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I cannot believe 2010 is passing by. It seems to be the longest year in my life!

I am sure 2010 will be remembered in the future as one of the most important turning points in my life.

First of all, my daughter, Yunji Zhang, was born in January 26. That’s a life-changing event without question! I became a father! The first three months were absolutely tough. With sleepless nights and little knowledge of baby care, my wife and I almost panicked facing this little helpless creature in our life. Fortunately, my parents in law and my parents took turns to help us out in raising the baby. It’s great to have them around! Things are getting better everyday as my baby grows. She is now 11 months old. Very sweet character. She smiles and waves to everybody close by. She can stand up and babble “mama” and “baba” now. Absolutely adorable!

I was promoted early this year to manage a small team of performance engineers, responsible for performance testing, monitoring and tuning for a range of HR/Payroll/Benefits/Time and Labor online applications. Again, it’s a big change in my career since I have always been in software development field. This new role broadened my view in the full lifecycle of an application. I am now working more closely with Infrastructure, Operation and Technical Support organizations and leaning more towards the operational side.

We bought a town house in August and moved in November. My wife and I became a first time house owner in United States. We had mixed feeling towards the new house. It’s definitely more comfortable than our old apartment but it also requires endless time and effort from us to maintain it. We were excited at the beginning but soon got used to it. After a long wait and many debates, we finally bought all our furniture from IKEA, against the conventional wisdom. We simply love IKEA’s contemporary style and its price! Still fixing everything up and making arrangements around the house. It seems taking forever.

And I went back to school! I was admitted by the New York University Stern School of Business and joined their Langone Part time MBA program in September. It gave my life a totally different dimension.  Although I only needed to go to school at Saturday, I almost have to spend all the weekday nights studying, doing homework, writing papers, preparing for exams! Study became a crucial element in my daily life. I enjoyed the courses and the learning and actually did pretty well for the for the first semester. It’s a great opportunity to step away from the familiar life and get into something new and exciting. My professors and classmates are fascinating. Everyone I encountered had a wonderful life story. However, the bad part is the study took away a lot of my time from my family. I felt guilty that I couldn’t spend enough time to help fixing the house and raising the baby. Life is a art of balancing. Hopefully, I can balance everything better next year.

Last but not least, my wife and I finally got our green cards, after 9 years of waiting. Now, we can travel freely between China and United States. It’s a great milestone to fulfill our dream of traveling around the world! By the way, my daughter is an American since she’s born in United States. How easy is that!

In Chinese culture, 2010 is the year of Tiger. It’s the year of my zodiac sign since I was born in a Tiger year too. In Chinese tradition, it’s deemed as a tough year in life. I definitely felt the toughness, with all the life-changes packed together in one year. I felt stretched than ever. I have been through many emotional up and downs, mixing extreme happiness and extreme sadness. Joy, horror, surprise, self-denial, satisfaction, all kinds of feelings poured together. What a unusual year!

If there is just one thing I learned from the swirl of changes this year, that will be “knowing oneself”. Life is full of twist and turns. It’s so easy to get lost in the strong winds blowing from all directions. Without established values and a clear understanding of the direction to go, we will just be swallowed by the forces surrounding us. What really make us happy? What do we really want to do? What are the thing we cherish most in our hearts? What are the identities we don’t want to lose?

At least, I am a little more clear about the answers for myself now, at the end of this year. For that, I thank the year 2010!

Happy new year, everybody! Let’s welcome a fresh new start of 2011!

My thoughts after attending NYU Stern Langone Pre-Term 9/11-9/12

After 11 years out of school, I really had some mixed and complicate feelings walking into the NYU campus near the Washington Square Park in New York. On one hand, I was extremely excited to go back to school. I am a learner and always enjoy learning new knowledge and skills. I look forward to meeting my new classmates and faculties. On the other hand, as a busy manager and a new father of a 7-month daughter, I am not sure how I can squeeze in “study” into my already super busy schedule between work and family.

Suburb vs. Metropolitan

My office and home are both in north New Jersey. So, I don’t really need to go to New York. My wife and I used to visit New York often at weekends since we both enjoyed the culture-rich city life style. Unfortunately, after my wife was pregnant last year, we seldom went to New York, although it’s just 40 minutes drive away. Life is quite here in suburb and we are busy taking care of our new baby.

It’s very interesting that the moment I stepped on the Path train at Harrison train station, I felt the difference between suburb life and metropolitan city life. Living and working in suburb, I practically saw people like myself day in and day out. White collar, work in an office building, live in a house, shop in big grocery chain stores like ShopRite, Costco and WholeFood (latest trend) or nearby Malls, have dinner at home most of the time, etc. Life in a metropolitan city like New York is totally different. I saw different classes rub shoulders in the subway, from super poor to super rich. I saw people from all over the world with all types of skin colors, dresses styles, accents, and customs. I saw people with vastly different ways of making a living, from selling hot dogs to buying and selling stocks.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that there are people out there living in totally different live-styles than the one we are so used to. So, we can realize that we do have tons of other options, if we face a roadblock at the current life-style, like experiencing setbacks at job or being forced to sell the house.

Life will move on one way or another. And guess what, we may not be the luckiest one in the world, but surely we are far from receiving the meanest treatment from fate.

NYC, the port to the world

Sitting in the huge and modern auditorium in the NYU Stern Business School and listening to presentations about the academic programs and student activities, I cannot help thinking about the historical role of New York, the most important port in the new world, busy exchanging goods and people with the old world.

In this globalized and digitized modern time, New York continues serving that role. It’s still the busiest port to the world. In addition to manufactured goods and people, ideas, knowledge and other intellectual products become the most critical products in trade nowadays. New York University, one of the most prestige Universities in New York, obviously serves very well as a portal in this intellectual exchange.

Two hundred years ago, before the era of air traveling, to explore the world means jumping on a ship in the New York port. Today, we just need to enroll the Langone program in NYU. The door to the world opens up right away.

What to get out of MBA

Attending the two-day Langone Pre-Term program is like attending a well-organized trade show. Stern simply showcased the best we can expect out of this part-time MBA degree up front. I have to admit it’s more than I expected.

I wrote down three things, Academics, Networking and Career.

Academics include hard skills and soft skills.

We will learn all about business. Just sitting there listening to the presentations from different departments, I realized how a vast body of knowledge we will have our hands on. It’s so exciting to see all the interesting courses offered. Each of them will open a door to something completely new, fascinating and useful.

Unlike my previous graduate program in Computer Science, MBA emphasizes equally on the soft skills as the hard ones. Teamwork, communication, negotiation, leadership, etc., those skills are absolutely as important to our career as the academic knowledge and skills.

I always know networking is important and it’s something to expect out of a MBA program. But, only after the pre-term, I realized what kind of network I will get and how to get it.

It’s started at the Registration and Welcome breakfast. I saw 800-1000 students in the hall talking to each other. And that’s just part-time MBA students for 2010. If we count full time students, EMBA and alumni, that’s thousands and thousands successful business people in all the industries and functions at all levels.

Talking to my classmates, I was even more thrilled by this network. People came from all over the world, have all kinds of interesting backgrounds, and all very motivated and energized. I started to feel part-time program maybe better than full-time program from network prospect since my fellow students have more industry experiences, more mature and are already pretty successful.

Joining a MBA program, I surely would like to advance my career. I was planning to continue my career in the IT industry and targeting the CIO position as my ultimate career goal. After the pre-term, I started to question myself. I definitely see the whole business world opens up widely in front of me. Social impact, environment-friendly, renewable energy, the buzz words become tangible courses and programs. Management consulting, marketing, even the business historian, the unimaginable jobs are not far from my finger tips.

Most importantly, Stern encourages us to think through our career goal before we even start the MBA program and provide a lot of tools to help us finding out the most appropriate position in the business world.

A lot to expect for the coming program!

Know Yourself

After the two day pre-term program and hearing all the introductions, I had a funny feeling. Attending the Langone program is somewhat like going to Disney world. A lot of fun activities are available to me and I only have limited time (especially true for part-timers). I feel a little bit overwhelmed.

I like one of the previous student’s advice, pick and choose the activities you are most interested and will benefit most from. Life is all about prioritization. However, to prioritize, we have to know what matters the most to us. That brings up the topic of knowing yourself.

What courses should we take, what clubs should we join, what networking activities should we go, the answers to those questions tie to the what career goal we have and how to best utilize this MBA to achieve that goal.

The career goal for each one of us is different because we are different persons. Rising to the top may be attractive to some of us, but probably not to others. The bottom line, I think, is to find a piece of work that we enjoy doing, we do really well and we feel it’s meaningful and valuable. No matter it’s managing a large organization or to help poor women in the most remote corner of the world. As long as it is most satisfactory to ourselves, it’s the career for us.

It’s very easy to get lost in this big and energetic crowd. I already saw some charismatic leaders who can pitch their ideas really well. I already met some successfully professionals who are employed in highly compensated jobs in top notch companies. I already felt the heavy influence from this community to shape my way of talking, my thinking pattern, even my life goals. It’s not a good sign that at one point I felt other people are in better position than I am in this program. The worst case I can imagine is not to fail achieving my career goal, but to spend my whole life achieving another person’s career goal. Losing oneself certainly is not the intention of the program.

Doing this MBA program is not about doing better than others. It’s about better understanding myself and fully realizing my own potential. Actually, it’s my teammate Laura who reminded me that after we didn’t win the first team project. I felt it’s really good advice to keep in mind. After all, our classmates are not our competitors at all. They are our collaborators, our friends and our resources.

Discovering and learning to appreciate our uniqueness in strength, weakness, values and goals are indeed valuable lessons I learned in those two days.

The first semester hasn’t started yet and I already felt I learned a lot. I can now imagine how much I can gain from this MBA program. Not just a degree, but a life transforming experience. Definitely worth the time and money!

August 2014
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