3 Reasons to Work in Education

I’m often asked why I chose to work in the education sector. For many, it seems like a huge – even intractable – industry and not one that might hold the attention of someone used to Tech.  For me, there are three reasons that draw me to the space:

Education is – in my humble opinion – the most fundamental sector of a well-functioning society.  If you believe – as I do – that stable societies afford every person the opportunity to succeed, then you must also believe that in a modern, knowledge-based economy education is the key to unlocking that opportunity.  Viewed through this lens, other sectors seem far less important.

There are real, addressable problems.  Over the last few years, the primary issue that your average tech startup deals with is getting people to care about the problem they are trying to solve.  Why?  Because techies – like myself – are starting to hit the margins of problems to solve in the “traditional” tech sector.  Compare this to Education where – at the macro level – you have science and math competency falling and – at the micro level – you have parents nearly bankrupting themselves  to get their children through school.

Education will be THE growth sector of this century.  If you think I’m crazy consider this: Over the last two decades hundreds of millions of people in Asia, South America, and Africa have started the climb out of poverty.  As they move away from a subsistence-based existence and have a little extra money to spend, where do you think it’s going to go?  Parents will invest everything they have into securing opportunity for their children.

I am incredibly excited by the opportunities that lie ahead in education.  I hope that more will join me.

Two Types of Risk

This is my first post in a LONG time. I”m starting to see the light at the end of the school tunnel and hope that this is not the last post for a long time

I’ve been thinking about risk recently. Not the board game (although that is awesome), but the kind that people take when they do something new or uncertain.

Being in business school has made me question what risk really is. There are many people in business school who plan on entering the financial sector – something now nearly synonymous with risk. Yet, at the same time I find that many business students make highly risk averse career choices. How to reconcile this difference? How can someone enter a massively risky industry, yet at the same time be making a risk averse choice?

It strikes me that there are really two types of risk and – at least to my knowledge – the English language has only one word to capture these two very different ideas. The key difference is agency. Risk without agency – which I will henceforth call Type I Risk – is really just gambling. One has no influence on the outcome and gets a thrill by throwing caution to the wind. Risk with agency – I’ll call Type II Risk – is really vastly different. Type II Risk is a willingness to try something new while remaining in control of the ultimate outcome.

For example, I have a near complete aversion to Type I Risk. I get no enjoyment from gambling and I will never, ever jump out of an airplane. On the other hand, I’m relatively comfortable working on a startup after school even though it means I will leave business school in a significantly less secure financial position that I had when I entered.

Obviously every person has their own risk profile and I’m not attaching value to one or another type of risk. However, realizing that there is this gap has really helped me to better understand myself and communicate with others about the future.

2011 Goals

In most ways, 2010 was a great year: I got into and started business school, Sarah and I went on an unforgettable trip to India, and I got to spend a good amount of time at home in August. However, achieving last year’s goals was not one of the things that went well. In fact, I didn’t keep a single one – not good.

Putting that aside, it’s a new year and a new opportunity to stick to my resolutions. Here they are:

  • Develop expertise in social enterprise generally and the education sector specifically. To accomplish this I will: focus my reading on this topic (at least 3 books and magazines), shift my online news consumption to these areas, and write articles for MITER on these topics (at least 2 articles).
  • Build leadership experience through school organizations. While there will be many opportunities at Sloan, I want to remain focus on building the presence of Net Impact and MITER. The specific goals will be determined along with the rest of the student leadership team, but want to hold myself accountable to those goals here
  • Exercise! I got knocked out of rhythm because of India and then school. My goal will be to exercise at least twice per week through a combination of running, squash, basketball, and biking. If I am in Boston over the summer, then I want to bike twice a month (but it’s likely that I won’t bike at all during the winter).
  • Make a difference at Fenway High School.
  • Get involved at MIT outside of Sloan. This is a more open ended goal that can be satisfied in many ways, but the involvement should be significant and allow me to make new friends and learn from smart people

Cheers to a great 2011!

Business School – First Semester Impressions

Since Sarah and I returned from India, my blog has sadly been neglected. There is a reason for that – I’ve spent way too much time on school work and not enough time reflecting. I have a few quiet moments now and I figured that I would record some thoughts on business school so far – what I like and what I wish were better.

In my first semester back at school I am taking “the core”. This set of 5 classes is a requirement for all first semester business students and is comprised of accounting, econ, communications, statistics (mixed with some optimization and decision analysis), and organizational studies. Unfortunately, so far, I’ve found most of my classes to be lackluster. Since I took a lot of math and econ in undergrad, most of the topics are review for me. While there is certainly a lot of work to do for classes, I don’t yet feel like I am learning a lot of new material. I remain optimistic that I will be able to choose classes next semester that are more interesting.

Extracurricular life in business school is really where most of the interesting things happen. Despite a healthy amount of title inflation, many of the clubs have significant responsibility in organizing and running some of the most important and well known events at the institute. I’ve gotten involved with the MIT Entrepreneurship Review and am really enjoying the experience.

Everyone always says business school is about the networking. I will grudgingly accept this; however, I’d like to qualify. I, personally, don’t like the word networking. To me, it connotes a fundamentally self-centered activity. For me, business school is about meeting interesting and inspiring people from whom I have and will continue to learn a lot. When it is at its best, business school changes your outlook on what is possible to do in the world. Although it can be frustrating at times, it is this undeniable fact that keeps me excited for next 1.5 years.

Pictures from India!

We’ve posted a few pictures from our trip on Picasa:

http://picasaweb.google.com/saruccia/BestOfIndia2010#

These are only about 200 of the 1,900 we took, but they at least hit the highlights of the trip. We’re excited that there seem to be a few pretty good ones, which we look forward to framing and putting up at home. However, looking through all our photos, we definitely feel like they don’t really capture the full experience of being in India. I guess it’s true for any vacation you take, but so much of our experience was shaped by the sights, sounds, and smells hitting our senses from moment to moment. Our pictures show the destinations we reached, but the process of getting to each destination and our day-to-day experiences were such a huge part of our trip.

We found a couple of videos on YouTube that other travelers have posted of the streets in India, which give somewhat of a better idea of what it’s like to travel through the country (or at least just walk down the street in Delhi).

India, Days 39-41: Udaipur, Delhi

Okay, so this may be our last post. For real this time. :) We are back in Delhi (ugh), along with the monsoon in full force. Thankfully, that means it’s 36 C instead of 45 C, but it makes walking around in the muddy streets pretty unpleasant.

However, we’re feeling pretty good after spending four wonderful days in Udaipur. We really loved the area, especially Mountain Ridge where we were staying. Sunday we took a day trip to Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Jain temple in Ranakpur, both built in the 15th century. One of the best parts of the day was the drive, through lush green country side and small villages. We saw lots of scenes of typical Rajasthani village life – women dressed in saris of bright red, orange, and yellow, carrying huge bundles of sticks or several pots of water on their heads; small children herding goats or water buffalo; men wearing the brightly colored and infinitely varied turbans of their caste and profession. The two sites were also interesting. While we could imagine the magnificence of Kumbhalgarh (the fort walls are 36 km in length), imagining was about all we could do in the thick fog that enveloped the fort. What would probably have been a really lovely view was just a white blur about 15 feet in front of us. Thankfully, the weather improved somewhat by the time we got to the Jain temple, a magnificent structure with 1,444 carved white marble columns, no two of which are alike.

Mohit, the assistant manager of Mountain Ridge, also came with us for the day, since he just moved to Udaipur about 6 months ago from Punjab and has not seen many of the sites in the area. His English is pretty good, so we enjoyed talking to him throughout the day. Our driver was not quite as pleasant, although not a bad guy. He just drove like a bat out of hell, listened to Bailamos by Enrique Ingelsias multiple times (along with In Da Club, some Britney Spears, and many other such classics), and stopped for lunch at a place where he almost certainly got a commission or free lunch, while we payed a ridiculous amount for what we had to eat.

Sunday was also the day the monsoon weather really seemed to hit, and it has rained pretty constantly since. Given the weather, we spent Monday relaxing at Mountain Ridge, enjoying the fresh air, green countryside, and chatting with a couple and their son who arrived the night before. We headed to the train station in the afternoon for our last train ride in India (overnight from Udaipur to Delhi). Again, it was a relatively easy and painless experience. We listened to music, played cards, and got a decent night’s sleep.

And now we’re back in Delhi. And everyone is trying to rip us off (already had a rickshaw driver take us to the wrong place, clearly trying to get us to go to a shop from which he would get a commission), and it’s raining, and the traffic is terrible. And I’m whiny. :) So, it’s not likely there will be anything much left to write about, since we will spend this evening and tomorrow mostly trying to avoid the aforementioned scams, rain, and traffic. And Thursday at 3:30am we get on a flight to Hong Kong by way of Bangkok, and then on to San Francisco. Interesting tidbit – we leave Hong Kong at 12:30am on Friday, July 30, and arrive in San Francisco at 10:00pm on Thursday, July 29. We get to live the first 30 minutes of July 30th twice!

India, Days 37-38: Udaipur

Almost 6 weeks have gone by, and so this may be our last post (or, at least, the penultimate post) from India! We are looking forward to getting home, but we are sad to see our adventure wind down, especially after the past two days.

Thursday night we took an overnight train from Jaipur to Udaipur. It was our first overnight train, so we weren’t quite sure what it would be like. Would we be fighting large Indian families for sleeping space? Sleeping in shifts so our bags wouldn’t get stolen as we slept? Nope, none of that. To our surprise, it actually went better than expected. We were in an air-conditioned car, were given clean sheets and a pillow with our sleeping bunk, and didn’t get hassled or bothered by anyone. Although we both woke up a lot throughout the night (I wouldn’t say the bunks are super comfy), I actually slept the entire ride and felt surprisingly rested.

We arrived in Udaipur at about 6:30am, and although the driver who was supposed to pick us up was not there, we hopped in a taxi and were quickly on our way. We are staying about 10 minutes outside of Udaipur, in a beautiful B&B/homestay called Mountain Ridge. When we first arrived, no one responded to the ringing doorbell or our knocks, except for a small black dog that eventually showed up. Just as we were beginning to wonder whether it was in fact the dog we had been emailing with about our reservation, the household woke up and we were welcomed inside.

Mountain Ridge was built by a British ex-pat, Piers, who first moved to India in 1999 after his mother had a debilitating stroke. He decided he could find better care for his mother, at a much better price, in India than in Britain. Once in India, he hired a Nepalese man (I am blanking on his name, so let’s call him Sam) and his wife to care for his mother. His mother died in 2005, just after he finished building Mountain Ridge. Sam also unfortunately passed away two years ago, leaving his wife and three young kids. By that time, Piers considered them all to be family, and so he committed to caring for them. They opened the home as a homestay, where various members of the family live and work (Sam’s wife, Sam’s brother Dil and his wife, etc). Piers pays for Sam’s kids, as well as a local boy who lives with them, to attend a good school in Udaipur. As a result, the kids speak at least 3 languages (Nepalese, Hindi, and English), which is pretty impressive. The black dog, it turns out, belongs to Piers, and goes by the illustrious name of Pee Machine. Nope, not joking. We have made fast friends with Pee Machine, who slept under our bed last night.

Mountain Ridge is set among rolling green hills and fields, just outside a small village. The home is beautifully designed, with lots of balconies and windows that open to let in the breeze. It’s the monsoon season now, so everything is very green. It’s such a peaceful place, all we did yesterday was relax and enjoy it. We met a really nice young British/Welsh couple who was also staying there and an American woman about our age who is in India working on a PhD dissertation in nutritional science. We had a really lovely breakfast and lunch with them, with lots of lively discussion about politics, Bollywood films, the British and American health care systems, and a lot in between. The British/Welsh couple told a hilarious story about their encounter with a hijra (google it if you want) on an overnight train, but you’ll have to get us to tell you about it, as it’s not entirely blog-appropriate.

In the afternoon, when the kids (Raj, Ravi, Sirzana, and Bandana) came home from school, we played and interacted with them. Ravi took us on a short hike to a hill nearby where we had a beautiful view over Udaipur. On our hike, we saw a langur monkey (black face, long tail, much bigger than the monkeys we have seen previously!) and a gigantic boa constrictor snake skin. No actual snakes, thank goodness. That evening, we had a delicious Indian/Nepalese meal with Piers and watched a movie with the family using their new projector (which Piers just brought back from Britain).

Today we are exploring Udaipur itself, including the city palace (Udaipur claims to have the longest serving royal dynasty in the world) and an historic haveli (traditional Rajasthani mansion). Tonight we have tickets for a traditional Rajasthani dance performance. Tomorrow we are planning a day trip to a fort and Jain temple in the region, followed by a morning of hiking outside of Udaipur on Monday before getting on an overnight train to Delhi on Monday night. We then have Tuesday and Wednesday in Delhi, and get on a plane bound for home at 3am on Thursday. I feel like I should end with two cliches that both apply, in different ways, to our trip: “All good things must come to an end” (this amazing, once-in-a-life-time adventure, which we will never forget) and “This too shall pass” (wearing the same smelly clothes for 6 weeks, getting food poisoning, being hassled everywhere we go). :) See many of you soon!

India, Days 34-36: Jaipur

On Tuesday we set out to see the old city of Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and the historic capital of the Rajathani state. The old city is about 300 years old and is a (rare) example of a planned city. The streets are broad and are laid out on a regular grid. This isn’t to say that in modern times the streets aren’t jammed – they are full of the buses, cars, rickshaws, bicycles, people, cows, pigs, and occasional elephants just like any other indian city – but, the area is much easier to navigate than others that we’ve visited.

We first visited the Hawa Mahal, a palace built for the the wives and concubines of the maharajah of jaipur. The building is quite unique. from the street, it appears to be just a honey-combed facade, but in fact it is an entire building full of courtyards and many rooms filled with stained glass windows. We took a picture of sarah pretending to be a rajathani queen :)

We also visited an observatory built by the same maharajah who build the Hawa Mahal. It is full of various astronomical instruments including the worlds largest astrolabe. Our guide demonstrated how these instruments can be used to tell the exact time according to the shadow cast by the sun. I was impressed, but then i thought i saw him checking his cell phone before he declared what time it was — who knows.

Wednesday morning we slept later than we are accustomed and inertia kept us relaxing in the room and reading till around 2:30. We still aren’t 100% after our food poisoning episode, so it felt good to take it easy. In the afternoon, we visited the Jaipur city palace – home of the historical (and present) Jaipur royal family. Jaipur still maintains its royal family who seem to operate in a ceremonial fashion. The palace was striking particularly because it was so well maintained. While many of the monuments we’ve seen in India are are grand in scale and architecture, their maintenance leaves something to be desired. We figured that because the palace is still privately held (i.e. not government owned) they can keep the place much tidier. The palace featured a grand thrown room and a courtyard with colorfully decorated doorways. Our audio guide said that this courtyard is a popular location for bollywood movies…

And speaking of which, after our tour of the palace we went to our first bollywood film in India. We saw Milenge, Milenge (We will meet, we will meet). The film was entirely in Hindi, but honestly, it didn’t really matter that much. The film wasn’t particularly complex – a pretty formulaic love story: bad guy, nice girl, he changes for her and they get married – but the crowd loved it, random dance interludes in the desert and all. It was surely an experience we won’t forget.

Today, our last day in Jaipur, we visited the Amber Fort. Prior to the founding of Jaipur, the city of Amber was the capital of Rajasthan and it’s fort was the home of the Maharajah. This was another beautiful monument in Rajasthan. It’s built into the hills outside the modern city, and it’s walls crawl up the mountainside – almost great wall of china-esque. We got some elephant and camel pictures (you can ride an elephant up to the fort, but we opted not to). By the way, camels are much larger than I thought they were.

Now we are back in Jaipur and have about 6 hours to kill before our overnight train to Udaipur – our last destination in India. Exactly one week from now we’ll be on our way home (actually we’ll be in Hong Kong airport on a 12+ hour layover). We’ve had a truly wonderful and unforgettable time in India, but I know we’re both really looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

India, Days 31-33: Agra, still Agra, Jaipur

After our post on Saturday, we went on to have a (mostly) nice day. We visited a pietra dura shop (inlaid marble, like you see on the Taj Mahal) and bought a beautiful pietra dura elephant statue. It’s not quite life-size, but being solid marble, it’s still pretty heavy. It’s definitely something we will keep forever and will always remind us of our adventures in India.

After a restful afternoon at the hotel, we ventured out for dinner at a rooftop restaurant with an amazing view of the Taj Mahal. The evening turned out to be unexpectedly lovely. It had rained a little earlier, clearing the sky some and making the temperature a little cooler. As we were eating dinner, we could see people in the surrounding neighborhood also escaping the heat on their rooftops, chatting with family and friends. Several young boys were flying kites, incredibly high in the sky and seemingly without much effort. Although the sky was still pretty hazy, the setting sun poked through just enough to cast a faint pink glow on the western side of the Taj. Around 7:30, the local mosques projected a call to prayer, sending a few of the kite-fliers scrambling inside. We ended the evening with delicious banana lassis and climbed in bed early, preparing to catch a 5am train to Jaipur the next morning.

And that is where the fun stops. About an hour after falling asleep, I woke up with a severe bout of food poisoning. I’ll save you the details, but suffice it to say the next two hours were some of my worse in recent memory. Later in the night, it hit Dante, too, although fortunately not quite as bad. Given that we were both still feeling terrible and as limp as wet rags at 5am, we did not get on the train to Jaipur. Instead, we spent the entire day in bed, venturing only as far as the hotel restaurant to get water and Sprite. We both were pretty much out of reading material and our room did not have a TV, so we entertained ourselves mostly by sleeping and reciting a good portion of The Princess Bride from memory. Probably he means no haaaaarrrrm…

We did finally manage to make it to Jaipur today (although on an AC bus, not a train…which turned out to be more complicated than it should have been, but what else is new). The most exciting parts of the bus ride involved wildlife – we saw camels, an elephant, and at one rest stop, two monkeys got on the bus. They realized it wasn’t going where they wanted after all, so they got off pretty quickly. So now we’re here in Jaipur, taking it easy, hoping we feel up to seeing the sites over the next few days.

India, Days 30-31: Agra

I thought the south was humid, but I think Agra in July has it beat. Ever been dripping with sweat at 5:30 in the morning?

Anyways, yesterday we took an early morning train from Delhi to Agra. Staying in a nicer hotel for two days in Delhi gave us yet another perspective on modern India. Most of the diners in the hotel restaurant were clearly middle/upper class Indians, many of whom were having business meetings. I think we saw more overweight women in one small restaurant than we’d seen in the entire previous 4 weeks. My guess is that wealth in India, like maybe anywhere, means people eat very well, but given the expected gender roles, wealthy women also don’t exercise much? Not sure. As we drove through the neighborhood of the hotel yesterday morning, we passed huge mansions locked away behind large gates and protected by security guards. Just a few short minutes later, we were passing people sleeping on the ground – in the median, on the sidewalk, on the concrete ledge of a bridge. As we’ve seen in all of India’s cities, life of all sorts is immediate and impossible to ignore.

This morning we visited the Taj Mahal, and it certainly lived up to expectation. Even though the weather isn’t great (hot and humid means the sky is a dull gray, not ideal for taking pictures), the Taj is still stunning. The intricate detail of the carved marble, inlaid with semi-precious stones, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We got up before sunrise to be there when it first opened, and even so there were lots of other people there (and we were drenched in sweat in a matter of minutes). Still, it was a peaceful and beautiful place to be.

It’s hard to believe we have less than two weeks left here in India. While we will both be sad to see this once-in-a-lifetime trip come to an end, I think we are also looking forward to getting home. I, for one, am sick of being stared at all the time. Although we have enjoyed meeting and talking with people at times, there is a big difference between respectful interest/curiosity and leering/staring. I finally told some men at the Taj Mahal today that it’s not nice to stare, and they actually went away. In general, though, ignoring people seems to be the best policy. Not the most pleasant way to go about your day, but the most practical and manageable as a white/blond-haired/blue-eyed westerner in India.

On a completely separate note, we saw our first camels today! They were walking through the streets of Agra near the Taj, some being led or ridden by small boys, some just walking on their own. They are such huge animals!

Also noticed an interesting article on CNN.com today. We’ve watched some TV here (mostly the world cup), and have seen many, many commercials for this type of skin whitening cream. It’s funny how Americans want to be tan and Indians want to be pale…why can’t we all just be comfortable in our own skin?

Tomorrow, we head to Jaipur in Rajasthan. We’ll write more from there!