Build a UAV for credit! Take AA 241X

Check out our official coverage: Stanford News article and video!

In an earlier post, I talked about taking AA 241X with Peter Blake – the two of us were the only GSB’ers in the entire class. We asked to be placed on the same team, only because we knew that we wanted to work together since we hadn’t ever been in the same study group. Well, we had a blast…


Here, Peter is prepping our “issued” Bixler 2 test plain. All teams were given their own Bixler to learn how to fly and start the process of building our own autopilot and mission code. Although I do have some Arduino programming experience, I did not contribute to this part of the build. I focused on construction – since that was an area that I probably had the most experience.


We also learned how to use the various tools at the Aero/Astro department. They had hot-wire foam cutters, laser cutters, spin tables, etc. This prototype was built mostly from foam using the hot wire cutter and hand-cut foam. We tried covering the foam with shrink film to increase rigidity, but ultimately we were not satisfied with the foam performance (note: this was low-density expanded poly styrene – like styrofoam cup material). The other teams did opt for foam construction, but they ended up using higher density blue foam for insulating houses.


Our team’s definitive advantage was construction. After the first couple weeks of research, design and planning, we built a new plane about every 10 days. This was our first balsa-based design. It has an elliptical fuselage design and ended up being too heavy for our mission parameters. We had restrictions on which motor and how big of a battery we could carry, so we would need to slim down this design.


Toward the end of the quarter, we were simultaneously building 2-3 airframes at any given time. We had experimented with weight reduction, stiffening the wings and different length / internal component configurations to affect center of gravity. We also perfected our construction technique to use 100% laser-cut parts and as little glue as possible (glue is surprisingly heavy).

While I was working on construction iteration (with a couple of my group-mates), Peter and Brandon were focused on learning how to fly the plane’s mission. A few flights and autopilot failures resulted in broken planes, but we realized early that creating an assembly line mindset would make it difficult for the other teams to keep pace. For us, a catastrophic crash would result in just a couple hours of downtime to configure a new airframe. For the other teams, a crash could ground them for a few days.

It might sound like this class was a lot of fun – it was. But the hours were grueling… It wasn’t that the coursework was so time consuming, but in order to deliver the winning performance, we put in a lot of hours beyond class time. While this was a 4 credit class, people taking any hands-on Engineering classes should expect 8-12 hours / week in addition to scheduled class time. Some weeks, we easily spend 25-30 hours building planes…

Stanford’s heritage is tied to engineering and practical skills – it was a great experience to be able to spend some time outside the GSB in these other classes. Make sure your time here is complete – get across the street!

STRAMGT 321 – Create A New Venture

Here’s the class information website for last year (doesn’t look like it has been updated for 2014-15 yet).

As I mentioned in a previous post, this class was hands-on with a pre-formed team. I partnered with Erik Wittreich and Randy Sternke to create Hinted (actually it started as uLooped – thankfully we were able to figure out a better brand) – we intend to take the feedback-rich environment out of Stanford and bring it to enterprises and consumers.

Prof. Dennis Rohan admitted a number of teams into this class, each having already submitted an idea for a business concept. Our class ranged from coffee honey beverages and artisanal cheeses to investor certification, liquor retailing and, of course, feedback. Some of the teams stayed very true to their original concepts and made minor tweaks to accommodate business or customer realities. Other teams made drastic changes – but this is all expected – the key learning in this class is not to drive your original idea forward to become a business, but rather to start with an idea and see where it leads.

Structurally, this class was comprised of whole-class lectures (often with a guest speaker), section seminars (mostly teams presenting and giving feedback to each other), individual group / instructor meetings (a short private meeting with Prof. Rohan for him to asses your progress and give direction, advice and critique) and also mentor meetings (Prof. Rohan arranges for each team to be assigned a mentor with entrepreneurial or venture capital experience).

The lectures often brought in guest speakers to cover different topics: from methods to Touchy-Feely concepts, we repeatedly heard the advice to get off-campus and talk to the real world. Go find experts and talk to them – it’s often surprising who will take the time to talk to a Stanford GSB student under the cover of research. For some reason, the idea that they’re talking to a student seems to open up avenues that would otherwise be closed to a cold-call. It also helps to have your own contacts to reach out to – people who know you will generally be your biggest supporters and often look forward to being a mentor.

Our assigned mentor was Eric Chen – a former GSB’er who was co-founder of TinyPrints – another GSB Startup. Yes, the team with 2 Erik’s got an Eric as a mentor… Eric generously met with us several times and was a valuable sounding board for our ideas and changes of direction. It was helpful to have more than Prof. Rohan’s POV – sometimes they would give us the same advice, but often their ideas were diametrically opposed, so it fell to us to hear both, think critically ourselves and decide upon a path to follow.

Gerard at Beecher's Cheese (Seattle Study Trip)

Gerard at Beecher’s Cheese (Seattle Study Trip)

On top of the scheduled sessions, the groups are expected to do a lot of field-work, individual and group work. What exactly each team did varied greatly – after all, each team had very different needs and customer prospects. For example, Gerard Tuck’s cheese team were actively conducting focus groups – feeding the groups marinated cheese and asking for customer marketing data. How much do you typically spend on cheese and other snacks? Is cheese an impulse buy? Have you ever heard of … These types of customer interactions are only a small fraction of the total effort required. Another team, Elevado (formerly Coffee Honey), experimented with different recipes for their natural sweetener – testing beverages, snacks and other ways to use their product.

Hinted conducted experiments on the Sloan/MSx ’14 cohort – our first embodiment involved a mocked up test using Excel spreadsheets and hand-selected test candidates. This process largely validated our original assumptions, so Randy proceeded to build our alpha-test tool – since he was simultaneously taking CS 142: Web Applications, he was able to build the tool for his class project and share his effort across two classes. Once the web tool was working, we continued testing with a larger group within the cohort and eventually collected more than 10,000 data points from self- and peer-ratings. Later, in the Spring Quarter, we would eventually use this same tool in Prof. Gary Dexter’s OB 374: Interpersonal Dynamics class.

If you are contemplating taking this class, consider the following:

  • It’s a ton of work – if you are taking this class seriously and “doing it right,” you will be spending a lot of time on this class. Some weeks will be lighter than others, but don’t be surprised if you need to spend 10-20+ hours/week
  • Team dynamics is crucial – because you will be spending so much time on this, make sure you enjoy the company of the people you will be working with – you will also need to apply as a team, so you need to figure out who you can work with as early as possible – don’t forget to look for MBA and non-GSB teammates if applicable
  • Only work on something you enjoy – because you will be spending so much time on this and in close quarters with your team, make sure the concept is something that you will enjoy working on, or at the very least you will learn a lot while you’re working on it – the last thing you want is to get stuck with a team or project that you can’t tolerate

At the conclusion of the class, each team presents their current state to a board of investors (but keep in mind that they’re there to give feedback and suggestions, not to invest – although they might facilitate helpful introductions). Consider this an opportunity to practice your pitch skills!

STRAMGT 321 is a two-quarter class (second Quarter is, unsurprisingly, STRAMGT 322). However, our team found it impossible to make the schedule fit – so we opted not to take the second half of the class. But unlike many of the teams formed in S321, we are still actively working on Hinted.

Spring Quarter – Wow this year went fast!

Much like Winter quarter, there was only one core class to deal with in the Spring, leaving a lot of room for electives. I fully intended to remain a Club-22 member for my final quarter, but a few weeks in, I realized I was killing myself… I dropped a couple classes and achieved a much better work-life balance, but I probably dropped one class too many. It would have been really helpful to stay in CS 142, but I lost momentum in that class and decided to quit.

Once again, it was proven that the workload – credit-for-credit – is much more intensive for Stanford Engineering classes than for GSB classes.

Here’s my Spring Quarter schedule:

MSx Core:

GSB Electives:

Across-the-Street Electives:

MSx CORE CURRICULUM: Spring Quarter came with a realization that we were getting close to the end. I think the entire cohort felt that we had been drifting apart over the Winter Quarter, so it was nice to take the core Operations class all together – as a whole cohort (minus a few folks who opted for the OIT 364 – Global Operations class due to experience or schedule conflicts. Our social events tended to be well attended – plus, the strong BBQ talent had already been identified and were now put to work at every event. Our official cohort gatherings also started to include weekend events (which are really hard for off-campus people to get excited about – so keep that in mind). We also started to see people taking lots of weekend trips away from campus and the bay area, so it was often difficult to meet as study groups.


Dr Mary in Ops class pulling out the Ghemawat CAGE Framework

Dr Mary in Ops class pulling out the Ghemawat CAGE Framework

OIT 269 – MSx: Operations: Whether you like Operations or not, Hau Lee is a very engaging and entertaining lecturer. He always has practical real-life examples to sprinkle liberally through his lectures. His extensive experience as a business process and operations / logistics consultant was evident and made his material highly credible, if a little dated. The problems he solves in class include: offshore manufacturing, managing table utilization in a restaurant, inventory -vs- just-in-time manufacturing, FIFO -vs- LIFO, postponement, localization and rationalization of SKUs.

Prof Hau Lee – look how fast those hands are moving!

Prof Hau Lee – look how fast those hands are moving!

For folks who are destined to pure finance roles, investment banking, fund management, etc., this class is probably the most painful thing imaginable. But for me, this class was pretty core to what I wanted to learn. I would have preferred a little more depth and exposure to practical tools, but this class is clearly taught at a strategy level for the executive, not for a logistics or manufacturing practitioner. I suspect those kinds of Operations classes might be taught at the MS&E department or schools with a strong manufacturing / engineering management pedigree.

This is your last core class – so hang in there with your study groups. It’s really easy to group up with your close friends and people you know you will work well together – so there’s no excuses for having a bad experience. Be sure you form groups with at least one person that has practical Operations or manufacturing experience if you want a dose of reality.

GSB Electives: By now, you will have had the chance to meet many MBAs (mostly MBA2s unless you had the opportunity to meet some MBA1s on a global study trip) – please make sure to include them in as many of your study groups and social events as possible. The best possible thing that can happen to the MSx program is to break down the remaining walls between the cohorts and encourage more cross-pollination. The MBAs are incredibly smart and motivated – the MSx’ers have fantastic experience and wisdom – combining the two should be a strong synergy.

Because it’s your final Quarter, choose courses that you will enjoy – nothing worse than senioritis combined with dreading your least favorite class. Also choose courses that might help you find your next job, get that VC term sheet or help you find co-founders for your next entrepreneurial adventure. If you will be interviewing, be sure to leave a little time for yourself to network, search for opportunities and prepare for your interviews.

GSBGEN 520 – Frinky Science of the Mind: I had the opportunity to meet Baba Shiv on the New Zealand Global Study Trip – he was our faculty chaperone advisor. Spending 10 days in an idyllic environment is a much better way to get acquainted with a faculty member than in the classroom – but after that trip, I knew I wanted to take his class.

Baba explains the Dopamine, Serotonin and Cortisol cycle

Baba explains the Dopamine, Serotonin and Cortisol cycle

Baba’s (he doesn’t like to be called Prof. Shiv) class is basically Neuroscience – the study of the physiology and bio-chemistry of the brain, and how it relates to learning, motivation and performance (this is my definition, maybe not anyone else’s). His class is taught in the 2-week intensive short class format (meets daily for 2 weeks) – but his material could easily have been taught in a 1 day seminar. The rest of the time is filled with small group exercises to try some of these methods and an entrepreneurial adventure at the end.

It’s a fun class, light on the workload and lighthearted in the classroom – but more importantly, with an all-around great guy for a professor.

STRAMGT 351 – Building & Managing Sales Organizations: I’ve worked in sales organizations before – and even have been a high-performing sales rep – but I don’t think anyone ever taught me how to sell. In fact, prior to this class, I don’t know if I really knew how to sell at all – or if it was pure accident that I could sell. I also don’t think I ever had a sales manager who I thought did his job particularly well…

Well, this class starts to teach how to sell, but focuses more on how to manage salespeople (as a sales manager) and how to manage an entire sales department (as VP of sales). It is taught in a combination of engaging methods – of course, there are texts and articles to read, but there are also case studies with guest speakers – and perhaps most interesting, a series of sales simulations. As is typical for GSB case study classes, the guest speakers are probably the best part of this class.

"President's Club" winners of one of the sales simulations

“President’s Club” winners of one of the sales simulations – Antonio gets the BIG CHECK!

But, the simulation comes in a close second! I won’t go into too much detail – don’t want to give away any secrets. Suffice it to say, it gets very competitive and, at times, a little frustrating (and occasionally quite absurd), but it’s a lot of fun while you’re learning. This class is of particular value to people who have never sold before – but it is also a good test of seasoned salespeople / sales managers to see if you have good habits or bad.

STRAMGT 355 – Managing Growing Enterprises: Please please please click on the link to this course description in Explore Courses – then totally ignore what is written there… This is a fan-fucking-tastic class, but it has nothing to do with the course description. I totally registered for this class based on the hype around it and the fact that it always fills early in the super-round process. You WILL need to super round this class to ensure you get in.

But let me say it again – this class is NOT about the course description… This class is about having difficult conversations that come up because a company is growing. It could be that you hired your best friend to be your VP of Sales – but now he isn’t performing up to standard – How do you talk to him about this? Do you need to fire him? Will you still be friends after you fire him? Or, maybe you just purchased a family-owned business and your product kills a customer, your female employees are complaining about sexual harassment and your CFO is embezzling money – Now what?!?!?!

See what I mean? This class covers some great examples THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO SOMEONE – AND THAT SOMEONE IS USUALLY A GUEST SPEAKER THAT SHOWS UP IN CLASS!!! How often do you get to read stories like this, let alone directly question the judgement of the protagonist to his face? It is simply a great class – and the Ellis / Taweel teaching team (who taught the section that I took) is phenomenal. They are incredibly successful entrepreneurs – and they will invite you to a class party held at one of their homes.

Yes, it feels like the Belaggio and that IS a Bentley in the driveway

Yes, it feels like the Belaggio and that IS a Bentley in the driveway

These guys are a class act and teach a great class.

That’s it for now! I’ll save airplanes and dropped electives for my next post!


Winter Quarter – Another Club-22

What’s Club 22? Its members are the masochists in your cohort that subject themselves to 22 credits per quarter. After Autumn Quarter and 22 credits, I figured that 22 credits wasn’t too bad after all. It seemed manageable, albeit taxing – but, more important, when would I have the chance to take these classes again, right?

Winter Quarter was also my first opportunity to take across-the-street classes…

That’s when I found out that Stanford Engineering classes involve work – credit-for-credit – than do GSB classes…

Here’s my Club 22 Winter Quarter schedule:

MSx Core:

GSB Electives:

Across-the-Street Electives:

MSx CORE CURRICULUM: The core load in Winter was down to one class, which had both good and bad effects. The Sloan ’13 class explained to us that the cohort would start to scatter quickly in Winter Quarter, as students started taking elective classes apart from their cohort-mates. In the GSB electives, it would be quite common to have at least a few MSx’ers in each class, but even with a few MSx’ers these classes were dominated by MBAs and a small handful of students from “across-the-street” departments. While this was a great opportunity to meet a broader group of people, it definitely started to loosen the cohesion of the Sloanie cohort. We pretty much saw each other in large groups only in Marketing class and at social functions like the weekly TGIF events. People who lived on campus had a much easier time of keeping social groups and functions tight, but this was much harder while living off-campus (exacerbated by a Club-22 schedule).

In short, during Winter Quarter, it is really important to go out of your way to spend time with your MSx cohort-mates as much as you can.

MKTG 249 – MSx: Marketing: While there was certainly much to learn from this class, it wasn’t one of my favorite classes. Prof. Khan made a deliberate effort to speak to several students prior to the start of the quarter to get a really good understanding of what the student profile looked like, what the level of marketing experience might be and what people wanted to learn from this class. I applaud her desire to make the class useful for everyone, but I found that instead, the curriculum was a little disjointed and ambiguous – leaving many of us unclear as to the functional responsibilities of a marketing department within a company.

MKTG 249: MSx'ers absorbing Marketing

MKTG 249: MSx’ers absorbing Marketing

For example, in the first class, Prof. Khan explained all the things that marketing would typically be responsible for – including customer advocacy, competitive analysis, branding, business development (external partnerships), product management and innovation, corporate communications (both internal and external), sales (if it is a combined sales & marketing department), managing cost of sales / ROI of sales & marketing, strategic marketing, marketing communications, promotion management, etc. Then, she proceeded to tell us that because we are all experienced professionals and more likely to need marketing understanding only at an executive level, so we’re not going to deep dive into any of these – but rather, concentrate on how an executive would manage these functions and hire the right marketing team.

Ok, not what I personally wanted to learn, but that seemed like a reasonable plan of action.

In reality, we spent most of our time looking at a strategic marketing framework and working on a couple projects around Google AdWords. This did not meet my expectations. I think it would have worked out much better to stick to the originally stated plan and cover all the sub-roles within marketing – sure, we don’t need to become expert at any of those tasks, but it certainly would be helpful to know how to identify a good product management or marketing communications candidate when I see one.

So, for you newly minted Academic Chairs out there, be sure to keep an eye on this curriculum and help improve this class!

GSB Electives: Since Winter Quarter was our first chance to really customize our schedules, soak up electives and finally enjoy super-round selections (maybe), it was probably my favorite quarter. It was much more interesting to take on a schedule that I had created for myself – and I think I put in even more effort because of it. This was also the time to seek out those legendary professors and classes to ensure that I didn’t miss the important GSB-exclusive experiences.

ACCT 340: Alphanomics: If you have any interest in managing a public-equity investment portfolio (either professionally or for your own portfolio), you should definitely take this class. For those of you (like me before GSB) who don’t know what public-equities are, it is the class of securities that are publicly traded on one of many stock exchanges around the world (e.g. NASDAQ, NYSE, Euronext, JPX, LSE, etc.). Prof. Lee is one of the early pioneers and widely published academics in quantitative stock analysis – and he’s a fantastic instructor.

He’ll teach you how to tear apart financial statements and use that information to determine the quality of financial statements (e.g. likelihood that firms are truthfully reporting or manipulating their financial results), how to assess risk and diversify a portfolio, build stock screens and rank firms for inclusion into a portfolio and how to build a trading strategy to take advantage of what he calls “Informational Arbitrage” – and why this works in a supposedly “efficient market.”

This is hugely in contrast to the MSx core finance class, where Prof. Strebulaev teaches that it is highly unlikely that you will be able to beat the “market portfolio.” Make sure that you pay attention in ACCT 219: Financial Accounting and FINANCE 229: Finance if you want to perform well in this class – you will need those skills here.

A note for Mac people – this is one of those domains where some of the tools are only available for Windows… So prepare to spend time in the RAIL lab and/or make sure you’re loaded up with Parallels or VMWare + MS Excel for Windows (there are a few macros and plug-ins that only work with Excel for Windows).

MKTG 344 – Marketing Research: Prof. Sahni’s class was a fun dive into the world of quantitative marketing. His curriculum focused on using quantitative methods (yes, you will need to have paid attention in OIT 249 – MSx: Data & Decisions (Statistics) – so be forewarned!) to help make marketing decisions and evaluate the success of marketing efforts.

Although our project data collection methods were a little cheesy (we used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsource platform to run surveys), we certainly learned a lot about survey construction and sampling methods. We also learned about tools like conjoint analysis (we use some elements of conjoint analysis in our Hinted product) and cluster analysis – these are tools that you can use to quickly capture a large amount of reliable data from customers or prospects (or anyone else, outside the context of this class).

Prof. Sahni and our conjoint analysis Trail Mix ingredients

Prof. Sahni and our conjoint analysis Trail Mix ingredients

Like most GSB electives, this class was mostly filled with MBAs – Erik Wittreich and I partnered with Veerle Daenen and Charmaine Kenny (MBA2s) for a fun group. We even worked on a trail-mix product, which should have won the class competition, but alas, the scoring criteria said we came in dead last. I think that was largely my fault too!

OB 522 – Social Networks: Ok, I know what you’re thinking, but no – this is not a class that teaches you how to use Facebook and LinkedIn…


Too bad LinkedIn is killing inMaps…

We didn’t use inMaps for this class, but rather used a tool that Prof. Hasan built for his consulting practice. But, the idea was similar – to understand an organization’s bottlenecks, information brokers and key influencers, it’s really important to know the social network within the organization – this could help uncover why some departments (or managers) work well and others fail miserably.

This class was certainly a quant class, but wasn’t too heavy on actual number crunching. Much like in our core Statistics class, Prof. Hasan was fantastic in class – very engaging, always very well prepared and entertaining to boot.

This was also my first GSB “short class” – this class ran for a half-quarter. Since the amount of material was quite manageable, it was a nice way to get a dose without beating a horse to death. It was also a great way to fill a couple credit hole in my Club-22 membership!

STRAMGT 321/322 – Create A New Venture: The title of class is exactly what you will do. Because it was so significant in the creation of Hinted, I will devote a separate post just to the subject of this class. But here are a few key points for those of you considering taking it (or any of the other team-based entrepreneurship classes like STRAMGT 356/366: Startup Garage, ENGR 245: Lean LaunchPad and others too):

  • Team-based class: You must pre-form a team before registering for the class
  • Instructor permission required: After forming the team, you must go talk to Prof. Rohan and get approval to register
  • Business idea: You must have an idea to pursue – it’s ok to change it later if you discover your first idea sucks, but you must present something in your initial group meeting
  • Time commitment: If you’re doing this class properly and taking it seriously, it will take a lot of time!

Across-the-Street Electives: What isn’t clear in the public MSx program website is the ability for MSx students to take elective courses outside the GSB. In fact, students can take classes in any of the other departments / schools on campus – but some courses have specific restrictions / pre-requisites / instructor approvals that need to be met. But don’t take these at face value either – speak to the faculty if you find yourself in doubt. Some of our classmates were able to take Ph.D. level courses and I was able to take a couple Mechanical Engineering classes with highly competitive registration processes. For some of you (like me), you might find that one of your across-the-street electives turns out to be your favorite class while at Stanford.

ME 103D – Engineering Drawing & Design (CAD): ME 103D starts as the most basic of basic CAD classes imaginable, then quickly accelerates into a class that is hard to keep up – then it is over. According to Explore Courses, this is a full quarter class – but our section was over in approximately 4-5 weeks. It is a quick 1-credit class that meets once per week and whizzes through the material.

You will learn SolidWorks (at the most elementary level) and become reasonably proficient with 2D and 2.5D drawing (that’s taking 2D shapes and extruding them along linear or curved paths and combining with other 2D/2.5D features). It is also a co-requisite for either ME 203 or ME 318. This class could be useful for anyone who wants to build basic proficiency with a very powerful CAD tool. The workload for this class is very manageable, but builds on itself every week – so don’t fall behind!

ME 110 – Design Sketching: If you always wanted to learn how to draw, but you are right-brain handicapped (like me), this class is a great way to gain a new skill. Most people think that you need to be an inherently good artist to be able to draw – but this class teaches engineers to use their analytical skills, mathematic reasoning (don’t worry, not as quant heavy as it sounds) and a little simple geometry to turn ideas into art. Sure, you probably won’t come out of this as the next Picasso, but you’ll be able to sketch quick product ideas in both 2D and 3D quite easily. Learn perspective, elevations and shading/rendering.


Sample product perspective drawing

30 Second Tie Fighter - using only simple geometric shapes

30 Second Tie Fighter – using only simple geometric shapes

This class is NOT DIFFICULT – but it can be very time consuming if you take it seriously. It is offered pass/fail (and it is a non-GSB elective), so there is very little risk in adding this class to your schedule. I can almost guarantee that this class will improve your whiteboard skills too – so if you can’t get into the’s Whiteboard Warrior class, this class might be a good alternative.

ME 318 – Computer-Aided Product Creation (CAM): Based on the amount of time I spent on this class, you would have to think it was my favorite class at Stanford. It’s not a typical class for a GSB’er to take – getting in is very competitive and there are some requisite skills (not too rigorous though). Because of the degree of specialization in this class and how much I enjoyed it, I’ll devote a separate post for this.

But quick important points:

  • Workload: Like most hands-on Engineering classes, the workload is disproportionately high compared to GSB classes – while it was a 4-unit class, I easily spent 12-16 hours per week in the PRL alone, not counting time spent in class or at home in SolidWorks / HSMWorks
  • Project-based class: You will need to come up with your own project in class – you don’t need to have an idea before you register, but it doesn’t hurt to have 5-10 areas that you are interested in exploring
  • Cut Early & Cut Often: Because this is a hands-on class, you won’t become proficient unless you spend time on the machines as early as possible and as much time as you can spare – this is not a leisurely class!
  • Go talk to Prof. Milroy early if you want to take this class!! Make sure he knows who you are and why you want to take the class well in advance of registration
  • Special note on ME 203: If you don’t have the requisite skilled to take ME 318, but you want to get your hands dirty in the PRL, consider taking ME 203 – throughout the quarter, you’ll cycle through all the PRL sections (e.g. wood working, metal & plastic machining, welding, metal casting, etc.) and gain basic proficiency in all those skills – but this class is extraordinarily difficult to get in, so go talk to Prof. Beech early!

Please feel free to post any questions!



GSB Grades: The elusive “H”

I certainly didn’t know this before starting at Stanford GSB, but we don’t have a “normal” 4-point grading system.

I don’t know the genesis of why this odd 6-point system was even necessary, given that GSB has a policy making final transcripts completely confidential. In the MSx program, we never even find out who our “valedictorian” is – and unlike the MBA program, which has an “Arjay Miller” recognition for the top 10% academic performers, the Sloans pretty much just graduate. Of course, it is possible to finish the program with a GPA too low to get the MS Management degree, but I’m pretty sure you still get to walk and get a pat on the back.

But in case you wanted to know, here’s how the GSB’s oddball grading system works (official explanation here):

  • 6-point grading system
    • U = Unsatisfactory = Fail / No Credit
    • LP = Low Pass = 1.5
    • P = Pass = 3.0
    • HP = High Pass = 4.0
    • H = Honors = 6.0
  • GPA is calculated on “Credits Attempted” – so failing is bad
  • Mandatory grade normal distribution curve – that is, for any given course section, the grades must be normally distributed (centered between P and HP – so if the professor elects to give an H to one student, he would have to give an LP to another student, or simply more P-grades than HP-grades – as far as I know, they can give 50% P and 50% HP and be fine, as long as no LP / H grades are given)
  • “Across-the-Street” classes are still graded on a 4.0 system (e.g. A through F) and do not count toward your GSB GPA, but can be used as elective credits if a passing grade is obtained

So, as you can see, it is detrimental to your GPA to get an LP and REALLY GOOD to get an H. The program graduation requirements are structured so if you get “P” grades for everything, you will have more than sufficient GPA to graduate. An H grade will easily offset a couple LP grades (on a per-credit hour basis) – so getting a couple H’s in the right classes will have you sitting pretty (e.g. an H in a 4 credit class will have a huge upward pull on your cumulative GPA).

Catching up on sleep - Getting H's is hard work!

Catching up on sleep – Getting H’s is hard work!

This can also help you prioritize your workload – if you are facing a time crunch and need to choose studying for one final exam or another, your first criteria for decision should be to avoid the LP. It’s not a huge challenge to get a P in every class, as long as your attendance and class participation are reasonable and you don’t shrug off assignments. But one or two LPs here and there won’t kill you either. Next, if you’re doing well in a class and have particularly good rapport with the professor, pushing to get an H will pay off in spades. If this is your aim, make sure your in-class comments are on-point, highly contributory and well-reasoned. I personally dislike students who choose to ass-kiss outside of class – but if you chose to do that, make sure it is meaningful, intelligent and be sure to have a complete understanding of what that professor has published recently. Going into office hours to BS is fine, but don’t look stupid because you didn’t take a few minutes to make yourself aware of what your professor is working on outside of class.

Which brings us to an interesting counter-point – unless you’re planning to get a PhD, go to law school / med school / or whatever, this is likely the last time you will be in a structured degree program. Don’t just focus on grades for the sake of grades – if you’re in the MSx program, you only have 1 year to make the most of the Stanford experience. Yes, you need to meet your obligations and in particular, don’t let your study groups down. But at the same time, if you don’t graduate with a 4.0, most likely no one will ever find out…

A good friend once told me a GPA joke: Do you know what they call the guy who graduated last in his class, from the worst medical school on the planet? He’s still called “Doctor”…

In your case, you’ll still have Stanford GSB on your diploma and a huge network of alumni at your fingertips.


Super Round! Blessing or curse?

About halfway through the Summer quarter, MSx students register for Autumn classes and choose up to two classes for Super Round. Super Round is only applicable for Winter / Spring quarter classes since the MBAs have already registered for Autumn Quarter.

The Super Round is a priority registration that allows each student to push a list of classes to the top of the heap — the MBAs also have a priority selection process, but from what I understand, it works very differently than the MSx Super Round process. If I remember correctly, these Super Round electives are assigned BEFORE the MBA students get to register for Winter / Spring quarters – so it can be a truly valuable tool.

The MSx list is processed like this:

  • Everyone in the cohort is given a random number from 1 to n (n = number of students in cohort)
  • Super Round pass #1 starts with student #1 (ascending order)
    • Student #1 gets first available class on their own Super Round list (e.g. they get their first choice it if is available, second choice if first isn’t available, third if first and second aren’t available, etc…) until one class is assigned
    • Student #2 gets same selection process until one class is assigned
    • Student #n gets same selection process until one class is assigned
  • Super Round pass #2 starts with student #n (descending order)
    • Student #n gets the next available class on their Super Round list (e.g. it could be as high as their #2 Super Round choice or could be much lower depending on what is available)
    • Student #n-1 …
    • Student #1…
  • Remember, Super Round does not work for “across-the-street” classes – only for GSB classes

Use some strategy to maximize the value of your Super Round picks:

  1. Only use Super Round for those classes that are either “personal must take” or “otherwise impossible to get in” classes – for example, OB 374: Interpersonal Dynamics (a.k.a. Touchy Feely), OB 377: Paths to Power, STRAMGT 355: Managing Growing Enterprises, etc.
  2. If you have a “must take” class with multiple available sections, put ALL sections in your Super Round list. Your core classes and will deconflict as much as possible to make your Super Round selections work – but make sure that the selections are workable (e.g. don’t bother Super Rounding a class that is an impossible fit). You might prefer a different section / instructor, but it is easier to “body-to-body switch” from one section to another than it is to get into a class with a lengthy wait list.
  3. If you have 2 Super Round selections in the same quarter, make sure you can actually take both classes (e.g. deconflict your other less urgent course selections BEFORE Super Round)
  4. The MSx program office will give you a list of classes taken by former MSx/Sloan cohorts and also a list of classes that have historically filled early (and in which registration round they closed) – use this list carefully to understand which classes are likely to fill early. If a class closes in the 3rd round of regular registration, chances are you do not need to Super Round that class unless it is truly a “must have” class for you.
  5. Consider the worst case scenarios – what if you don’t get your first or second Super Round choices? Make sure your Super Round preference list is long enough that you at least get something that you really want to take, even if you don’t get your first or second choice.
  6. Plan plan plan… I’ve mentioned this many times before – make sure you plan out your entire academic year and all the classes you think you might want to take. I can almost guarantee that it won’t be right the first time and is very likely to change, but I can also guarantee that you will regret missing key classes if you don’t take the time to plan ahead. But also remain flexible!

Most important: Don’t be afraid to change your mind just because you Super Rounded a class! I had to drop one of my Winter Quarter Super Round selections: OB 377: Paths to Power. This was so I could deconflict ME 318: CAD/CAM Product Creation – as much as I would have loved to take Paths to Power, I would have been really disappointed to not take ME 318 – for me, truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My remaining Super Round course was STRAMGT 355.3: MGE in Spring Quarter. Fantastic class, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting. I also think this class is more valuable for the younger students (and I would consider it a must-take for the twenty-something MBA students). I’ll write more about this class in a separate post, but in short, this class teaches you how to make difficult decisions and how to have difficult conversations. Imagine you hired your best friend as VP of Sales and he isn’t meeting expectations – or your business took on an A-round from a VC firm and you’re getting ready to give bad news to the board of directors. These are the kinds of subjects that you will naturally run into with age and a little responsibility – but sitting in this class can help build “the right way” decision patterns into the young manager’s mind (or if you’re like me, an old dog trying to learn new tricks).

What other “must have” or “high demand” courses have you run into? Share your experiences for future cohorts.