Marty Hu

Hacker and Entrepreneur

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Skip the Basics

My younger brother recently left for his sophomore year at MIT. While he was still here, we got together several times and had several lengthy discussions about college life had been for him over the past year. One interesting point he mentioned is how placement works at MIT:

When my brother matriculated at MIT, he had already taken honors multivariable calculus at Stanford (receiving an A). However, MIT refused to accept the Stanford course as credit for it’s own (non-honors) multi-variable calculus course [1]. Instead, he would have to take a placement exam along with all of the other freshmen hoping to place out of multi-variable calculus. No problem, I figured. As I saw it, his preparation should have been more than enough.

Well, here’s my paraphrase of my brother’s story:

Ten minutes before his multivariable calculus exam, I walked to the exam room and noticed a girl sitting...

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My (Old) Stanford Application Essay

Dear Reader,

I remember that when I was applying to college all of the essays that I could find online were utter crap. So I went and dug up my own college application essay (circa 2007) to open-source it with the community.

I wasn’t one of those cool kids that hacked out their college application in 24 hours. I believe in working hard for the things I want in life, and the essay I’ve included below is the product of many months of work.

I hope you enjoy it.

Marty

11a: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” as the adage goes. (You’re limited to one page, however.) Sometimes a photo or picture can capture an object that you treasure, a person you admire or a place that you love; sometimes a photograph is simply your record of an experience or moment in your life. Imagine one photo or picture that you have, or would like to have, and tell us why it is meaningful to you.

A picture that...

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Q-E-D

An old high school friend of mine recently matriculated into the Stanford Phd program for Chemistry. We had a dinner celebration for her and I got to learn about all of the things she’s done since I last knew her in high school. To me, the most impressive of all of her feats is the fact that (in addition to Chemistry) she finished a second major in Math. In fact, she told me that she nearly pursued her Phd in Math. This personally impressed me because I used to know her when she was in high school. Back then, she was indistinguishable from an ordinary student math-wise [1].

Ordinarily, when I think about a Math Phd student, I envision someone who’s known that they’ve wanted to do Math essentially their entire life. I think of a person homeschooled, who’s skipped on three grades in math, and won multiple math contests in the region. My friend would not have fallen into this category.

...

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Integrity

A very smart friend of mine has been surfing the job market and was recently offered a position at a start-up. The CEO let him know that he had until the end of the week (three days at that point) to give his decision. By the time I talked to him, he only had a fraction of that time left to decide and was asking for my opinion about whether I thought joining the company would be a good career move. [1]

I told him that while I didn’t know much about the company, my gut response would be not to sign with them. I said this because to me, the CEO’s behavior reflects a flaw in his personal integrity. In my opinion, any employer unscrupulous enough to pressure a candidate to accept a job offer is going to be less likely to have qualms over:

  • Forcing that individual into a ridiculous working schedule
  • Missing payroll (this does happen)
  • Lying about the company’s progress

I come from perhaps...

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Coursework vs. Production Code

I’ve been speaking to a number of first-time technical entrepreneurs recently who are starting businesses for the first time. One question I often get is regarding the difficulty involved in writing production code. Given that probably a lot of them (you) have similar experience to what I did, I thought I’d share some reflections I had about the differences between academic work and production coding.

Programming at a startup is, in general, much easier than the work you’ve already done in school.

I’m assuming a lot of things when I say this. Naturally, I’m assuming that you challenged yourself while you were in school. You took some of the hard classes and didn’t just coast through the easy ones [1]. You completed all of your assignments (likely taking multiple late days, but hey, finishing is finishing).

In school you work on problems that get progressively harder. By the time you...

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Talent

I had lunch with one of my mentors yesterday. He has a son, who just started the second grade. For a good part of the lunch, we discussed his concern that his son may not be as successful as he is. He told me that he feels clueless about what to do if his son does not end up being naturally talented.

My mentor explained that he never learned that lesson for himself, because for him by some fluke raw talent always ended up being good enough for him. As he told me, he was always naturally the best in everything that he did. He never did extracurricular work, because he was always at the top of his class. He doesn’t understand the notion of summer internships because throughout all of grade school, his summers were devoted solely to vacation. Even in college, he spent all of his time playing sports and hardly did any work. His most well-acclaimed paper (that landed him his professorship...

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Work Life Balance

The modern work life balance equation is interesting to me in that people seem to have all of these rules for when they should or shouldn’t be working. I have some friends at tech companies who work something like: “long enough to get all three meals in the office, weekends when it’s urgent, at least eight hours a weekday, never after 9pm”. der…? what?

To be contrarian, I prefer to distill my work balance into a few rules that are easy enough for my brain to wrap around. This is what I do:

  1. If I’m awake, I should be working.
  2. If I can’t focus enough to do my work well, I should take a break.
  3. If I’m too tired to work after taking a break, I should be sleeping.

I once asked one of my most diligent friends in college how he was able to take all of the hardest CS classes, work a part-time job, and do academic research in his spare time.

me: “How do you manage your work/life balance?”

...

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