My Journey of Self Discovery


Who am I? What am I doing here?

I would like to give you a peek into my journey so far and share with you the choices that led me to where I am now.

The wonder years

I grew up in India, witness to the birth and growth of my father’s business in air conditioning systems. I watched my father navigate several challenges in establishing a stable client base for himself and I saw how passionately he loved what he had built. After I finished high school, I had to decide whether I wanted to get into my father’s business or carve out a path of my own. My father’s business required me to have a strong understanding of mechanical and electrical engineering, but I was passionate about computers and wanted to pursue a career in this field. I knew that my father would have liked me to help him in his business, but I also knew that he would support me even if I decided to take a different path. My father has always told me that you should do what you love. So, I followed his advice and went to college to study computer science.

What is my dream job?

Four years passed by really quickly and I thoroughly enjoyed my undergrad, exploring the world of computers. Now it was time for me to apply my skills to solve real life problems. So I asked myself, what problems do I want to solve? Should I get into the security industry and give hackers a run for their money OR should I get into the banking industry and work on the next generation trading systems? To be honest, I had no idea. Then it struck me that I could join an IT services company and work with clients in different industries and see which industry I like. I felt really proud of myself of navigating a major crossroad in my life and coming up with such a foolproof plan :). Little did I know that life is not that straightforward and that would be the first of many “major” crossroads.

Switzerland vs. the USA

After one month of training, I got my first project with an insurance client in Switzerland. We had to develop a product that would help the client improve their productivity and lower operating expenses. When I started on this project I was really excited and pumped, but in few months my enthusiasm started wearing off. I felt that the IT services industry, where requirements are set by the client, was probably not a good fit for me because I love to try out new creative ideas and come up with innovative products. We had to follow the somewhat rigid specifications set by the client, and this didn’t leave too much room for free form thinking.  Moreover, during that time I worked with many colleagues who were experts in various technologies and after interacting with them I realized that if I don’t hone my skills further, I would hit a glass ceiling very soon. Now I had a choice to make, should I switch jobs and go with the learn-on-the-job approach or should I go for my Masters? Decisions, decisions.

Little fish in a big pond or big fish in a small pond

I decided to come to the US for my master’s degree. I am a travel buff and when I saw an opportunity to study in a different continent, I grabbed it with both hands. I landed in Chicago and the first question I asked myself was: “Dude, how are you going to study here?”. There was so much to do: new place, new people, and a whole new life! I wanted to walk along Lake Michigan, go lie on the grass in Grant park, stand for long hours under the center of the “bean” and look at all the kaleidoscopic reflections, play volleyball on North Avenue beach, grab a beer or two at an eclectic bar in Lincoln Park, go club hopping near Clark and Division; the activities were endless.  I was surrounded by super intelligent and hard-working grad students and I was inspired by the discussions we had on science, politics, careers and such.  I mastered the art of studying in an inebriated state :), and survived two busy busy years of my life. I learned to balance work and fun, which I think is the single most-important lesson I learned during my Masters. Two years went by in a jiffy and I landed myself two job offers on the two opposite sides of the country. It was exciting, but then again I had to make a choice. Should I join a big company or a small company? Should I go to the west coast or east coast? I decided to join the smaller company because I thought that I would learn and contribute more in a small company environment. So I packed my bags, bid a painful adieu to Chicago and my friends, and set out to start the next chapter in my life.

Full time vs. Part time MBA:

For the past couple of years I have been thinking about my career growth. I like my job and I have had the opportunity to formulate and implement ideas that have had a significant impact on the business. Moreover, I have developed a great balance. I have the time to watch movies, explore the outdoors (I love camping and hiking) and play sports such as table tennis and foosball. But, I feel that there is not much growth for me on the technology side. I know you must be thinking, is this guy ever satisfied?? Well trust me, I have my reasons. At some point in the future, I want to start my own company. My current work is no longer taking me closer to my goals as I already have a solid technical background. In order to realize my goals, I need a deep understanding of business as well. This got me thinking about the MBA, even if it meant leaving my cushy job and lifestyle. I talked to many people and came up with a plan: finish MBA -> get a consulting job -> get experience in all aspects of business -> start my own company. It seemed pretty simple and I thought I had it all figured out. But, the MBA saga was just getting started. When I started researching MBA programs, I was overwhelmed by the choices I had. I was targeting the top 15 schools and each school had its own strengths. I was also evaluating the pros and cons of full time vs. part time MBA. One aspect of the part-time MBA that I didn’t like was the lack of a fixed time frame for completion. Basically you can stretch it for as long as you want.  The full time MBA also posed some personal complications, which is too long a story to go into here.  The fact that I was switching careers made full time MBA programs an ideal choice for me. Duke was one of the schools I applied to.

The Duke CCMBA

About three weeks ago, I received a call from Duke regarding the Cross Continent MBA program. At that time I had no idea about this program, and based on my previous research I had made up my mind about full time programs. I don’t know why, but I decided to research the CCMBA program. As I learned more about the program, I found it to be the perfect mix of both full time and part time programs. It offered me a 16 month fixed curriculum, along with an option to work while I get my MBA from a top school. In addition, it alleviated my personal complications. Moreover, I get a truly global education by traveling the world and experiencing different cultures. I was really excited and this program made perfect sense for me, except for one concern: would I be able to switch career fields with this program? I talked with some alumni and current students. Kudos to the Duke Admissions staff for pairing me up with alumni with very similar background to mine. I heard nothing but very positive reviews about the program. I spoke with a few alumni who had the same background as me and were able to switch career fields and move into consulting – this was definitely reassuring. So I made my choice and asked Duke to transfer my application to the CCMBA program. I emailed them on a Monday and heard back from them about an acceptance decision on the very next day – fastest turnaround ever! I have been interacting with other new students and am beyond impressed and excited about the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the group. I cannot wait for my first residency to begin.

So here I am – an engineer, a computer geek, a wanderlust, a tennis fan, a ping pong enthusiast, a film aficionado, an outdoors lover – excited and ready to learn, grow and expand my world view.

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3 comments to My Journey of Self Discovery

  • Vince Cellini

    Great post Gaurav and a very interesting read. We should all have quite a time in Shanghai.

  • Guarav, it sounds like you’ve got quite a few things you are looking to accomplish in the next few years!

    There’s any number of things I took away from the program, but in respect to your post, one of the great things is you’ll learn to make decisions faster (because the program will move on with or without you). Whether you make the “right” decision is almost irrelevant; successful people are the ones who make lots of decisions, thereby giving themselves lots of opportunities to succeed.

    Good luck!

  • Gaurav Sehgal

    Thanks Vince!

    @Randy: You are absolutely right. Effective decision making is a rare and most sought-after trait

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