Saturday, December 6, 2014

Class Reflection

I registered for this class fairly late (towards the end of summer) and did not have much of an opinion going in. I was dropped from another Special Topics 490 class due to it being canceled mid-summer and when I went to go talk to Stephanie the Economics adviser and told her of what I was interested in studying, she recommend for me to take this class. I told her I was looking for a class that I would be able to expand on my microeconomics knowledge, because I immensely enjoyed Intermediate Microeconomics, and not so much Econ 303 (Intermediate Macro).

Coming in I did not know what to expect from a class like this and felt that we only just barely scratched the surface of the Economics of Organizations in my Intermediate Micro class. I was extremely interested in seeing the way firms and upper management operate from the perspective of an economist. The basic relationship of incentives for employees and output I understood intuitively, but it was really interesting to learn the formulas that were derived to mathematically prove these theories and how with the help of Econ 302 concepts of indifferent curves we were able to model wages and outputs. Another interesting Excel homework and topic was the insurance under asymmetric information. I found it interesting finding the optimal bundles of premium and coverage and how to set the price to effectively split consumers into high and low risk types. I actually bumped into my friend who is currently pursuing his Masters in Economics and we had an interesting discussion on the topic and the differences in the undergraduate approach vs. the graduate. He was relatively impressed with the depth that we covered in this class.

As for the online blogging portion of the class I did think that it was beneficial and have been helpful in relating my experiences to the topics covered in class. I thought that the blog prompts were varied enough to allow me to draw from different experiences and not feel like I was repeating myself for every post. I did really appreciate the soft deadlines for the posts, mainly because it allowed me to focus on the content in each post, rather than just having something written down in time for a deadline. I felt this really improved the overall quality of my writing and ideas. I did also find the discussions about what we posted interesting and helpful, but did sometimes wish we covered some topics before the blog post was assigned. 

Overall I thought that this was an interesting course that I have already found useful for interviews and just general understanding of economics. I thought that none of the topics felt rushed and there was a good balance of math and economics. I also thought that the midterms were fair and you provided enough study material to adequately prepare for each test. Although I did feel like my grade did not reflect my mastery of the subjects covered (especially for the second midterm). I felt like it was too easy to lose almost a third of your points. And maybe a little flexibility on partial credit based on reasoning and logic would have been a more accurate representation of how well I understood the material.

It was an interesting course with excellent instruction and I would definitely recommend this course to Fall 2015 Econ students.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Personal Reputation

When thinking about the topic of reputation, almost any of my Computer Science classes and group projects come into mind. This is because my reputation in these classes usually has a negative impact on how I am viewed when teaming up with people. It is not because of any of my accomplishments or personality, but solely because of the fact that I am not a Computer Science major, but majoring in Economics. It is probably better to say that Economic majors have a bad reputation in the Computer Science department than me personally. It is more accurate to say, that any non-engineering students have a bad reputation among Computer Science majors, at least from what I have experienced.

As soon as I mention that I am an Economics student, my group members, classmates, TA's or even professors immediately take a different attitude with me. They automatically assume that I am coming from a non-technical background and start treating me as such. Although after a couple of assignments and working together the playing field seems to level as we get stuck on the same problems and have to help each other out. I wholeheartedly enjoy once we get to this point because we are able to have productive and meaningful conversations, and get to the task of solving the puzzle at hand.

Although during this semester I do have to admit that I have used this 'reputation' to skirt some of my work in my current Computer Science class. As you know for this class we are tasked with developing an app with our group of 4-5 people as our semester project. As soon as my group members found out that I was a non-CS student the pattern was the same. They suggested that I design the app icon and name when we were dividing up the responsibilities. Because my schedule was extremely busy this semester I did not argue and let them take care of the heavy lifting part of the coding process. Because this is a group project, and the professor allows for groups to have non-programming members, who just focus on design, I decided to "cash-in" on this break and still receive the same grade as them. Although coming in towards the end of the project I have been getting involved and helping them out with the coding portion, it is still nice to be able to use my reputation as an Economics major to my advantage.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Multiple Principal-Agent Situation

For my internship over the summer, I was stuck in more of a pentagon shaped organizational structure, with the responsibility of reporting to 4 different principals for each portion of the project that I was working on. What made this task even more difficult was the fact that each principal had their own view of the project and it was hard to take all opinions into account and please everyone. My direct boss was the Dean of Students of LAS, she was the one who hired me for this project and was in charge of the Student Academic Affairs office. Me and her had a similar vision for the outcome of this project, but did diverge as the project scopes came into view. Because she had many other responsibilities other than the revision of the website, she delegated the task of redesigning the website solely on me. But because the any public content that represents the college of LAS is controlled through the marketing department, I needed to work directly with the person in charge of web presence in the marketing department. Any changes that I proposed to make had to be carefully evaluated by her as well as the Dean of students.

The other two parties that I had to report to and collaborate with, was the ATLAS department, that was in charge of the actual implementation and programming of the website. And the head of the department for which page I was working on at the moment. The ATLAS department acted more as consultants than someone I actually had to collaborate with, but they did come into play towards the end of the project when we were finalizing the pages. I had to make sure they approved any changes that I made, and that they worked out any bugs in my codes. Collaboration with the department heads was a little more in-depth, just because I was working directly with them and translating their ideas that they had for their section, to functioning webpages.

Because of the varying visions for the website there was a lot of disagreements between all parties on how the final website should look like. Unfortunately because I was the messenger between all of these parties, most of the frustration of the design was vented through me. This system of collaboration became so inefficient that actually I requested a general meeting of all parties halfway through my internship, so we can all be on the same page of what my responsibilities are, and what the dream state of the website would be.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Conflict in the Workplace

While working full-time before transferring to UIUC, one of the jobs that I held for about two years was as a security officer at an outdoor mall just outside of Chicago, Old Orchard Mall. My older brother was working as supervisor at the time and was able to get me the job. This type of job attracted a unique array of people which created an interesting dynamic within the workplace. There were full-time students like me and my brother,who were working to pay off some of their classes. There were others who were trying to eventually become police officers who were trying to get some sort of experience. And others who have been working there for years, but have not moved up too far within the company. This combination of different lifestyles did create a an interesting work dynamic.

There was also a lot of conflict because of this and a high turnover rate among the security officers. Another big problem that contributed to many conflicts was the way the security company's upper management was set up, there was little accountability of the supervisors, which gave them a lot more responsibility than they were trained for. When I worked there, there were 3 supervisors, one for each day shift. And for our specific mall we had only an assistant director in charge of security, because the main director was a regional manager and rarely spent time at our mall. Most of the conflicts in the workplace revolved around the inefficiency of this management set up.

A common conflict that occurred multiple times is that the supervisors would play favorites heavily. When ever we would have a call or a situation, the supervisors would always take only specific officers with them and they would be taught about how to handle it. And these specific officers would get a lot of face time with the mall owners and actually learn about how to handle situations. When the officers who weren't favored finally got an opportunity to go to calls, they would not know what to do because of their lack of experience. This was a downward spiral that many officers suffered and was a cause for the high turnover rate. 

I think that because of how the structure of supervisors and officers was organized and the nature of the work, these kinds of conflicts were inevitable. Because we were dealing with sometimes dangerous and emergency situation, it was hard to properly train all officers without actually having them to experience them firsthand. Because of this there was a big gap in knowledge between the favored and un-favored  officers. But I do think that if the supervisors were a little bit more aware of this problem, many people would have stayed at Old Orchard Mall and there would have been a lot smaller turnover rate.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Team Production and Gift Exchange

Comparing the national economy to a machine that dispenses marbles requiring two children to pull on one string is an ok analogy, but not far reaching. In this scenario it requires both to pull a string at the same time for one child to receive one marble, and the other to receive 3. In this experiment most of the times the marbles were eventually divided evenly among both children as the children ended up sharing the marbles between each other. In the national economy some people do receive more 'marbles' than others while doing the same amount of work or even less, but then again some people do not contribute at all to the national 'marble machine' and still receive their share of marbles. Some of the people who do not contribute do have legitimate reasons not to, but others just take advantage of the system and reap the benefits.

Almost every group project that I have worked on has had at least one person who did not participate and earned a good grade for the overall project. The project that I am working on this semester for my Computer Science class has not had this kind of person so far and our team, even though we haven't been as productive as we should have, has not had these kinds of problems. We do have one person on our team that does end up doing a little more work than everyone else, because he volunteered to be the group leader when the project first started. He is in charge of submitting each part of the assignment and making sure it is handed in on time, but is not solely responsible for the content, we all contribute evenly.

On a larger scale I do agree with the authors of the article, that there has not been a national collaborative project since the 1970's and that everyone has just been grabbing as many 'marbles' as they can. Looking at personal experiences of my time on Illinois Student Senate I noticed that there is not much collaboration between the student body and their governing body either. There were several dues that each student was paying and the Student Senate was responsible for allocating it. As a team the Student Senate was not able to come up with a good use for the money, so they ended up spending on the promotion of the Student Senate, and swag items for the students to give out during basketball and football games. This is how the students got their money back from a portion of their dues. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Income Risk: Now and in the Future

Writing this blog post late, but wanted to add to the conversation at least on here but also in class. My parents are an excellent an example of people who took immediate action of reducing income risk in the future. Having left the collapsing Soviet Union in the late 80's early 90's, they emigrated to the United States in hopes of better opportunities. My mom's formal education in the Soviet Union was in Theater Tech, where she worked in a theater in St. Petersburg after finishing school. As the Soviet Union started relaxing travel restrictions and for other personal reasons, she left the Soviet Union with my then one year old older brother.
Coming to the United States there was not much opportunity to continue working in theater, especially with the cultural and language barriers. She did however see that the technology industry was starting to develop rapidly and even though she never imagined herself working anything with computers, she enrolled in a Computer Science Masters Program at Depaul. Her determined work ethic allowed her to get her masters despite the fact that she was just learning the language and knew nothing about computers, although Computer Science as a discipline was largely different from what it is now. But this allowed her to find a relatively high paying job and learn the technology of a specific industry, in this case payroll and automatic processing (ADP) which she still holds today. It was a similar story for my dad, who was a medical doctor back in the Soviet Union, and although he didn't get a formal education here, was able to learn programming and get a tech job as well.

As for myself, this still motivates me to pursue Computer Science and programming at least as a set of transferable skills that I hope will come in handy in the future. So far I have had much success in applying these skills to side projects and even getting internships, so I hope that I will continue to have success with it. And because I went to mostly community colleges before UIUC, I have been able to work full time and be a full time student for the first 3 years of my university career and pay off semester by semester. And since I transferred to UIUC, my parents have been able to help pay for my education and expenses without me having to take out any loans for my remaining time here, which will help out greatly in my future life.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Successful Team

A successful team that I have been part of was when I was working in The Leadership Committee (TLC) as part of the RSO TAG (Transfer Advisory Group). TLC was one of several committees under TAG, but worked autonomously from the rest of the committees and even TAG. The other committees included Marketing Committee and Social Committee which both worked together with each other and the rest of TAG to plan events and get new members to join. TLC on the other hand was more of a special projects committee which focused on completing projects that helped transfer students. These potential projects had an unlimited scope, so they could be anything. When I was just a member of TLC the committee chair, Lauren, was leading a project whose goal was to bring attention to the unique needs of transfer students to the Dean of Students of LAS, in the way of a presentation. The way she organized her committee was dividing the committee into two sub-committees which focused on two different aspects of the presentation. These two sub-committees worked together to make one presentation, one sub-committee focusing on gathering the data required for the presentation and the other sub-committee focusing on the actual presentation of materials.

A structure described in Re-framing Organizations that most accurately describes the was TAG was organized, is the Simple Hierarchy diagram on page 105. The president of TAG did not have much control over TLC but still sometimes sat in on meetings to see how things were progressing. Although he did meet with Lauren regularly as part of the exec board to make sure TAG as a whole was running smoothly. Lauren was the sole person in charge of TLC but delegated people to be in charge of each sub-committee. I was in charge of the presentation sub-committee and led my small group to finish the specific way we wanted the presentation to look as discussed with Lauren. Lauren was also in charge of the data gathering sub-committee, so the simple-hierarchy model does not match exactly how TAG and its sub-committees were structured.

In terms of how Katzenbach and Smith describe a successful team, TLC did not match most of the 6 characteristics of a high-quality team. We did all have a common goal of bettering the transfer experience, but we did not have the right mix of expertise, at least in my opinion. And because this is an RSO and not a professional working group, there was not much accountability for the work produced. This caused some people to do more work than others and others to drop the project completely with out any repercussions.