August 11, 2019

Why I'm Getting a Second Master's Degree from HEC Paris

Two months ago, I applied and was accepted to a master’s program at a prestigious business school (ranked #2), HEC Paris. The degree is title Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MSIE). It has 10 normal courses, 10 practical project-based courses and one large team project. The master’s program lasts about one year and a half. Thus the program ends in 2020. However the graduation will be in 2021, because HEC has only one graduation ceremony which is held in its beautiful Paris campus.

I finished my first Master’s degree in 2007. It was Master of Science in Information Systems Technology from the University of Northern Virginia. I don’t like traditional universities and degrees. I’m a strong proponent of modern online education like Node University or Udacity. I taught at the Hack Reactor coding academy and I’m a huge fan of vocational schools that teach practical trades as oppose to abstract and theoretical knowledge unnecessary for the real-world jobs. Needless to say, that there are a lot of materials available online via YouTube and blogs. So it might come as a surprise that I’m getting a second masters degree. However, I decided to commit to getting a second Master of Science degree for the following reasons:

  • Motivation: When you pay 10s of thousands of dollars or euros you are more motivated to continue and finish the studies
  • Focus and pre-filter: Someone with a good reputation already did the selection for me. I avoid ads or possible distractions form web surfing when I’m on Coursera.
  • European perspective: Living in San Francisco and Silicon Valley area for the last seven years I understand that we live in a bubble here. SF is not the entire world which has other, bigger and more real, problems. It’s nice to hear and learn another perspective on business and innovation.
  • Content: Things change fast and after 12 years, it’ll be nice to become a student again and get a nice broad overview of current methods and techniques in entrepreneurship in a nice distraction-free format (reading blogs or watching YouTube is a pain!).
  • Experience: the MSIE program is mostly (50%+) project based which gives actual experience instead of just being abstract lectures.
  • Brand and Network: HEC Paris is number 2 business school in Europe with a large and global presence, brand and alumni network. Brand is great because it attracts best student (for peer learning), best coaches (for projects) and best faculty (for lectures).
  • Convenience: The MSIE program is 100% online with weekly live calls, chat rooms, forums and online proctored exams. I don’t like the idea of being confined to one location and a set time for lectures for the next two years. With this format, I can travel often or even more to a new place all together.
  • Relatively cheap: The MSIE, HEC Paris program cost only 20,000 euros comparing to ~$30-40,000 USD for master’s from Harvard Extension or $150,000 USD for Wharton EMBA.

I looked at other Master’s programs. In particular, I researched Wharton Executive MBA (WEMBA) in San Francisco. They fly all the faculty from Pennsylvania ever other week. I even took a few courses form the same program. The requirement of being tied and having to come to SF every other week for two years is too limiting for me. The price is very steel.

I looked at master degrees from Harvard Extension and even took a course from them. I didn’t like their approach. It’s too rigid with the focus on minute details, fact and rote memorization. The requirement for home assignment for some courses are too arcane (must be only in MS Word with certain font size and margins). The fact that they require students to come to every live webinar every week (missing even a single webinar is not allowed) is very depressing and limiting. The platform is clunky (can’t download videos for online viewing).

I like the HEC Paris uses Coursera which is one of the best platforms for online courses. The MSIE content is relatively new and the approach is more practical. I’m in cohort 4 which means that it’s only fourth batch of students. If I’m not mistaken, cohorts 2 and 3 are still studying and haven’t graduated. Being in the 4th cohort means that university and Coursera ironed out all the kicks and perfected the program.

The application process was lengthy but totally doable: few essays, video cover letter, bio, experience and two references (done by email). The Coursera and HEC Paris staff are responsive and all the logistics ran smooth so far. The students have incredible backgrounds and I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal form each other in addition to the lectures and projects.

I’ll try to keep writing about my journey through this innovative and practical Master of Science program.

July 09, 2018

Keep It Simple Stupid

I truly believe that human brains didn’t evolve to process complex data. Human conscious mind can only hold three, maybe five, seven max for some geniuses, items at a time. Because of that, I have a very optimistic belief when I’m faced with something complex and overwhelming: nothing complex is possible to build or comprehend. It’s optimistic because I know that everything can be broken down into small components.

For example, a large corporation or huge country are run by small hierarchical groups of three to seven people. Any large computer system can be broken down to modules, submodules and procedures inside of these submodules. When faced with a new undertaking, a study or a seemingly complex system, I remind myself to keep things simple stupid, or to keep them simple, stupid.

October 21, 2017

Work and Rest

Working is important. It not only provides material means, social status and pride in a well work done, but also meaning and motivation which in tern extend a person’s life. According to some studies, people who retire and don’t find another activity, die fast. Or that tech millionaires are unhappy once they are let go or fire, or that lottery winners are miss the working.

However, resting is important too and helps to avoid burn-out and all kids of nasty nervous diseases which tend to decrease one’s life. Working productively while having rest once in a while is the best approach. 👨‍💻🔄🛌 What’s crazy is that many people do things which they think is resting but in fact they are draining their energy even more. Here are some of these things. Some of them might shock you!

  • Going out on the weekend: Breaking your sleep cycle with loud noise, excessive drinking or eating - not good.
  • Traveling, especially stressful traveling: Being in a nice place taken care of by the hotel staff and restaurants is nice but the traveling itself is almost always a stress (airport, planes, traffic). Trying new food and changing time zones are bad stressors to.
  • Watching sports, TV shows or news: they all drain your energy because your body is passive yet emotions and adrenaline glands are not.
  • Being on social media: More people feel depressed after using social media due to “success theatre” and the addiction mechanism of novelty.
  • Multitasking: Not being in the present and flow state, e.g., when you at your kids soccer game, don’t text with work. That’s a disservice to you, work and your family. Be present whatever you do. Put your phone on an airplane mode. Most likely you are not a firefighter or a brain surgeon. You work can wait until the weekend is over.
  • Not sleeping enough or waking up on the weekend at different hours.
  • Eating refined carbs (pizza, pasta, juices, smoothies): Sugar is easily digestible form spike insulin and very toxic for your body.
  • Not getting resistance training and doing too much chronic cardio: Chronic cardio is a huge stressor, tough on joints and ages people fast.
  • Smoking weed: If smoking tobacco causes cancer due to the burned stuff that people inhale, then why burning weed and smoking it wouldn’t cause cancer too?
  • Hanging out with “friends”: Wrong type of friends can bring drama and having too much drama in your life is not good for mental health.
  • Postponing important things, i.e., procrastination: It might feel good short-term to postpone an important project or a decision but it’ll snowball stress in the long-term.

There are probably more things which are misleading to people. They mask as rest but actually suck up your energy. I would say not watching news or TV shows and having enough sleep are two most important which will give the majority the most bang for their buck. Focus on that if you feel tired!

October 10, 2017

Snowball Change ❄️❄️❄️

This year I had a lot of changes. And I’ll have more until the end of year! It started with a small one. I upgraded my laptop. The tool which I use 8-10 hours everyday. Then I changed the place of living… and did other really big life changes. Small things lead to big changes. It’s a snowball. I remember something about cognitive dissonance. Probably that’s it. If you are decisive and not afraid of changes for good, then it translates to other areas of life and work…

What’s funny is that every big change which I did was perceived as bigger before but in fact was 10x easier. The lesson: don’t think changing is hard. Stop your mind when it starts to envision any problems or hurdles which might not even materialize. Of course, account for the worse scenario but don’t paralyze yourself with excessive analysis. Avoid analysis paralysis by taking action even if it’s a small action at first.

August 20, 2017

How to Get More Motivation

A lot of people think they lack motivation. They feel lazy. They listen to Gary Vaynerchuk or Tony Robinns. It might help for a while but why not solve the problem at the root cause? What these people really lack is a big enough “why”. They become complacent because most of their needs are met. Simply take on more and larger responsibilities and you’ll be motivated. Get new bigger problems to solve. Find a new job, get married, start a family, have kids, sign a book contract, start or buy a business. You’ll see your motivation will skyrocket, and the complacency will decrease!

August 12, 2017

How to Live a Stress-Free Life

The title of this post is really a misnomer because a stress-free life is nothing good. Stress helps us grow and it’s usually a good thing when there’s enough time to recover, recuperate and heal. Think going to a gym. You exercise, which is a form of stress, but after a recovery period you become stronger. Humans evolutionary evolved to thrive under this type of acute stress followed by recovery (catabolic and anabolic processes).

However there’s another type of stress which is called prolonged or chronic stress. This type of stress is detrimental because it does NOT allow for a recovery period. For example, thinking about an up-coming test for your final exam, a job interview or not being able to pay your mortgage because you got fire.

The best way to avoid this bad chronic stress is just to avoid thinking about it. Most problems are not even real. They are products of our imagination. The longer you procrastinate and overanalyze, the worse the overwhelm, fear and stress become.

What makes it worse is that our brains can’t handle more than 4-5 items in our conscious minds. When you day dream or analyze in your mind (like in a shower or before going to bed), most likely later you’ll forget whatever the ideas, steps or details you thought about. This will add to stress.

Have a dedicated time to think. Mark it in your calendar. Write the steps, details and questions in a notebook or in an application. Looking at a todo list or a high-level outline will bring you calmness and clarity.

In addition, you can take action which will clear and dispel the fears and imagined problems. All you need to complete a big task is just to know what are the next actionable steps, and take them.

One of the best way to deal with procrastination is to tell yourself that you’ll just start on a task or see how to write the first page (for a book) or create the first file (for a program). The mind will want to continue by inertia once you get into the flow and pick up momentum by seeing results. So you can trick it by just starting.

Pomodoro technique uses 25 minute chunks to trick the brain into starting by limiting to “exposure” to a task to 25 minutes which will typically turn into another 25 minutes and then to another 25 minutes until you get to some milestone on a project.

The last tip, don’t load your mind with tasks or problems unless you can either solve them right away or make a note to work on them later. Doing so will occupy your mind but you can’t accomplish the task right away. Remember, your brain can hold only several items in the conscious mind at the same time.

For example, don’t check your email on your phone in a metro, because there would be emails which will require you to use a computer. It’s easier to read an email and do the task right away, than to read it, mark as “todo later” or unread, then come back to it, read again and do the task.

To sum up, avoid chronic stress by taking action and avoiding over thinking especially thinking without taking notes. Planning and taking action beat any overwhelm and procrastination. At the same time, indulge in acute stress once in a while to continue to grow.

July 29, 2017

About Efficiency, Digital and Remote Work

Needless to say that cafes, open offices, commute and slow internet all impede productivity. To increase efficiency, distraction-free flow and productivity, I stayed home for a few days over the weekend to work on a project.

I finished the project and made some money all digitally and remotely via the Internet and phone. I ordered food (groceries) using food delivery services. I worked out in a gym in my building and got fresh air on my patio.

The result was an weird feeling that I don’t need to leave my home at all. It’s almost magical to realize the digital inflow of money (salary and book royalties) and digital outflow (to pay for food). Also, I was healthier because I cooked at home instead of eating out, and I didn’t listen to gossips or read/watch news even in passing on a gym’s TV or in metro.

It’s fascinating that all can be done digitally witout leaving one’s home and it’s peculiar how little humans needs sometimes for productive, satisfactory and healthy live.

July 16, 2017

The Right and Wrong Ways to Delegate

My main jobs are software engineering and writing. They are crafts and as with many crafts they are harder to delegate. Think mass produced car vs. designing a car and the factory to mass produce it. Software and books are scalable because they can be replicated infinitely without any loss, but the actual act of writing them is a creative hard-to-scale process.

Over the years of writing software and books, I’ve been learning to identify and delegate some repeatable tasks. I learned that the right way to delegate is to find a repeatable task which you know a) cannot be easily automated b) needs to be performed 100+ times or 2+ hours, and c) straightforward to document and explain.

There’s a cost of review. Do not skip reviewing the end work and either fixing mistakes yourself or sending it back for a re-work (in this case always review again). Reviewing helps not only to make a better product but it’ll give you the confidence in your product and your team (or not but then you at least know and can fix issue later).

Some leader say, never delegate things you are not willing to do yourself. It’s B.S. Everything is situational. I delegated things I dreaded doing and they got done. If I didn’t delegate them, they could have taken longer (procrastination) or would have never materialized at all. Done is better than perfect in this case. However, running at least the first 3-4 times through the routine will help you greatly in writing instructions and standard operation procedures (SOPs).

Do not delegate to perform things which do not make sense financially and don’t be cheap on things which will generate revenue.

Delegate at things you think you are okay or good (even worse), but in reality you suck at. For example, a lot of programmers think they are good at design and their confidence leads to terrible websites, book covers and software which prevents them from making more sales.

To summarize this post, do:

  • Delegate to get better supplemental skill to your own and don’t be cheap, e.g.,design
  • Change process to eliminate or automate, e.g., create a self-service instead of customer support or use AWS RDS instead of maintaining a database
  • Delegate repeatable tasks by having detailed easy to follow instructions
  • Always review before the final step
  • Delegate scary for you tasks but only after you’ve done them a few times and they’ve stopped being scary
  • Constantly re-evaluate, i.e., look for opportunities to change to a cheaper provider or simplify the process
  • Delegate to get a second opinion, e.g., tech review, copy editing

Example of things you probably shouldn’t be doing yourself:

  • Design (for programmers or writers)
  • Scheduling appointments by phone
  • Fixing formatting, links, code, fonts, etc. in MS Word, Markdown, and other formats
  • First pass at creating captions and transcriptons
  • First pass at video editing
  • Spinning up and maintaining your own database instead of using BaaS
  • Spinning up and maintaining your own servers (virtual machines) instead of using PaaS
  • Importing, exporting, enrolling instead of automating
  • Submitting to any forms: job boards, conferences (request for proposals), clients, etc.
  • Posting to social media
  • Deploying code instead of having CD
  • Testing code instead of having CI

Do not delegate (or automate) things when one or more applies:

  • It will faster for you to do it and it’s not a repeatable task then to train and review (review can take a long time)
  • It’s a last step review
  • It’s hard to describe (means creative)
  • It’s a core function for you
  • It requires extremely high standards which will cost you too much or hard to find people to do
  • It’s marketing/sales

July 05, 2017

Changing Unconscious

As I was reviewing transcripts for one of my Node University courses, I was surprised to see so many “so”, “um”, and “ah” filler words. It was a very painful experience to realize that your speech is far from perfect. Of course, with training most people can improve their speech: avoid filler words, accents and improve intonation. This is what professional voice actors, news anchors and movie stars did. And they are in high demand and popular!

Think of it, a lot of improvements to the unconscious actions such as speech, language, writing, personal finance (it’s defined by habits not logic), eating and fitness are the hardest, but they bring the most rewards once you make the changes. Unconscious changes are the hardest, but at the same time they are the easiest to maintain once acquired. The reason is that there’s an autopilot effect. The reward part comes from the fact that there are fewer people who can change those unconscious things in or around them.

For example, if you train yourself to speak well, you can become a Pluralsight course author or a paid public speaker. If you invest time and effort in Spanish, you can speak it without translating from English to Spanish. Not many people can do either of them.

Unconscious autopilots are great, but tweaking them takes time and efforts. Ego is crushed which makes for less competition. There are no traffic jams on the extra mile. The good thing is that once you applied the change, everything can go back to the autopilot: now you eat healthy without thinking about it, focus quicker and read more of good books.

It’s funny how things work but knowing that there’s a big reward ahead if you can tweak a bad unconscious habit into a good one creates a good motivation.

June 18, 2017

A Man of All Markets

I’m almost done listening to an audiobook A Man for All Markets read by its author and I’m fascinated by two things. First, the parallels between risk, casino, gambling and the stock market. Second, the fact that the author was innovating and constantly moving forward into areas which are still not saturated and still unproved away from techniques and areas which became more competitive and mainstream. Natural curiosity and data-driven non-emotional approach helped the author a lot! These are my notes about the book which I highly recommend reading, so if next time someone tells you that the casino always wins, your can refer them to this book which proved otherwise.