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Change the World, Bit by Bit, Byte by Byte
Imran Anwar, Alum
Graduate School of Journalism 1990
Graduate School of Business 1990

Two aspects of my Columbia experience turned out to be the opposite of what I had expected. And two other aspects of Columbia changed me -- or didn't!

After graduation, I went on to change the world, in my own way, by founding the Internet -- in Pakistan. (Sorry, Al Gore!) Yes, I pioneered and established the first internet service provider in a developing nation with my own non-existent resources, with no government or private sector help, and also co-founded the top level domain, .PK, for Pakistan -- all no thanks to Columbia! Read on!

When I came to Columbia Business School, it had been ranked 13th (ouch) in the BusinessWeek cover story. I believe the Journalism School was ranked #1 that year.

But after two years at the Business School, I was thrilled that the school was MUCH better than I expected. Almost 80% professors were better than I expected, 10% were MUCH better than I expected (Kathy Harrigan and James Hulbert, to name two) and 10% were... well, let's skip talking about them.

In the first five minutes of Prof. Hulbert's "Baby Marketing" class, I had a moment of clarity and realized I had been a marketer all my life and didn't even know it! :-) And, as someone who hates "sales" and always equated marketing with sales, I fell in LOVE with marketing, which became the center of all four of my concentrations. (I was fortunate enough to have a full international scholarship, so I had the liberty of taking courses non-stop for seven to eight semesters, including summers.)

It took longer than five minutes to fall in love with Prof. Harrigan as a teacher. :-) But with the stellar reputation that proceeded her, I had figured that she could live up to her rep or fall short of it. She exceeded her reputation. Her courses required the most work and had waiting lists, but I applied for, and was fortunate enough to be admitted to, TWO of her courses in one semester! Talk about suffering a crushing load -- but loving every minute of it. Since my work experience had been in a newspaper chain in Pakistan, which was close to a virtual monopoly, these courses helped me get a much better appreciation of things like competitive strategy. The best teachers at Columbia did not give me any answers -- they taught me better what questions to ask. Thank you, Professor Harrigan, Professor Hulbert, Professor Sexton and others.

There were two or three courses for which I still think I should ask for my money back --- had I been the one paying for the courses. One was taught by a professor who, instead of teaching statistics, taught us how to use the HP12C calculator. I swear: USING THAT EXACT CALCULATOR was the basis of the course. I almost FLUNKED, because my dad while visiting NY bought me an HP 15 or 18 or 20 or some such model of calculator, which had slightly different buttons. Since the course told you WHAT buttons to press, I was getting answers that were, shall we say, astronomically deviant from the standard.

Now, as you can see, from this, sentence, I kinda, sorta, know how to use punctuation :-) . But in one "Marketing Planning" or some similarly named coursee my professor's only input on my submission was marking off paragraph breaks and commas. I learnt NOTHING in that course. Fortunately, the great teachers I had in other courses made sure that Columbia Business School was a great experience for me.

The student body was far nicer than I expected -- and the opposite of what BusinessWeek had described. Maybe they were all also smarting from that survey, or maybe they were better people than previous classes' students had been. Additionally, having started in the January 1989 class, I can safely say that you are more likely to make lifelong friends in the smaller group that starts in January than with the much larger class in September. The students were smart, professional, intelligent, and made you feel proud to be part of a such a great group. I learnt from the faculty and from my fellow students.

On the other hand, my biggest disappointment was in the courses I took at the Journalism School.

I am sure my few courses there did NOT reflect on the entire curriculum, faculty or student body. But in the courses I took there, my fellow students looked and behaved like high school drop-outs. They would saunter into on-going classes, plop themselves down with the expression of ennui that one usually sees on the faces of "oh-I-hate-being-so-special-and-rich" models purveying Ralph Lauren preppy-ware in the inside covers of glossy magazines.

Perhaps I was just unlucky in the teachers I had there. I had a great gentleman teacher, a publisher of a newspaper, give a course that was quite boring and in which I learnt very little, although learning from him about real life was somewhat useful. Most students in that course did not much seem to care, though. They appeared to know they were all going to get great jobs because they were coming out of the #1 ranked J-school.

But even worse was the course taught by a lady who was formerly publisher of a well-known magazine. The course in media management or something like that required a paper at the end of the term. Much as I would like to think I am brilliant (don't you think so? :-) ), I had expected serious critiques and suggestions/improvements to my "thesis" in that course. Instead, I got a paper marked out with ten to 12 commas or semi-colons. I did not realize media management was that easy. No wonder so many magazines are suffering today.

This is not to say that this was wholly representative of the school and student body at the Journalism school. I met and became friends with other graduates who are great professionals and intelligent, exciting people. It's just that my experience at the #13 ranked B-school was light years ahead of what I saw at #1 ranked J-school!

Now, B-school was NOT perfect either. As I said earlier, I changed the world -- no thanks to Columbia, or at least one particular part of it.

The worst part of the experience there was -- and there is no delicate way to put it -- the clueless staff of the computer lab at the Business School, who nonetheless carried a haughty air that could have lifted the Hindenberg.

Yes, these are the people who swore by the worst-in-breed HP desktop machines (whose floppy drives could NOT read disks that had been formatted on any other BRAND of PC!) and had a Novell network, which was "novel" only in how frequently it was down. These bozos -- I mean, geniuses -- also LAUGHED when I went in there asking for an e-mail account in January 1989! They actually LAUGHED, saying that e-mail was for the nerds at engineering school and not a business tool. Doh!

Columbia Computing was not much more visionary than that. As the records will indicate, I was the student from Business who had to pay $35 every semester out of my own pocket to have my e-mail address (, while engineering students had them free. Talk about people having no vision and no understanding of where computers and e-mail were headed. I had been in the USA less than a month and knew I could not live without e-mail as a tool. They thought it was a toy or a nerd's accessory.

So with their stone-age thinking and we-know-better attitude, these people (whom I hope have long departed CU) did their best to turn me away from e-mail. Fortunately, I was too stubborn. My (copyrighted :-) ) mottos in life are "If Anyone Can, 'I' Can" and "Change the World, Bit by Bit, Byte by Byte"...

Not only did I get my own e-mail address, I went on over the next 2 years to establish e-mail for Pakistan, a country of 150 million people with millions now on the Internet, no thanks to Columbia and B-school computing managers.

But fortunately, as a "serial entrepreneur" (whatever that means!), every day I use critical thinking that my favorite Columbia professors taught me. Thank you, and God bless you.

Imran Anwar


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