Mapping My Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn

Following on from my post on Immersion, the Gmail metadata mapping tool, I learnt of two other tools that map Facebook and LinkedIn metadata (i.e. your social graph). David Glance mentioned them in his article in the Conversation about the power of metadata ('Your social networks and the secret story of metadata').  

This is what my Facebook social graph looks like:  

What's cool about this network mapping is that, because people share a lot of information about themselves on Facebook and the tool knows who my friends-of-friends are, you can see one level deeper and find sub-networks within my broader social graph. Many of these are high school and university based sub-networks but some are also immediate-family groupings. 

The social graph that's probably cooler (and certainly prettier) is this one from LinkedIn Maps: 

This shows you that I'm connected to four major networks, one each for my two universities (LUMS and MBS) and one each for the two places I've worked at the longest here in Melbourne (Melbourne Water and Jetstar). 

And even though Jetstar and Melbourne Water are in completely different industries the kind of work I did (and am still doing) in both jobs is similar so the crossover space between their two clouds is where all my suppliers, vendors, and industry contacts are. 

One thing I've noted while doing all this mapping is the size of my network on each platform:  

  • Gmail contacts: 478 
  • LinkedIn connections: 505 
  • Facebook friends: 505 
  • Twitter followers: 776 

That's reasonably consistent and certainly above average for each of those social networks. I suppose that's a good thing. 


Immersion: Mapping My Email Networks

I've spent the last few days playing around with Immersion, a fabulous email network mapping project from MIT's Media Lab.  The project's creators describe this as "a people centric view of your email life" and what the tool basically does is create a network map of all your Gmail emails using the From, To, Cc, and Timestamp fields. 

Who Have I Been Emailing? 

You can can learn a lot from these maps. For example, here is what my email network looks like from April 2004 to July 2013. (I do actually have email from 1999 onwards in my Gmail account but, for whatever reason, Immersion only mapped my email from 2004 onwards. )


The person I emailed the most during this period was Nadia. After that, the network of people I emailed the most was my family. Obviously Nadia is also heavily connected via email to my family network. She is also connected with our Melbourne friends network and, to a smaller extent, my MBS (MBA) and LUMS (BSc) classmate networks.

The two other networks of people I emailed the most were my work colleagues at MBS and my other freelance jobs. 

Digging a Little Deeper

That's a high-level view but you can also divide this 2004 to 2013 date range into three distinct periods in my life.

The first is from 2004 to 2006, which is when I was living in Islamabad just before I came to Melbourne to do my MBA:  

Nadia and my family are obviously the largest nodes and network of nodes here, too. Aside from that, my LUMS classmates, my music projects (Corduroy and the F-10 1/2 project), and my other projects (earthquake relief) all have identifiable email networks of their own.

A couple on specific nodes are also interesting. Mosharraf, one of my seniors from LUMS and also a work colleague, is a connector of networks. And, on the upper right hand side, you can see my email correspondence with MBS starting to play a bigger role. 

The next period, from 2006 to 2008, is while I was doing my MBA at MBS: 

Here my MBS classmates network is a huge part of my emailing. That network also overlaps with the MBS staff network - from my emails to and from the Careers Centre team and my work colleagues from when I worked at MBS for a few months before graduating.  

Emails to my LUMS classmates have dropped of quite a bit, though I was still emailing Amanullah quite regularly. 

Finally, here is what my network looked like after I completed my MBA, that is from 2008 onwards:

Now a new network has popped up: my Melbourne friends outside of MBS. And, thanks to Facebook, I don't email my LUMS or MBS classmates as much as I used to.

That's really cool, isn't it? :) 

Summary Stats

Immersion also gives you a summary of your email stats, including who your top 'collaborators' are (and, if you want, you can also drill down further into your connections with each of these collaborators).

These are my overall stats and the stats for my two top collaborators: 

Yes, that's 20,879 emails with 194 collaborators over 9.3 years :)

My most active email sending years were 2007-2008, which was when I was doing my MBA. My most active email receiving years were 2010-2012 and I think those were because of Nadia, my family, my Melbourne friends, and various mailing lists. 

The group of people I email has stabilized over the last few years so the number of new collaborators I've been adding has dropped considerably. That's also because my Melbourne Water and Jetstar work emails aren't in Gmail so they're not counted here. 

Finally, the two people I collaborate most with are Nadia and my older sister Asha. I like that I've sent Nadia over a thousand emails, of which about two-thirds were sent just to her. Meanwhile I've sent Asha only 515 emails. Of those 137 were sent just to her, which makes sense because she's part of that big family network. 

So there you have it - my life in email.  

If you use Gmail you should check Immersion out yourself. It's fun to use and you can learn a lot about yourself and your email networks in the process. 

I Graduated!

Yes, I am done with my MBA. I completed my official course requirements (i.e. got my final grades) on 9th May and then on 17th May I had my graduation ceremony. I uploaded some photos and wrote about the ceremony on my professional blog (so read that first) but here are a couple of more photographs.

This is the official photo of me getting my MBA degree from the University of Melbourne's Vice-Chancellor, Glynn Davis:

Degree Presentation Photo

And here are Ayesha and Nadia in the freezing cold -- it was the coldest day in Melbourne so far and it rained continuously! -- just after the event:

Ayesha and Nadia at Ameel's Graduation

Nuzhat was also there but she had to leave early. There are more photos of all of us on Ayesha and Nuz's cameras but I haven't gotten those from them yet.

So thus endeth my MBA. Now to find a job...

Taking Notes

I take a lot of notes. And I mean a lot of notes. I take notes for things like:

  • Planning out a report, paper, or essay

  • Brainstorming a website, business strategy problem, or a computer program/algorithm

  • Taking notes during a class lecture or conference

  • Even making a shopping list or a list of things to do

I like to think I take good notes and, since I'm a bit of a perfectionist (some would say I'm obsessive), over the years I have actively refined my note-taking technique. Here's how I take notes these days.

Note-Taking Tools

I start by making sure that I have good note-taking tools. These days I take notes with a mechanical pencil with 0.5 or 0.7mm 2B lead (i.e. softer but darker than the typical HB or #2 pencil; see Wikipedia entry on the pencil for details on gradation) on white, good quality, narrow-lined file paper. I also use a good quality eraser.

I use a pencil and eraser because I like clear and neat notes and diagrams (i.e. dark lines and no cross-outs). I use file paper because that gives me more flexibility in terms of storing, organizing, moving, and re-writing notes within subject-indexed, tab-separated file folders ('binders' for Americans).

May I geek out a bit? These days I'm using a Faber Castel Grip Matic pencil, the 2B lead that came with it, and a Staedtler Rasoplast eraser. The pencil's pretty old now so I need to buy a new one. I generally prefer Staedtler over Faber Castel -- I've been using the former's pens, pencils, lead, and erasers for about 16 years now -- but I haven't been able to find the right products in Australia so far. I guess I need to look harder. Oh, and Pilot and Uni products are good too; particularly the Uni SA-S fine ballpoint pen which I have been using exclusively for about 3 years now.

Note Organization

I organize my notes rather thoroughly: listing on each page the date, subject, page number, and, if in a meeting, the names of the participants in that meeting. To organize the notes themselves I use a series of headings and nested bullet points. Here's an example:

Note Taking 1

More recently I've started to take notes on my laptop. For that I use Microsoft Word with 12pt Georgia font and the same sets of headings and series of nested bulleted lists as I do on paper (except that those are now defined as MS Word Styles so they look a little different). This is what my electronic notes look like:


The Actual Notes

Then come the actual notes themselves. Since I write a lot, I've had to develop my own, mostly intuitive, shorthand to write things down quickly. For example: "this func. says nothing abt. price lvl.; dep. only on tech, labour & capital." Since I type quickly, I write full-ish sentences when typing notes, though. They may not be entirely grammatically correct, but I don't usually abbreviate words.

In the actual note-taking I try to write down as much as I can while still listening to the lecture/discussion, not missing anything going on (even at a deeper level), and participating in the discussion as well. It's not easy but I've been doing it for years so I'm used to it by now. Taking notes this way gives me a pretty accurate recording of what went on during the class (since that's what I developed my note-taking for) and, even if something isn't quite clear to me at that time, I can usually follow the logic and work it out later.

At the end of every note-taking session (e.g. at the end of every class) I try to review the notes to make sure I haven't missed anything. Then, usually while preparing for an assignment or just before an exam, I do one of two things. I either extract what is important from my notes (and in parallel from lecture slides and assigned readings) by re-writing them on a new sheet of paper or on my laptop. That is, I take notes of my notes. If not that, I make an index in which I identify what I've written and on which page that topic is located. The former helps me prepare for closed book exams and assignments. The latter helps me get ready for open book exams and meetings during which I might need to refer to my notes.

I don't follow any specific note-taking system like the Cornell system that the good folk at Student Tablet PC use [1], though that sounds like a really good methodology. Nor is my system as elaborate as Tim Ferriss' (via Kevin C. Tofel). I am interested in getting into mind maps like James Kendrick, but my note-taking style has always worked well for me so I haven't yet found a reason to change.

I do, however, use a mind map-type construction for breaking down complex problems. But, since I'm a stickler for writing things neatly, I use lists instead of diagrams. For example:

Board Notes 1

And that's about it. Oh, one last thing: storage. Since I have craploads on notes, I generally have a crapload of file folders to store all my notes in as well. And since I've been using, for the most part, the same system for about ten years now, my old notes still come in handy every now and then. The only problem is: I can't take all my old notes with me.

All of that, I guess, goes some way to demonstrate why the obsessive note-taker in me wants so desperately to get a tablet PC. I mean, seriously, how could I not want to get the ultimate note-taking tool? But, since I can't afford one now, I am so looking forward to getting one later and then scanning all my MBA notes into it so that they're ready for use any where, any time. In fact, I'm getting all excited just thinking about it now! Yes. I am a geek. I wrote a whole blog post on note-taking (with pictures and all), didn't I? :)

[1] The Student Tablet PC website has a whole category on note-taking.

Tablet PC Benefits: Annotating Slides

Tim Berry, CEO of Palo Alto Software recently blogged about why he likes his tablet PC. In fact, he gives five reasons for it. It's a good article that echoes what a lot of other tablet PC enthusiasts have said about the benefits of this form factor.

For me, one of the biggest benefits of using tablet PCs -- i.e. being able to write on Powerpoint slides mid-presentation -- became very clear very quickly when I was first exposed to this technology in the classroom. This was thanks to John Asker who taught us Managerial Economics at MBS. John conducted his class lectures using Powerpoint slides on which he took notes (with a stylus) using his Fujitsu Lifebook convertible tablet PC.

Doing this was especially useful when explaining, for example, complex ideas that involved diagrams and areas under the curve. At the end of each class, John would save those annotated slides and then post them onto the course website as PDF files.

Here's an example...and you can imagine how much harder it would have been to explain the concept presented here without either lots of whiteboard work or more complex Powerpoint slides:

One of John Asker's slides from class

The same is true for the following slide, except that this one is even more complicated (and even harder to explain on the board...unless you used multiple colours, of course, though even then it would probably be harder to do):

One of John Asker's slides from class

In the study term that followed this one, we took a course called Economics and Public Policy that was, basically, a course on managerial macroeconomics. In that, everything was taught using the whiteboard and, at times, that got really difficult to follow. I remember thinking back than how much better the course could have been had the professor been using Powerpoint slides and a tablet PC. Oh well. Widespread adoption takes time.

[Article via]

MBA Blog Spin-Off?

I am seriously considering starting a new blog. One about my MBA journey through the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Business School (MBS). It'll cover my life during the program, the courses I'm taking, stuff about the university/school/program, my job hunt, and basically anything else that is relevant to me, the MBA, the tech industry, and Australia. I've already documented part of my MBA journey in my MBA Journal but that only presents a high-level overview of events. I want to get into the nitty-gritty details and, basically, tell more of the story.

The good thing is, should I do the spin-off, I know that I'll be able to sustain the new blog. I've started to blog reasonably regularly now and it's getting easier to maintain this pace. In fact, I have reached the "I should blog about that" stage thanks to which, whenever something interesting happens to me these days, I start to think about how I'm going to write about it in my blog!

Also, this here blog doesn't have a proper focus. Yes, it's about anything and everything that I find interesting in my life and in the world, but having a stronger focus would let me explore my subject more deeply and be more insightful about what I write. I will, of course, continue to maintain this blog in parallel.

Finally, while there are lots of MBA student blogs out there, only one other MBS student, my classmate Birgit (with Birgit in Adventureland), currently maintains a blog of her own. And even that is a more general blog about her adventures through life and around the world that it is about her MBA journey. As for our professors, only two maintain blogs: Chris Lloyd with Fishing in the Bay ("Statistical musings from an Antipodean perspective") and Joshua Gans with CoRE Economics ("Commentary on economics, strategy and more").

Meanwhile, B-Schools from around the world are embracing the power of blogging. Here's a random selection:

My blog will be a drop in the ocean compared to all of those, of course, but at least it'll be a start.

Incidentally, I was all set to convince MBS to start their own series of blogs -- authored by students, professors, and the admissions, alumni, and marketing departments -- a few months ago. I'd even written a project proposal for it. Unfortunately, I then got an internship so I never followed through with it. If all goes well -- that is, if I maintain a good blog over the course of this term -- I might propose the idea to them again at the end of this term. Let's see.

Meanwhile, let me start by thinking up a good name for my new blog. Hmmm...

AFR Ranks Australian B-Schools...Hmmm

The Australian Financial Review's (AFR) BOSS magazine's latest issue has a special report on business schools (b-schools) in Australia. Apparently, they publish one every year. This is the first time, however, that they've broken away from lumping Australia's b-schools into four broad categories and have ranked them individually instead.

Now rankings -- especially b-school rankings -- are a contentious thing, both at the personal and professional level. That's because every publication does them differently (by using a slightly different ranking algorithm) and thus comes up with different rankings (sometimes drastically different ones). On the one hand, that makes rankings in general a lot less relevant to, say, b-school applicants. Especially when one school is ranked highly in one ranking and not so highly in another. How do you interpret that?

On the other hand, two good things come out of everyone coming up with different rankings. First, some schools score highly in all rankings. That generally means that they're good regardless of how you look at them (i.e. how you slice the numbers). Second, it tells you that rankings aren't all that useful after all. Actually, it tells you that there isn't one best way to rank schools and, ultimately, it makes you wonder about how useful it is to quantify all this stuff anyway.

Of course, if you're a real b-school candidate, wanting to quantify everything probably comes naturally to you. Numbers are powerful. They can be placed in balance sheets and used in NPV calcuations. You can talk about them, throw them around, and make charts and trends out of them. They're also shorter than works. And so you look at, not only the rankings, but also the methodology used to get those rankings. Basically, rankings do matter, regardless of their relevance to your actual, often highly personal opinion on the "quality" of a particular business school.

Incidentally, this often helps you decide which of the major financial publications (Financial Times, BusinessWeek, etc.) suit your style or thinking, analyzing, and writing. That ends up being quite useful in the long run.

Anyway, coming to the point of this article: Six of the "top" b-schools in Australia (AGSM, MBS, Monash GSB, MGSM, U Queensland, and UWA GSM) didn't like the way BOSS was putting the rankings together. They (under the auspices of the Australian Business Deans Council) then drafted a white paper that presented their collective opinion on how b-schools should be ranked. BOSS, however, stuck to its own rankings system and that's what it printed in its September issue.

So, if you're thinking of doing your MBA in Australia, my advice is to (a) check out all the various rankings and ranking methodologies, (b) read the ABDC white paper, and (c) make your own criteria by which you should judge the schools you want to apply to. Just keep in mind, though, that rankings are rarely (if ever) everything.

Talking About My Internship

The new full-time MBA batch started Orientation Week (O-Week) at Melbourne Business School (MBS) this Monday. As part of O-Week, three of us from the Class of 2008 were invited to sit on a panel during the Career Services orientation session. Our topic was internships and our internship experience thus far. Although we were told we didn't have to formally prepare any answers, of course we all made a list (mental or physical) of the points we wanted to get across. This was mine:

1. Getting an internship is hard work. You have to start early and work really hard at it. Research and networking both play important roles in getting you the internship you want.

I, for example, got my internship without the help of the Career Services department. I almost got one through them as well, but lost out in the final round because the company's plans changed (they needed someone immediately and I still had a month left in my study term) so they hired the other candidate instead. I talked a bit about using local job search engines, the library's resources, and blogs to carry out research and acquire industry knowledge (aside from using the the other, usual information sources, of course).

My classmates also talked about the extensive preparation they went through during their internship application process. This included getting others to read your resume & cover letter and practicing case interview questions.

2. Be realistic about your internship. See where you are now, where you want to be after you graduate, and then get an internship that puts you somewhere in the middle. If you're changing industries, be ready to work in a more junior position than the one you eventually want to be hired for.

3. Be strategic about your internship. Don't apply to every opportunity you come across. Pick and choose the ones you realistically think you can get -- or the ones you really, really want to get -- and focus on those.

Another important point that came up during the discussion was that the Australian definition of 'internship' is sometimes very different from the North American one. Here internships are often 6-12 month long work experience roles (almost apprenticeships). To do an MBA-style internships you may have to apply for a 3-month contract or short-project role (which, by the way, is what I did). Also, a lot of people (even those working in large multinationals) here don't know what an MBA is. You sometimes have to say "I'm doing a graduate degree in business. Could I do a short, three-month project for you?".

I spent the rest of my turn talking about my personal experience before I started the MBA (my background, etc.), a bit about my first two study terms, and what my internship was like (including a bit about which MBA learnings I got to apply in my internship). Overall, the career services panel sessions (there was an alumni panel that immediately preceded us) were really good. Here's hoping they take our advice and do a good job.