Episode Title: The Stanford Sprint and a Jog. Gobi Dasu on his UG and Graduate Experiences.
Episode summary introduction: Gobi Dasu, a Stanford University alum talks about his college years. How he finished his undergraduate program in 2 years, and became a “digital nomad” after graduating, and then returned to Stanford for Graduate study and enjoyed “all that Stanford had to offer”.
In particular, we discuss the following with him:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Gobi Dasu majored in Computer Science from Stanford University. Gobi has a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University as well. He is currently a PhD candidate for Human Computer Interaction at Northwestern University. Gobi is also the Founder of LD Talent.
Memorable Quote: "Treating Life like a work of art”
Episode Transcript: Please visit almamatters.io/podcasts.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
College is a journey to be enjoyed. Take time to smell the roses, they say.
The trouble is, Gobi Dasu didn’t get this memo!
Hello & Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.
Gobi Dasu is a graduate of Stanford University. Gobi was in a race to finish Stanford, as quickly as possible, because he just couldn’t wait to see what was in store for him, in the “real world”! So he graduates in 2 years.
Fortunately for Gobi, he gets a chance to come back and take in “all that Stanford has to offer”.
In the following conversation, Gobi shares his years at Stanford with us.
So, without further ado, let’s catch up with Gobi!
Hi, welcome to our podcast. College Matters. Alma Matters.
Thank you. Yeah, I appreciate you having me on.
No, thank you. Thank you so much for making the time. So, give you a chance to look back and look at your college years, and talk about Stanford.
So maybe we can start right out by just talking about your overall experience at Stanford, now that, you know you are looking at it from a few years away. How did, how was it, what does it feel like?
Yeah, it's a lot to piece together. I was just thinking about it. Looking over when I had come out of high school in 2012 on to my undergrad program, I was such a different person.
So I spent a couple years and undergrad and I was, throughout my undergrad, I was trying to race to get out, even though everyone else in the world wanted to spend as much time at Stanford as possible, I was in a race to get out.
And then I sort of spent a couple of years looking at the real world and understanding what it's like, and then came back to, traveling around and then I came back to spent Stanford, and then I realized how much, how much more I could have learned from the university. And at least I got a second chance during my master's, where I, you know, did a lot more networking, you know, really studied my academics to the next notch, and, you know, not just for the grade, but also for the learning.
And so it was a very different contrast between my undergrad and my Masters, which are both of equal length interestingly, and so the university I've realized As I was thinking over, uh huh, experience has really shaped who I am.
No, no doubt. So, you know, I think what is unusual is that a) you've, you know, you finished your bachelor's degree in two years. So like you said, you raced to get out, it looks like, [b)] but not very many people get a chance to come back and you know, experience some other sides or other aspects of college life.
So, yeah, I'd love to hear more about it. So maybe, before we dive into that, maybe let's start at the beginning. You know, why did you go to Stanford, and, you know, maybe give us a feel for that part of the thinking and then we can jump into Stanford.
Yeah, so when I was in high school, I had, I had gone to the school called Harker[School], which is in the Silicon Valley, it's often known as Silicon Valley's High School. And it is a very competitive school. There was a lot of homework, everyone was taking a lot of APs and it was really high quality, it was really high quality instruction, high quality, you know, companions and people that we would work with. At the same time, it was, it was a lot. It was a lot.
And so what I realized is very quickly that I wanted to, I wanted to do something, I wanted to apply this knowledge. I wanted to not just like, you know, learn for the test, but also apply the knowledge to the real world.
And so towards the end of high school, I had become very much engaged in entrepreneurship. So I'd started my own website called War of Word and that had a lot of my peers from high school, but also other high schools, which, you know, I popularized through the network called the Junior State of America, which is a political organization. And I was part of the Harker chapter on the Junior States of America. And so I built this website, I'd even tried to monetize it a little bit. It was a website where people would debate political resolutions.
And what I realized was, I needed to go to a university that supported that type of entrepreneurship. And when I was, I had applied actually, early to Princeton. The reason why I'd applied early to Princeton is because everyone else was applying early to Stanford. So I thought that maybe since there's less slightly less competition for Princeton, and it's an equally awesome school, it would be, you know, a smart thing to do. And it was, I was almost, I did get in early action to Princeton and I was gonna go there, but then then, later on, I heard that I also got into Stanford. So then I was trying to decide between the two.
What I realized is, I had really been interested in entrepreneurship over the course of the year and been doing things for the website. And I realized that you know, what, probably for, for my interest in computer science and entrepreneurship, Stanford is a stronger school.
But it weighed against this other pressure that I had, which is pressure as an 18 year old that you want to get out, you want to get out of your, you know, your hometown, and you want to go live somewhere else, you know, so so it was a very tough decision for me, between the two and not say, I mean, it's not tough in the sense, that I'm really blessed and grateful that I had those two opportunities, but at the same time, it was, it was not an easy call either way, but the end and Stanford pushed over because I, you know, I decided to go to Stanford because because of the entrepreneurship and the computer science, also it was just growing in popularity at that time, relative to the other, you know, top universities, it was really, really popular and becoming more popular.
So, um, so here you are, you show up at Stanford. So what was that like? What was the transition from high school to college? How did that go?
Yeah, that's a good question. It was not so easy. So you, you come from a small school where, and especially I had been reading about this recently. that high schoolers and adolescents think that they're the center of the world. And so especially when you get into good schools, and you're a high schooler, and you are a senior and you think you are the center of the world, so then what happened was... that I come into Stanford.
Stanford University that is full of, you know, Nobel laureates and people, people who are, you know, very much accomplished PhD students, grad students, and you are in a much, you're a smaller fish in a much bigger pool. And so, so, it was very humbling. It was humbling to realize that, you know, it's actually very difficult to do well and everything and it was not even the coursework that was more difficult.
It was actually, the, the social skills developing, you know, being able to I've been good with social skills, we're, you know, dealing with people who I meet everyday at school, but then I go back home, but all of a sudden, now you're living with people. And you have to learn how to live with people, or you know, from, from all over the country in the world, and who may not agree with you and your lifestyle and everything. And so that was very, very much an interesting experience for me.
Anyway, so how are the classes? The classes were really interesting. And I had come into Stanford, you know, I had signed up for one computer science class, one physics, one physics class, and one math class, initially, and the first class that, you know, I actually took the honors version of math, and I'd signed up for that. But then I had realized that my interests are really in computer science. And so I had to make trade-off saying, Okay, I'm going to do the regular version of math, so I can spend more of my time on the computer science class.
And then I also realized quite quickly that initially, I thought I'd come in studying physics, engineering physics in particular. And I decided that, you know, as I was getting more interested in Computer Science, and also I realized that the type of entrepreneurship I wanted to be involved in was not necessarily on the hard engineering side, but more on the software entrepreneurship side of things.
So quite quickly, I discovered that I was pushing and more towards computer science for a number of reasons. Lecture, I had taken the class with Jerry Cain, he had worked at Facebook, he knew about the trends of the Silicon Valley. And that's one thing that pushed me towards computer science.
Another thing was, you know, the quality of his instruction. I noticed that, how cleanly he would write down algorithms on the board and then implement them in code. And I really started to gain joy out of building things.
And so, quite quickly, I realized that you know, all my classes were good, the math, physics and CS class[es] are good, but I realized quite quickly how much Stanford's computer science had to offer for my interest in career choice trajectory. So within the first quarter itself, I decided I'm going to declare my major as computer science.
How are your classmates? I mean, what about the other students? What do you think of, especially coming from Silicon Valley High School, to this? What do you think of your classmates and the students?
Yeah, so I, my classmates were really just diverse and wonderful. I had made friends through the introductory computer science class and then architecture class with a lot of students through office hours. I have some memories, some, some fond memories, actually, of just spending all-night underground in the computer science basement, you know, working on computer architecture problems and, and you know, at first that sounds grueling, but at the same time, you're surrounded by peers who also interested in the subject. We're also staying up all night working on these problems, you order pizza together, you have the pizza, you work on these problems, you talk about them. Sometimes you're working group projects, and one of you gets the solution. So it pushes the entire team forward. Another time another person gets the solution. I've never really worked in groups before. So so that was, that was something that really struck me as quite, quite fulfilling after a while at first, I was hesitant, but then after a while, I started to appreciate how, how effective groups can work together.
And I had also, you know, we would do work on assignments and office hours together, and then we would go out to late night and get a pizza. And so that sort of experience, it blended into my social life, the classes blended into my social life in in a way that you know, it happens in high school, but this was a lot more, you know, you're you're staying you're living with each other 24x7, so, so it's a different type of experience and I really liked that I, I, I really liked how, how, you know, I would just persist on something for hours together in a way that, you know, my schedule right now is very, very regimented.
But yeah, back in college, I would just, there was an assignment I would spend all day and keep going on it, and we'd have friends over we'd eat pizza, we just have that sort of college lifestyle quite typically. So that was those those fun. They're brilliant.
But, how was the teaching, the profs? You mentioned that you had some great computer science, teachers or professors. Did you find, uniformly that the teaching was very good, or what are your impressions?
Yeah, so what I found was the, the instructors for computer science, they weren't necessarily professors all the time, but, and that was intentional.
So sometimes Stanford would hire, for instance, Jerry, he was hired specifically for his teaching ability, Mehran Sahami is another lecturer who, I took his computer probability class during undergrad, and then later on, and I later on, I actually TA-ed for him in my Master's. That's for the same class. Chris Piech, he was a PhD student at the time when I took AI from him, and later on TA-ed with him during my master's as well.
And they were just phenomenal because they were focused on computer science and education, and how we apply computer science to education. But since they were thinking about that research problem all day of how we can apply computer science to education, you know, following off of, you know, the work of legendary people like [Karl] Popper and [Jean] Piaget, and so since they were thinking about that the way they engaged in their lectures, their education, not just their materials, but their presentation, their design focus on how are people learning, what is their learning experience that really stuck out to me because, I had never really I mean, I had excellent teachers in high school and middle school and elementary school, but I had never quite seen how how, how computer science can be used to enhance a learning experience.
So, so they would, you know, show us, you know, in Chris Piech’s class, he would actually track what problems we would sort of solve and make insights based on that and track where people are within a certain learning sequence and how much help to give them at a particular time. Not giving them too much help. So you don't want to give them the answer but, to, not too little so that they feel stuck. I thought those things were brilliant.
Now, how big were these classes? How many, how many Students to a class typically, at least in the early years?
That’s the amazing part. Yeah, so some classes, AI class, the one I TA-ed had 600 people, the one I took I took it over the summer so smaller, it was just a few hundred people. But you know, the probability class I took three 400, the intro CS classes, the computer architecture classes, 300/400. And so it's amazing how they managed to create such high quality instruction at such scale, and even even, you know, it wasn't just Stanford students taking it 300 might have been Stanford students, another hundred to 150 were a Stanford professional development students were taking the class through online means taking the class online, but they would still be just like us, you know, they participate in our Piazza, which is our online class forum. And so we would interact with people from industry as well.
And yeah, it was you know, it actually led to some interesting things. So we would attend the classes. And I tried to go to a lot, most of the classes. But for many of the classes, since they were all recorded, the class, almost the meaning of the class wasn't just the lecture. A lot of the times students would even skip the lecture and just watch it online at home because they were recorded.
But the class was actually the sort of experience of going to office hours and learning from the, you know, teaching assistants, and they would provide you specific hints, that were, you know, just the right amount of hints so that you can try to learn yourself a little bit. And then the sort of interaction with peers, where you would write out a problem on the board, and you'd both independently think about it and each offer one suggestion and then together, you would sort of make a push forward, and solve a problem. Those are the kind of experiences that I actually remember even more from the classes, then specific lectures.
Now I have to ask you this question. When did you decide to, you know, shorten your stay at Stanford, and try to complete it in two years, which you did. And, talk to me about it. How did you go about doing that?
Yeah, it's very interesting. So I had spent my... so as much as I liked Stanford, I also thought that Stanford had some ideas and the way it was doing that remote learning type of stuff that went beyond what itself was as a physical institution. So I started to have thoughts, especially after I took My T. Le Engineering for Good class and I took a senior project class and I, you know, this was in the phase where MOOCs were very popular, massive online core courses that Stanford offered.
So I, as much as I appreciated Stanford, I also felt like this school has so many resources, couldn't escape able to support a lot more people around the world and why isn't it doing so why is it just offering education to us, you know, 1600 undergrads, as opposed to, you know, spending that it's whatever billions of dollars in endowment and it's, you know, millions of dollars of income on educating the world.
And so then I started to, you know, get a little bit disenchanted with the university system and I, you know, the entrepreneurship, it started to comments like, what if, you know, what if, what if, silly, you know, everything I'm learning is mostly and all like, done online. What if, you know, what if the future of education is not through, through, you know, in physical institutions, but rather through online means, and so Stanford even as much as the this was sort of an let me get out of Stanford move. It was very, a Stanford, very much a Stanfordesque move at the same time.
Your Stanford students are the people who start to think like this, but Oh, think against that. establishment and disrupt, disrupt this wishman type of, you know, logic, you hear that a lot at Stanford. So, you know, it's, it's ironic, but that was it was sort of towards the end of my first year.
I just couldn't sort of, you know, play. So I just decided, you know, what, how many quarters do I have? I want to see the world, I want to see how the whole, you know, travel the world and I want to work remotely, that sort of itch sort of came, I want to be involved in entrepreneurship, I don't want to just be, you know, thinking about grades, which are the things that I've been thinking about, you know, grades are something I've been thinking about since I was in elementary school. I'm tired of all that. And I want to break out of the system, sort of that sort of logic sort of came into my head at that point towards the end of my first year at Stanford, and it was almost like, Stanford, sort of, let me explore that in a way that I hadn't been able to explore that before.
So, so it was, it was quite interesting. thing. So I started becoming a little bit critical. I was like, you know, what, what's, what's the point me and, you know, staying at university when you can learn online, all my classes are online, and what's the point and you know, spending huge amounts of money on, on a private school tuition when, when I can, you know, learn everything that there is on the Internet.
And so those are the sort of the thoughts that started coming into my head. And I was like, you know, what, we're in the middle of a big disruption. So, I think we still are in the middle of, especially with COVID, bringing this notion of remote learning back in, but, but at that time, I was just very passionate about that. So I decided, you know, what, I'm going to graduate, and then and I told my parents, even, I want to graduate and I want to do something entrepreneurial, particularly in education and, and online scalable education. And so that's why I want to graduate and they said, Okay, well, you, you know, you should take a leave of absence, not necessarily graduate, but I said, No, I'm going to graduate so I decided to graduate But I told them that if, if whatever I do, you know, if after a while I realized I need more education, I'd come back to Stanford and so, so, so that's what I told them and I graduated.
Tell me how you did that. So you end up the first year you, you decide that you want to, you know, get done quickly. And within, you know, the next year at the end of the second year or so, you've graduated. So how did you compress the three years into one?
Yeah, so it was four years and yeah, three years into one right and four years and two or three University years into a two year degree.
Well, the thing is that, you know, I had gone to this High School, which, where everyone took a ton of APS. So naturally, I also took a ton of APs, right. And that actually ended up adding up to 35 credits that Stanford recognized out of 180 over required to graduate. Right?
And so then I just had to complete What is 180? Minus 35 145. Right, right. I just had to complete 145 credits. And so 145 credits well 140 divided, I remember thinking through this math in my head, 140 divided by seven is 20, which is the max number of credits that you're allowed to take at Stanford. And so, if I have seven quarters, I could almost finish right fall winter, spring, plus summer. That's four. Fall, Winter, Spring. That's seven.
Now, then I remember Googling online and discovering Oh, you can actually petition to take 21 or 22 credits, and this was almost a game for me.
What I was thinking was that if I can do the 145 credits and seven quarters, I'd have to petition you know, And take 21 quarter, 21 units per quarter. And what I discovered in that process was that, you know what, I'd have to take some interesting classes, like for instance, to get that extra activity unit, I would end up taking things like Central Asian Films, like Rock Climbing. And it was really interesting that this weird calculation and this weird optimization actually ended up resulting me, me taking some classes that I probably wouldn't have taken before. So it did take a lot of extra credit units where I worked on the company that I was trying to form. And, but I also did take some, some bizarre classes on that. I mean, bizarre in the sense that it was bizarre for me because I would not have done that as a computer science major.
So yeah, I remember learning about some like, you know, horse riders in the central Central Asian Steppe and, and how some of you know Kazak, and especially you know, nomads lived. And that's not something that computer science major, you know, does, especially if they're in a hurry to graduate. Yeah.
Well, so the important thing is you found a way and you did graduate in two years, which is quite an accomplishment.
So let's before we come back to Stanford, let's talk a little bit about your, comeback as in your grad school, let's talk a little bit about your campus life. I mean, tell me a little bit about the dorms, the foods, the social life.
Yeah. So, So it's interesting the food was really healthy. The dorm dorm food was really healthy. And and I did, I did like it, although I did get tired of it sometimes. Because you know, you're eating the same from the same cafeteria every day, but at the same time, they did have many options. So there was one place where you could eat that provided Mexican food most of the time and another place where they pasta a lot and sometimes they would have Indian food and some in some dorms on some days and they would have a Chinese food on some in some dorms on some days. So it was a good variety at at the same time I did realize I spent a lot of money during my college years on you know, calf, you know, cafeteria, cafes and hot, hot chocolate because they were just there and your 20 year old you just want to quick confidence so you end up spending more money even though I had been paying for food plan and I would get crepes sometimes from the cafe, and so I wasn't very careful. So I realized I spent a lot of money on my, on the food plan, which I didn't even eat that much towards that. And I also spent a lot of money on these like Coupa cafe, the cafe on campus. Yeah, and so, so it was interesting and I, my my family sometimes would visit and, and give me some food. So it was not exactly efficient. But there was a source of good food, always!
Sure. Sure. Why not? Home Food is always great.
So how about your dorm-mates... these were two person rooms three or one or How was that?
Yeah, so I had interesting situations, my dorm mate. So the first dorm mate, actually this was interesting. I actually didn't get along with my first dorm mate early because I think if I am that person were paired now we would probably get along fine.
But at the time, I was really, you know, very strict. And I was not so, my dorm mate, actually this is an interesting story. He loved hookah, and I did not like it. I didn't know if I did not like it. I had never tried it. But at the time when I was 18 but basically, we had a conflict over that. Because because, you know, he would have his friends over and he would do the hookah and I didn't like it. And so at the time now I'm very liberal, I wouldn't care.
But at that time I was I was pissed. And so I actually moved dorms and you know, put salt on the wound. I was actually in my first dorm. I was the Frosh Council Rep. And so that means the freshmen councils, the freshman student council, I was the representative of the dorm. And I myself as the representative of the dorm, moved to another dorm. And so I moved from my first dorm which is Larkin to another dorm which is called Ujamaa, and Ujamaa is the African American dorm and I really liked my time there. The only problem was I was living in Ujamaa, even though I was a frosh council Freshman Council Representative from Larkin.
So I guess this was the first time I'd like, lived with someone else. And I realized I don't know how to live with other people and how to you know, adjust and compromise and things like that. So I did have some hard times socially, in high school, in college because of that. Because Because, you know, I maybe it was because of my background Also, I'd grown up in a different way, from other people. And I didn't know how to reconcile that.
And so but I think I sort of, as I made more friends in college for, you know, different people who have different interests and different ways of living, I sort of liberalized and, you know, started, you know, to be more accommodating, and more compromise the compromise more and things like that. Yeah.
Sure. I mean, you live and learn.
So then I lived in two ethnic dorms actually, I lived in the African American dorm after and that was awesome. And so that was great. And then that was the second half of my freshman year. And then I lived in the Asian dorm, in my sophomore year, my second year, right and, and, and that was also interesting that Stanford had these ethnic dorms that support ethnic cultures. And so I learned from both of them, you know, their perspectives on, on general, American and world culture.
No, it sounds, it sounds really good. Now were you involved in a lot of cultural or other activities on campus?
Well, other than the Freshmen Council, which, which was fun, I was, I was involved in, I think a year I wasn't too involved. But I did go to many of the Sanskriti events, which are the Indian events, and then I did also... I think that's about that's about it.
But I did spend, I did go to some of the parties on campus actually, and those are fun. My friends and I, we would go out I would, we weren't part of a frat, we would go to some of the frat parties and You know, Stanford was actually notorious at that time for crazy frat parties. And so we would see one of the ones was Greek themed. And so everyone wore togas. And it was, it was, it was really, you know, coming from high school, I'd never seen something like that. So, so it was, it was, you know, eye opening, what happens at frat parties and, you know, there, there was also, you know, you know, a lot of different socialization with people from all over the world.
I learned how, you know, wealthy people from, from the Arab countries, you know, how they live and, and when they came when they're, you know, they came to Stanford, they would bring in their own perspectives, people from China would come in, and they bring in other perspectives. And I remember there are people from Venezuela would come in, and I'd have these interesting conversations with them about how their government is, and, and things like that. So, so, overall, like socially it was, I was I was in not per se involved in specific clubs beyond the Freshman Council and, and some of the Sanskriti the events, but I did talk to a lot of people and attend events here, here and there and attend parties here and there and learned about different things in that sense. Yeah.
You finish Stanford, and then you are gone for a couple of years. And then you come back to Stanford. So what did you do those two years? What did you do once you graduated?
Yeah. So when I graduated, I had been, it's interesting, a lot of political events are happening. There were elections all over the world. There was an election in India and I was, I was just curious about global politics and, and I just felt like, you know, especially Stanford, made my perspective even more global than it had been before. And so I was very interested in the Development Economics and, and at Stanford, I had attended some of the Development Economics seminars as well, in though I was a theatre science student. And so I really just wanted to and, you know, travel, be a Digital Nomad. That is something that was popularized in my mind by some of my peers at Stanford who had done a gap year. And I remember one, one peer, he had done a gap year, and he had traveled to Africa and Asia and he was describing how different people operate different GDP per capita. Yeah, when and so I was curious about seeing that and so during my gap, basically, during my two years after I graduated, I spent my time you know, seeing
I started off going to India and I started running little experiments having people try to learn English from Rosetta Stone software which did not use a which did not Use a source language. So it's like how babies learn, like, yes through pictures. And I did some experiments there. And then later on during my two years, I tried to track I really wanted to do a trip where I had started a country that, you know, countries that are very wealthy, you know, close to 100 k, $100,000 GDP per capita countries like Norway, Luxembourg, and travel all the way down to countries, you know, like India or Morocco, or Serbia that had GDP per capita, close to two to $5,000. And during that time, I was sort of I didn't realize it at the time, but I was sort of applying like a comparison perspective. It's like, are there what I had, what I had learned at Stanford, could the same people that I interacted with a lot of people in my travels Yeah, are the same people I interacted with my travels were also quite smart.
Could they learn like Stanford students how to Stanford students differ from people all over the world? Uh, you know, how does education at Stanford differ from what education other people all over the world receive? And, and I was sort of always making these comparisons. And trying to understand, you know, you know, I had done a lot of theoretical learning at Stanford, and I was trying to do some more practical learning. During my travels, it's like, thinking about, like, you know, what, what are the needs in the world? And what is the world even like, and what I realized is that the world is, is very different from Stanford. And, and what I realized is that Stanford is a bubble.
And that's something that was constantly said to us at Stanford is that you're in the Stanford bubble. There's this thing called I you know, you're in the Stanford bubble, you're in the Silicon Valley bubble. The world is very different, but I was very curious to know what the world is like and during that trip, you know, when other series of trips that I made as a digital nomad, I you know, I sort of discovered that, like, not everyone is perfect. You know that, you know, there's a lot of dishonesty in the world and, and you know, academic success does not always translate into business success or or complete life success, things like that, some real world lessons I learned when traveling and when interacting with people as I started this online consultancy outside of Stanford, and that I didn't learn at Stanford because during my experience at Stanford, especially my experience 99% of the time, I would spend it in the Green library, in the Stacks studying books, and then maybe I would go straight from the library to a party for like an hour, and then I go back sleep, go back to the library and study. That's it.
I did not really, I really had a very sheltered experience. And so when I saw the real world, I saw how people operate. You know, just because someone tells you something doesn't mean they actually mean it. Things like that. I didn't know and I learned during that period of time. So, so that was interesting.
And so then I realized, you know what, there's so much at Stanford. And one thing I realized when I was traveling was that a lot of people are saying, oh, you're from Stanford. Oh my gosh, so many other great people are from Stanford, such a great network. And then when I tell them I graduate in two years, like, Why the heck would you do that? There's so much of a network, you let go of. What were you doing? You didn't network enough you didn't. It's not about the... You know, you can learn anything online. But it's more about the network. It's more about making sure you know, people from your Stanford network so that, you know, they're with you for the rest of your life. That's the reason why people pay whatever $50,000 for Stanford is not for the books. It's for the, it's for the network. It's for the network that sticks with you throughout the rest of your life.
And so then when I realized that I said, Oh, man, I better go back and see if I can go back in and, and try to leverage the network this time and also talk to people and learn from them as opposed to just learning from books try to learn from other people. That's sort of what happened during my two years when I was between my undergrad and masters. Well,
That's really enlightening. I mean, except that, you know, what, you got your degree, which is a good thing. You know, in a short space of time, but, so before we come back to the grad school, quickly, how many countries did you visit? Where did you go?
During that time, 35 countries. I had gone to almost all the countries in Europe. And I went to Morocco, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, China, India, Mexico, Mexico. Maybe Mexico is actually Yeah, I've been to Mexico. So I'd gone to quite a few places. And I was always just thinking about, you know, how, how much money are people making in this country? What is the GDP per capita of the country? And how much do you really need, how much money is really needed to, you know, live in a, live like a developed country.
And I had sort of gotten this hunch towards the end of my travels that, you know, there was actually a much bigger difference between a country like India and Morocco and a country like Poland, than, than between like something like Poland, and something like Switzerland, in my opinion, at least when I traveled, what I realized was beyond your gains beyond $10,000 GDP per capita, they, they really don't make much of a difference compared to like, between, you know, two thousand, ten thousand, and without insight, I was like, Oh my gosh, now I need to actually like, learn something more at Stanford about like, you know, you know, like, I need to talk to more people at Stanford, get more feedback on my ideas and things like that. So that that was sort of what happened during my travels and my thoughts about Stanford after.
So let's talk about, let's close it out, by talking about you're coming back to Stanford going to grad school. How was that experience? How was it different from your first two years? undergrad years?
Yeah. So during my grad school experience, I came in with already on my mind a few regrets for my undergrad. So some of the regrets from my undergrad was one I academically, I had taken things like robotics, natural language processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, but I hadn't actually taken an advanced like, Math Department offered a course in linear algebra. I took Stanford's linear algebra course, but not the, not the official math department. One I took the one that you know, that every freshman takes, and that had actually put me in a weak position. So I did okay in the course, I got, you know, like Stanford grade inflation, everyone does well, but I felt like I didn't personally understand the Machine learning as well as I could.
So this time, first thing off in my Master's, I took the math departments proof-based Linear Algebra course. And then I took things like, you know, probabilistic graphical models, which is a machine learning course, and I took neural networks and took data mining and, and took reinforcement learning, deep learning and things. And I just felt so much stronger when I would study the courses after two years of gap. When I came back, I just felt a little bit more mature when I took these courses.
Like that I was focused on learning as opposed to just getting a grade I was focused on what is actually the meaning of these problems and making sure I do the assignments in ways that are maximizing my learning. So that was one of the things that contrasted with my, my undergrad experience.
The other thing was I made sure to go to the classes in my masters and I would make sure to talk to the professors and try to get to know them. A little bit I, I was taking classes from really reputed natural language processing people like Chris Manning and in my undergrad, and but I just never got to know them. Whereas during my, during my master's at least, I sort of started talking to professor's more and I got to know some of the HCI faculty like Michael Bernstein, a little bit better, and they would write me a recommendation for my PhD and, and I got to know Chris Piech and Mehran Sahami as well, which were ticket classes from during my undergrad, but then I ta for them during my master's and so I started to get to know them better. So it's sort of like better networking as well, during my Masters that I tried to focus on.
There are hundreds of thousands of people aspiring to go to Stanford. Based on what you did there and your experience and now looking back, what kind of advice would you Give these students who are looking to apply to Stanford in what, what, what? What is? How would you pitch Stanford to them?
Yeah, so actually, that's very interesting because when I applied to Stanford, I was just thinking about what's a great entrepreneurship school. But I didn't quite understand deeply why it's such a great entrepreneurship school. And I think that for people applying to Stanford now, since it's even more competitive than when I applied Originally, I would say to understand deeply that reason why is a little bit more nuanced than I had ever known before.
The really reason why Stanford, it's such an entrepreneur, great entrepreneurship school, is because when you're casually making friendships at Stanford, it doesn't mean it's not actually casually making friendships with with different peers. You're actually building a really strong network of people who are going to be very successful. And what I discovered so few, just give you a few examples.
My freshmen, the person I met in my freshman year from the computer architecture class later became my roommate in my sophomore year. Now he has used the platform, I started the company, I started as both a customer and also as an engineer on the network that I've created. That's one example.
Another example of what a person that I used to, you know, I went to LA with during that trip so one of my good friends from from college that I spent a lot of time with during my undergrad, he referred me to one of the first few clients that became a client of our business, and he's always been, you know, talking to me about business and giving me advice on things.
And, you know, during my master's, I also made some rich friendships, continued a friendship with one friend from Argentina, and then, but then, during my master's, I got to know him better, we'd hang out together. And now we talk all the time about online freelance marketplaces. And he has some great insights into the area given his global experience.
So I, I realized that, you know, during my undergrad and master's, I was just trying to, you know, be like everyone else, make friends. But, but what I realized when I started my business after my master's, is that, you know, our generation millennial, don't have a separation of work and, you know, friendship. It's all mixed. And it's almost a gradient. It's not really a, you know, black box, which is which. So I talked to, talk about work with my friends, and I'm friends with people I work with. One of the people I took that math class with, for my freshman class, he became one of my biggest customers afterwards.
So I think that's one insight that when you apply to Stanford Your perspective should be what is strong about the people at Stanford? Right. It's not about what is strong about, you know, the architecture of the university, the books, the number of, you know, the test scores that people got, it's more about who are the people at the university? And how are they going to? How are you going to be able to help them? And how are they going to be able to help you? And how does? How does that interaction Have you helping them? And are they helping you help the world overall? And so I think that is something that I didn't have as a perspective coming in. And I think that would be something that's very useful.
So if you're writing your college essay today on why you want to go to Stanford, you want to be talking about who are the people at Stanford, who are the type of people that Stanford admits other than you, and what are you going to do with them, and what are they going to do with you, and how is that going to make the world better. That's what you want to be writing about in your college application.
We're approaching sort of the end of our podcast. Just want to give you a chance to say I mean, the things that we didn't talk about or something about Stanford that you want to share with potential applicants and students out there, any memories, anything else that you feel would round off this discussion?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that, so I talked a lot today about network. I've talked a little bit about academics about friendships, and I think that those, those are all very important.
But I think one of the biggest things overall that Stanford sort of taught me is more broad than that. It's just about being open minded. And I think that when I came from high school, I had a very fixed perspective about value, like what do I value in life? And what I valued was something that, you know, that's, you know, you value getting good grades you value making money, you value that. And at Stanford I, I sort of realized became, I sort of matured at Stanford and whether it's a product of Stanford or product or just aging. That's difficult to say, it's probably a mix. But I think that Stanford had a big role in it. I started to take, you know, classes that bridged into the arts and, you know, even computer science bridged into the arts, as we dealt with things like neural networks and generating, generating art and things like that neural networks, what I quite realized at Stanford was the, you know, you have to choose what you value.
And so, at the beginning of Stanford, you know, I had come through, you know, a little bit stressed from high school, and I had thought that Stanford the same thing as high school. Towards the end of my master's degree at Stanford, after my undergrad and masters and the gap in between, I had realized that life is actually about, you know, doing things that you value treating your life, like a work of art, like, all of us are going to die one day. So what is the point of just working super hard becoming super successful, just so that an 800 years, nobody's gonna remember who you were anyway. So what's the point?
But Stanford sort of gave me a little bit more nuanced perspective on the whole, you know, how you treat your career in life. It's, it's sort of like, you know, it's like a movie. Just because it starts and ends doesn't mean it doesn't have meaning. You want to engage in all the rich things that, you know, life has to offer and in Stanford that sort of analogously paralleled itself in my Stanford experience, and that I tried, especially during my master's to appreciate all that Stanford had to offer. And so I got to sort of test run it life. I tried to, during my master's degree, sort of appreciate what Stanford has to offer, not just the books, but also the people, the academic richness. I started to appreciate, you know, math classes a little bit more, I started to appreciate the beauty of proofs as opposed to just getting the numbers, right, right, in a problem, things like that.
I think that that sort of, so my advice to people who are applying to Stanford, but also even my advice to myself is just to treat these rich universities, these rich institutions that have a ton of, you know, people and knowledge, to not try to game them like I did in my undergrad, but rather to try to get, get learn as much as possible and get as much out of them as possible, so that your story really shines. And so that so that you really look back and say, in your your, your Stanford years or your college years really, they carry with you throughout your life.
Like right now, I'm glad that that I can say that I have some friends from from from my university and they've helped me with, with my business, with my learning etc. You, you want to be able to say that as well you want to be able to say that, hey, I feel really strong when I'm fifth like you know 45 or whatever, that I went to that university and I'm still a part of that University's Alumni Network.
So, so just be open minded about who you talk to, you want to talk to a lot of people, you want to decide what you value. I think that that, caring dot advice will will really help other people who come from you know, high school is very square very organized in a specific way. College is very different. College really opened my mind and helped me realize that I'm not the center of the universe and helped me realize that but I am important, I am a contribution, but but so is so is everyone else and and seeing all the amazing people at Stanford. Help me discover that.
That's fantastic, Gobi. Very, very insightful and great perspective. And I really, really thank you for sharing your time at Stanford with us and all the learnings and the richness and, and and I think the learnings are really, really very, very good and something that each and every person can get something out of.
So thank you again for taking the time and doing this podcast with us. And I'm sure all our aspiring listeners will get a lot out of it. So thank you again. Take care and I will talk to you soon.
Thank you very much.
Hope you enjoyed this podcast with Gobi Dasu. This is really a story of transformation - from a teenager who views college as a box to check, to a young man who experiences college as a place of learning!
I also hope you got a good picture of what it is like to attend Stanford.
Thank you so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
Till we meet again, take care and be safe.
Stanford University, Princeton University, Entrepreneurship, Computer Science, Dorm, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Engineering for Good, Digital Nomad
Q: Why should I join Stanford?
Gobi If a student receives admission into Stanford, the student should certainly join, not just because the university is top ranked, but also because its network is very entrepreneurial and adaptive. This means that Stanford alumni are likely to pivot in the right directions given the new normal, more so than those who come from more traditional institutions.
Q: What is YOUR advice to students like me for choosing degree courses in the future?
Gobi: I would recommend starting with what big problems in society that you would like to be part of solving (i.e. global poverty, public health, cancer, climate change, wealth inequality, economic development, mental health, etc) and then narrow down into what contributions you could see yourself making over then next 10,000 days (i.e. the 30 years of your career). Then backpropagate into what exactly you need, beyond required courses, to achieve said goals.