Writing

Feb. 27
2014

A Beginner's Beginner's Guide to Networking

For years I heard that in order to get ahead in the world, I had to become practiced in networking. MIT career fair events boasted exclusive networking events, and career forums and conferences usually offer some sort of networking dinner or drink hour. Countless advice columns recommend networking as a way to further your career, and often provide list of DOs and DON'Ts, while never really explaining what networking is and how it can help you. Maybe it is intuitively obvious to some, but for years I had only vague ideas in my head. I thought networking was friends getting their other friends hired, or fraternity alumni hiring their brothers even if they aren't qualified. And every time I thought about it, I wondered why these networking hours were useful at all. You can't become very good friends with somebody in an hour long dinner, and it seemed weird and awkward to actually build a close friendship with somebody you met in a professional context like that. Sure, it is possible, but it can't be very common.

It took until my senior year to use my network, and another year past that for me to realize that I was using it. My mistake was believing that networking got you a job. More often than not, networking simply provides you a foot in the door, or faster route to getting hired. The normal job application process involves filling out some sort of online application that may or may not include a screening test, waiting until the company notices your application and decides you're qualified enough for a phone interviews, possibly more phone interviews, and finally one or more on-site interviews. This is a time consuming and often useless process--the online applicant pool is lower priority than people who are already talking to a recruiter, so even if you are more qualified than somebody who is phone interviewing, you might not even get to the interview stage before they are hired. There are even rumors of some very famous companies completely ignoring their online applicants. So then how do you skip straight to the recruiter? This is where networking comes in.

If you have the contact information of a recruiter or team lead, you can send them your resume directly, and they can immediately decide whether or not they are interested in interviewing you. This cuts out the possibly fruitless waiting for somebody to notice your online application. And if your resume is attractive enough, sometimes employers will past or reduce screening interviews, further shortening the process. This does not guarantee you a job, since you still have to be qualified and fit the company personality wise, but it does reduce the overall length of the process. Even if you don't get the job, you wasted less time getting declined than you would have otherwise.

That is all well and good, but how do you get this contact information in the first place? This is where those career fairs and social hours come in handy, as well as using your existing connections and friendships. When you talk to a recruiter, ask for their business card. This usually gives you their direct e-mail and phone. Then write a follow-up e-mail and attach a copy of your resume. Frequently, companies will try and get you to fill out an application online anyway, but I recommend leaving that until you pass the first screening interview, that way you are less likely to waste time. I spent my first few career fairs filling out useless applications, and wondering why people were giving me business cards before I figured out just how much time a direct contact saved me.

If a career fair or other networking events are not coming up, you can still get a leg up by talking to your friends and acquaintances. If you are interested in a particular company, ask a friend to recommend you or pass along a resume. Recruiters usually contact the candidates recommended by existing employees. If you know somebody who has a lot of company contacts, like a professor or venture capitalist, ask them to make introductions to companies who do work you are interested in.

One last thing that I have found networking to be useful for is for finding work outside the available positions. Companies usually are interested in hiring outside their listed positions, if the candidate is talented enough. My senior year I had started an online application for a company that I was very interested in, but it was for a position that I was only vaguely interested in. After filling out the application, I realized that one of my professors was the CEO, so I wrote him an e-mail asking him about possible positions. He passed my resume on to the recruiting department, and from then on I got the royal treatment. I had multiple teams interested in me, none of which had been on the application website, and all of which had more interesting work than the position I had initially been applying for.

To people naturally inclined to networking, all of the above might seem supremely obvious. But for every expert, I am sure there are at least a few more out there scratching their head over how to make use of networking and making the same mistakes I did.

Feb. 14
2014

Stars and Stripes Forever

I have unintentionally started a small collection of strange and/or funny versions of "Stars and Stripes Forever". I found the Matmos one a couple years ago, and then heard the Jean-Jacques Perrey one last night. I wonder how many more of these are out there that I will stumble upon.


Feb. 4
2014

Experimental Frosting

I went to make cupcakes the other night, and I decided that I wanted to try making the frosting look nice for once. We had a few cheapo frosting tips that came with a gingerbread house kit, so I decided to make a poor woman's frosting kit with a gallon ziplock and some scotch tape.

In the middle of making the frosting, I realized that we were out of the cocoa powder I usually use. I wanted to do something more than just plain vanilla, as the cupcakes themselves were already vanilla. We had gobs of nutella, though, so I decided to use that instead. And while I was at it, I went wild and used Irish cream liqueur instead of normal cream. The result was a delicious set of Nutella Irish Cream frosted cupcakes, which I think look rather lovely considering the unsophisticated frosting technique.

delicious

Recipe:

  • 1 stick of butter (salted or unsalted)
  • 1.5 to 2 cups of powdered sugar, depending on taste
  • 0.5 to 0.75 cups of Nutella, to taste
  • a splash of Irish Cream

Cream the butter, gradually adding the powdered sugar. Stir in the Nutella, and then add Irish cream until the desired consistency is reached.

Jan. 13
2014

Yoga

I started practicing yoga a couple years ago at a free class that came with my gym membership. The first mistake I made was assuming it would be easy--I did my usual 4 mile run beforehand, and then went to class afterwards to stretch out. Yoga is not necessarily 'stretchy bendy', most types also incorporates a lot of strength-building exercises that use your own body weight. For example, part of the Vinyasa flow is a plank that is slowly lowered down and transitioned into Upwards-Facing Dog or Cobra, which I'm happy to use as a replacement for push-ups.

Although I started yoga by making a mistake, I have definitely not stopped making them. As I have progressed into the realm of headstands and handstands and other balance-challenging poses, I fall over all the time. Part of yoga is accepting these mistakes--we are not perfect. This also includes avoiding comparing yourself to other students. As a competitive person, it was tempting to try and be 'better' at a pose than the others, but this comparison actually made my poses worse. I spent too much energy focusing on others instead of myself. It isn't about being better than them, it's about being a better me.

After a while, the physical benefits were not the primary reason I was going to yoga. Although very important, I found myself returning for the mental benefits. Yoga incorporates breathing and meditation exercises, which means I leave class with a clear mind, reduced stress and frustration, and a refreshed outlook. I used to have a lot of trouble with being stressed about things I couldn't necessarily change, like whether or not I was going to make it to class on time, despite being en route. Now I am able to stop compulsively checking my watch because I recognize that knowing exactly how late I am is not going to help me be any less late.

Many people who practice yoga tend to say that it is a lifestyle, not a class. The meditations, thought patterns, and stress management are all things I regularly use outside of class. I am by no means the biggest yoga junkie there is, but it is a part of my life now and I certainly am glad that I tried a class two years ago on a whim.

Jan 9.
2014

Thoughts on the Ender's Game Movie

The movie lacked the spirit of the book. The primary failing was in the script. It was too rushed. All the important parts were included, but as a result a lot of them had too little screen time, which made some of the dramatics things seem silly. For example, the part where Ender "gives up" on Command School and lives at that private lake on Earth for 3 months is condensed down to one day in the movie. His afternoon on the lake with Violet is condensed down to one 30s conversation, which turned a dramatic scene laughable. I feel that should have gotten more like 5 minutes of screentime.

There were changes to the plot, they mostly seemed reasonable. The Valentine/Peter side plot was not done, which meant that the ending was probably the most divergent part, plot-wise.

It would have helped to split the movie into two parts/ One half for battle school, the other half for command school, ending perhaps where Ender "quits" and comes to Earth for the first movie.

Basically, it was like an under-done stew. All of the important ingredients were there, but the rushed nature of the script meant that things never got to simmer so it was pretty weak tasting in the end.