Equal members

The syllabus for one of my new classes states in bold, “It is expected that each team member will contribute equally on each part of each assignment.” Apparently the professor did not read my recent post on group projects. I agree with some of the group requirements: the group size (2 students) should not be too large for the assignments, and teams last for the entire course. However, I disagree that individual contributions should be equal for every single subdivision of each assignment. If the goal is to enforce fairness, the professor could simply allow optional group feedback reports. If the goal is to ensure every student can perform everything taught in the course, why bother having groups at all?

I also resent when professors mandate a certain level of note-taking, but at least the class does not have a participation grade based on quantity of class questions.


Another blog entry that has been rattling around my head is the subject of fairness. In my leadership and teamwork class last semester, Professor Hollenbeck explained the concept of fairness in the simplest, most practical way. In the context of a relationship, someone considers what they put in versus what they get out. Then they compare this to a different relationship for reference. There are three possible outcomes:

  • If the reference relationship matches, they consider it fair.
  • If the comparison reveals that they get out more than put it, they feel guilt.
  • If the comparison reveals that they put in more than they get out, they feel angry.

That should make sense immediately, as long as I explained it well.

Now, let’s apply this to human-corporation relationships, e.g. business transactions. A good example is buying a new car. If I pay the same price for a new car that my neighbor paid, I would consider it fair. If I pay more than my neighbor paid for a new car, I would feel angry. If I pay less than my neighbor paid for a new car, I would feel happy. This all matched up until that last part… while I might feel a tinge of guilt about gloating to my neighbor, it is a victorious feeling knowing that I “beat” the dealership.

I am not going to expand on this right now, but it seems the lack of guilt in business transactions is related to the many woes of globalization. The odd thing is that individual consumers are the source of the cruelty.

Group projects

I have been thinking about the title subject of this blog entry, but before I get to that, it’s worth mentioning a bit about Microsoft’s stock price. A month ago, I commented that the price had been going up constantly since early October, which was conveniently when I purchased some shares. I have since sold the shares when I saw the price hit $28 and stay there for a couple days. Apparently 28 is a bit of a glass ceiling for MSFT, which has bounced down to 27.13 in the past week. If it returns to 25 I might be interested, but for now I’ll try my luck with XOM.

Now, to discuss group projects. For a long time, I have known that having to do group projects for school generally sucks. Sometimes they can be tolerable or even decent, but usually they are not enjoyable to work on and do not provide effective learning experiences.

Motivation of the group members is often a problem. In high school and earlier, my fellow classmates frequently lacked motivation. They were there because they had to, not because they wanted to be there. This issue improved as I moved on to college and now business school.

Groups require a period of adjustment before optimal performance can be realized. This is a well accepted fact of team dynamics, and my experience has reinforced the claim. With a brand new team, you have no idea what to expect…. who can you rely on? Who should you not rely on? What are the real strengths of each member? Even if you knew the fellow members before the group formed, working with them may show a different side of them. Many of my classes would have us form a new group for each project, or only have one project, so the group did not have much time to gel. While the teams in MSU’s MBA program were designed to maximize conflict, by sticking with the same team for the whole school year, we have ample time to mutually adjust and then perform optimally.

While groups for school projects rarely exceed sizes of 4-5 members, even this number is too large for most tasks. Writing a report, possibly the most common requirement for school, can really not be actively performed by more than 3 people. Even with only 3 people, the third person is not adding much net value. Probably the best way to organize the team would be to have 2 people do the writing and have the other members review and critique the paper, with one member nominated for final review.

The real problem with having groups larger than required for the task is that students feel obligated to equally contribute to the project. This may be the result of simple peer pressure but is often backed up by teachers requiring peer feedback. Having separate writers and reviewers is not a equal division of labor, so groups are effectively encouraged to either (1) have all of the team members huddle around one computer collectively dictating the report or (2) farm each section out to a different member. The first option is a waste of time, and the second option yields a report that lacks flow and has inconsistently writing styles. The problem is further compounded when the group exists for only one project, because there is no opportunity to allow the individual contributions to level out across multiple projects.

While I do not have a fix for the motivation problem, the way to improve school group projects is fairly clear. Teachers should either have students form groups for the length of course and work on multiple projects or have no groupwork at all. The compromise, having one group project for the course, is actually the worst idea.


Recently, all of the fulltime MBA students completed a series of surveys and received a CQ score. What might that be? Well, clearly CQ stands for cultural intelligence. (Don’t worry, I had that confused look on my face, too.) The person running the survey told us that there are many kinds of intelligence, so she figures cultural intelligence is one of them.

I have heard this multiple intelligence thing before, and I had a special 5th grade class that was supposed to exploit this fact. It was a cool class, but I don’t agree with the eight-category theory of multiple intelligences (i.e. logical, linguistic, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, naturalist, intra-personal and inter-personal). If we are going break it down, it seems to me that intelligence has 3 parts:

  • Thinking/Reasoning
  • Knowledge/memory
  • Execution

The thinking category includes comprehension, observation, calculation, and other types of rational thought. The knowledge category describes the body of knowledge one currently have as well as one’s ability to remember new information. The execution category generally involves your ability to convert your thoughts and knowledge into physical acts: speaking, moving, playing instruments, and playing sports. Execution also includes less mobile activities such as written communication.

While I am sure most people exhibit correlations between these three parts, they seem to be independent. From someone’s musical or sports performance, I do not know their ability to think or remember. It is more difficult to separate thinking and knowledge because one’s ability to reason is shown by their ability to compare a new idea to previous ideas they remember. And one’s ability to structure information greatly improves recall. However, it seems like there should be a way to show these are independent.

More myspace spam

I got some more spam on myspace today. I have been reading about cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities on myspace, and I suspect this must be a result of that, since it claims to be using a friend’s account. Here is the text:

Hey. Sorry, I don’t have an account, I have to use this one for now, its a friends. I am not too confident about this online dating, so i am waitng a bit to sign up. See how it works out first. It seems like ages since I have been in the dating circuit. I could really do without all the useless meetings and dates that go no-where. I do enjoy all the great sex that comes with having a boyfriend though. That is always the greatest part! I guess you have to start somewhere, so here I go. i thought your profile was nice and decided to say hello. If your interested in me you should send me an email at my personal addy: luvleepeech22 at yahoo. i am sure you want to see pics of me and I have some but I couldnt figure out how to attach them so when you write I will be sure to send some with my reply.

Write back soon!

Why do you work?

My undergraduate degree is in computer science from Kettering University. Being interested in software, choosing this major was a no-brainer. Kettering was small, and the body of computer science students was even smaller. While we didn’t hug each other, I would say it was a close-knit community. As time goes on, I realize more and more how special computer science is, or at least computer programming is.

Computer science professors have relatively high expectations of student’s initial skills. While programming is taught from scratch, it is introduced very quickly. I actually skipped the first programming course at Kettering, but that was because I previously had two related courses as well as several years dinking around on personal projects with BASIC, C, and Java. I think a large number of the computer science students had programming experience before starting college. Later, in the system programming course, the professor just assumed all of the students knew UNIX!

I am writing this extemporaneously, so I apologize that my thoughts may not be conveyed very well. My point is not that professors have unrealistic expectations. It is actually quite the opposite; professors are correct to assume that students either (1) are already familiar with the technology or (2) have the desire and propensity to learn it on their own. These students write software as a hobby. People program computers for fun — in their spare time! This has always made perfect sense to me, but I am beginning to see how bizarre it really is.

So now I am in MSU’s MBA program, where all students have at least one of the following four concentrations: finance, supply chain, marketing, and human resources. I haven’t met many students who do these things as hobbies. I don’t know any HR students that choose benefits packages or develop corporate staffing policies in their free time. I haven’t met any supply chain students who manage logistics or make purchasing decisions just for fun. The only related hobby I can think of is personal investing, which clearly goes with some aspects of finance. Many of my classmates have been interviewing recently. They are excited about the potential positions, and I am happy for them. However, when I hear about the details of their jobs, I think, “How boring! That doesn’t sound like fun.”

So what makes computer programming different? One possible reason is that it is a creative process. People do many creative activities for fun: painting, writing, photography, or even designing parts for radio-controlled trucks. Another reason is simply that you can do it as a hobby, because all you need is a computer. Developing corporate staffing policies is not a hobby simply because it is virtually impossible for it to be done without a corporation. Investing is not an innately creative activity, but it can easily be done individually on the Internet. I think coaching should fit into this analysis somehow, but I’m not quite sure.

I see a (possibly imaginary) distinction between IT workers with CS degrees vs. MIS degrees. The CS guys are there because they enjoy working with computers and software and have a passion for it. The MIS guys are there because they believe employees with computer skills are highly desired by many corporations today and in the future. Or maybe they were in the first group but didn’t want to deal with the math. As for which group is better suited for the job, I don’t think there is a clear winner. The CS group has a tendency to overlook practicality, and the MIS group has a tendency to miss algorithmic optimizations and other aspects of code quality. Going out further on a limb, the CS group is more likely to work overtime because a technical problem is challenging while the MIS group is more likely to work overtime because the boss is expecting it. Now I realize I am far from actually making a point about anything…..

My point is that most jobs in the MBA world seem to be things that people would never do for fun. If I’m not careful, I will be moving from a something I do for fun (web development) to something not nearly as enjoyable. While I expect to earn more with an MBA, I am not interested in enduring a boring job just for a biggest paycheck.

My biggest weakness

Much effort in the MSU MBA program is aimed towards the job search process of applying, interviewing, etc. Looking at certain jobs is very exciting to me, but the preparation and interviewing often seems like drudgery to me, especially the aspects that do not really relate to your performance in the position.

I have spent some time going through example behavioral interview questions, looking for good answers I can give to display my skills and abilities. Questions like “What is your biggest weakness?” are so simple they might not even be on the list from career services, but I should definitely be prepared. Today, I realized a good and very honest answer to that question.

My biggest weakness is that I quickly develop a reputation for critical thinking and quality ideas. That may sounds like a strength, but I have recently been realizing how I am used to operating in an environment where I have a reputation. Because of my reputation, I do not have to use a lot of explicit persuasion nor do I have to focus on my image; people value what I say because of who I am. I have been very good at continuing my reputation, but I rarely need to establish a reputation from scratch.

In high school and earlier, my last name came with a reputation. It was the same way at work. In college, I established my reputation for performance by scoring well on tests. I don’t have any data to back this up, but I suspect my grades on subjective assignments like essays and reports were higher in classes when I had previously done well on an objectively graded assignment compared to classes where there were no previous assignments. I can remember taking an electrical class in 4-H and being confused why I was being treated like I wasn’t very smart. It was a really strange feeling! I now realize that it was because they knew nothing about me.

Talking and interviewing with recruiters is a critical time to establish a reputation from scratch. You want to tell them how incredibly wonderful you are, while not sounding cocky or arrogant. Quite honestly, I can do either one but am not very good at doing both. Not only that, but I have very little drive to do so. Typically I am quite aware of my limitations, and others do the work of promoting me. This is quite the opposite of “selling myself,” which has been highly recommended by the people here. The alternative to doing this is to employ my network of contacts. If I have an associate of mine talk to a potential hiring manager about how great I am, I can walk into the interview with a positive reputation already started.

Much earlier I said something about aspects of the job search process not relating to your performance in the job. I realize that some jobs, such as sales, require that you “sell yourself” and quickly establish your reputation among complete strangers. That is a job I certainly do not want, probably because of that exact reason. I would much rather work somewhere where my performance impresses people and they sing my praises for me.

Myspace spam

I recently signed up for myspace, and earlier today I received my first message:

hey David I like your profile and would really like to talk some more or meet up if you’d like…I check my e-mail all the time, so get me there at kflynn346@hotmail.com…hope to talk soon! love kylie:)

This was a little surprising and somewhat intriguing, but a quick search on Google turned up a couple examples of this exact message being sent to others. It’s disappointing to see spam spread to avenues beyond e-mail.

Investment careers

On Thursday evening I attended a presentation about several fields related to financial investment. Four MSU alums described their experience in investment banking, private equity, asset management, and private wealth management. It was largely aimed at undergraduates, but I still found the presentation to be beneficial, as I was not familiar with all of the ins and outs of the investment field. My main interest is in venture capital, but I understand it is virtually impossible to get into. From the four descriptions, I-banking is really the only one that interests me. It sounds like an intellectually challenging, financially rewarding job, and it can lead into a venture capital job. However, I am not particularly interested in the insane work hours; I would like to have time in my life for a girlfriend and personal travel. And while I have realized that I expect to earn a higher income with an MBA, money is not my prime motivator.

Yesterday I was browsing the job listings for NSHMBA, and one that looked especially cool was IBM’s Extreme Blue internship. It sounds exciting and fits with my previously stated interest in project management or some sort of Internet start-up. On second thought, it looks similar to where I would be after a promotion at Consumers Energy. Possibly worse because I would have college interns working on my team instead of professionals with degrees. But IBM claims this is very entrepreneurial (which Consumers is not) and they recruit the technical interns from MIT, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon (which Consumers does not). Separate from the work experience, it could be a great networking opportunity for a future start-up. However, it is worth noting that an Extreme Blue internship would have nothing to do with my finance concentration. Hmm…

Gaining insight

A little over a week into the MBA program, I am gaining insight into many aspects of business. It is also a little amusing to observe how the academic world excels at systematic solutions to 30-year-old problems. While most professors seem to delusions of granduer regarding what is covered by their concentration, I am begining to see the broad ideas.

In the realm of marketing, a business needs determine what customers consider valuable (and hence desirable). In some cases, the business causes customers to consider something valuable. Clearly a business must have customers.

In the realm that includes supply chain management, the business needs to create this aforementioned value. Traditionally this has been done by manufacturing a product or via retail, but rendering services and manipulating information also create value.

I am less sure of the third realm, but it seems like finance fits in by providing a method to measure the value and allowing the comparison of alternatives.

I have been investigating venture capital firms recently by developing a list of VC firms that invest in technology and Internet firms and going to their websites. Incidentally, nearly every VC firm has the same website except for the name, logo, and team bios. Virtually none of them accept resumes for their firm, even fewer advertise openings. From reading the team bios, it looks like everyone has an MBA from Stanford. While I am much happier with the price of MSU, it is definitely not the doorway to the VC world.

One very cool thing about business school is the status that comes with it. At the library, I can check out books for 180 days; undergraduates only get 3 weeks. Business undergraduates can get into investment banking analyst internships. MBA students can get into I-banking associate internships probably even without a finance or accounting background. Finally, because of the emphasis on networking, being an MBA is like joining a special social club where you’re instantly popular You are cool just for being in the program.