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Techie In Wonderland - siliconindia@stanford.edu
Saturday, January 1, 2000

The words of Professor Mark Horowitz still ring in my ears, quoting the top ten reasons why Stanford is a cool place to be in. Among them were sunny California, swanky University Avenue, Lake Tahoe and, oh yeah, a “thing” called Silicon Valley! The first thing that hits you is that this place lives the culture that it created.

Also, as the professors love to say, new students suddenly feel that they ain’t the smartest kid anymore. Surrounded by Math Olympiad gold medallists, GRE 2400s and national toppers in undergrad, you vaguely recollect Lewis Carroll’s words in Alice in Wonderland: “You need to be running hard, just to stay where you are!” When I first entered Stanford, I was driven through the now-scenic Palm Drive; it was a strange feeling to think that this was the “path” that the people who built the valley had taken.

Among the attitudinal changes, probably the first thing that new students learn is the maturity to get over the initial excitement that a new opportunity presents. Victory and defeat become immaterial — you begin to think beyond both. Whether your actions have resulted in a huge success or a failure, there is no time to stop, because the mill just keeps churning!

Next, you see that truly talented people demonstrate greatness by the humility they show when success comes to them! They acknowledge the quality of the competition and respect the spirit of the game, keeping in mind that everything could have gone the other way, but, luckily, didn’t.

The kind of people whom you might bump into in a EE or CS seminar or in the coffee shop aren’t too bad either. On one Wednesday, Bill Joy talks about his odyssey from BSD to Jini, just days after Ed Zander, the COO of Sun, talks about what it takes to be a technology entrepreneur! It really is one thing to listen to legendary lore and another to actually be there with the major players.

Another attraction that brings both students as well as alumni is the Terman Seminar, held Fridays. Attendees overcome such obstacles as no parking spaces, no seats in the auditorium (many simply sit on the floor) and the fact that it’s on Friday evening, just to be there and to listen to the speaker who (more often than not) is worth all this trouble – like Steve Jurvetson of DFJ or Mike Volpi of Cisco Systems.

The Friday night seminar is also one of the activities of BASES, the Business Association of Stanford Engineering Students. BASES is an organization that aims to promote entrepreneurship among engineering students through such events as a business plan contest, a startup job fair (in which over 300 startups participate), a resume book to put in your resume and, most interestingly, Interact Dinners, where 14 students (from engineering, business and med schools) dine together with a CEO or a VP, while getting to know him and his business better (and occasionally passing on a resume!). The BASES Web site gets as many page views as a minor company does, and has Webmasters for each of its events.

Another innovation is classes from the dorm — students love it! The SITN, which streams out data to companies in the Bay Area, who wanna take classes, helps students too. You can get up at 9:57 for a 10:00 class (and decide in three minutes if you actually wanna go to class). It actually took me about a month to discover that my roommate was taking the same course as I! (In fact, it is hardly surprising that sometimes you might fail to recognize the professor whose class you might be taking! This actually happened!)

Besides the technology jamboree, the arts at Stanford flourish. Recently, the Stanford Daily (which is entirely run by students) ran a story that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, making it the first college newspaper to make it there. The cartoon strip PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) is a must-read for on-campus humor!

Organizations that are connected to India and India-related activities like the Stanford India Association, ASHA for Education and Sanskriti, stop you from feeling homesick on a day like Diwali or Holi. The organizations host excellent activities, like raising funds for basic education back in India.

As on most campuses, the Web is ubiquitous on campus. Course offerings, handouts, grades, classes signups, TA evaluation, Placement – literally everything is done online. That has even spurred a set of startups and individual sites to make this process easier – like vivasmart.com (a site that enables you to compare book prices and decide which online store to buy from) or Axess, which lets you do all registration and academic transactions online!

That’s pretty much what life here revolves around – movies at the Sunday Flicks, drives down University Avenue, the Tressider Café, your labs…and in between, turning in homework assignments and getting code to work.

In conclusion, life here is beautiful…now, if only that code worked!

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