Sunday, November 05, 2006

2006-Half Yearly Report? oops... the One year Report

This was the start to the original post on 19th August titled 'Half yearly report'

6 months after I left India, I thought it appropriate to 'report' to everyone. However 10 months have passed and I still haven't finished this piece. Today I decided, that I should just publish this although incomplete.

But it is exactly one year ago, that I left from my wonderful homeland, (infact at this same hour) and within 24 hours it will be one whole complete year for me in the US. I owe a report to you all, about whatever I enjoyed in the last one year. This is dedicated to you all in India who define what I stand for and also all those who made my life in the US so wonderful and who are redefining me over the past one year.

Half Yearly Report :P oops... the One year Report

Its 365 days now, that I saw you all the last time. And in less than 1 month from now I hope to see you all again. Although I had promised myself not to stay away from my land for more than 8 months in a row, I wasn't able to live up to my promise because couple of my friends spoiled my plans by sending me invites for their marriages for December :P and I must attend them. And my brother, cousins and my friends have/(can manage) their vacations in December. So December 2, I return back to India :) I am absolutely excited.

I shall stay short in this blog, and try to make it as clear and readable. (Have paragraph headers for selective reading)


Future Study: My plans (or lack of it) over future study

CapitalOne: The company and my work


The American Suburbia:

Some things that I like about the US:

The Great American Road system:

I believe I can fly:

My America Darshan

I have always loved to travel. And here, I am enjoying the freedom (read singledom) and the ease of traveling. Airfare doesn't seem too much in terms of dollar amount (A 3000 mile flight from DC to California costs $250, which in terms of purchasing power is Rs 2500). And with a car of your own its very convenient to plan trips. Further rental car business is highly evolved here. You can get the best and the newest of cars/vans rented easily (and if 4-8 people pool in, the cost doesn't seem too much).

Some special places I visited

The best city in the world after Bombay (Not finished off with a detailed blog on NY)


Future Study:

My work is going OK. There is nothing rocket-science in corporate life anyways, and I am still dabbling with the idea 'to study or not to study'. I hope I take some decision before life takes it for me. It wont be an easy decision to pursue a PhD. Coz it takes a lot of guts to dedicate 5 years of your life towards a particular subject.
(And it also means lot of time in the US, which I don't want) OR maybe this comfortable life has sucked out the risk appetite from me, I guess. And I see this disease all around, in most of my friends. I just wonder, if my generation - arguably the luckiest generation India has produced, can not take risks and can not pursue what they really want, who will?

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Capital One:

(Pic 1: Entrance to Capital One Main Campus)
(Pic 2: Working out at Capital One! Lots of pun intended)

(Pic 3&4: Outer and Inner world of Capital One)

Has been a fantastic place for your first job. I love this company for many reasons, firstly they flew me business class :P, they put me up for 4 months of housing and 3 months of rental car. They even take care of small small stuff like driving lessons. Regarding work, they give you enough time to come up to speed, and its a really warm and friendly place to spend your entire day. My manager is an amazing guy, an Indian, and a Wharton MBA. I am thankful to him to help me have such a smooth transition into my new life.

CapitalOne has a good 9-5 work culture, and its interesting to see how these American people balance their work and life. They are very punctual and have a systematic way of doing things. We have all ex-McKinsey, ex-BCG people all over, and so many Wharton grads running the business. The work is ofcourse not very challenging (like CS research work) or intellectually stimulating, but its a good platform to learn to sell your ideas. The job is 10% of problem finding, 5% of problem solving and 85% of presentations ;) (which certainly is an important skill to learn)

This chilled out life-style could be a perfect final destination for those who are okay to settle in Richmond. A young chap starting out his career though, should be wary of not getting spoiled by this relaxed life. Infact the 'fun' is eating up too much into my time. When it is summer time people go mad. We have 'happy hours' every now and then. i.e. we go over to someone's place and people have beer and chicken/meat over hazaar talks of golf, Nascar, baseball, football and during the soccer WC, for a change, 'soccer'. I was mostly lost in these discussions and wanted to do something. So my team (full of Indians :P) organised a 'cricket fun-day' on a soft-ball field.. and believe me.. IT WAS A HIT! We had 32 people playing that day, out of which 22 were Americans!!! and 6 women!! Rules were simple.. 6 balls per bowler and 6 balls per batter ... -2 for a wicket.. and we had some fantastic sixes and brilliant catches from the Americans.. and the result was awesome -> I was placed 'runner-up' for the monthly 'Most Valued Person' award in my department :P :D :D :D Reason :'teamwork initiation'

What does Capital One do?

It is one of the top 4 credit card issuers in the US. There are different parameters to measure the rankings of Financial Institutions and our Company ranks anywhere from 1 to 10 in different aspects. Recently we became the 10th largest bank in the US (not just the credit card business.. entire banking business).

What am I doing here?

What do we do for work? As a CS person, Nothing. Many people have asked me this question. And this is my answer in short:

  • In the US, you cannot give (or refuse) money to anyone based on age, income, gender, race, place of residence, or any parameter which can be seen as discriminatory.
  • All credit based decisions are made on the basis of the person's past financial behavior. And thankfully here in the US, these people have detailed information of how people manage their finances, and how risky they are - in simple words, whether they pay on time, or whether they run away with money, etc There are credit bureaus which keep track of every person in the US.
  • Now, Capital One itself has 25 million customers of the 250 million people in the US!! Further our annual marketing budget is over $500 Million. This means that we send approximately over 300-400 Million pieces of mail in an year. This covers approximately 50 Million people in the US (many people get mailed repeatedly).
  • Hence it is not possible to manually decide whether someone is credit-worthy or not, based on his/her past profile. This is where statistical modeling and lot of analysis comes into picture. Because of the heavy volumes, we need models which will convert different numbers on people's credit bureau reports, to a single value - whether it makes economic sense to make this person our customer or not.
  • This is the job of an analyst. We don't make the statistical models, but I am one of the many analysts in Capital One, who helps the company explore into the data and understand what strategies work and what strategies do not. Or better, what strategies might work and what might not.
  • This job is definitely not rocket science, but there is definitely a lot to learn. It happens many times that out of sheer raw analysis, you figure out something, but it requires your manager's and other seniors' business acumen to understand the undercurrents below something that seems obvious. This is where the learning opportunity is.

Our CEO:

Our CEO is Rich Fairbank, and I had the opportunity to talk to him for 10 mins!!! He is such a great guy! He founded the company in 1994, and has grown it into a multi billion dollar giant. Earning over $250 MM himself per year, he certainly lives upto his name!

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Richmond, I think, is just like Lucknow or Jaipur.

  • Its 2 hours away from the capital.
  • Its half as cheap as Washington, DC.
  • It has half the crime in Lucknow and has less than 1/10000 of history of Jaipur. (But its a Historical city by American standards. Technically there are just 4-5 historical cities in the US: Philadelphia, Boston, NY-NJ, Chicago, maybe that's it. )
  • It has the divide. Nice rich small red houses in one part of the city on both sides of a beautiful boulevard called Monument Avenue. Lots of monuments. (Arthur Ashe was from Richmond and stands forever in one of the squares). Really safe neighbourhood. Lots of small shops (quite unlike in this mall era) and a very lit up road with beautiful restaurants, pubs, art shops, dress shops, theatres on both sides of the road. The place looks really beautiful in the evenings, and esp. in summers, with all college students and families coming for a regular hang-out. And it has the supposedly dark neighbourhoods where we did venture to go in (and frankly didn't find it much different from Ghatkopar west)
  • To talk of Lucknow and Jaipur, Richmond town also has very few tall stories. Most houses are a couple of floors in height. You would be surprised to know that there are electricity and phone poles and wires running throughout the city!!
I stay in Richmond suburb called Glen Allen. And frankly most suburbs in the US would be like this. Well planned, all facilities, huge apartment communities, big wide roads, plenty of parking, HUGE malls and so on. Very very safe, and equally boring. Those small personalized shops are inexistent. All the shops are big chains Krogers/Kohls/Target/JCPenny/bla bla.. And if you are in the centre of a mall you wont be able to recognize whether you are in Virginia or Texas or California.

Some pictures of my apartment complex and home.

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American Suburbs:

I hate those Indians who keep on saying "America mein yeh, America mein woh". Most of the time, they are talking about the American Suburbs. And their houses and roads in American Suburbs. 20 miles away from their offices. Some of them have bought a house in remote parts of the suburbs or some of them live in the plush apartment communities spread all over American suburbs. And I am positive, these Suburbs have started booming since 1990s. There wasn't much civilization before that. Now I am sure one can buy similar nice houses far away from Mumbai or Pune, Delhi or even on the borders of cities like Jaipur, Lucknow and have twice as better life-style than in Glen Allen or New Jersey suburbs.

It is really unfair to compare these Amrerican suburbs with inner Bombay or Delhi. Compare Bombay with NewYork and you will see more similarities than saying one is better than the other (not completely though). I have seen 'some' places in New York/Philli/Baltimore. They are no better than shanties. You cannot have a house in Glen Allen, or suburbs of Denver, Kentucky, Boise and complain that you can not get similar lifestyle in Bombay's Pali Hill. And people who afford houses in upscale NY/Chicago can surely afford the best of Malabar hill and Juhu-Bandra.

There is one big difference though. Some parts of these big cities are really beautiful and extremely clean. Bombay still has that complete homegeneity everywhere, even if you are in Malabar Hill or Nariman Point.

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I like these things about the US (materialistically):

  • Big and systematic road system. Comfort of driving. You have a car, money to fill up
    gas, and you are the king.
  • Clean Air.
  • The prosperity and infrastructure has reached all over the US. In remotest of the villages. And that's why it is possible to stay 20-50 miles away from the cities and still have good work at hand.

I am sure, and I pray that we will reach this position sometime soon. In 10-15 years maybe. Our traffic just catches up faster than the infrastructure improvements we make. And we always forget that we have the world's best railways. I am dying to make a train travel soon :)

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Cars and Road Infrastructure:

Cars!!! The car business is probably the most evolved business in the US. And everyone has a car. Its a must. I don't know how much does the car industry contribute to the US economy in dollar amounts, but I am sure that directly or indirectly this industry is the highest employer. Road-system, Gas-industry, Car insurance, used-car industry, mechanics, rental car industry are HUGE industries in the US. Let me not go on and on, but to give you an idea -> There is a company called Car-Max. It deals with ONLY used cars. They buy used cars and do all the repairs whatever is necessary and sell off (or finance) the car with a guarantee!!! It has showrooms ALL over the US, and its a FORTUNE 500 company!! -> A used car shop!

BTW I bought a car called Toyota Celica. Its a kind of sports car. Its doing good so far.

The roads are simply awesome. People obey traffic rules. If there is a STOP sign, people STOP, whether anyone is coming or not.

Huge and long interstate highways run north-south, east-west all into the US. You could go from any city to another without meeting a signal. And the interstates are extremely safe all over the US. And that makes so much travel possible. Everyone travels at around 75 miles per hour (120kmph).

Railways.. Railways?? Uh? whats that? Thanks to the super powerful auto and gas industry lobbying, railways are inexistent. They are costlier than airfare.

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Washington D.C.:

Thanks to Capital One, I got my rental car in a week of coming to the US. I got my driving license too and immediately thereafter I drove to Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. It was a 6 hours drive and the first leg was really really confusing. I didn't know the roads, and all the signs over the road made things worse (or simpler!). I had a map in my hand and it was tough to juggle looking at the map, finding directions and driving, all at the same time :) And the exits here are such that you go round and round and just lose sense of what is North and what is South. Luckily I have a good direction sense (much better that people I know here) and ultimately was on the right inter-state. I picked up some friends from DC and then navigation wasn't much of an issue. It was Thanksgiving time and became colder as we went North. The road to Phili was like our 'Ghats', but with a difference.. everyone still drove at 75 mph. It was undoubtedly scenic and this 350 miles stretch took me from cities to villages to forests and mountains.. and finally we reached CMU. The university is small and beautiful in some parts. We also visited Mt Washington to have a breath-taking view of the night-time skyline of Pittsburgh. The city is a blue-collared city, as it had many steel mills in the past. The American Football team is one of the best in the US and is called 'Steelers'.

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Virginia Beach, Chesapeake bay bridge:
Been there a few times. Nice placid beach. Off Norfolk. A nice place for camping. What was more interesting for me, was the Chesapeake bay bridge. Its a 17 miles long bridge-tunnel combo crossing over and under the Chesapeake bay. You get a wierd feeling when you are driving over the sea (because the waves are over 20 feet tall), and it feels more wierd when you go under it. (visit this link)

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Philadelphia :
Milind dada (cousin) stays there. The drive around Phili is awesome. You see HUGE american cargo and navy ships in the bay. And the road cuts through some of America's oldest factories. By no means a pleasant sight, I am still amazed at the 500 feet tall rusting structures.
Some of the bridges here are the oldest and the tallest in the US, and are beautiful. It is a historic city (first capital, independence bell etc). Milind dada took us on a duck-boat ride. These vehicles are decomissoned world-war amphibian trucks, which can ride on the land and run in water as well. The city-tour took us through US's first Capitol/constitution buildings etc, and then into the Camden harbour.
Although the city is not as rosy as Chicago or Boston appear, I always look at it with amazement whenever I cross it.

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The city is similar to Phili in many respects. Huge populations of poor people, crime, industry interspread with certain pockets of excellence like the Wharton School (Phili) or the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore). I have some friends in Johns Hopkins and one of my very good friends stays there. I haven't been so much into the poor neighborhood of any other city as much in Baltimore. Primarily because Johns Hopkins is in midst of such neighbourhood, and secondly because I was lost once coming out of Baltimore. This was when I realized that US is not just about dreams and prosperity. Although everyone around had homes (and other necessities), there barren life was definitely pitiable. Some of the buildings around had broken glasses and lots of graffiti. There were run-down cars and lots of tires and scrapped metal around. There definitely seemed some demonic existence in that place.

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Atlantic City:
The Las-Vegas of the east coast. A gambling city. Sort of maya-nagri. Built on reclaimed land. Donald Trump owns 3-4 casinos in this place. Lots of glitterati, and I didn't like the feel of this place.

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Jacksonville (Florida):

My first LONG road-trip. 7 guys rented a Dodge Caravan and left off. It was a 10 hr drive. Florida was beautiful as expected

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Texas: Dallas-Austin-Houston: Work took me to Houston. Thanks to Capital One, I could take a detour via Dallas and Austin. Didn't get much time to see around, but the interesting part of the trip was me renting a Ford Mustang and driving from Dallas to Austin and then from Austin to Houston. Texas wasn't as hot as I thought it to be.

The Ford Mustang not only made my drive easier - it also made me a hero for a day for my nephew Ameya (Shri Dada's son) who was really excited to know that he has an uncle who 'drives' a Mustang :)

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San Francisco:
Earlier this year, I went to Stanford University to meet some of my closest friends from IIT. That was an awesome 5 day vacation. California is so much more beautiful than the west coast, in terms of diverse flora-fauna. It was just the start of Spring and the nature was as rich as it could be.
I stayed over at the Stanford University and the sprawling campus is probably the most idlyllic places of worshiping education, I suppose. The buildings reminded me of Spanish Castles shown in all the 'Zorro' movies. With palm trees lining up the main driveway, the campus surely welcomes you very well. The church, the Palm drive, the Oval lawns (forgot the name) and the golf course are some of the beautiful tourist attractions of this place. Located in San Jose, the campus is strategically placed placed at an appropriate distance from SanFrancisco city and the beaches. The Bay Area or the Silicon Valley have grown around the Berkeley and Stanford areas, it looks like.

I did visit the SanFrancisco city, but couldn't spend much time there. Had a nice dinner and a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was not as awe-inspiring as I thought it would be, probably because it was night and rainy, but I can imagine its magnificent presence during the day.

The trip cannot be complete without the mention of the Mystery Point and the Monterey Beach. The Mystery point is nothing but a display of man-made illusions, intellegently created using the slanting trees and slanting house with slanting floors and slanting ceilings to full advantage. We then proceeded on to Moneterey beach, or better known as the 17-mile drive. I am sorry I am not a good writer, and cannot help but repeating words and feelings - this place is heaven. You should be here to believe it. A perfect set for all the Mercedes, BMW ads; thats all I can say - I leave it up to you to imagine what this place must be like.

My chauvanism forces me to add this- to put it in short, this place is ALMOST as good as the Konkan coast from Shrivardhan to Harihareshwar. (Note the 'almost' - bole to - 'not as good').


On Memorial day long weekend this year, me and my friends from Richmond DROVE to Chicago! At the end of the trip we had put about 1800-1900 miles on the spacious Toyota Sienna. That distance is slightly more than Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai.

Over that last one year, I have made some wonderful friends in Capital One. Most of them joined along with me, and some of them were here before me. The road trip was FUN. Esp. driving on I-76 and I-70 over the Pittsburg turnpike, reminds you of the Sahyadris and the Khandala ghat. The charming landscape includes rural villages, farms with wind-mills and all - reminding you of the photographs that generally adorne the pharmaceutical calanders I have at home.

Chicago - is a beautiful city. I had heard only of crime and guns and murders and Sears Towers when it comes to Chicago, but the city was much more than that. I was the driver when we entered Chicago and the first poster that welcomed us read out loudly - 'HAND OVER YOUR GUN FOR $100', ' GIFT YOUR CHILD HER FREEDOM' and so on .. This, added to the urban legends I had already heard about the place, didn't help when I had to fill gas somewhere in one of the shady suburbs of Chicago. My friends only made it worse for me, and kept teasing me for thinking twice/thrice before getting out. (I must add though, that none of them got down either :P) It didn't get better as I stepped out of the car. The place reminded me of all the dhishum-dhishum American movies I had seen. The pump did not work at first. Anyways after all that, that was the shortest time I have ever taken to fill up gas. My driving woes did not end then. We did not know where to go, someone had the Global-positioning-System (GPS) and kept on ordering me from his seats and all my friends screaming for the slightest mistake I did :)

As we entered Chicago, I further regretted being at the wheel. This time because I wasn't able to get a full view of the Sear's towers I was dying to since my childhood. Chicago skyline is beautiful, and on a warm sunny day, it was a treat to walk through the downtown. Anyways, with a couple of missed turns and wrong exits, we finally reached our hotel. We came back to the downtown, to meet our friend who flew in from Boston.

(Pic 1: Against Sears Towers)
(Pic 2: In the evening)
(Pic 3: Chiacago's 'Marine Drive' from the J. Hannock towers' 96th floor)

(Pic 1: Kids playing- a sculpture at Navy Pier)
(Pic 2: My friends - on the prowl)

There are three cities I have been to, when I think - 'Yaar Bombay ko aisa banana hai'. Chicago is one of the them. With tall buildings lined up on the coast of Lake Michigan, with cold winds blowing from the lake, with the pure blue carpet of pure water spread out in front of you, uninterrupted only by the sight of valiant surfers, on a bright sunny day - you just want to be ultra rich and living on the Chicago's 'Marine Drive'.

We spent the evening at the Navy Pier. Looked as if there was some fair going on that day. It was nice. While having our dinner I saw one of the most beautiful fire-cracker display ever. From there we went on to the John Hannock centre (a 100-odd storey building, second highest after the Sears towers). We went to a cafe on the 96-th floor and that was (till then) the tallest I have ever been in a man-made structure. I just cannot describe in words what it felt to be there.


The independence day weekend sent us to Boston. We were hosted by our friends and seniors - Gautam Tambay and Abhimanyu Bhuchar. More charming than the beauty of the city, was the hospitality of the two hosts. Fully royal at heart, they more than enthusiastically showed us around Boston downtown and Cambridge area - where the historious Harvard and MIT universities have been established.

Our hosts stay in downtown Boston, paying over $2400 in rent p.m. and hence we were fortunate to spend time Boston's most posh and happening areas. We watched France beat Brazil in one of the pubs adjoining the Charles River. Summer had set in and people in Boston were in full spirits. It might sound cliche by now, but we enjoyed the walk in downtown Boston. The Harvard campus surely had its own charm and daunting presence. I had just finished reading 'The Class' and it felt nice to see the 'Elliot Hall' myself.

People say Boston has terrible winters, but fortunately when I was there, the summers were really kind and I thoroughly enjoyed this trip.

New York!:
Went there for 2 hrs on Christmas. Couldn't resist myself. Was also there at New Years. Been there many times after that. Then a very special friend was interning in NY. And many other friends keep visiting NY, thus bringing me to NY very often. Would surely like to stay here at least for one year, sometime in future.

Just attaching two pics during my friend Manish's trip to NY. Dina is also seen in the picture.

(Pic 1: Dina, myself and Mirchi at Liberty Island)
(Pic 2: Riding the bull at Wall Street - only if)

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And I flew high..

Sometime this year during summers, me and my friends decided to go flying :) Really.. Flying.. Went there a few times, till it became too costly :P

(Pic 1: Me with the Cessna plane)
(Pic 2: My home and my office in the Wyndham area - this is not the Capital One campus)


Blogger Ajit said...

Great reading.Very pleased with your travelogue.Got the link from Rahul's blog.Will be meeting you soon as you seem to be planning to visit India this year end.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Mohit Garg said...

Hey Gangal... Nice and detailed account of your year... I know that there are many dilemmas in life... but do not worry, you will tide over all of them!

Nice to see you having travelled across the country...

When are u coming to India?

5:51 AM  
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Blogger dev said...

Cool Post. Temme something, why do you call yourself Raigadcha Shetkari? Where in Raigad did you live? Cos I generally haven't found many ppl from Raigad in IITs etc.
Again Nice post. Glad to find someone who doesn't keep makin stupid posts like America Rox! and ohh! WallMart!!

5:16 AM  
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Blogger Unknown said...

very informative and thoroughly enjoyable reading.

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