exams

Starting A "Real" Job

I've started a new chapter in my time here in Ireland. With exams now over, it's time that I turned my eyes away from the pages of notes and stick my head into the wild world of business. Yes, that's right, I'm at my new job... internship, work placement - whatever you want to call it. I just posted up a bit on how the whole exam thing went down... very interesting indeed. I'm currently mooching my lunch as much as possible and have the entire room of the office to myself. So, what am I doing? I'm working as a management intern at Campus IT ltd. Their main offices are in Dublin, Ireland with another office in the UK. It's an interesting company - they build software applications on top of Oracle database programs and sell them to colleges and universities. The real wonder is how they can exist when the market is so small. Since there are probably as many college in all of Ireland as there is in the Boston metro zone, I would say that their market is rather small.

What am I doing here? Well, it's not computers and it's not finance either. I'm actually going to be running a research project on what makes up a student's experience. Since their market is primarily the administration of these large colleges and universities, the student experience they talk about is the one that is tied to the differing models of administrative back-ends. I think it could be an interesting project and will definitely be a good conversation piece for future interviews. My role will be lead project manager, interviewer, head researcher, presenter, and coffee guy.

In reality, though, I'll have the opportunity to stretch this oddly creative brain of mine to try new things and experiment with the way I think. Having no background in sales, marketing, or market research, I wouldn't think that I'd be a good fit for the role BUT we had that amazing thing called the Cross Functional Core Curriculum! Hurray for Boston University School of Management and your ability to make me stretch my mind further and further every year.

I'll keep you all posted on the outcomes of the research and periodic updates for sure!

Exams Are Over

I last wrote about a week ago about how studying early wasn't so much fun. Well, it's not and apparently my mind doesn't like to work that way either - early, that is. Instead of following the detailed study plans that I generated, I was much more inclined to work on the "fun" stuff. The fun stuff being my blog, podcast, personal branding strategy, networking, etc etc etc. Basically, I found every opportunity to not study that any college student would be able to manage. It was brutal... but that wasn't even the worst of it. Saturday's exam was, in my mind, going to be the hardest - the mathematical modelling for decision making. I had extensive study guides, past exam papers, notes, problems, and all the rest printed out... all for nothing. The final exam was basically the exam that the instructor had set in 2005... not impressed. I hardly had to think about it since we had already worked through it, just adjusting my work for the new numbers (he did change a couple of those).

OH! Before I forget, let me say a little bit about UCD exams. Basically, imagine a large conference hall at least two football fields in area. Now, fill that hall with 4,000 desks and chairs in rows. Now, place 4,000 students into those chairs, an "invigilator" talking over a PA system, more invigilators pacing up and down the aisles in random intervals and a dead silence. That might be about what we experienced - it was truly something out of Harry Potter.

Monday's exam was a breeze - the Management of Information Systems comes to me as if it were hard-coded into my brain, gosh I love technology! Unfortunately, this particular exam didn't get over until after 7pm leaving me scant hours before the finance exam the next day. At the same time, two of my close friends from softball were headed back to Virginia the next morning ?. It was a sad night indeed. I did, however, pop over for a while to hang out and say goodbye. I dominated at charades but was constantly killed off when playing mafia. In any event, I made it back to my dorm by mid-night and faced a tough decision. Continue to study until I was tired and then sleep for a bit or sleep now and get up really early. Knowing my night-owl tendencies, I opted for the former option working until just about 5am, sleeping for 3 hours, getting up at 8, walking to the convenience store for some coffee and breakfast, getting home, popping the first redbull of the day and then carrying on the studying.

I was furiously trying to fill my little head with knowledge all the while under the gun that I hadn't realized it was going to be so hard. After the first exam, I figured that this class would be no different... I was wrong. Needless to say I didn't feel as confident as I usually like to when it comes to exams but I was able to answer enough questions that I think I did reasonably well (plus I only needed to get 45% of the points on the exam to pass the class with a B).

Studying Early Is Not Fun

Surprise, surprise - James is having a hard time studying for these exams.  I hate studying.  I really dislike the way that classes are taught and here's why. Our educational system is built to reward small impulses of work.  What I mean is that tests measure a student's performance on one day; papers measure how well a student can prepare less than a day's work; cold calls measures a student's ability to scan the text before class.  How can educators figure out a way to constantly assess a student's true knowledge and understanding?  I don't have an answer to that.

I know that some may say that rewarding knowledge will then disenfranchise those that aren't as "smart" as another.  I dissagree.  I'm not a smart person in so much as that I can't just walk into tests and beat them.  I have struggled and toiled for every grade that I've received ever since middle school.  There has never been a subject that I could simply do well in without a lot of work.  This tells me that someone can build knoweldge through hard work.

If we reward knowledge, as a society, then we maintain the balance of rewards as they stand today: some people would still be able to get by with less work than others.  However, the shift would change society in a positive way.  By rewarding knowledge, our culture would have the opportunity to have a larger mean knowledge compared to today.  The benfits of this are far reaching and go well beyond my ability to ponder amid exams.  But think, what would our world be like if we cared more about knowledge than grades? Or if grades measured knowledge and not temporary recall.

All this was a bit of procrastination on my part but I think it has value.  What do you think?  Do you think that our system and society would be better served if knowledge were rewarded rather than tests etc?

Microsoft Office LIVE Focus Group

PremiseToday was the first time that Redmond has reached out to put money into my pocket. About a week ago, I received a phone call asking me to work with a market research firm to speak about their product - Microsoft Office Live. The whole program is software as a service - in other words, you pay for programs as if they were a subscription with varying levels of functionality and support for different price points. I think the whole concept is ok in form but Microsoft's implementation has been horrific at best - they seem to get that, hence the focus groups targeting users that signed up but then almost never went back.

Body Upon arrival at a rather interesting office building, I was asked once again to screen and answer questions that pertained to the study. It's ok... I guess, but it was the third time that I was screened (the first at the initial interview request and the second upon the confirmation of the appointment). I understand the need to be thorough but I think it's a bit much to answer the same questions three times over. The desk attendants showed me to a waiting area with some warm sandwiches and soda. As more people arrived, it became clear that they weren't going to take everyone and lo and behold they took only three of the crowd that had assembled.

I didn't hear what became of the others because I was called into the room for the focus group. There was the stereotypical mirrored glass behind which researchers were scrutinizing our every move and phrase. This is normal to me now since I have completed a number of different focus groups around the Boston area. The warmup questions were similar and always landed just short of what we were there to discuss. I think that it was an interesting contrast between we three chosen ones - one artist lady that didn't know anything about computers that AOL didn't tell her - one would be start-up guy that thought he knew everything about computers but had a financial advisor's background - and then me, the college kid that works in IT working towards a degree in MIS. It was clear that I had the most technical knowledge of the bunch. I'm not making that distinction because I'm "better" so to speak but rather because they drew a good diverse background - a fair cross section of the possible future users.

An hour later we had decided that the program wasn't useful because it was too hard to navigate and wasn't giving the user what it needed when it needed it. In other words it wasn't user friendly or intuitive. As a group we had given the researchers some targeted feedback that I think was worth our $130 honoraria... If I do say so myself. It will be interesting to watch over the next few months to see if anything from our small panel actually makes it to the end product at Microsoft.

With that, I bid you adue - I'm hoping that these will come more often now that final exams are over for me. I definitely appreciate your readership and hope that you stay tuned!