By Daniel Egger, Director – Center for Quantitative Modeling, Master of Engineering Management Program, Pratt School of Engineering
In the week leading up to Tuesday’s presidential election, Nate Silver and his well-known political forecasting web site www.fivethirtyeight.com received harsh public criticism for assigning to Donald Trump a much higher winning probability than other similar sites.
If I recall correctly, this contrast peaked around Thursday, November 3, when Silver gave Hillary Clinton “only” a 65% probability of winning, while other mainstream projections all assigned her winning probabilities greater than 90%. Silver tried to defend himself by saying, in effect, that his expected vote percentages for Clinton were really not so different than those of other forecasters, but that he assumed higher variance around those numbers, so that her November 3 projected margin of victory (3-4%) was within a margin of error.
In hindsight, all forecasts, including Silver’s, based on third-party polling were quite wrong about the vote percentages, although Clinton still “won” the popular vote. Even more unexpected by the forecasters, Trump won the election in an unforeseen Electoral College rout.
It seems to me that Nate Silver should be given credit for being much less wrong than others (not to mention for sticking to his guns under withering, and in hindsight extremely foolish, criticism).
As a data scientist, I am interested in metrics that can quantify the relative effectiveness of probabilistic forecasts, in order to optimize forecasts in the future. What follows are two different methods that you may not have seen before that allow us to quantify exactly how much less wrong Nate Silver was than everyone else.
First I’ll use a standard Bayesian Inverse Probability approach. This approach is attractive in the present situation because, unlike statistical methods that require a large sample of outcomes in order to be reliable, it works perfectly fine for a sample size of one: the one election outcome that we have.
Under this method, I must first assume that one of the two probabilistic processes we are comparing is in fact responsible for generating any observed election outcomes. The first probability distribution, which I’ll call the “Consensus Process,” assigned probabilities of approximately 90% to a Clinton victory and 10% to a Trump victory. The second, “Silver Process,” assigned probabilities of approximately 65% to a Clinton victory and 35% to a Trump victory. I assume further that before observing the present election outcome, we had no rational basis to believe one of these two processes more than the other. Therefore the probability of each process, before any results are observed, is 50/50.
Applying Bayes’ Theorem, if an election victory for Clinton were the observed outcome, then it would be reasonable to infer that the probability that the Consensus Process generated the outcome was 58%, and that the Silver Process generated the outcome was 42%. This metric gives the edge to the Consensus Process, but not by an overwhelming margin.
On the other hand, since an election victory for Trump was observed, it would be reasonable to infer that the probability that the consensus process is the one that generated the observed result would be only 22%, while the probability that the Silver Process generated the observed result would be 78%.[i]
This is a pretty dramatic win for Silver, and it would seem that those who criticized him owe him an apology. It also suggests that he himself thinks of probabilities from a Bayesian Inference point of view, and is trying to minimize his parameter error in that context.
The second method will be familiar to my data science graduate students at Duke, with whom I approach the subject from both a Bayesian and an Information Theory perspective.[ii] I first need to assume a “base rate” for election of Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates. I will use a base rate of 50/50 (because the last 10 elections have been split right down the middle: 5 for the Democrat, 5 for the Republican; or because I really have no idea). Next, I treat the Consensus and Silver probabilistic forecasts as “side information” that could potentially allow a gambler who relies on one of them to bet on the outcome more successfully – with less uncertainty – than a gambler who knew only the base rate. The advantage of the second method is that rather than being a relative comparison of only the two processes, it is an absolute measure of forecast quality and any number of additional forecasts can also be compared using the same metric.
Based on a Clinton win, the Consensus probability would have reduced a gambler’s uncertainty about the outcome by 76.3%, while the Silver probability would have reduced their uncertainty by only 24.6%.
On the other hand, given a Trump win, both forecasts were worse than the base rate, so a gambler believing in them would have lost money, but the losses would be worse for the gambler betting based on the Consensus forecast. A gambler trusting in the Consensus would have increased their uncertainty over the base rate, by 23.2%, while a gambler trusting Silver would have increased uncertainty by only 18.0%.[iii]
Bayesian Inverse Probabilities:
Silver 78%, Consensus 22%
Kelly Side Information (both negative)
Silver -18%, Consensus -23.2%
For a detailed discussion and explanation of the first method, please see my Coursera course, Mastering Data Analysis with Excel.
For more details on the second method, you will need to enroll in my Data Mining course 590-05 here in the Duke MEM program.
|p(Process|Observation) = p(Observation|Process)P(Process) / p(Observation)|
|P(consensus process|Clinton win)||=(0.9)*(0.5) / (0.9)*(0.5)
|p(Silver forecast’ Clinton win)||=(0.66)*(0.5) / (0.9)*(0.5)
|p(Process|Observation) = p(Observation|Process)P(Process) / p(Observation)|
|P(consensus process|Trump win)||=(0.1)*(0.5) / (0.1)*(0.5)
|p(Silver forecast | Trump win)||=(0.35)*(0.5) / (0.1)*(0.5)
[ii] This method is called “Kelly doubling-rate-of-wealth scoring for individual sequences” – I really need to work on a better name.
|side information assuming base rate r = .5, .5 and|
|Clinton win:||forecast b(i)||base rate r(i)|
|under Consensus method||0.9||0.5|
|under Silver method||0.65||0.5|
|under Consensus method||0.1||0.5|
|under Silver method||0.35||0.5|
|side information (in bits)||entropy of base rate||percent information gain|
By: Christina Plante, Assistant Director of Career Services
The Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) and Computer Science (CS) Student Showcase is an event sponsored by the Pratt ECE department and Master of Engineering (MEng) program, where students have the opportunity to present an innovative class or personal project individually or in a group to industry professionals in a reverse career fair format. Each student has a table where they showcase their project via a poster, their laptop, etc. This is a great way for students to show their work as opposed to a Career Fair where they can only speak about their work.
The idea for this event was created by Ross Wade who previously served as an Assistant Director of Career Services for Pratt Engineering Master students. He found it was easier for students to promote themselves when they demonstrated projects they completed and described various components of their work using visual aids and technology. Making this event feel more like a poster presentation rather than an uncomfortable networking event has helped students build confidence when they talk about themselves.
The showcase was launched to demonstrate the talent of our Master’s Students in ECE and has expanded to include CS students as well as undergraduate and PhD students. It is also part of the Duke School of Engineering’s Industry Partners Day, an opportunity for companies to maximize their exposure on campus during the day between TechConnect and the Career Fair.
The goals of the showcase is for students to:
- Explain project scope and process so employers can see their value
- Use visual displays to illustrate project components in a clear and concise way
- Promote themselves and network with employers for potential job opportunities
Spring 2016 Event at a Glance
Agenda Spring 2016
10:00 – 10:30am Student Check-In and Presentation Set-Up
10:30am – 12:30pm Student Presentations
12:30 – 1:45pm Networking Lunch with Employers
Employers (along with faculty, staff, and other students) visit tables and ask questions to presenters about their projects. There is also an opportunity to network with representatives (HR, engineers and managers) from ECE and CS companies during lunch. A sample of companies that participated in the past includes IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, SAP, Ambarella and Google.
As part of the event, we also invite faculty and staff to meet with the employer representatives during breakfast to discuss industry trends and discover new insights. It is a great opportunity to learn how we can better serve our students and employers.
There is also an opportunity for student participants to learn how to pitch or “sell” their project to employers in a pre-event workshop. They discuss tips and strategies for an effective project explanation, hear employer feedback from the past, develop a pitch, and practice with their group. This event is meant to be a way to showcase a project that students have already completed or have made progress on. This allows more time for preparing a visual display and a pitch.
Student response has been small but impactful so far. Here are what some attending students said about the event:
“The showcase was an awesome opportunity to present our projects and talk to employers! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.”
“At the showcase, I was able to talk about my practical, hands-on engineering experience outside of class. Employers really look for initiative, presentation, and creativeness – the showcase was a perfect environment to display those skills!”
“By far the best networking activity I have attended at Duke.”
The ECE and CS Student Showcase happens in January shortly after the start of the semester. Be on the look out for registration emails in the fall so you can sign up early. This is such a good chance to engage with employers in a smaller setting instead of the large groups of a typical career fair. We hope you take advantage of this opportunity!
The career path is rarely linear. It often comes with twists and turns, as we evolve and manage the uncertainty that the career journey brings.
I grew up wanting to be a lawyer. This was my “dream job.” My senior year of high school, I took a law satellite class, where I was in the courtroom two times per week. From taking this class, I realized that this career would not be fulfilling for me. I found it too routine and boring. Now, I am grateful that I took Law Satellite, and learned this as a senior in high school. However, back then, this realization was devastating for me. Not only had I wanted to do that my whole life, but now, at the tender age of 18, I had to figure out what my career path was going to be. I couldn’t be the “average freshman,” who had no idea of what I wanted to do. It conflicted with my goal-oriented nature and I was freaking out.
I did some research, and was able to find a career course that started a few weeks before I began college. However, it was completely useless. So I was forced to “embrace the career journey.” Now, I look back at how I felt and laugh. I laugh because,
- I put myself under so much pressure when my career evolution has involved experiences that have prepared me to be skilled at what I do
- It is rare that people have engaged in the types of life experiences that creates career clarity
Since experiencing this, I have changed career paths again, and I continue to evolve in this aspect of my life.
My story is primarily related to not knowing what I wanted to do, but there are many other career-oriented stories that we have experienced. I have met with college students and working professionals who have been put in this place of what I will call “career uncertainty.” They have come to me because they are experiencing career challenges that conflict with their goals like,
- Not getting an internship or full-time job in the timing expected
- Being laid-off
- Frustrated with the process and effort that is placed into the job search
- Afraid that they either don’t have meet the requirements or have the career skills to get to where they want to be
When put in these types of situations, we begin to feel like a failure. Berating ourselves and questioning our worth. The word failure is harsh, and inaccurate. Many of these experiences are related to factors such as development or learning, and other things that are beyond our control like change and policies.
I recently attended a workshop at the NASPA Conference that included a discussion on resilience. Parallel to the conversation of resilience was failure. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines resiliency as: “the ability to recover or from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Our presenters’ spoke about how the conversation regarding failure needed an adjustment, and I agree. One thing that is constant in this life is change. I believe that each experience that we have in this life can make us stronger, wiser, and better people if we are able to reflect on those experiences in a positive light.
So, I encourage you to embrace the change and cultivate resilience so that you can face adversity well, without compromising your sense of self-worth. And the next time that you feel that you have failed, consider it an opportunity to “fail forward.” To come out of the experience better than you had been prior. To bring this to life, I will close by sharing some online articles related to people who “failed” that achieved great success:
Good luck on your career journey!
By: Ric Telford, PMP Adjunct Faculty
Last semester I caught up with one of my former students, Lance Co Ting Keh. Lance graduated with a Master of Engineering degree here at Pratt and is now working in Silicon Valley. I was anxious to hear how things are going for him out in the “real world.” Here is what he had to say.
Ric: Lance, you gradated in May of 2015 from the Master of Engineering Program. Tell us a little about what you are doing now.
Lance: I work at Box, a Cloud storage firm that was actually founded by a Dukie as well! The CFO is a Dukie, Dylan Smith. I do Data Engineering there. Think of Data Engineering the middle ground between Business Intelligence and Analytics. Our job is to provide the toolsets and the data sets for Business Intelligence workers who want to make business data queries. A good example of a business data query is “among all our customers, which are the best ones to upsell next?” Data is stored everywhere, and the goal is to gather all this data and join it so that it can be queried.
Ric: Are your customers primarily individuals or businesses / corporations?
Lance: Box caters to businesses. Most of our sales are to businesses. It is a very sales-driven company, focused on selling to businesses. Duke, for example, is a customer of Box.
Ric: Being in Silicon Valley, what can you tell us about the technical skill requirements of the high tech world?
Lance: Coming out of school, the big difference I see now is that people expect well-rounded employees, not just one technical expertise. These days even if you specialize in one area, it is important that you understand all parts of the technology “stack” – mobile, front-end, data, back-end technologies, etc. It is good to have a good academic foundation of the hardcore computer science skills with real-world industry skills, such as how to build a web app or how do you maintain a repository. Not all schools are there yet, but Duke is doing a better job of teaching these more practical skills.
Ric: Outside of the technical skills, what capabilities do you find most valuable in your skill set and that of your fellow engineers?
Lance: “Soft skills” are very important. It is just as important to handle yourself well in the workforce, as it is to be able to build something. There will always be personal issues that come up, there is going to be conflict. Being able to navigate that and work in a team structure, being able to talk to people and being open in how you give feedback and receive feedback are all important capabilities. As engineers we are very passionate about what we do and we want to get the job done. Sometimes you get lost in trying to build something and you forget that the folks you work with are people to. Finding that balance and being able to do that “social dance” is a very big role in the day-to-day job.
Ric: What advice would you have for the new Master of Engineering class as they work toward their degree?
Lance: I would tell them to take advantage of as many classes as they can that they can’t take outside of Duke. Separate those things you can learn on your own from that which you can only get from a big university. I started doing this during my time at Duke and it helped me a lot. Take the hard classes that you know would take a while for you to sit down and crunch through if you did it yourself – things like Machine Learning and Bayesian Statistics. You can do these things yourself or on Coursera, but it is hard without a professor or people with which to collaborate.
Ric: Finally, can I have you do a little reflection? In thinking about your time here at Duke in the MEng program, what would you say were some of the most valuable experiences?
Lance: There are two things I would mention. First was the research experience. I am an academic at heart and I was fortunate enough to be able to move around to different labs and see how they operate. That academic approach to problems shaped the way I think and I believe I still think that way in industry. Second was the project experience. I learned a lot just from building projects with my peers. There are many things I built with others, both as part of class and as a fun project. These projects taught me a lot – not just the technical skills like writing code but also working with people as well. It is a high intensity environment in college and everyone is very busy. Personal conflicts will occur and l feel I grew a lot as a person in working with other people. It is something I take with me at work.
Here is a video clip of Lance giving advice about being on the job.
By: Susan Brown, Assistant Director of Admissions
What kind of applicant are we looking for in the Master of Engineering Management Program? There’s no single answer. We consider your academic record, test scores, recommendations, resume, and statement, but in today’s post, we thought we’d expand on those 5 qualitative aspects we introduce on the MEMP website. The ideal candidate may show many of these qualities, but all candidates should be open to developing these characteristics through the program.
Engagement in the classroom, extracurricular activities, or in industry
Strong academic performance is important to any graduate program, but we’re interested in what you do beyond studying. Do you regularly contribute to classroom discussion, and can other students count on you in group projects? Or are you a student-athlete, an extra-effort volunteer, or active in clubs within your university? Perhaps you’re a member of professional organizations or an award-winning team member at work? We seek a well-rounded class of students who are engaged in the program, and your previous activities give us a glimpse into the kind of student you’d be.
“[The skills I found most valuable were] communication skills, robust negotiation, and persuasive skills that I learned while being part of multiple MEM student bodies and clubs.” – Abdul Khan, MEM Class of 2012
Leadership in academic to professional settings
What kind of impact have you had? Whether it was a team, project, or program, your past experiences in taking the lead form the basis for your development at Duke. Our programs strive to develop future industry leaders that drive innovation and development.
“We want [students] to learn to leverage diverse opinions and approaches to develop solutions that are better than anyone could reach alone. Developing leadership skills requires not only an understanding of leadership principles and approaches but also opportunities for students to actually lead and receive feedback on their actions.” – Brad Fox, Associate Dean and Executive Director, Professional Masters Programs
Global Awareness the appreciation and understanding of the world’s varying cultures, economies, and political systems
Today’s engineers are expected to work with colleagues all over the world. It’s crucial to understand how others perceive problems and solutions. Employers value engineers who can contribute to and thrive in diverse teams, and with our global student body, we do too.
“I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and work with various students whose cultures span the world, and the program has provided me with the chance to get hands-on experience in working in a global environment.” – Dayna Cole, MEM Class of 2014
Emotional Intelligence, including interpersonal skills and teamwork abilities
Emotional intelligence has been a bit of a buzzword, but its underlying tenet makes sense: how well do you understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others? How do you contribute to teams? Working effectively with others is a valuable trait for engineers. Your skills in this area will be an important indicator of how well you’ll do in the program.
“Three traits that I consider most valuable are interpersonal skills, agility, and attention to detail. In today’s world, these traits are very important irrespective of the field of work. Effective communication and the ability to find opportunities to lead/innovate is the key to being a successful project manager.” – Ramya Ramaswamy, Class of 2013
Engineering Leverage the vision to see your engineering education as the foundation for your graduate studies
You spent four or more years becoming an engineer – and engineers are in demand. The majority of our students find success in technology roles that let them leverage their business knowledge while building on their engineering backgrounds. If you want to reinvent yourself with a business program, there are many other great programs that will help you do so.
“The whole MEM experience was amazing. Unlike other programs that push you to a particular field, it gives you the ability to explore diverse career paths. With so many options present, both in the coursework and in potential career opportunities, you have the freedom to choose a role that is suited to your liking. It was a period of a lot of introspection for me as I tried to figure out the right path. It allows you to leverage your background effectively.” – Femi Sokoya, MEM Class of 2013
How many of these traits can you show in your application? Are you ready to develop more? Ready to apply? We’re excited to meet you. Contact us with any questions, and create your application account and apply online! Below is the list of requirements that can be found on our website.
The search process for a job or internship can bring up many emotions of frustration, excitement, rejection, and apprehension. Spending countless hours perusing job boards and networking while also trying to stay on top of coursework might start to be overwhelming. Even with these mixed feelings, it is a good time to evaluate your confidence in yourself, with professionals, and in the job search. Adding some positivity can help you retain a sharp perspective and refresh your outlook on prospects.
Surprise! When you are not confident, it shows on the outside. Here are some ways to find your inner confidence and remember that you have what it takes to be successful in your target organizations.
- Reward Yourself
Use positive reinforcement in your job search. After completing two job applications or conducting an informational interview, say you are going to go out to eat or meet up with a friend. This way you are rewarding yourself for the work you accomplished and taking a break from the process. Making progress on your search “to do” list might even start to seem fun as you finish your tasks.
- Write Down Your 5 Best Qualities
We do not do this enough! What are your strengths? Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, look at what makes you unique and how you use your best qualities on a daily basis. How can you leverage them during a networking event, on your resume, or in your classes? Your strengths can outweigh your weaknesses and be an integral part of your story if you intentionally use them during your job search.
- Find Success Stories
Start reading about or talking to successful people similar to your background who have “made it” in your industry of interest. What do you have in common with them? What techniques or strategies did they use to get where they are? Seeing how others made it possible might give you a newfound motivation.
- Journal to Reflect on Your Past Experiences
Through writing, it is easier to check in with your life and career goals. What are your values, interests, skills, and strengths? Have they changed in the past few months or over the span of your college career? What do you want in a work environment, place to live, a boss, or co-workers? Think about the last time you had to accomplish a big goal in the past and how did you do it? Make sure your search is aligning with your personality and lifestyle. Reflection and self-awareness can lead to a job that is the right fit for you and it helps you be genuine and authentic during the application process.
- Find the Right Mindset
Would you believe that your belief in yourself to succeed actually impacts real success? Through this concept of self-efficacy, believing you will find a job is important. Change your language from negative to positive. Some common thoughts might be “I will never find a job,” “No one I reached out to has responded,” “There are no positions out there for what I want to do.” How can you change this into positive language? “I will find a job,” “Someone I reached out to will respond” (maybe I should change my strategy), and “There is a position out there for me (what do I need to do to search more efficiently?).” Find ways to keep your motivation high and belief strong that something will work out.
- Get Other Perspectives
Hearing what others think of you can be great feedback and also a confidence boost even if it is not all positive. Feedback means you are getting a better picture of how you are perceived by others. Ask your family, friends, mangers, or professors how they view you. Have a mock interview with your career counselor. Also have someone listen to your career story and tell you what he or she heard. This will help you understand how to tailor what you say and be more effective to your audience.
- Expand Your Knowledge
Sometimes our confidence is low when we have insufficient knowledge about the subject matter. You might have experienced it before when you have to talk about something you are not an expert on. This is why knowledge is powerful when it comes to the job search. Research the companies and industries you are interested in and get to know the key players. What are the company goals, values, mission statement, history, products, or customers? Look up employees on LinkedIn and read about their experience or career path.
- Set S.M.A.R.T Goals
Do not set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. If your goals are constantly out of reach you are more likely to feel discouraged and unproductive. Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Establish an action step and timeframe that would be achievable for you execute your plan. Set goals in small steps and figure out the logical sequence for you to reach that big goal.
- Think about Body Language
You portray confidence as soon as you walk into a room. Things like dress, eye contact, body language, gestures, and tone of voice all show confidence. When you are interacting with others in a professional setting walk with a purpose, gracefully enter and exit group conversations, smile, and have a firm handshake. Hopefully your confidence will be more apparent from the steps you have taken above.
- Evaluate Barriers and Supports
When understanding confidence you might feel like it stems from a weakness in an area. What are the areas that you would call a barrier in your job search? Identifying these challenges can only help you address them. Now that you know your barriers, whom can you reach out to for support? Make sure to use your resources and the people in your life to help you along the way. Also, having an accountability partner is a great way for you and a friend to keep each other on track with your search goals.
Alumni Spotlight: MEMP ’12 Alumnus Muhammad Anwar Ul Haq Selected for the World Energy Council’s Future Energy Leaders’ Program
By: Christina Plante, Assistant Director of Career Services
With MEMP students representing a number of different industries, we are delighted to highlight an accomplishment of one of our alumni in the Energy sector. As a Future Energy Leader, Anwar will tackle some of the world’s most complex energy problems in a community of the next generation of energy leaders.
Anwar is currently a partner and head of renewables practice at Aequitas Pvt. Ltd., which is Pakistan’s most active financial advisory and energy project development outfit. He leads crucial business initiatives including deal sourcing, transaction advisory and execution.
He is also an Energy Risk Professional, certified by the Global Association of Risk Professionals, and brings strategic consulting, venture financing, private placement, financial advisory and project/operations management experience to the table. He has over 8 years of work experience with global organizations like Schlumberger and World Bank Group. His areas of expertise include energy modeling, technology rollout, strategy consulting, project finance, operations and risk management. He has also served as Chief Strategy Officer at Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Pvt. Ltd., Pakistan’s first solar IPP.
While at Duke, Anwar was a Fulbright scholar and active with the Program Development Committee. He also holds a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore.
The Future Energy Leaders Program was developed by The World Energy Council, which is the principal impartial network of leaders and practitioners promoting an affordable, stable and environmentally sensitive energy system for the greatest benefit of all.
Formed in 1923, the Council is the UN-accredited global energy body, representing the entire energy spectrum, with more than 3,000 member organizations located in over 90 countries and drawn from governments, private and state corporations, academia, NGOs and energy-related stakeholders.
The World Energy Council informs global, regional and national energy strategies by hosting high- level events, publishing authoritative studies, and working through its extensive member network to facilitate the world’s energy policy dialogue.
This World Council’s community of young professionals is a network of exceptional individuals from across the globe who represent the different players the energy sectors is composed of including government, energy industry, academia, civil society and social entrepreneurs.
The program is designed to identify, encourage and inspire the next generation of energy leaders, facilitating dialogue and discussion on critical developments in the energy sector. Every year, they welcome around 35 exceptional young professionals to join the group of 100 Future Energy Leaders from over ninety different countries across the globe for on average three years.
Anwar will be able to further his experience, knowledge and skills in an energy-focused environment and contribute to the Council’s global dialogue. Helping to develop new ways of thinking and frame the future of sustainable energy, Anwar will have the unique opportunity to create his own, personal network of like-minded, equally motivated personalities of today.
Through the program, Future Energy Leaders can:
- Attend select global, regional and national events
- Attend the World Energy Congress
- Attend an exclusive, annual Future Energy Leaders’ Summit
- Create an annual FEL-100 World Energy Issues Monitor
- Contribute to special FEL-100 reports
- Access and contribute to the Council’s global studies and technical research
- Develop and share a FEL-100 vision
- Network with global energy leaders
Join us in celebrating Anwar’s accomplishment!
By: Tara Gu, MEng 2015
Brief Biography: Dr. Andrew Hilton is an Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Duke University, and the Managing Director of Graduate Studies for Electrical and Computer Engineering. He’s the recipient of 2015 Klein Family Distinguished Teaching Award and teaches ECE 551 and 550, which are very popular foundation programming courses. Before coming to Duke, he was an Advisory Engineer at IBM.
Q: You mentioned in class that you enjoyed programming when you were young. How did you get in the field of Computer Architecture specifically?
A: I was an undergrad at Georgia Tech, working in compilers and programming languages. I also went to UPenn for a PhD in programming languages. When I was there, I took a graduate a computer architecture course, much like ECE 552 here at Duke. I really enjoyed the class. The programming languages research happening at Penn was much more theoretical, proving things about type systems, which wasn’t exactly what I was interested in. So, I switched to computer architecture in my second semester.
Q: What did you work on at IBM?
A: I did performance modeling in support of a core under development, much like the simulator students work with in ECE 552, but much more advanced. I got to influence the design a lot. One of the things I did was go to the designers and tell them “you can do this, and this is why: it improves IPC (instructions per cycle) by 2%”. The designers might say, “2% is great, but we can’t implement this; can we do this instead?” Then I would work with them to find a middle ground, and might find something that improves by say 1.8%, which they could implement. I also did performance verification, where I took the VHDL code for the core, and ran it. There was an infrastructure that recorded on what cycles various things happened for each instruction. I compared that with our software simulations. When they didn’t match up, I worked with the designers to fix it and tried to find alternative solutions in the middle.
Q: Given your experience in the industry, what qualities do successful engineers possess? What personality traits have helped them succeed in their field/business?
A: One of the most important qualities in not only engineering, but any profession, is discipline under pressure. Doing it right, and precisely, the way you’re supposed to, under time pressure. Not panicking when things are going wrong. It’s important when you’re developing software because you can’t say “I only have 2 days left, so I’m going to skip testing this code,” and get the product out of the door. You’re better off in many ways to test it while you build it, and sticking to a disciplined approach. For engineering specifically, problem solving, creativity (i.e. solve problems in ways that aren’t immediately apparent) are also very important.
Q: You emphasize for students to develop both foundation (good programming skills) and technical depth (knowledge of a sub-field) in order to have the best chance in finding a job. However, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook give interviewees generic live coding questions, instead of asking them about their technical depth. How do you think students can advertise their technical depth to companies in their job search process?
A: First, if you want to have a programming job, you need to be a good programmer. A lot of programming interviews are trying to separate who can program and who can’t. If you can’t program, you can’t get a programming job. Beyond that, emphasizing technical depth comes into the kind of jobs you’re looking at. Take you for example (referring to me as his student). If you take classes and are interested in distributed systems and performance, you apply to cloud-related jobs over machine learning jobs. After you get past the “can you code” stage, people will start asking you to talk about deeper things. If you apply for a machine learning job, you would be lost because you haven’t taken any machine learning classes.
There are two ways you can sell yourself. Take me for example. I’m an excellent programmer, so I could sell myself simply as “I’m a coder”, but my skill set goes much deeper than that. A better way to sell myself is “I’m a micro-architect, with a firm knowledge of performance modeling, optimization, parallelism, and compilers”. The later sets you up for a much more advanced position, and, of course, still requires great programming skills. You should apply to specific jobs that match your area of expertise.
Also, a lot of students worry so much about getting a job that they sound very desperate and unconfident. If you are good at programming, you should know that and be very confident. Language and cultural skills are also important. Some people are technically proficient, but if they can’t explain things well, it’s hard to tell they’re technically proficient. Even if you can convey that you are good at what you do, the interviewer is going to be thinking about how you will work in teams. If it would be difficult for you to integrate into a work environment where you need to communicate in English, they will probably want to consider another candidate.
Last year, I was part of a leadership training workshop at work that included 13 people from across the organization. Our workforce, albeit small, is incredibly diverse so even this limited group included Americans, Canadians, Costa Ricans, Indians, a Nigerian, and a Romanian. As an exercise, we were asked to draw three circles to represent the past, the present and the future respectively. Without giving it a second thought, I drew a small circle representing the past, a bigger one around it for the present, and the biggest circle around the second one for the future (imagine a dartboard with three concentric circles).
When the group shared their drawings, I was quite surprised to find that only one other person (interestingly, an American) had drawn the same figure. Everyone else drew three circles of varying sizes not in a concentric manner but side by side in a linear fashion, starting with the smallest and ending with the biggest representing the future.
The presenter explained to us the difference between this circular/cyclic concept of time vs. the linear concept of time. In cultures that value this “linearity” of time, it is too precious of a commodity to be wasted. It moves fast and one must move with it, making use of every minute to produce value in some form or the other. This is typically an American concept of time, and also one that is greatly valued by German, Swiss, British and Scandinavian cultures (to name a few).
The “circular” concept of time, on the other hand, is one where people try to understand the linkages and connections between the past, the present, and the future. It is almost as if life controls time, rather than the other way around. Decisions are made differently with reflection on and consideration to past experiences. It should come as no surprise that this is a predominantly eastern view of time and life, notably in Chinese, Japanese and Indian subcontinent cultures.
Photo by Nitya Mallikarjun
As foreigners studying or working in the U.S, we find that time is not the only aspect of life that may be different from what we were used to back home. As the global economy grows, work becomes increasingly knowledge-based, and technology breaks down barriers to communications and collaboration, we may find ourselves in a workplace that is more diverse than ever before. Luckily, organizations the world over are quickly recognizing this diversity and cultural differences as an asset rather than a liability. This means by increasing awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we have the ability to truly succeed in the global marketplace no matter who we are or where we are from. To explain how this cultural diversity comes into play in our workplace, I broke down the essence of “work” into three broad categories that I feel are agnostic to one’s job, company, or industry. They are more process-oriented and will most likely occur in some form or another no matter what you do.
In the knowledge economy it’s becoming clear that as important as what you think is how you think. With companies focussing on rapid problem solving, creativity and innovation, having cultural diversity in the way people think about specific problems helps in identifying solutions in a more effective manner. These cultural differences are also important because they can help avoid groupthink, minimize expert overconfidence (yes, there is such a thing!), and glean new & fresh insights as well as perspectives. Try to let go of your fear of being wrong, and don’t be afraid to bring your own unique perspectives forward. Thinking however, is not enough. We must also be able to communicate these ideas in an effective manner which becomes a challenge when working in a culturally diverse group.
When it comes to communicating in a culturally diverse setting, things can get tricky and often do. Some cultures are infamously upfront and direct, while others are more indirect and non-confrontational. It is important to understand that you do not need to become like one from another culture, you simply need to find the right balance while communicating with people. This means understanding them, understanding yourself, and finding the best way together to get the message across. As young professionals we are particularly at an advantage for this kind of learning and being able to apply it to work. Ask your friends, ask your peers, and especially ask your managers and superiors how you can find the right balance while communicating with your team.
Now that you have brought forth your unique perspectives and communicated them with those around you, it is important to be able to adapt to how your team and company works and values time within the context of work. Do you understand how work is divided within your team and why? Do you know what is expected of you and when? Do you know when you need to take initiative, and when you need to be a supportive team member? In some cultures, work is defined and we are encouraged to not question authority and “go with the flow”. Deadlines are not stringent, and focus may be on long term gains. In other cultures, especially in the U.S, you may be expected to show initiative and take on things without always being asked. Time may often be more important than money. Try to understand these expectations from the perspective of your job function and your role in the team/organization, and continuously look for feedback to grow and improve.
There is a common thread in all of the three above – relationships. It’s easy when you are friends with everyone you work with, but that is not always the case. Better relationships should mean better teams that think more creatively, communicate more effectively, and work more efficiently. But, it’s a vicious circle of sorts because these three in turn also lead to better relationships! So whether someone is from your culture or not, try to understand their perspectives and focus on building a genuine relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Welcome to the last weeks of class! In the next two months, you will begin your summer internship or your first job after the MEMP or MEng program. Congratulations on your hard work and perseverance!
In Career Services, we’ve found that our students fall into two categories once they have committed to a short-term or long-term role. In one “camp” we have the students who are so relieved to finish their job or internship search that they put the role they will take completely out of their mind. They have classes to finish, projects to complete, and want to connect with friends before they disperse. Think of an athlete who has finished one of the most intense games they’ve ever experienced and you’ve correctly pictured these students. And we get it. You may have spent the last 9-12 months looking for said job or internship and need time to recuperate and finish strong in finals.
The second “camp” of students is those who celebrated accepting a job or internship offer and then recommitted the time used for their search to preparing for the beginning of that role. We’d encourage you to be part of the second “camp” of students. To have the most valuable internship experience or the best first 90 days in your new full-time role, you need to be prepared. And don’t assume that because you successfully completed the job or internship search, that the preparation ends there.
One of the most valuable components in your preparation is the role that feedback will play in your experience. Consider both the feedback you will receive from supervisors and peers and the feedback that you will provide in 1:1 and team settings.
To give you a better understanding of how to receive feedback in a constructive way and how to provide helpful feedback, read this article on The Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work from Fast Company (originally written for Buffer). Learn which strategies will work best for you and ways you can ask for feedback that will promote constructive conversations.
To go deeper into how you receive, remember, and utilize feedback, watch this TEDx talk by Sheila Heen, a founder of Triad Consulting Group, a member of the Harvard Negotiation Project and co-author of Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback. The 20 minutes go fast as she provides ideas for how to incorporate others’ feedback into your own learning and growth. One of her main points is that you can’t wait to be assigned a good manager who is able to provide feedback in exactly the way you like. You have to learn how to utilize feedback from multiple sources.
Utilize these two resources to help you better prepare for your internship or the start of your full-time job. Knowing how you will handle feedback and also how to provide it to others will be key to your success and professional growth!