Essays on marketing and a meaningful life

Ada Chen Rekhi

Category: Life Page 2 of 3

My Love-Hate Relationship with Apple

Not even a year out of the M$ campus, and I’ve adapted to a new life in SF accompanied by the usual mix of geeky accoutrements. Along with the Twitter account and flirtations with new technology, I’ve also managed to acquire an assortment of Apple products including a brand new MacBook (which I’ve affectionately named “AdaBook”) to replace the old faithful IBM ThinkPad T40 and an iPhone.

A week into my new iPhone experience, all of my apps spontaneously stop working! Don’t get me wrong, I love the user experience of the iPhone — it’s unbeatable — but multiple hard reboots and logging in and out of the iTunes store later, I eventually got it to work again. A quick Google search showed that I’m really not alone.

The latest development this week is that my MacBook has started cracking! It’s been chipping away at three points in the case. Two right at the edge of the inner joint (under the Macbook monitor logo) and one at the right palm rest. Photos below:

My MacBook is very gently used. It spends most of the day sleeping on the living room coffee table, and has only traveled a handful of times. I am not a student and don’t lug it around anywhere. I’ll try taking it into the Apple store this weekend and will report back to you what they say.

I definitely enjoy Apple products, but given the issues that I’m having with my month-old iPhone and eight month old MacBook, we’re not off to the most auspicious start. Anyone else having issues?

Developing Presence and Power

I attended an interesting training today put on by the company Skills To Success. The training was titled “Personal Power & Presence” and featured hands-on coaching on minor behavior adjustments each of us can do for more effective interactions.

The class featured a predator-partner-prey model. A person can be all three in different interactions, but typically has clear tendencies to lean toward one or the other. It’s pretty easy to infer from the names what each of these is. Predator — powerful and dominant, but at the cost of eroding relationships. Prey — nervous, submissive, likable and often talked over. Partners are in a happy place in between both commanding and the “kick me” sign.

Perhaps the most useful part of the class was breaking out into a group of 6 people, and being taped on a DVD while giving a speech. We did three rounds of taping: doing a 3 minute introduction; responding to nonsensical and difficult questions while owning the room and emenating confidence; and a longer session around a specific workplace issue.

What did I learn? Well, I default to prey. Deer in the headlights prey, all the way down to the dropped eyes, decreased volume and hesitant speech in the face of a challenging situation.

Top 5 actions for me to work on:

  • The upward inflection which conveys uncertainty at the end of phrases. There were many moments in which my coach caught me saying phrases as if they are questions. I say “Hello I’m Ada?” instead of “Hello. My name is Ada.”
  • Dropping in qualifiers instead of making statements. “Perhaps the action we should take..” “I would maybe recommend…”
  • The power of pauses between short, incisive sentences.
  • I hold defensive body posture by clasping my hands in front of me.

The power of broad, sweeping arm movements which help illustrate a point. Coordinating these movements to make sense relative to what is being said. It really provides a different perspective to see how other perceive you on video. I’d recommend everyone try to tape themselves, we can all stand to learn from this type of exercise. Another interesting exercise which we talked about but didn’t do is standing in a room full of people and shouting: I OWN THE ROOM! And, quite literally, owning the room. Touching stuff, invading personal space, re-arranging furniture.


Roadtrip on Hwy 101

2 — Sonoma Coast (13)

Originally uploaded by adavark. I’m driving up the California, Oregon and (part of) the Washington coast! Impressively, I am logging on fairly often to post photos.

Check them out on my Flickr.

In Memoriam

01 31 07 GrantDog 021

Originally uploaded by adavark.

Our family dog Grant passed away this weekend. He went peacefully in his sleep. He was a big fifty pound dog and lived to be 14 (like 80 in dog years), but it still hasn’t sunk in that the puppy from when I was in third grade is no longer here with us.

Rest in peace.

Washington Scenic Drive: Cascade Loop


The Pacific Northwest has a lot more to it than just rain; it has amazing scenery and plenty of outdoorsy activities. I went on Cascade Loop last weekend on a drive with Sachin across the Cascade Mountains and into Eastern Washington. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and a great way to see the rest of Washington.

The drive is approximately 440 miles long, and takes a winding route east through the Cascade Foothills, across Stevens Pass, into some little towns towns, along Lake Chelan, and back on the North Cascades Highway — highlighted by Ross Lake and Diablo Lake. It’s worth stopping along the way. Leavenworth is a very cute, touristy Bavarian village that pretends that it’s from the Swiss Alps. The overall effect is charming! There is all this quaint atypical script lettering for chains such as Starbucks, Wells Fargo Bank etc. . . it reminded me of watching Shrek. Another town, Winthrop, looked as if it belonged in a Western movie.

Here’s another one, this time of Diablo Lake on the way back.


See more pictures, including one of Leavenworth.


Lake Chelan (click on image)


Leavenworth, the cute Bavarian village (click on image)


Sachin and me (click on image)

Live Search is Live!

In case you haven’t heard, Live Search is now officially live and getting attention. Jeremy Zawodny did a test-drive and Businessweek had a favorable review on the Live Search experience.

Ada Chen

The End of Cheap Russian Music may be reaching the end of its days with a new Russian law in place. Uh oh!

I’ve become more and more reluctant to adopt products and services from smaller companies because in all likelihood they will have dramatic changes or not be able to stick around. A few that I love and use regularly are Pandora (music), Meebo (web-based IM), and Wikispaces.

To reference my last post about Facebook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg told everyone to calm down and breathe. I agree with how it’s not a big deal (but still don’t like it), but what?! React to user response! Add an opt-out to ‘classic mode’ to view friends, allow cancelling the stalkerfeeds if they want, and let everyone get used to it first. I will say — now that I’ve gotten over my initial response, I think the Notes feature is pretty cool. It’s unearthing blogs from friends I know distantly that I didn’t even know had blogs. 🙂

Ada Chen

Car Purchases in the context of Negotiation Class

My summer quarter at the University of Washington ends this Friday, and I’m registering only a sense of relief. Despite the pleasure of easily getting very good grades (they give extra credit?!) and the satisfaction of rounding off a classical studies minor, I’m pretty tired of the school routine. Part of it is due to the utter incompatibility of my coursework (history, geology, etymology) with my immediate future, but also I’m missing all the friends at Penn that make college fun.

So this weekend I bought my first car, and did most of the negotiation myself. It was actually an interesting application of my negotiation and dispute resolution class at Penn that I took with Professor Bergman. From an intellectual standpoint, I could draw a lot of parallels from the class to the tactics which they used.

Afterward, I jotted down some thoughts on car negotiation in the context of the negotiation class and various readings on human psychology. Car buying seems to be a primarily distributive negotiation, but they definitely use a lot of standard negotiation tactics 🙂 :

  • The true bargaining range is concealed despite thinking that you have full information, since dealers are capable to part with cars at below invoice and still make a profit.
  • The question “Can I ask you to do me a favor?” was really effective if you actually say yes to the task. There are lots of studies about the effectiveness of asking someone to make a commitment.
  • The backoffice sales pitch for warranties and maintenance packages is really an example of “The Nibble,” where you try to introduce more items into the bargaining mix at the last minute once the deal is wrapped up. Moving companies also do this- once you make the relatively large commitment to rent one of their cheap trucks, they sell you all the supplies at a big markup.
  • It is possible to gain leverage against the salesperson by introducing an offer for referrals, promise to stop shopping around, additional services. This is the deadline/delay tactic of using time to pressure an opponent, as well as using commitment as a means to secure cooperation.
  • We got the good cop / bad cop from the sales people. They also sometimes ostentatiously play on sympathy (kids, family) to get greater concessions.
  • All the “consult the sales office” stuff is an exercise of the limited authority strategy. Also, the salesperson can pretend to be on your side against the big bad sales manager.
  • Salespeople have you test-drive a car and try to narrow down the choice to one car. After you’ve driven it, it creates a sense of possession, “my car” and afterward they keep on referring to it as yours. Studies have shown that you attach a higher value to things you feel as if you possess.
  • Salespeople try to exploit reciprocity by giving you beverages and treating you nicely (i.e., opening doors). In doing so, you instinctively want to be nice to them too. The easiest way to combat this is to realize that it is a strategem and consciously discount their treatment.
  • Realizing that the sales system is a tradeoff of time against purchase price means you can bargain people down. They are also terrified that you will walk out of their dealership if they don’t get you now, and buy from someone else. As a result of this, it’s possible to demand price concessions to compensate for unideal features of a car (e.g., they don’t have the right color on the lot).
  • Good to set a low reference point and move up. Start ambitious, and only increase in small increments because if you increase at large increments, it sends the signal that you are willing to concede a lot more.

Having knowledge of my own preferred negotiation style meant that I could shop around dealerships until I found someone who I could feel comfortable bargaining with and avoid some the aggressive jerks that I talked to.

Practically, and only tangentially related to negotiation in the context of information-gathering, Yahoo! Auto and Edmunds (especially their forums) were the best for getting information on a reference point for how much one should pay.

Overall, negotiations was a dibly useful and interesting course. It was also a lot of fun because we had to do a series of negotiations in every class session. I recommend it to Penn students as an elective, because you don’t even realize that you’ve learned a lot until you apply it to real life. If you can’t take a class on it, good reads are Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes, Shell’s Bargaining for Advantage and a great consumer behavior book I read recently, Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice.

Ada Chen

How Often Do You Use These Google Products?

Well, Philipp Lenssen has a survey to find out.

I was really surprised that a) there are so many google products out there, b) I have heard of maybe 2/3rds of them, and c) I’m not alone in not using most of the ones I do know about.

Ada Chen

My Microsoft Interview for Search Marketing Specialist

One of the things I’m working on for this blog is to write posts that address my own personal FAQs — questions that people always ask me and I end up having to answer repeatedly. Now I’ve come up with the fabulous solution: I’ll just point them at my blog! At Penn, one of the best resources for interview advice is fellow classmates that have interviewed and I have already given advice and helped several friends prep (as well as having been given advice to). 🙂

My Interview at Microsoft

I interviewed for Microsoft as a college hire in early October/December 2005. I went through a first-round interview for the position of Associate Product Manager through on-campus recruiting. My campus recruiter basically took me through certain behavioral questions (see earlier post about how I tend to prep for a behavioral interview), asked me “Why Microsoft?”, and posed a few easy marketing questions.

For this initial interview, I came prepared with one Microsoft product that I was really excited about and would like to work for. I personally chose MSN Spaces. 🙂 I also developed a list of things I think they are doing right, and things they are doing wrong with suggestions on how to improve them. An example of a marketing question that I encountered is, What Microsoft product do you like, Why?, How would you improve it? How would you market it? Another marketing question that I was asked was, if BillG gave you all his money and said you could start a company on campus, what would you create and why, and how would you market it? To a certain extent, a fundamental understanding of marketing seemed important but it also seemed like a “fit interview” — trying to determine whether or not you are excited, curious and passionate about technology and interested in working in Redmond.

Something like 4–6 weeks after that, I was invited for an interview at Redmond for the Search Marketing Specialist position instead of APM. Since then the position has been retitled to Search Media Strategist. This was great — Microsoft pays to ship you out to Seattle, gives you money to eat, and it was a great opportunity for me to see my boyfriend and family. I had a pretty decadent weekend of eating at Ruth’s Chris, Cheesecake Factory and Salty’s on Alki. I have to admit I’m somewhat of a foodie.

My interview took place at Red West at 12pm. Generally, you don’t get the names of people in your interview loop, but my recruiter actually provided me with the first three names. I spent the morning looking over the Microsoft Careers website, reading some background articles on search that a professor had sent me, and also Googlestalking all my interviewers to see whether they had anything interesting about them online.

I knew Microsoft was a “casual” workplace (they always show up to recruit in jeans), but I went to my interview in a suit anyway because I figured this was a business role. I don’t know what the norm is but my guess is nice business casual would also be acceptable.

Interviews either take place in a stationary fashion — you sit in a meeting room or empty office, and your interviewers come to you — or traveling fashion — you spend the day traveling around to each person. I had a stationary interview. They put me in a little office and I went through 6 interviews by the end of the day. I was pretty exhausted because 12–6pm is actually 3–9pm. Being a nocturnal college student pays off!

Each interviewer asked me questions around one or two topic areas (I figured this out by the end of the interview). They were roughly mapped to the Microsoft Mission & Values. For instance, one interviewer might be evaluating me on two buckets, my communication skills & ability to escalate, while another may be asking questions around my technical knowledge and knowledge about the product. In my case, I didn’t have any of those infamous Microsoft brainteasers or hard puzzles. I was having a great time having interesting conversations with people. One of my MBA mentors who interned and later signed on for Microsoft gave me the advice that the great thing about Microsoft interviews is that they are happy when it becomes a conversation and not a straight Q&A. They definitely have to cover certain topics, but having a back-and-forth conversation is encouraged and liked.

I’m glad that I had spent the morning and the flight to Seattle preparing lots of questions about adCenter, MSN Search, and group/culture at Microsoft because then I had an opportunity to ask lots of questions from each interviewer and get their particular insights. Since I didn’t know a lot about the SMS position when I interviewed, I thought this was a great opportunity. Each interviewer spent about 45 minutes talking with me and answering my questions, then left for ~15–25 minutes. I used the time to gather my thoughts, come up with any follow-up questions, and also took notes on what I had talked about before. From what I’ve been told by people who have interviewed at MS, in the gap between the interviews the person that interviewed you communicates to everyone else in your interview loop about your interview with them and also makes a hire recommendation. The implication of this is that they know what you already talked about with the people that you interviewed with before, and they also may have asked that interviewer to follow up.

All my interviews were relatively relaxed which is a contrast to some consulting ones that I’ve been through (ahem: formulaic Accenture interviews!) They were pretty amused that I had Googl-uh, MSN-Searched my interviewers beforehand. My first interview was with my internal recruiter. My second and third interviews were with Search Marketing Analysts (SMAs). My fourth interview was with a Lead SMA, my fifth was with a manager, and my sixth (AA) was with a director. What I’ve heard and read is that if your first few interviews lead into a no-hire recommendation, you get sent home early because it doesn’t make sense to occupy busy higher level people with candidates that aren’t getting a hire recommendation. The AA — As Appropriate — interview is usually with some high-level person who makes a final check on the candidate. It was a relief for me because in my AA, the director walked in and straightaway told me that I’d had a unanimous hire recommendation. We then had a great discussion about effective HR recruiting practices, the ongoing strategy of MSN Search, and he asked me a few questions.

Questions that are pretty easy to prepare before you go are: why Microsoft? and then why this group/position in specific? For a college hire this is pretty important because we are at some point going for just “a job” without any clearly articulated reasons for understanding why we are pursuing it. It was a good exercise for me to think through this question especially since my other career interest was relatively different (consulting) and it helped me determine where to sign on in the end.

I walked out of my interview around 6pm, celebrated with a nice dinner and movie, and relaxed the rest of the weekend before flying back to Philadelphia. It took them a while to formally make the offer, but I knew I had landed it. The SMO organization generated several questions for me, and I used them also to keep in touch with the org while I was waiting on paperwork. I had all these questions answered, had an offer made, and after a bit of negotiation accepted the job! As a college student, I was really glad to be all set with the job decision in December for August. Knowing 8 months in advance that you have a job makes for a chill final semester.

One observation that I have of this interview versus other interviews is that a lot of the interviews documented online seem to be focused on what happens in a technical role, ie if you are interviewing for SDET, SDE or PM. I got no puzzles, and I didn’t even have to do the product manager style interviews of whiteboarding or making presentations. This primarily seemed to be a fit and behavioral interview, but it might also be because I’m a college and not experienced hire. I’m writing this post from the perspective of what I knew before the interview and the immediate responses afterward. This is an amalgam of asking people I know questions, reading blogs, and general information you can find from googling.

Ada Chen

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