An Auspicious Autumn quArter

Minute Before the Flash Mob

Less than three months have passed since my summary post on Summer quarter. We are through all the coursework and more recently the Thanksgiving break, final exams, a holiday party and a quick North-Western study trip to Seattle. Time has come to close off Autumn and the 2012 calendar year with it.

Before it’s too late I’d like to apologize for the miserable alliteration attempt in the title. And I’d also really like to be able to skip the clichés like “time has just swooshed by” and “it feels like it was just yesterday!” but… it has and it does. We’re half through to graduation as Class of 2013 in June.

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Summary of Smooth Sloan Summer

With our Class of 2013 Stanford Sloan program went from 10 to full 12 months for the first time by introducing the 2-month Summer quarter. This change has been definitely good: we’ve had a nice gradual start of the year and gotten 13 units worth of core classes out of the way. Getting into the rhythm of academic life feels great, especially coming from work life full of meetings, travel and rare luxury of time to read anything more than diagonally. Thoughtfully reading and writing stuff yourself for a change, not by delegating is gratifying. The pace has been busy, but not shocking.

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Getting Settled at Stanford

Stanford Graduate Business School

I considered writing a “how to” kind of a post for grad students arriving to Stanford for the first time, but got lucky – my GSB Sloan 2013 classmate Herbert already did just that here. So if that’s the web search topic that got you here – go read what Herbert says, I (for the most part) fully agree.

But nevertheless, let me add a few more random thoughts, impressions and inspirations from the first 2 weeks:

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Sloan 2013 Orientation Notes

Spent the last weekend on Stanford campus for an orientation event ahead of the major transition back to school that I announced about two months ago. It is becoming very real now and thought I’d post some notes either for personal future use or for anyone just researching the Sloan program.

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Why and How I Became a Stanford Student

Pausing one’s active career to return to school is a step outside of comfort zone. I know people who have done this as a way to “hard reset” and completely change direction afterwards, and some just hitting a corporate ceiling unless they get an MBA diploma to hang on a wall.

I don’t think I’m either of those people. Yet, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical and go back to school.

As “ahem… why?” has quickly become a recurring question from friends and colleagues who have heard the news, let me try to share some of the thought process here. Besides sharing my personal case I hope this could help someone else contemplating a similar move.

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Tallinn University Has a New Rector

TLU Rector Elections

Professor Tiit Land was elected to be the next Rector of Tallinn University (TLU) just a few hours ago, winning the close race with just by 7 votes (52:45).

I was part of the electoral body as a side effect of sitting on TLU’s Council (kuratoorium) since last November – by invitation of the current Rector Rein Raud with whom we were discussing some IT education related co-operation projects for years before. Not much did come of those at the time, but what I learned about his vision for and approach to building out what is the youngest and size-wise third university was intriguing enough to consider this invitation to participate an honor.

My involvement with TLU could look a bit surprising. After all it is definitely not the powerhouse of ICT education and research in Estonia with its ventures narrowly in computer science being quite inwardly focussed on using IT in Education. I am heavily involved in the Estonian IT education reform through sitting on the board of Estonian ICT Association with a focus on the workforce topics and that way also representing the industry in pushing the IT Academy initiative. Tartu University and Tallinn Technical University (the country’s #1 and #2 size-wise), along with Estonian IT College are the ones who need to drive and role-model that change, and they are in adequate dialogue with the industry too.

Where TLU comes in for me is the first part of the “man VS machine” formula of making any modern system work. As rector Raud loves to re-iterate, the number one employer of anthropologists in the world is Google. You just can not build perfect software before understanding how humans are built. How they behave, interact with each other and across cultures. It matters not only to systems built, but also to the teams building them – the practical examples of Skype’s Estonian engineers early experiences in dealing with Asian hardware partners over past 7 years can prove that all the knowledge in TLU’s oriental studies should be leveraged much further than just language studies.

When I look at the progress at TLU’s Baltic Film and Media School, the doctoral study topics of some of my friends at TLU, such as Daniel (researching virtuality) and Tarmo (superheroes) or my own wife’s masters-ventures that started from her research into the phenomenon of children’s blogs, it is clear that the school has come far from its narrowly pedagogy-oriented roots. I think Rein deserves a lot of credit for taking the school where it is.

My time invested to advising TLU could also have something to do with overall temptation to tinker with startups, disruptors and underdogs – which TLU could often be viewed as in local education market. However, I consider the notion of competition between higher education institutions in Estonia sheer nonsense – there is too little of everything (students, teachers, funding) here for that to succeed in the global, even regional marketplace. In order to win this game, to attract the best students and teachers and produce the best graduates and researches both Estonia and the world need, Estonian universities need to work together.

I hope the professor Land’s international background will be of help and I appreciated the co-operation oriented parts of his election program to bring TLU even closer with the other large schools in Estonia and abroad, complementing each-other with their strength. It is not either-or between Tartu and Tallinn, or technical and humanitarian schools. It is about making the best use of the diversity we get by combining the knowledge in all of them.

On Skype and European Innovation at Stanford

I had an honor to speak at Stanford University on March 9th, as part of their European Entrepreneurship & Innovation Thought Leaders seminar series (see web site and Facebook group). I truly enjoyed the experience, meeting students, faculty and guests and joining a dinner in a smaller circle later for fascinating follow-up conversations around entrepreneurship.

Skype's Sten Tamkivi
(Photo courtesy of Steve Jürvetson, click on it for his notes from the audience)

Here are the slides I used:

As you might notice, my slides were just a light framework this time and most of content was oral and followed by interactive discussion. Unfortunately it is slightly more complicated with video this time. Please follow the instructions here, but beware that you need to create an account with the Stanford SCPD site (which you will hopefully find useful for accessing any other free seminars content they offer) and the videos are served using Silverlight, which may or may not be compatible with your choice of operating system or browsers, like Chrome.