin Hassett, points out it's not so much what they studied but their attitude which resulted in the downfall.

And he makes such a good case that this is one of those rare instances where I am compelled to reproduce a large chunk of the article.

For two centuries, Wall Street survived wars, depressions, bank panics and terrorist attacks. Now Wall Street as we know it is dead. Gone.

When a healthy and thriving person dies suddenly, a medical examiner may talk to family and friends to see if the deceased had recently changed behavior in some way.

Wall Street did change radically in recent years in one notable way. Twenty or 30 years ago, it was common for the best and the brightest to be doctors or engineers. By the 2000s, they wanted to be investment bankers.

When Wall Street was run by people randomly selected from the population, it was able to survive everything. After the best and brightest took over, it died the first time real-estate prices dropped 20 percent.

Are the two facts related? In other words, did Harvard kill Wall Street?

Hassett goes on to argue that Wall Street is gone because its firms did a terrible job assessing the risks of the positions they took.

The models these firms used to evaluate risks failed. But having a failed model brings a firm down only if the firm collectively buys into the model. To do that, the firm must be run by people who have a great deal of faith in their models, and a great deal of faith in themselves.

So basically, MBAs believe they know everything, that they can do no wrong. This narcissism has a real career impact...

The consequences of Wall Street’s reckless brilliance in many ways parallel modern-day engineering disasters. If you travel through Italy, you can’t help but notice the many Roman bridges that still stretch across that nation’s waterways. How is it that the Romans could build bridges that would last thousands of years, while the ones we build today collapse after a few decades?

The answer is simple. Back then, they did not have the fancy computers required to calculate exactly how strong a bridge must be. So an architect made a bridge very, very strong. Today, engineers can calculate exactly how much steel they need to incorporate into a bridge to bear the expected load. The result is, they are free to make them weaker...

The same is true of the financial sector. Back when Wall Street was run by individuals without fancy degrees, they had a proper skepticism toward fancy models and managed their risks with a great deal more humility and caution. Only when failed models became canon did catastrophe strike.

He concludes: Wall Street didn’t die in spite of being run by our best and brightest. It died because of that fact.

Ahem. I don't agree with this entirely - the regulators who turned a blind eye and allowed the is good' brigade to take over are also to blame. But yes, there is much in what he says that rings true.

Every catastrophe has its lessons (one hopes!). Here is some more food for thought for bschools and their students from columnist Matthew Lynn (also from Bloomberg!)

A sum up: Business schools legitimized a pseudo-scientific approach, promoted a mechanistic management style and formed a managerial elite more interested in rewards than producing lasting wealth for the economies they operate in.

(An attitude which manifests right from the time of placement, I would add!)

But the details are more interesting, so here goes:

If a flight-training school produced this number of crashes, we would be asking some questions. There is no reason that business studies should be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny.The schools should be called to account for several things.

First, they encouraged a quasi-scientific approach to business, sermonizing that everything could be nailed down in a textbook. By preaching a set series of formulas they encouraged students to believe that running a company could be mastered by anyone. The entire private-equity industry is founded on that principle. So are mergers and acquisitions.

In reality, management is a skill that is acquired through experience, judgment and flair. Billions are about to be wasted relearning a simple fact that should never have been forgotten.

Second, the intellectual tools that led us into the financial meltdown were largely invented within academia. Complex models for pricing risk created the market for the options and derivatives contracts that have caused so much trouble in the past year.

The business schools took something that was mysterious and unknowable -- risk -- and tried to make it as easy to count as peas in a pod. By doing so, they encouraged a whole generation of young men and women to go into investment banking armed with the belief that they had mastered risk, that it had been tamed and brought under control.

The truth, of course, turned out to be different. Bankers can no more tame risk than sailors can tame the oceans. All they can hope to do is steer a safe course through it.

Third, the schools created a managerial elite that acted like a caste apart. One reason the bonus culture ran out of control was that many of the people involved were trapped in a bubble. They thought “guaranteed” bonuses, private jets and multimillion-dollar payoffs were normal. That process started in business schools.

Citing examples from history such as Henry VIII and Fidel Castro, Lynn makes a rather drastic proposal: Shut down business schools. They are beyond redemption.

Not that yeh honewala hai. Just arbit emotional CP. But for a moment, if we were to say that an ordinance was passed to shut down bschools across the world. What would happen?

Nothing. They would just spring up in another form. They might teach anything, anywhere, but ultimately we would find a new way to create elites, who believe they are the brighest and best, and can do no wrong.

We will bring down other walls on other streets. But keep building more... to separate Purebloods and Mudbloods, Brahmins and non-Brahmins, Thinkers and Followers, ... 'Us' and 'Them'.

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