Tuesday, March 20, 2012

YFA all the way...

YFA may be a less known acronym for outside world. But for IIMK EPGP students it means a lot. It means showcasing existence. For the sake of others YFA stands for "Yes for Attendance". This needs to be typed in by the students on the chat room once they arrive at the class room. One needs to do this as well as tick off the check box on the top to get attendance (Grades associated with this as well). But for EPGP students it means a lot. It means hey I have arrived. It also could mean Proxy at times :).

I had been thinking about MBA for long. Thoughts such as should I do a full time or a part time MBA. What would that mean for financial stability of the family? Can I afford to take a couple of years off. If I do, what sort of institute should I choose. What should be my selection criteria.
So I selected criteria
a) Part Time or Full time - Part time
b) Reputation of the institution - high
c) Affordability - should be, but can work through with a bank loan and some support from my company.
d) Should be it be a certificate course or PGP equivalent - PGP equivalent
so the shortlists included IIMB, IIMK, XLRI.
IIMB campus was based out of Bangalore, Takes around 2 1/2 years to complete. But need to take Friday afternoon off and attend classes. One gets to attend the classes with PGP student. Has an entrance exam and interview.
XLRI has a campus in Bangalore, the course takes around 2 years and classes happen on the weekends.
IIMK had a mix of in campus and off campus modules. The classes are delivered through HUGHES platform. Takes around 2 1/2 years to complete. Has an entrance exam & interview as selection criteria.

I choose EPGP from IIMK for a few reasons

* IIM Brand
* Same curriculum as PGP student
* Mix of in campus and live sessions
* Flexibility to attend classes outside office hours. i.e. no need to take a day off work

So the entrance exam was held in July and I remember going to the center like a humble student, writing the exams for 2 hours. I got selected and was asked to attend an interview. The closest center was Whitefield. The online platform was used for interview and it was my first experience with Hughes platform. My interview was scheduled at 2pm. Just as usual I started chatting with Prashantha who was the center coordinator and within a few moments we got along. He just told me about the interview process , just a few questions that I could anticipate. He also told me about a few folks who had attended the interview from the center before me. He was laughing about a guy who came in and asked if he needs to wear a tie a coat etc. "Sir people are too finicky". I got along pretty well. I had Prof. Rameshan and Prof. Sanal as the interviewer. Professor Rameshan asked me about HP's company strategy about Compaq merger and so on. Finally Professor Sanal asked me a question about the neighboring districts of Pilani. Why??? Because my Masters degree is from BITS Pilani and he had taught there....

By end of August I got a confirmation about my enrollment. Signed by Professor SSS Kumar... Who Kumar?? Well I was sure to find out.. 140 odd students got selected. Few were destined to do only EMEP (1 year course). Few (I have to say this) had the Guts to take it beyond a year....

First Campus visit

Our first campus session was planned between 21st and 26th of September. We were not given campus accommodation :(.. Oooh what an experience it would have been..

It took us some time to get settled. I still remember us rushing to take out the notes which the professors used to upload in the system inside the class room. The funniest event seemed to happen when Kanad stepped forward towards the podium to take the class pictures. Professor Abhilash chased him out. I met Gagan during the first class. From then on till 2 1/2 years we were pretty much together, be it the selection of specialization or the assignments and projects.

I have to admit IIMK is one of the institutes that focus on Environmental development. As one enters the campus, on the right side there is a big water reservoir created. That stands testimony of the focus of the institute. Plus Environmental Management is thought as a subject in the first year.

On our way back we were given a Big bundle of books that I found difficult to carry back home even in an auto. Are we supposed to read all of them in 3/6 months? Oh my God. The day I arrived back I realized this one is not going to be a cup of cake. Each class needed an assignment to be submitted, few hours before the class starts. Class participation was valued etc. But first to the WhiteField Team. There were 4 of us. Shiva, Sunny, Arun and Me. Each one of us with different skillsets.

Sunny - Analytical wizard
Siva - Very perseverant, Mr. Multitasker; Helped us with the logistics @ SAP :)
Arun - Networking
So we were the Whitefield boys..

The first project was for Marketing (Prof. Joffi). Personally I liked his perseverance in teaching. Bring in diverse perspectives of the students and then leading them through thought provoking questions. Given that most of us came from diverse perspectives and were trying to pull in the discussions in different directions, I thought he did a commendable job.Prof. Srinivasan also taught us that when it rains in Spain, it rains mainly in the plains :)

Aspiring to take up Strategy in the second year (Marketing being the other specialization), I had the first glimpse of the subject by Prof. Bhatt. I donno if it was the teaching style or the modus of teaching, it fizzled my enthusiasm for the subject.

Baptism to Finance (Accounting) was with fire. I remember Sid, Ajith and Arun Raj were going to tuitions on Accounting. Whitefield boys did pretty badly. But the rude awakening gave us the impetus to do well moving forward. Siva said "whatever it comes someone has to own a subject, at 6pm he has to be at the center and teach the rest of us for 45 minutes, give context." Plans are always plans and that is why they stay in Plans :). But at least the intent arrived and we moved along to Q2.

Finance started off well. I guess my past in Engineering helped with the analytical approach. I started to love the subject. Professor Abhilash was also a catalyst plus the experience with Accounting made sure we did all the assignments in time, prepared well. Sunny played a key role here. Q2 was definitely better... And Finally My son Pranav had arrived :).

The much awaited second in campus session came and this time all of us were given accommodation inside the campus. Oh what an atmosphere. Seemed like everybody's became 22 years of age. Getting up early morning going for a jog, playing cricket. grabbing a cup of coffee at the canteen, rushing to the classes, reading assignments, sharing experiences. Staying up all night studying. On the last day Prof. Anand threw a spanner at the last night celebration. He asked us to finish the MR assignment and submit by Saturday morning. Oh what a tragedy. Sometimes I think this was done on purpose to make sure we don't overdo the freedom :) . In the end folks felt 1 week was pretty small. We had barely been there and the experience was just syncing in :).

Third Quarter also gave us one of the best Teachers in the campus. Our beloved Business Law lecturer (TM). Prof. Tharakan. For a subject that could have been otherwise "Dry", he generated interest in the class by using innovative techniques of teaching like prizes (like pens pencils etc.). All the study modules were covered with cases and all of them are etched in my mind because one of us were characters in cases. The case of Bhavani Biriyani and Sandhya's marriage is very famous. About Violent Vinay Lomate. I was a character in an Intellectual property case. Truly Mr. Amazing Business Law Lecturer.

Supply Chain management was another amazing subject. Purely because of Siva's presence. His in-depth knowledge of SAP process and Supply chain meant the subject sank in pretty fast. MCS also provided the first glimpse of an Ex. CEO as our teacher. Prof. Rajendran. Humble but yet his subject knowledge was to the point. Was a real pleasant experience for all "Boys and Girls".

IB gave me the chance to interact with Prof. Rameshan who had interviewed me (currently the Director of IIM Rohtak). His teaching styles were hitherto strict.

Then there was the question of my subject selection for specialization. Marketing was a default choice (just out of pure interest), the race was between Finance and Strategy. But I finally went for Finance, purely based on my experience with the professors and the quality of interactions.

We got a mini break in the middle so that the results could settle in and the final list of candidates for the specialization could be charted. In the meantime mails were floating around about the degree of the taxing nature of the Specialization .Not being part of a Finance background was surely daunting. But then Prof. Abhilash's words were reassuring. If you had gone through the rigor of the first year, the second year would not be a problem. Just keep the same tempo.

During December 2011, Ashraf (Current Marketing Manager for IIMK courses) called me up to check my availability for attending a discussion with AMBA (Association of MBA) folks on the accreditation. I moved a few meetings and was good for the venture. I was looking forward to spending time with Gagan. BTW: Gagan, Me, Sandhya, Neil and Bhavani were representatives from EPGP-02. The junior batch was also represented. This was a 2 day function. The first day was a casual get together with the AMBA representatives. The second day was the meeting with them and sharing our experiences. PGP was a sure bet to get. But EPGP was not guaranteed, mainly because of the being on a Technology platform. So that meant a daunting task of highlighting the right value proposition to the AMBA representatives. Finally it went well and IIMK courses were given AMBA accreditation.

Having chosen Finance and Marketing meant that I continued to have the luxury to attend classes on 3 days, while folks who had chosen other specialization meant they had to come in on 4 days (the hours remained the same for all of us). It also meant that I was the only one in the center with this combination. I overlapped with Arun for Marketing and Sunny for Finance. Rajesh and Awadhesh joined in later and we had a larger pool of folks for Finance. Siva got relocated to Chennai and also dropped off from the 2nd year enrollment. We had lost a good aide.

I also took a job shift in 2011 (In retrospect maybe I could have delayed it). I moved to another division in HP. That meant I had to ramp up on the new domain (which I had very less time) and needed my focus during the beginning.

SDM was a really cool subject to start off. Prof. Sridhar's arguments towards the case will have both the plus side and the minus side. And what I agree with him is on this "You are managers, you have better context on the topic. You need to have arguments for the plus side as well as the minus side. Make sure you take care of all judgments and make the right judgment when the situation comes".

Q6 gave us Prof. S.S.S. Kumar and Financial Derivatives. The prescribed book was also written by him. The good thing he did was he taught based on the level of knowledge of the participants. I mean he could have ramped up the tempo and let us go hanging, but he didn’t. He understood the level of Finance knowledge of the class and ramped down the tempo.

Have you heard of twitter exam? Service marketing taught us that. There are 5 questions (Open book exam). You have to answer the question in 10 to 15 letters. I am a fan of it. It is Boolean (i.e. you will get marks or you will not). But at least it will not make you write long and long and long.

Prof Ambilee introduced plagiarism checkers in the last quarter and most of us had to resubmit the assignments later to correct it.

A day during the course

* Get up at 7:30am. Drop Rachana and Akki.
* Finish up my morning meetings with US counterparts.
* Head to office
* By 6pm finish office and rush to the center
* In class from 6:45pm to 10pm. Sometimes even more because of late night quizes.
* In the middle attend night calls
* Come back home and finish the rest of the office work plus assignments (some of them which needed to be submitted by 11:59pm).
* Read class notes text books, finish assignments,Sleep by around 2:30am

Experience in the class
Wearing headphone, listening to class. Having tea coffee at the nearest bakery during the break. Chit chat with Arun, Sunny, Rajesh, Awadhesh. Pulling each other’s leg. Chatting with other center mates through the platform.

Experience during the Exams
Thanks to Siva, we started booking hotels near the exam center. That just meant we saved the ordeal of about 2 hours travel time and tiresomeness.. Plus getting chance to discuss with the group. Generally the exams would be followed by a party on Sunday evening. But then we had to start the next class on Monday or the following day. So hardly a chance to celebrate.

Dialogues like Pearl in Deep sea
* "You have hit the Nail on the Head !!!!!"
* "Mr. Panchayath President is called for the inauguration"
* "Hey where is the guy who took the photo the other day in class" - Kanad this is for you :)
* "When it rains in spain, it rains mainly in the plains"
* "Sir can you do it best of three quizes"
* "Can I call you Boys and Girls?"
* "I thoroughly enjoyed teaching you. The exam will be an Enjoyable one for you"
* "Sir A/V lost"

Characters in class
* Sutanu "daa" ; Even for a class at 9 am on Sunday he will be in his Tie.
* Ramesh - Give him the mike and you will never get it back..
* Bhavani - "Sandhya mere liye ek Gas connection manga dena"

What I liked about the experience

* Getting to network with folks even outside IT domain
* The flexibility shown by professors. If you showed intent, they will help you in thick and thin.. I still remember Professor Rupesh Pathi explaining me Quantitative techniques at 11:30pm in the IIM campus, while he continued to get calls from his home. Just shows testimony to their commitment.
*Close knit group of Friends; I haven't seen proof of anyone down anyone else. Most of the folks are past the age of fighting for marks. We were fighting for survival, each one of us.

What I disliked or missed during this experience
* There were pockets of personal rivalry that I heard/know went out of bounds within class mates.
* Time spent with family especially Akki and Pranav.
* Placement efforts did not bear fruit primarily because of cold shoulder by authorities.
* Accommodation outside campus during campus visits.
* No weekends.
* Not being able to attend marriages of relatives.

All of these incidents seem like yesterday . Today I look back and see a vacuum in life. A vacuum of YFA, which I am pretty sure will be difficult to fill in.

First day Induction @ IIM

First day Induction @ IIM




The water reservoir @ the campus

Campus Entrance

With Dr.Abhilash

Hostel Room

What is Pramod doing alone in the class room?

Lab sessions

Gagan vehemently Arguing at the Lab session. Manoj does not want to relent and Anad is the referee

Cricket match early in the morning @ the Campus

Praveen, Pankaj, Amritha and Paramesh in the background

Chit chat with Manoj and Gagan

Morning Walk

Professor Abilash delivering the Finance session

At the center attending the session. This used to be my routine for 2 1/2 years.

A reading material on Service Marketing