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Office Hours

PostGrad Life: Om Marwah, Geography and Cognitive Science ’12

Like most graduating seniors during the 2011-2012 academic year, Om Marwah spoke to multiple job recruiters, shot off numerous emails in search of his next step and did a fair bit of partying. Unlike most, however, Om didn’t end up in another entry-level position after graduation. Instead, he created his own job at Walmart Labs, Walmart’s research division based out of Mountain View, California.  Using his interdisciplinary background in geography and cognitive science, then-recent graduate Om focused on using a behavioral science perspective in marketing and advertising, a relatively novel tactic in an economy where big data now reigns supreme. Three years later, he’s been featured on Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30 list under enterprise technology and has been invited to speak all over the country about his approach to market research and using large data sets. I spoke to Om a day after he had given a talk to an Econ 103 (Introduction to Econometrics) class at UCLA, asking him about his story and how life in the real world has been so far.

On a day-to-day basis, what does your job look like at Walmart Labs?

I work with a very talented team of people that primarily focuses on innovation. I decide when I want to work and what I want to build. I have very flexible hours and am usually in the office from about 10:30 a.m. or so to 7 p.m. Sometimes, I work from home. All in all, we have very few meetings, as we’re focused on our projects.

Tell me a little bit about your time at UCLA. Did you start out majoring in geography or cognitive science?

I actually started out as a bio major and tried out a few internships in various fields like consulting, which I didn’t like. I stayed with bio until fall of my junior year and then realized it wasn’t for me. That was when I realized my passion, and switched to geography and cognitive science.

What specific experiences at UCLA, either academically or otherwise, have helped you in your career path?

I learned to take my (academic) education, reconstrue how I saw it and apply it in an innovative way. Ultimately, UCLA gave me a backbone for that sort of knowledge. I learned as much as I could, and I would audit courses I wasn’t signed up for, such as graduate psychology courses. In addition, being extremely social, throwing parties and learning how to live life to the fullest gave me an intangible skill for getting ahead in life. I lived at The Treehouse, and there was a lot of that. The ability to build a social network, make relationships with people from all walks of life and be able to truthfully understand those people and genuinely care about them is invaluable. College is the kind of environment that allows you to create those relationships. Picking up these kinds of intangible traits differentiate people from success. Anyone can get a job from Google, but if you want to rise up in the pack, you do that by being a person who not only seems like a leader, but also is someone who people enjoy spending their time with. 

In terms of specific courses that were memorable, I thought Life Sciences 2 with Jay Phelan was hilarious and made me understand the human body. Also, Geography 110 (Population and Natural Resources); everyone should understand population and natural resources because they’re the fundamental backbone of the world around us. As a freshman, it blew my mind to be able to explain and understand food scarcity and overpopulation. For me, it explained the core of what the world is really going through.

What was your job search like? Would you change anything about it, and what advice based on your experiences would you give to graduating seniors this year? 

My job search was a twist-and-turn story. I started out trying to pursue my interdisciplinary passions of cognitive science and geography. I scoped out what opportunities did exist for me. At the time, “big data” was just taking off, and I knew I had found a niche for me. I practiced, narrowing down my pitch to what I knew would be valuable. I built relationships, went to conferences (Om volunteered at a big data conference spring break of his senior year) and further discussed with, and had my ideas vetted by, CEOs and VPs.  As the school year went on, I continued to build my relationships, refining and having my approach validated by (people involved in big data). Then, I got in front of stakeholders and essentially invented my dream job. I essentially created a position for myself. There’s so much innovation happening in the world right now. Any student is capable of doing this, not just me.

What career opportunities or resources at UCLA did you use?

Well, I did go to career fairs. Career fairs are good practice for selling yourself, but your audience is made of recruiters.  If you’re trying to be interdisciplinary, and you have innovative ideas, then they’re not speaking your language. A lot of people get jobs at (career fairs), but for me, I only found them useful as practice. I had to pitch my ideas at a more senior level than recruiters.

What advice do you have for people that may be unsure coming in, or like you, had multiple interests, like initially majoring in biology or doing varied internships?

It may sound cheesy, but believe in yourself. Feeling lost is part of finding what’s important. It’s important to be confused because that’s when you know you’re on the verge of a breakthrough. I don’t know how I ended up in an upper division geography class my freshman year, but that’s how I discovered my passion. Go down the rabbit hole. Keep taking all kinds of classes, because you’ll find your passion that way. When you do find it, it’ll all click. Don’t feel bad that others know what they want to do. Read everything, focus on yourself, learn as much as you can. If you’re not doing too well in school, realize you got into UCLA and that you’re a genius. The genius may not be brought out by the environment you’re in, but try to connect to it.

Step outside of campus and learn about the real world. Use the resources at UCLA to grow that interdisciplinary. Party hard, you know. Life is about getting crazy. Study hard. I hit the unit cap and had two majors. Someone else graduates with one major in three years. Who knows more? If you can’t afford it, that’s fine, but go get that knowledge.

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Office Hours

9 Questions You Should Ask Your Potential Roommates (But Won’t)

It’s that part of winter quarter again: time to figure out housing. This is the time when your crippling loneliness and social ineptitude is magnified by the need to figure out your roommates for next school year.

We all know the drill when it comes to screening roommates, whether they be current friends or acquaintances, but can you really ask them what you want to know if you’re going to live together? Here are nine questions you probably won’t ask your potential roommates it wouldn’t hurt, though, to ask their current roommates about them.

1. How often am I going to get sexiled? No, really. How often?

The age-old problem of “sexile”, or sex exile, is something that many of us have to face. Do they have a long-distance significant other, or are they the type to bring someone home after Thursday night at 2 a.m. (when you have an 8 a.m. on Friday)? Consider the amount of sleep, how much you like your potential roommate and if you plan on doing a bit of “sexiling” yourself.

2. What is your tolerance for a pile of really gross and/or moldy dishes? How about if it’s my midterms week?

For those making the move to the apartments or simply moving from one apartment to the next, dirty dishes are an important aspect of cleanliness. They attract flies, may grow mold and build up quickly. Make sure you and your potential roomie are on the same page when it comes to cleaning priorities, especially under the stress of midterms.

3. Nighttime flatulence and/or snoring. What can I expect?

It’s an awkward question no one wants to ask, but given that we’re all human beings who produce methane gas and strange noises, it’s a valid concern.

4. Are you the leader of a new on-campus club without a place to hold meetings?

Maybe your potential roommate is some visionary with an idea, but hasn’t had the foresight to book a room in Ackerman or elsewhere for their weekly meetings. If that’s the case, you should get used to them and 20-plus other people holding court in your living room while you’re trying to study.

5. If at some point I puke on myself or our furniture, are you going to get all holier-than-thou?

For those of us too far removed from our AlcoholEdu days to remember how to pace our drinks, there may come a time when you experience an untimely reversal of fortune. An understanding, or at least tolerant, roommate would be ideal if you would bet money on you having a post-alcohol fit of vomiting in the 2015-2016 academic year.

6. If we share a tandem parking space, how often can I expect to get my car out?

Tandem parking spaces are the only way we can fit all our cars into the North Village apartment area. Unfortunately, they’re also a total pain. If you’re looking into bringing your car on campus, make sure you find someone reliable and reasonable when it comes to sharing, or at least someone you’re comfortable with screaming at when you’re late for your internship and need to get your car out.

7. How forgetful are you when it comes to your financial deadlines?

If you have flaky roommates, keep yourself open to the possibility of being the monthly rent and utilities nag. Or maybe that’s you, who knows? If that’s the case, be ready to be hounded by your more responsible roommate come the end of the month.

8. How often do you plan to throw parties and/or hold get-togethers?

Whether the definition of “party” includes 10 or 50 people, it’s nice to know if you and your roommate are on the same page about how many parties you plan to throw and the exact parameters of that.

9.  Are you going to steal my milk, or are you going to steal my milk?



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Office Hours

PostGrad Life: Anthony Bushong, Political Science ’14

You may not think of a political science student as a viable candidate at the engineering career fair, but Anthony Bushong made it happen. Originally from the Bay Area, Anthony Bushong started out at UCLA his freshman year as an environmental science student and considered himself pre-law, but within his first quarter, he had changed majors (twice!), finally settling on political science with two minors – in digital humanities and film. After taking a position in IT at the UCLA School of Law, Anthony eventually decided against a J.D., focusing his efforts on securing a future in the tech industry. After graduating in June, Anthony accepted a position at Oracle in Boston, a large multinational company known for enterprise hardware geared toward businesses that are currently making a shift to online software. Now, he works now as a sales engineer, thousands of miles away from the hills of Westwood and warm weather of Southern California. I asked Anthony about his UCLA experience and how it led him to where he is now.

Describe what you do. What’s your day-to-day like?

I’m a sales engineer, so I support sales reps who reach out to customers. When customers want a technical demo or more information beyond a sales rep’s technical knowledge, I come in and interact with the customer through online contact and webinars to get those potential buyers to close. It’s a mix of sales and engineering.

What specific experiences at UCLA, either academically or otherwise, have helped you in your career path?

The biggest influence on me was working at the IT department for UCLA’s law school. There, I was guided away from law school, seeing the competitive nature of law school and recruitment at law firms, and found myself more drawn to the team-oriented culture of tech. The hugest part of why I wanted to get into tech was the culture of the industry. There’s a lot of room for self-driven learning. I came from a non-technical background, and currently teach myself as much as I can through online resources. You can never teach yourself to become a surgeon by studying online, but you can definitely teach yourself how to build a website in HTML or CSS, or how to set up a test database. It’s up to you go out and take the self-initiative to do those things. I had no technical experience to get into tech as a poli sci major.

Would you recommend either the digital humanities or the film minor, or just doing a minor in general? 

Although I’m not trying to say that my minors didn’t teach me any real-life skills, I thought the most important thing (in my experience) is that each minor exposed me to a lot of possibilities in each subject. Digital humanities won’t teach you how to build technical projects from the ground up, but it’ll expose you to the types of projects out there. If you do find yourself interested in something, you’re somewhat familiar with the subject. I would say the the same thing for the film minor. (By minoring in film) you’re not gonna walk away knowing how to produce a big budget Hollywood film, but you will learn the different aspects of every skill set that does come with film-making, from editing and cinematography to screenplay-writing and cinematography. I definitely would recommend a minor, just because they expose you to so many possibilities.

What opportunities or resources at UCLA did you feel helped with navigating the real world?

I never had any formal mentoring, but I always developed good relationships with my bosses and older friends, and looked to them for advice. My biggest mentor came from when I worked at a start-up, and I really developed a mentorship not only in terms of learning programming from my mentor, but also learning from them in terms of professional and life values. Finding a mentor, someone you admire, and learn from them and their experiences. Find someone you want to be like. See what they hold important, and try to emulate that.

What was your job search like? What would you change about it, if anything?

My job hunt was very short. I went to the engineering career fair, and I knew I was applying to sales engineering jobs based on former students who worked in IT at the law school with me. I got three interviews, and went through these processes. Of those interview leads, Oracle was the first to reach out, with a two-week deadline to accept. They gave me two options: San Francisco or Boston. I wanted to explore a different part of the country, so I decided to go with Boston, and ultimately, moving 3,000 miles away to Boston has just been as much of a learning experience as the job itself.

What advice, based on your experiences, would you give to graduating seniors this year on the job hunt?

I would definitely recommend going to the (engineering) career fair. Get there early! From other people, I know what the job-hunting experience is like without it being spoon-fed to you, like how it is at the career fair. Take advantage of the UCLA name. Firms at career fairs come to UCLA for a specific reason. When hunting for jobs cold turkey, they’re not necessarily looking for UCLA students. Why not take advantage of reputable employers specifically looking for someone like you? On a more general level, I have one specific piece of advice. Someone can build up as their resume as much as they want, but if you can’t speak to that, and market yourself in terms of how your experience fits within a company’s bottom line, then that’s the number one thing you should work on.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the real world since leaving college?

The biggest change for me was the fact that a lot of what I learned in college classes wasn’t necessarily applicable in real life. I did learn how to critically think and problem solve, but compared to my co-workers who majored in (computer science), very little of it is. Another thing is lifestyle change. Getting into the 8-to-5, forty-hour workweek lag is quite difficult. In theory, you can imagine what it’s like, but I think (the lifestyle change) has been like jumping into a cold pool, most likely because I moved so far away from UCLA. The shift could just be me being out of my comfort zone in a much more extreme way than people who stayed in the L.A. area.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself coming home (to the Bay Area) after living in other great cities like New York and Chicago. Within five years, I want to come back to San Francisco with all that experience and work for a company like Google, or maybe Netflix or Venmo. It’s such an exciting time in tech, and the industry is an incubator for great ideas. As corny as it sounds, that’s ultimately why I want to stay in tech, because it has the potential to make people’s lives better. If I can make at least one person’s life better, I know I’ll have had an impact in the world, or at least, someone’s life. I don’t know! (laughs)

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Office Hours

Postgrad Life: Psychology ’14, Hon Hoang

Postgrad Life is a series in which we interview recent graduates in a variety of majors to find out what they’re doing now and what advice, both general and major-specific, they have for those still in college.

This week, we’re featuring class of 2014 graduate Hon Hoang, who graduated with a B.A. in psychology last June. Hoang was a transfer student from Mt. San Antonio College in the greater Los Angeles area. Now, he lives in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, and he visits Westwood from time to time.

Why did you pick your particular major?

I wanted a major that allows me to pivot careers because I was originally pre-med. After doing an internship at a hospital, however, I thought it would be better to go into business because it would potentially gear me toward philanthropy. I thought business would allow me to make more money and move toward entrepreneurship, which was something I was also interested in.

What do you do now?

I work as an assistant campaign manager at a marketing company.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis? What are the most challenging parts of the job?

On a day-to-day basis, I get daily reports of our revenues and other things that summarize how some of how our campaigns and offers are doing. For certain products I run analyses. Basically, I’m seeing what needs to be fixed and what we could do better. The hardest part of the day-to-day job is that everything is time sensitive, so you have to be on top of anything.  Dealing with different things such as clients and the media types that we have to run their advertisements through can be stressful. One little slip-up, one delay, can cost the company a good amount of money.

How do you feel like your major has helped you? If that’s not the case, why?

I think my major helped me quite a bit. I think marketing is a good intersection between business and psychology. Marketing was always something I considered when I chose to major in psychology. It helps me anticipate different things such as user acquisition and user flow – different things that can help optimize acquisition – which is very important in my job right now.

 Are there any particular UCLA psychology courses that have helped you in real life?

Social psych (Psychology 135) was a pretty fun class that helped me understand different hierarchies of human interaction. I think that one is the most useful and applicable one in my day-to-day life. Human Motivation (Psychology 178) helped me understand different connections, like why people do things, why do they want to do things and what drives people to do what they do.

Do you have any advice for current psychology majors at UCLA?

My general advice is to get work experience in both clinical psychology (applied psychology) and other academic psychology research. I had a job at a rehab center, which was the clinical side, and also did research.

How was your experience with your job search postgrad? Do you have any particular advice regarding finding a job?

My experience looking for work was fairly different because I started fall quarter of my senior year. I wanted to start early because I knew as soon as everyone graduated a huge flow of resumes would pour into companies’ inboxes. Starting early gave me an advantage as well as not giving up. Make sure to broaden your horizons. Apply to anything that is applicable or even slightly interesting to you. It’s always good to get work experience (during college); i.e. plan ahead prior to graduation to look good to potential employers.

Did you use any resources at UCLA in your job search? How do you feel like UCLA has helped you postgrad?

BruinView is a good resource for jobs everywhere. I remember I had an interview for a job in Singapore that I found through BruinView. I mainly used BruinView (in my job search). Besides that, I didn’t use any other resources. I actually got my current job through BruinView.

Where do you see yourself being in five years?

As of right now I am an assistant campaign manager, but as they told me, the position is temporary; they will spend a year training me. I feel like I would just continue working up the ranks while exploring other options in terms of entrepreneurships and different skill sets I can acquire. As of right now, I am learning to code and have gotten into photography, so my career in the next five years may be very different things. I can choose to stay here and continue to rise up the ranks, or I can take the big leap and move toward entrepreneurship using the skills I have and am currently learning.


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Office Hours

Office Hours: Darin DeWitt


This week, I talked to Darin DeWitt, a UCLA lecturer who teaches a class on California politics.

DeWitt received his doctorate in political science from UCLA last June after earning his master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science and attending UCLA as an undergrad. 

What are you working on now?

I do all sorts of fun stuff. Lately, I’m writing a paper on celebrity testimony in Congress. (Laughs.) And I’m in the process of giving every member of Congress a “paparazzi score” to see like, you know, what’s the probability of that person showing up to a committee hearing if there’s a celebrity there? And it’s really crazy ’cause there’s one hearing where it was Joseph Stiglitz, Lawrence Lessig and one other equally famous public intellectual, and one senator showed up. But then George Clooney’s there, and 12 senators show up. And Seth Rogen, I think he got like two to four senators show up, and he said that wasn’t enough? So I’m going to have this thing in this article where I have a measure of “star power,” where I’m gonna be like, “Hey Seth Rogen, if you showed up after your next hit movie in 2014 or whatever, maybe more people would have showed up.” And that’s exactly what I predicted, so this one’s gonna be fun. (more…)

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