Archive for category Personal

2014 International Travel Update

One of my goals is to join the Traveler’s Century Club, a “social organization representing world travelers that have visited 100 or more of the world’s countries and territories”.  The full list of countries and territories can be found here. I provided an update in 2013; below is the list of countries/territories I’ve visited to date through the end of 2014:  With my trip to New Zealand and the Chatham Islands at the end of 2014, the total now stands at 80 countries/territories visited.


  • Australia
  • Chatham Islands
  • Hawaiian Islands
  • New Zealand
  • Tasmania


  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • United States (continental)


  • Belize (British Honduras)
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras


  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Peru

CARIBBEAN (18 of 30)

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)
  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Cayman Islands
  • Cuba
  • Curacao
  • Dominican Republic
  • Jamaica
  • Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
  • Puerto Rico
  • St. Kitts & Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
  • Turks & Caicos Islands
  • Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)
  • Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)



  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Corsica
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • England
  • Estonia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland (Eire)
  • Italy
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Russia
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
  • Ukraine
  • Vatican City


AFRICA (3 of 55)

  • Egypt in Africa
  • Morocco
  • South Africa

MIDDLE EAST (4 of 21)

  • Dubai
  • Egypt in Asia (Sinai Peninsula)
  • Oman
  • Qatar

INDIAN OCEAN (0 of 14)

ASIA (12 of 51)

  • China, People’s Republic
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia (Java)
  • Japan
  • Korea, South
  • Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali,Timor, Indonesia)
  • Macau
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Turkey in Asia (Anatolia, Ankara, Izmir)
  • Vietnam

“This list is recognized by the world as the standard of countries and territories that are politically, ethnologically or geographically different.”

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12 Ways Dungeons and Dragons Prepared Me to be a Corporate Executive

Image Courtesy of Alex Velazquez at brutecg.comLong before I was an executive at one of the world’s largest companies, I was a blue-collar kid in Brooklyn playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the basement with my siblings and friends. Many decades would pass before it became chic to be geek – Comic-Con, Dragon Con, Marvel, and even The Lord of the Rings have become mainstream hits, television shows around gaming and nerd culture have been developed, The Geekie Awards received a BILLION media impressions in its inaugural year, and so on. My two younger brothers, Alex and Jiovanie, parlayed our D&D experiences directly into careers in video game and fantasy art (Jiovanie’s work can be seen here, Alex’s work here). I went a more traditional route through Engineering and Business degrees to work for large corporations, including Honda, Porsche, P&G, Microsoft (Xbox), and PepsiCo.

After watching the superb “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” episode of the hit TV show ‘Community’ and the D&D segment from VH1’s ‘I Love the 80s’, I looked back fondly and began to contemplate the impact that playing D&D has had on my career. Dungeons & Dragons is the one single game from my childhood I feel can build multiple skills that can be leveraged in the “real” world, whether that’s corporate America, creative disciplines, or anything in between. So, with a nod to my childhood heroes (including Gary Gygax, R.A. Salvatore, TSR, and many of the folks at Wizards of the Coast), below are lessons I learned as a D&D Dungeon Master (DM) that have helped me climb the corporate ladder from a stock clerk in a Brooklyn supermarket into the executive ranks of a Fortune 50 global company:

Alex Velazquez - The Chess Project - The Black Hearts1) Focus on strategy – Before the start of any D&D campaign, as the Dungeon Master, I would come up with the overall concept and objectives, then I would build the world around it  (this was before the Forgotten Realms came out).  While TSR provided some pre-packaged campaigns, I always preferred to create my own (mainly to fulfill my own vision, but also due to cost, discussed later).   With the vision and objectives in mind, I would start building up the pieces to realize the overall fulfillment of the campaign.  Key milestones and plot points, major character and monster encounters, etc. As the players played the game and the campaign progressed, the tactics would have to change to accommodate the changing variables and unexpected events that would occur, but the overall theme and purpose, what we were all ultimately driving towards, would remain constant.

As an executive in the business world, the main focus is on developing strategy and aligning your resources to execute the strategy.  Strategy development begins with the vision and mission and must take into account a wide range of variables.  Once the strategy is set, the tactics that will be used to fulfill the strategy can be developed.  A sound business strategy will rarely change within its timeframe once it is set, although the tactics and execution plan may be altered to address consumer response, competitive pressures, economic changes, etc.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net2) Build a story and present it well – I fully agree with the common saying that “Content is King” and I would add that “Delivery is Queen”.  The content created is just as important as how the content is delivered.  A mediocre presentation of great content is still mediocre, and the same is true for a great presentation of mediocre information.  The presentations I learned to give in the corporate world were directly influenced by how I learned to DM.  The story is indeed king; it will keep your players interested and committed to the campaign. How you deliver the story will heavily influence the engagement of your players.  Not only must you weave a good story, you need to embellish all the details during a game.  Compare two versions of the same encounter.  First – “You chose to attack.  Roll your D20.  OK, you scored a critical hit. The orc is dead”.  Alternate version – “Your sword is at the ready, roll your D20.  You swing your sword in a deadly arc towards your opponent.  The orc tries to step back to avoid the fury of your blade, but to no avail.  His backwards momentum causes his severed head to roll off of his back, his now lifeless body falling limply to the ground”.  These are accurate examples of when I first starting DM’ing and when I learned to deliver more entertaining and engaging encounters for my players.  Needless to say, they were more deeply immersed in the latter example.  Pacing, timing, and delivery can make all the difference as evidenced by Abed’s enactment of a gnome NPC (non-player character) in the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode of Community (see here).

One of the best presentations I ever gave was for the Xbox Marketing group for a new special edition Xbox 360 console I had proposed. Leveraging compelling content with audio and the theatrics I first developed as a DM, I gave a presentation that I was told set a new bar for future presentations and kept the group enthralled on a normally tame post lunch group gathering.  Not every presentation has to be a theatrical production, but the core concepts focusing on both content and delivery always apply.

Blade Scholar - Wizards of the Coast3) Do your homework – not many things are worse for a DM than when a player calls you out on a mistake in the campaign. “A Succubus(?) can’t drain my constitution three times in one encounter… they can only use this ability once per day”.  Fenris was correct, but we had already completed the entire encounter by the time he found out this information in the Monster’s Manual.  A small detail I missed, but it had a big impact as I had to break continuity to figure out how to fix the error.  While you can’t be expected to be the expert in all matters (hence the importance of cross-functional teams), in my experience it’s always better to be over-prepared than to be caught off guard.  From then on I made an extra effort to fully study each monster I planned to use in encounters, made better use of maps to be prepared with the different types of terrain that would be traversed, learned the limitations and effects of magic spells, and so on.

I carried this lesson over into the business world.  You should know all the details pertinent to the issue at hand in the context of your overall goal, presentation, or meeting.  In general, my presentation decks had expansive appendices with back up information for most conceivable questions and important data.  All stats that I leverage in a presentation have appropriate references.  I strive to minimize the number of times I have to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you on that”.  And now as I lead larger teams, I appreciate it when others come to a meeting equally prepared.

Fantasy Improv4) Learn to improvise  – When creating my D&D campaigns, I made my world’s large enough and the campaign broad enough to deal with multiple contingencies.  What if the players didn’t believe the lonely adventurer in the tavern with tales of treasure?  What other ways could I devise to spur them to take on the campaign in the game world?  However, no matter how thoroughly I prepared my campaigns and how many alternate story versions I developed, the players would always find a way to get into an area or situation that could not be anticipated.  Thus, as a DM, you must learn not to become flustered when something unexpected happens and to improvise in a quick manner.

In the business world, projects will rarely go exactly as planned.  Getting flustered and losing focus in these situations is counter-productive.  You have to learn to be adaptable and use your knowledge and experience to manage unexpected changes effectively.  You’ll also come to be viewed as more stable and dependable when you can manage unexpected situations quickly and decisively, leveraging your experience and knowledge to improvise as needed.

220px-Dungeons_and_Dragons_DVD_boxset_art5) Teamwork is critical – most of the challenges brought to a group of D&D players in a campaign could not be overcome unless they all worked collaboratively.  A single elf, no matter how highly leveled, can rarely take down a dragon.

As a general rule, a single individual can rarely produce as much as a group of people.  Additionally, it’s generally impossible in a corporate setting to get anything done on your own, even if you are considered an “individual contributor”.  Being a good team player and effectively collaborating with others is an important skill.  As you advance in your career, being able to form and lead high performing teams that can work well with cross-functional groups will allow you to have a much bigger impact on your organization than sitting at your desk with your head down pumping out as much work as you can.

D&DCharacters6) Embrace diversity – a D&D campaign would be quite boring if every player was a human fighter.  In addition to making a campaign more interesting, a diversity of characters (classes and races) introduces many more ways to overcome challenges and obstacles.  For example, the Halfling thief can find the way into a secret corridor, the Elven ranger can dispatch enemies from afar, the Human wizard can do massive damage in large areas against multiple adversaries, and the Half-Orc fighter can protect the others and pick off enemies in close quarters.  Whenever I started a campaign, I would work with all the players to make sure there was sufficient diversity in the characters to make the adventure both enjoyable and successful.

In the business world, diversity is equally important.  I still vividly recall a meeting with the Xbox team a couple of years before the launch of Kinect when Nintendo Wii was eating everyone’s lunch.  The meeting was a brainstorming session to identify what we could do to get more women and younger children interested in Xbox 360.  Looking around the room at the dozen or so men pondering the issue, the one thought I had was “Perhaps we should start by including some women in these discussions”.  Ensuring that your team is as diverse as the markets they’re meant to serve is not a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative.  Studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative and successful than homogeneous teams.  Additionally, while many people focus on racial/ethnic and gender diversity in the workforce, there are many different forms of diversity, including age and experience.  One of the best managers I knew at Microsoft created a high-performing market research team with professionals from multiple fields not directly related to market research.  It takes courage to make that kind of move, but I believe the results are usually exceptional.

DND TV Unicorn7) Deal quickly with disruptive team members – a campaign that I spent months planning on the Moonshae Islands of the Forgotten Realms was pretty much derailed by the antics of the human barbarian Fenris the Ferocious and the High Elf rouge Zandelle, as well as the human cleric Penelope Fenelope.  The real players of the characters of Fenris and Zandelle simply couldn’t get along in real life, leading to antagonistic situations in the game (such as Fenris carving an “F” across Zandelle’s face and keeping him hostage on a wagon).  And then there was Penelope, my high school girlfriend’s character, who was added so she could feel included as part of my group of siblings and friends.  She couldn’t take the game seriously and detracted greatly from the fantasy world we tried to create.

At some point, you have to make the determination whether a player needs to leave the team for the good of the collective.  This is always last resort, and forces you to think about finding ways for them to realize their mutual goals can only be achieved through cooperation.  In business you will often come across disruptive individuals, naysayers, apathetic workers, and generally unpleasant folks who can quickly sap team morale and hinder the group’s progress (not to be confused with individuals whom dissent with good cause).  Addressing these individuals right way is the best course of action, determining the root cause of their issues, emphasizing collaboration, and sometimes transferring or removing them from the team.  You can’t let it get to the point where it’s disrupting the work of the entire team.  Swift and appropriate action is necessary for the good of all.

tavern-brawl8) Build your networks – In D&D, players need to network constantly with NPCs to advance in the campaign.  You must talk to the local tavern owner to hear about strange happenings; meet with the local peasants for information that will lead you to the source of the local scourge; seek out  the reclusive mage who’ll provide the key spells to your victory or lead you to artifacts of great power; visit the local healer to tend your wounded; etc.  Every good D&D campaign involves interacting with individuals and groups beyond the core players to accomplish your main objective.

Throughout my career, networking has led to new funding for multiple projects, new business opportunities, and even new career opportunities. My jobs at Porsche in Germany, P&G in Puerto Rico and Xbox at Microsoft in Seattle all came about as a result of networking with my peers.  Within corporate America, the value of internal networking leads many companies to adopt open floor plans and central community areas where random, serendipitous encounters with other employees leads to new innovations, new product concepts, and overall workplace efficiencies.  A major global marketing campaign using technology my team designs will be launching for PepsiCo this year thanks to this type of internal networking.

treasure_dragon_by_lordhannu-d4e4jr59) Effectively manage your budget – I manage a multi-million dollar budget at work.  My first childhood examples for managing finances and building a budget came from D&D.

Within the imaginary world of the D&D campaign, managing one’s finances is a critical game play element.  When you start a character from scratch, you’re provided a small allotment of gold.  A key factor in your ultimate success or failure in the game is how well you can manage your allotment and future cash flows.  Key questions I needed to ask:  Should I spend all my gold up front or save a portion for future contingencies?  If I save, what proportion of my allotment should be spent?  How should I prioritize my expenditures between supplies, provisions, armor, weapons, horses, spellbooks, etc?  Throughout the game you find opportunities to earn more money, either through employment (i.e. join an adventuring group with associated payment) or through battle (monster and NPC encounters lead to good booty).  In addition, there were real world lessons gained from running a campaign.  With limited real money, I had to make decisions on which AD&D assets to buy – for example, should I get the Monster Manual 2, Unearthed Arcana, or Forgotten Realms Atlas?  Which asset would give me the highest ROI in terms of game play?  A Dungeon Master’s Screen would be a great productivity asset, but at $20, could I build it myself and allocate resources elsewhere (the classic build vs. buy analysis)?

It goes without saying that building and managing budgets, setting priorities, and asset allocation is also a key element of operating in the business world, as well as the real world which we all grow into.

220px-MazesMonstersVHSCover10) Learn the fine art of PR – when I was in grade school my half-sister, in a bout of religious zealotry, tried to convince my mother that D&D was the devil’s playground and she was a bad mother if she let us continue playing.  It didn’t help that the TV movie ‘Mazes and Monsters’ came out at the same time, where the young Tom Hanks goes insane by playing a D&D style role-playing game, and eventually is unable to tell reality from fantasy.  I had to get a story and arguments together to counter these attacks and had to recruit my friends and siblings to make sure we all had the same talking points and could deliver them convincingly and consistently.  Much of this happens in the business world as well.  Whether good or bad, you cannot control the news, so you have to be prepared to respond and get your organization on board to deliver consistent and compelling messaging.

knighting11) Give others an opportunity to lead – one of the most successful tactics for creating team harmony is showing a willingness to relinquish power.  Give up the Dungeon Master reins to someone else so that they can see what you go through and how difficult it is to create and manage a campaign.  It’ll teach your teammates to approach problems in a more productive manner and offer solutions instead of just identifying problems or complaining. 

In the business world, many people want to jump straight into the leadership role and feel that empowering others on the team with significant responsibilities or leadership will compromise their own position or their standing in the eyes of upper management.  Those attitudes generally lead to a road of dysfunction.  As a people manager, I want my employees to be the leaders of their respective projects, and the go-to people for key decisions that need to be made.  I feel my role, aside from the overall strategic vision and direction of our programs, is to break down barriers impeding progress and to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed.  Entrusting someone with leadership responsibilities generally leads to greater confidence on their part and their desire to rise to the challenge.

Alignment Chart12) Get to know your people/players – Your players are all unique and are generally motivated and compelled differently.  Not everyone seeks the same rewards – some people campaign for the experience and to level their characters, others for the opportunity to amass a dragon’s hoard of gold, and others lust after magical items like the +3 Sword of Flames, etc.  The same applies to your teams in the corporate world.  Some people seek recognition and awareness of their efforts, others are focused on their bonus award or base salary, others are happy with a new title.  Understanding these motivations allows you to plan projects and rewards accordingly to maintain and build morale and keep the team and projects on track.


When I first started this list, I had only seven items, but it started to expand the more I went back and thought about what I learned from playing D&D.  While I retired my Dungeon Master cloak many moons ago, I still hold a great deal of respect for the game and its many players and leaders around the world.

I still recall my first internship interview over 21 years ago.  When asked what my greatest accomplishment was, I told the interviewer how I created an entire D&D world from scratch, including terrain, cartographer maps at multiple zoom levels, history and lore, and much more  (mind you my only work experience at the time was being a stock boy in several supermarkets, working a deli counter, and being a butcher).  I didn’t get that job, but at least he referred me to another, better fitting job in the company focused on truck design which kicked off my career.  Looking back, I realized he probably didn’t appreciate the example I provided as my greatest accomplishment.  For you D&D players and DMs out there, the world may still not be ready to learn how you’ve come to be so capable.  You may not want to disclose where your great power comes from, but know that if harnessed correctly, you can accomplish anything!

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Tasmania 2014

So I finally made it down to Australia and planned a side trip to Tasmania to reconcile the Looney Tunes version of the Tasmanian Devil with the real thing.  Unable to get into the tour I wanted due to flight times, I rented a car and used their itinerary as a guideline.  We left Sydney early Tuesday morning, February 18th, landing in Launceston, Tasmania at 8:30am.  Our departing flight would leave from the capital city, Hobart on Saturday morning, February 22nd.  Between those two points we saw great sites, forests, beaches, and, of course, Tassie devils.

Our Tasmanian adventure started by picking up our Avis car rental at Launceston Airport.  We drove to Launceston and visited the Cataract Gorge, walking along the King’s Bridge-Cataract Walk into town. 


We at lunch at the Old Mill in Launceston and returned to the Gorge via chairlift (longest single-span chairlift in the world).  Then we were off again.


We left Launceston and traveled on A3 East to Binalong Bay on the Bay of Fires Conservation Area.  We swam in the soft, white sands of Grant’s Lagoon.


We stopped for lunch at Binalong Bay Café and enjoyed the view of the beach and orange stones.


After lunch, we continued down A3 to the Bicheno Blowhole.


We ended the day at Coles Bay at Freycinet National Park and spent the night at Freycinet Lodge.


Massive thunderstorms the next day gave us a late start in the day, but we were still able to hike to the Wineglass Bay Lookout, stopping first at the Coles Bay Lookout point:


Before reaching the famous and popular Wineglass Bay Lookout Point:


Hiking back from the lookout, we made friends with a wild wallaby.


We headed off continuing south on A3 to Orford, where I took a “shortcut” across a dirt road through the forest to Copping, then continued down to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula.  We ate dinner at ‘Felons’ in the Port Arthur Historical Site.  We checked into the Sea Change Safety Cove B&B, which has phenomenal views of the cliffs on the Tasman peninsula and is the only house on Safety Cove beach.  We’d spend two nights here.


We left early after breakfast to the Tasmania Devil Conservation Park where we got to see Tasmanian Devils being fed wallabies.


Then we got to feed and hang out with kangaroos and other native Australian/Tasmanian creatures.

DSCN1967 - modified099 

We returned from the Conservation Park and continued to the aptly named Remarkable Cave.



(Unfortunately, no more pics after this point as I left my camera on the plane back to JFK and it has not been returned).

We spent time on the private beach at our B&B, then off to the town of Nubeena for dinner.  This was our last night at Sea Change Safety Cove B&B.  The next day we continued on towards our final stop in Hobart.  We stopped along the way to enjoy the views from various cliffs and coves.  We finally arrived at Hobart and checked in to the old Wooling Apartment Hotel.  We walked along Hobart Harbor to Salamanca.

Our flight back to Sydney left early Saturday morning, so this concluded our Tasmanian adventure.

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Success Strategies for National Career Conference

2008 NSHMBA Conference Richard at Microsoft Booth In 2004, I received 5 job offers from 5 different companies in 5 different industries at the Annual Career Conference for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA).  I ultimately decided to accept the offer from Microsoft and ended up spending seven amazing years in Seattle on the Xbox 360 team.  By most standards and my own estimation, that experience at the National Conference was a huge success.  While I was already an officer (President-Elect) of the Puerto Rico chapter of NSHMBA at that time, this experience solidified my resolve to constantly give back to this great organization so that others can reap similar rewards.  As such, I co-founded the NSHMBA Seattle Chapter in 2005 and served as President for 4 years.  In that period of time, I’ve spoken at many events for NSHMBA members to share the strategies I employed at the conference as a job seeker.  Since I’ve worn several different hats at the NSHMBA Conference, I provide feedback from multiple perspectives.  I have attended ten of the last eleven conferences as an MBA Student, an MBA graduate (some call us “industry-hires”), a NSHMBA Chapter Officer, and a Corporate Recruiter.  In that last role, I attended the conference six years as a volunteer recruiter for Microsoft, and have looked at several hundred resumes and spoken with hundreds of candidates.

With the 2012 NSHMBA National Conference just a month away (October 4-6, 2012 in Orlando, Florida), I feel it is a good time to share my tips on a broader scale so that new attendees can maximize their time at the event.  While I speak from my experience at the NSHMBA Conference, most of these tips can be employed at any type of national or local career fair.  So, without further ado, here is my top 12 list of tips for the NSHMBA National Conference.

1) Focus on your résumé – this is obviously the first and one of the most important focus areas for any job seeker.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve met an obviously intelligent and articulate candidate that has presented me with a lackluster résumé.  If you have a great résumé, skip this section and go straight to tip #2 since this is a long one.

For those that have not been on the recruiting side, here’s how it works for most large companies.  The Human Resources (HR) and Talent Acquisition teams are in attendance to coordinate the organization’s presence at the conference and “train” all of the corporate recruiting volunteers.  These volunteers are generally hiring managers or individuals employed in the fields for which career opportunities exist (i.e. managers from finance, marketing, sales, etc.) .  For the large companies, the volunteer recruiters generally outnumber the talent acquisition representatives, so the HR reps coordinate and sync with the volunteers to identify the top candidates for on-site interviews, phone interviews, and fly-backs (an in-person interview at the company’s location).

Now that you have that background, it might be easier to understand why the résumé is still critical even in a face-to-face environment like a career fair.  I may like you as a potential candidate, but I will have a difficult time selling you to the talent acquisition team if that potential is not reflected in your résumé, especially with other volunteer recruiters talking with other candidates and selling the HR reps on the individuals they felt were top notch.

In addition, of the hundreds (going on thousands) of résumés that I have seen at these conferences, over 90% from my personal experience are simply too poor to consider seriously.  I would highly encourage everyone to have friends, family members, fellow NSHMBA members, chapter officers, etc. look at your résumé before you print hundreds of copies.  There are dozens of free online resources you can use to improve your résumé.  That isn’t the focus of this blog post, but I will briefly highlight the top areas for improvement I have seen:

a) Be clear what you are looking for.  Don’t make the recruiter guess what position you are seeking, because with so many candidates, most people won’t take the time.  Many MBA students have lots of experience in lots of different fields, and some (like me) are career switchers.  Therefore, clearly state your objective at the top.  If you are looking for opportunities in different fields (i.e. both marketing and corporate strategy), make a unique résumé for each objective and be selective which one you hand out.

b) The majority of résumés I have seen list “Responsibilities” with no “Accomplishments”.  Any person in your role would have your set of responsibilities, what sets you apart is what you’ve accomplished in that role.  As a general rule, you should have one MAJOR accomplishment for each year that you’ve been in a role.  Plus, never start off with “Responsible for..”.  That is a passive voice and there is always a better way to say something in an active voice.  For example, instead of “Responsible for managing a team….”, just say “Managed a team….”

c) Spelling and grammatical areas.  Some recruiters don’t care, most do.  It is more than once that I’ve seen someone’s strength listed as “Strong attention to detal [sic]”, having misspelled “Detail”, or listing “Manager” as “Manger”.  Once again, have a fresh set of eyes review your résumé.  The résumé is a reflection of you, so don’t give the impression that you didn’t take the time to proofread your résumé

d) For some, forget the “One Page Rule”.  This is a controversial one because so many people insist on compressing your résumé onto one page.  If you have a ton of experience, don’t sell yourself short by squeezing it onto one page.  I’d rather see a full list of accomplishments across two pages, than a short list of responsibilities on only one page. (See my other post, “Résumé Myths – The One-Page Résumé”)

2) Apply for interviews online on NSHMBA’s conference site well in advance – Most companies will close their online application process for the conference at least a week or two before the start of the conference to allow themselves time to review all the resumes and applications submitted and decide whom they will reach out to for an on-site interview.  It is a lot easier to get an on-site interview in advance than it is to get one at the conference (although not impossible, and I write about that below).  You want to get your interviews on-site, since the process from on-site interview to job offer is much faster than waiting for a follow-up call for a phone interview after the conference.  Also, more companies are starting to move to making offers directly at the conference, so securing that interview schedule in advance will allow you to better prepare for that all-important interview.

3)  Prioritize your list of companies and do your research – there are over 200 organizations at this career fair so it can become daunting.  It would be impossible to visit or do research on every company at the conference, so don’t bother.  Do some homework only on your top 10 companies.  Look for recent news articles, know the CEOs, understand their products and/or services, get a rough idea of how their business divisions are set up, understand their priority global markets.  For your top three to five companies, go even deeper.  What is their most recent stock price and how has their stock performed in the past five years?  What are their top strategic priorities and most immediate challenges?  Who are their key competitors and how are their products/services differentiated?  Find out the names of their key officers, especially in the field to which you are applying (for example, if you are applying to marketing, who is their CMO?  For finance, who is the CFO? etc.)  When you have an opportunity to speak with a recruiter or representative from that company, ask intelligent questions based on your research of that company.  I can tell you that leaves a lasting impression, because so few candidates actually do this.  I had one conference attendee ask me (no joke), “So, what does Microsoft do?”.  You can take a guess as to who was not even in the consideration set after that question.

4) Arrive early and visit your top companies on the FIRST day of the career fair – There are a few reasons why I make this recommendation.  First, you will have a better opportunity to spend more time speaking to the representatives of the company of your choice early in the morning on the first day.  Things don’t pick up until later, at which point you will find very long lines at the top tier companies (it is not unusual to wait an hour to speak to a representative during the “rush-hour”).  Even if you want to “practice” talking to representatives from companies you are not that interested in to get rid of the jitters before talking to your top choices, make sure to talk to ALL of your top companies before noon on the first day.

Second, you will set yourself apart by talking to your top tier companies before your fellow job seekers (aka “competitors”).  The recruiters are all fresh and eager to get started on the very first day.  By the end of the conference, many folks are tired and want to go home.  Get them while they’re fresh.  Also, being first shows you’re eager to speak with someone from that company, which always comes off as a positive attribute to these representatives.  If you wait until the last hours of the last day of the conference, the reps will tend to feel that you are not as serious as other candidates, and are just there as a back-up.  No one wants to feel like someone’s last choice, especially when they have options of people that made them their first choice.

Finally, many companies will keep a portion of their interview slots open to give to high potential candidates that they meet at the conference.  They will generally tend to fill up these open interview slots on the first day of the career conference.  I received four of my seven interviews at the 2004 conference by asking for them at the career fair on the first day or the corporate receptions (more on this later).  As mentioned, your goal should be to get an interview at the conference.  If you wait until the second day (or even the end of the first day), all of those open interview slots will likely be filled.

5) Prepare and practice your elevator pitch – every MBA student knows what an elevator pitch is, but many don’t have one.  If you don’t, you can find a ton of online resources to help you generate one.  Create your personalized elevator pitch and then practice it, OUT LOUD, in front of a mirror, fellow student, colleague, parent, or pet.  You must feel comfortable with it and it should come out as second nature.  However, be flexible with it so that you can adjust to the changing circumstances of your environment and audience.  As mentioned, for most of the top tier companies, there will be long lines of potential candidates that the company representatives need to go through.  You may only have two minutes to make your impression and speak about why you are a good fit for the company.  A bit of preparation goes a long way in making that first impression.

6) Always be prepared for an interview – it has happened to me at the conference, and I have done it to potential candidates.  One second you’re giving your elevator pitch to a company representative, the next minute you are squeezed into an interview slot for that same company.  In the 2008 conference, I met an outstanding candidate at the career fair, but our company ran out of formal interview slots.  So I went to a quiet area of the career hall and gave her an interview on the spot.  I will continue to emphasize that your goal should be to get that interview, so if you get it, you might not have time to prepare for it.  Prepare in advance!  If you followed tip #3, you already know something about this company, but perhaps it wasn’t a company for which you prepared to interview.  No matter!  The vast majority of interviews you will have will be behavioral interviews, so you should prepare answers for these types of questions in advance and know them cold.  Standard questions such as “What is your greatest strength/weakness?”, “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Give me some examples of your leadership/teamwork/communications skills”, etc. etc.  Once again, there are plenty of online resources to help you identify the most common behavioral interview questions.  Type each of these questions into Word document, then type out multiple answers for each question.  Read these out load BEFORE the conference.  The point is not to memorize these answers, but to bring to the top of your memory examples from your prior work experience that you will be asked about.  I have interviewed many candidates with these standard questions, and can easily tell those that prepared versus those that did not.  Some people will argue that if you practice these in advance, it will sound pre-fabricated and the recruiter will know.  That does NOT matter.  I know when someone has prepared answers for these questions in advance, and I can tell you that I far prefer to speak to someone who is prepared than to someone who has to take five minutes to think about how to answer “What is your greatest strength”.  Be prepared.

7)  Attend the Corporate Receptions – most companies will throw a reception, party, or small get-together for interested candidates.  Many of these will be open to all conference attendees, some are by invitation only.  If you are interested in a company that is throwing an open reception, you should absolutely attend.  This is the opportunity to speak with representatives away from the chaos of the career fair floor.  You will have more time with less pressure to speak with them, and you will get to speak with many more representatives than you could at the career fair.  Don’t miss out.  Please remember that the companies are there to hire people, so even at the receptions, we are looking for talent.  So don’t forget to bring your résumé and DON’T GET WASTED (even if the recruiters do).  You should treat these events as a large group interview, so behave accordingly.

8) Build Rapport – HR reps, hiring managers, company representatives, and recruiters are all just people. It’s important to build rapport with them, because many times they are thinking “Is this the type of person I’d want to work with?” and “Are they a good fit for our corporate culture?”  Building rapport takes time, so this is difficult to do at the career fair booths because of the long lines and time constraints.  Therefore, try to do this at the corporate receptions, lunch meetings, dinners, etc.  If you are at the career fair booth during a slow time, feel free to take your time with the recruiters to build rapport.  Also, don’t hesitate to check back on your top companies to see if the lines have died down and ask the reps how they are doing.  As long as you don’t overdo it (see tip #10 below), you will be more memorable and they’ll know that you are truly interested in the company.

9) Ask for an Interview – As I mentioned earlier, many companies will keep a small number of interview slots open for high potential candidates that they meet at the conference.  I specifically asked for an interview for the majority of the on-site interviews I received at the conference in 2004.  As a speaker at a breakout session at a NSHMBA Conference, I once mentioned the fact about interview slots and my success in directly asking for interviews, and the results proved to be disastrous.  I had a couple of candidates come up to me at the career fair and, before even introducing themselves, directly asked me for an interview slot.  I naturally told them no.  They missed the basic point that these are reserved for high-potential candidates, so just asking for an interview without an elevator pitch (tip #5) or building rapport (tip #8) was absolutely the wrong way to go about doing it.

There are two main times when you will have an opportunity to ask for an interview.  The first one is at the career fair AFTER you’ve given your elevator pitch and AFTER the representative seems to be done with the conversation (see tip #10 below).  If they have not offered to interview you on-site by this point, you can then state your great interest in working for the company and the desire to be interviewed should they have any slots open.  If they do not, ask them at least for an invitation to their corporate reception (if it is not public).

The second opportunity is at a corporate reception AFTER you’ve built rapport with a representative.  If things seem to be going well, once again, express your desire to be part of the company and ask if they have any open slots for you to interview at the conference.  If things do NOT seem to be going well, try to move on to another representative and repeat the process.  You will have greater success getting an interview slot with someone you’ve made a positive connection with, but if you ask prematurely, you may have used up your options.  Be selective about when you ask.

10) Observe visual and verbal cues – When speaking to a recruiter, don’t be oblivious to visual/verbal cues that your time is up.  Representatives are there to network and meet as many high potential candidates as possible, so don’t monopolize their time.  Take enough time to build rapport (tip #8), but if there is a line forming or you see the representative fidgeting/looking around/checking their watch, etc., it’s time to move on.  This is especially true if they directly tell you that they have to speak to other candidates.  I’ve had candidates take up an inordinate amount of my time, and trying to be direct without being rude, I have told them that I need to move on.  They have literally refused to let me go because they have one or two more things they want to say.  That certainly does not leave a positive impression.  Thank the representative for their time, ask them if it is ok if you can contact them for questions and/or advice, then move on to do some more networking of your own.

11) Network with your peers – your peers and colleagues are a valuable resource at the conference, so don’t overlook them.  They may have heard about an opportunity that is not of interest to them, but may be of interest to you.  When I was an MBA student at one of these conferences, I met someone who knew someone who was an intern at P&G in Puerto Rico.  I asked them to point her out to me, I met with her and talked about her experiences, and she connected me with the recruiter that hired her the previous summer.  I followed up with that recruiter and ultimately landed a position at P&G in Puerto Rico.  One of the many advantages of being at a conference versus applying for positions online is the sheer number of people you can meet in person.  Take advantage of this available network and don’t forget that networking is a two-way street.  Pass along information and opportunities to others that may benefit.

12) Don’t get discouraged – I had a professional career recruiter (not associated with any company), look at my resume and tell me that I would have a tough time finding another marketing position since I had relatively little marketing experience (even though it was with P&G) compared to my technical experience.  I had a total of seven interviews at the conference and turned down two requests for fly-back interviews since I was crisscrossing the country interviewing at my top five companies (all for marketing positions).  Needless to say, she was completely off the mark.  Stay focused and stay positive.  It is not as hard as you would think to set yourself apart from thousands of other candidates.  Little things go a long way to make you memorable to the recruiters who are there to hire top talent.  If you are truly excited about the opportunity and the company, that comes across and you will achieve your goals if you are qualified for what you are seeking.

Feel free to leave any questions or feedback in the comments section below.  For a more rapid response, you can ping your questions through Twitter to @Rich_Velazquez and I’d be happy to address them for everyone to benefit.

For those seeking a new career opportunity at the 2012 NSHMBA National Career Conference or any other career fair, I wish you the best of luck.


SXSW 2012: A First-Timer’s Perspective

PepsiCo Central Lounge at SXSW Austin, TX: This year I made the pilgrimage to the annual expo known as South by South West (SXSW).  As one of the Executive leads of Equipment Innovation at PepsiCo, I was there to showcase examples of innovation in marketing equipment, specifically our Smart Digital Cooler and Social Vending Machine concepts.  PepsiCo is a platinum sponsor of SXSW, so we had a large corner of the Austin Convention center dedicated as Pepsi Central, with our digital marketing equipment, the Zeitgeist, and Pepsi Central Digital Message Board.

In addition to working, I was able to enjoy panels, sessions, and parties at SXSW.  It was definitely an interesting and memorable experience, and here are a few of my observations about the event.


Fortunately, I arrived on Thursday and checked in early for my badge.  My total wait time was less than 10 minutes as I waited in the ‘Platinum Sponsors’ lounge for my badge to be printed.  Folks on Friday were not as fortunate.  The line wrapped around the entire convention center, twice.  There was roughly a 2+ hour wait for attendees to get their badges.  For a conference that has a huge interactive component to it, I would have expected a much more efficient registration process.  They might want to take a page out of the book of CES and consider mailing out badges ahead of the conference.  For badges that cost $400 – $1,000, that would be a comparatively small incremental cost for a significantly improved user registration experience.

Panels and Keynotes:

The sheer number of panels was a bit overwhelming.  The first time I went to the SXSW website to investigate the panels which I was interested in attending, I selected a dozen from the list, before I realized they all occurred simultaneously.  You have to plan well ahead of time to see the panels that are of most interest to you, especially since the panels are spread across Austin.  Fortunately, the SXSW organizers had great apps for both iPad and Windows Phone 7, which helped tremendously in discovering and scheduling panels of interest.  I had an interesting conversation with someone I reconnected with at SXSW.  She mentioned the she and her husband no longer go to panels because they get well-recognized folks who don’t prepare, and since the moderators are talking to well-known figures, they don’t prepare either.  That was an interesting perspective that I actually experienced on one of the panels, but I wouldn’t say it was the norm. 

WP_001427 I plan to write about some of the panels and keynotes I attended on a separate blog post.  In the meantime, I’ll just say that I was impressed with the list of individuals that were tapped to speak at SXSW.  The sessions I was treated to included appearances by Biz Stone (founder of Twitter), Bing Gordon (EA legend), Al Gore, Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame), Andy Cohen (Bravo), and others.


WP_001530 There was certainly no lack of evening events at SXSW with many sponsoring and non-sponsoring organizations hosting some impressive soirees.  I attended two hosted by PepsiCo (one with and the other with Star Wars and Brisk).  I also attended the Tweethouse Tweetup and a few others.  I’ll say that most were really not my scene (large mosh-pits of music where it’s really impossible to talk to anyone).  The Tweetup had a good music act but also the opportunity to converse with attendees and was held in an interesting spot (Lance Armstrong’s Bike Shop).  Easily my favorite was the Brisk Bodega sponsored by PepsiCo and Lucas and featuring Star Wars artwork and Brisk Star Wars TV Spots.  They had a great DJ playing the bottom floor, but also an open-air upper level allowing you to connect with attendees.


WP_001473 Unfortunately, my only experience with SXSW film screenings was just how hard it was to get into them.  I only tried to get into two, and the lines literally wrapped around the block.  It’s a shame because there seemed to be a really good selection of films there, but I no longer have the time or patience to form a queue two hours in advance of a film.  I ended up just taking pictures of the film posters to remind myself of the ones I wanted to see eventually.  One of those films was ‘The Hunter’ with William Dafoe.  Scheduling didn’t work out, but when I got home this weekend, I noticed on my Xbox 360 Zune Video Marketplace that I could actually watch the film before it hits theaters.  Sometimes it’s just worth paying for stuff.

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Video Games – A Child’s Friend or Foe?

Doom Having worked in the video game industry for many years, I’ve been exposed to a wide swath of individuals that brand video games as detrimental to children and claim these games promote violence.  I grew up with video games – from Pacman on the Atari 2600 through the PC revolution with Sierra games like King’s Quest and more hardcore fare such as Castle Wolfenstein and Doom – and shared these gaming experiences with my family and friends.  I generally tend to disregard the doomsday scenarios about video games and attribute them to the over-protective instincts of parents and orthodox religious groups.  After all, my brothers and friends and I all turned out to be relatively well-adjusted individuals with no criminal records, so obviously the fears are overblown.  A recent event in our apartment made me start questioning my beliefs and “I couldn’t help but wonder” (*wink to my wife), are video games a child’s friend or foe?

Sonic Free Rider My wife and I invited a friend and her two young boys over for breakfast (to protect the innocent, I’ll call her Ribbon and her two boys Abel and George).  With childhood exuberance, Abel discovered my stash of Xbox 360 games and naturally wanted to play.  We first started off playing Sonic Riders for Kinect, or, I should say, he started off by showing me how to play Sonic.  As a Kinect video game, there are no controllers required and the game involves the child pretending to skate through an imaginary world (harmless enough).

children-reading-books-ny10x9 During breakfast, we had a philosophical discussion about video games and books, and their respective merits and limitations.  What many people may not realize is that video games teach kids crucial skills and lessons that cannot be learned from a book.  Books are great to learn vocabulary and grammar and to spur the imagination.  However, their greatest limitation is that they are completely linear and the reader cannot affect the outcome of the book (with the exception of those Choose-your-own-Adventure books I grew up with).

Video games, on the other hand, are completely dependant on the user’s actions because it impacts the narrative and the outcome of the game.  Kids can learn some very useful skills, such as collaboration, strategy, improvisation, logic, and deduction (depending on the type of game, of course).  Additionally, I’ve read about some studies that show that surgeons with video game experience excel beyond surgeons without this experience because of the improved hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and reflexes developed through video gaming (I really need to start documenting things I read so that I can reference them appropriately).

lego-star-wars-the-gameAfter breakfast, Abel continued his search and uncovered Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga.  Now Ribbon wanted to make sure that Abel wasn’t exposed to any violent or shooter type games
(such as Halo, Gears of War, Oblivion, and dozens of other games in my collection).  Lego Star Wars seemed harmless enough.  After all, it’s designed for this age group.  So I popped it into the Xbox and we got started.

halo_reach_controller_final Abel had never used a dual-analog game controller before (he’d only used the Wiimote and Kinect), so I was astounded at how quickly he learned to navigate his character on screen, jump, and wield his light saber with the Xbox 360 controller.  According to Ribbon, he thought the controller was only used for starting a movie as he hadn’t gamed with it before.  In any case, he got into the game with gusto.  He began to dispatch the enemies at a phenomenal rate, with just a swipe or two of his light saber.  This is where the transformation occurred that prompted me to write this blog post.  Once he was fresh out of enemies, and with no one left to dispatch, he turned on me and his other in-game companions, whacking away until we were nothing but little Lego bits.  And even though I spent years playing on a controller, in just the few minutes of playing the game, he was able to kill my character twice before I could get away.

At this point Ribbon intervened and told him that if he killed his friends, he couldn’t play anymore.  That was sufficient for him to hold his light saber at bay for the rest of the game, although I could still see how antsy he got when there was nothing left to dispatch on screen.  When we finished a level, he asked to make sure that the next level had as many enemies as possible.

This all prompted me to start questioning my long-held beliefs about video games. What had turned this mild-mannered, well behaved child into this feral, single-minded killing machine?  Did exposing him to Lego Star Wars the video game open the door to the Dark Side in this youngster?  Do video games really teach kids to be violent, no matter how innocuous the game may seem?

I pondered this for over a week before I decided to write this post.  After a lot of reflection, I began to surmise that it wasn’t the video game that caused this reaction, but some kind of baser instinct that emerged when he was given the power to be destructive.  After all, if you give most little boys a stick, they will wield it like a sword and hack away at anything in sight.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with a stick.  Similarly with Lego Star Wars, there’s no instruction nor incentive for anyone to attack their own teammate (aside from the cool animation of seeing the characters fall apart into little Lego pieces).  So does the act of turning on your friends with a sword reflect upon the game or the individual?  Do we keep the stick away from the child for fear of how they will put it to use, or teach them how to use that stick responsibly?

As a gross generalization, I’ll hypothesize that if I put a young girl in the place of Abel in this situation, the outcome would’ve been completely different.  She probably would have wanted to explore the world in a collaborative manner versus trying to destroy everything in sight.  If this is true, his reaction could be attributed to an inherent difference between the sexes that one can evidently see when little boys and girls play with the same physical toys, or their predisposition to select certain toys over others.

So, if the hypothesis holds and the video game is just a tool that can be used for good or ill depending on the individual, the next logical question is – is it a good thing or a bad thing to give children access to these tools?  Does a violent video game (or even a non-violent one) lead to violent behavior, or is it a useful outlet for these natural tendencies?  If not video games, do these behaviors come out in other ways, for example, schoolyard bullying, screaming sessions, animal abuse?  I don’t have the answers, but I would love to see a study of child bullies and how that correlates with exposure to video games.  If they let it out in a game, can we prevent it from coming out towards others at school or does it exacerbate the situation?  I know as an adult it’s a great outlet to kick back with Gears of War in Horde mode and slaughter wave after wave of enemy monsters.  How does that translate in a less-developed and more impressionable mind? 

Mazes and Monsters VHS CoverA lot of these issues and questions remind me about Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in the early 1980s.  I would contend that the D&D role-playing game probably best captures the benefits of both books and video games (the strategic thinking and improvisation skills coupled with the tons or reading required to learn and master the system).  And yet, I still vividly remember the fear-mongering that occurred in that time period as parent groups and religious organizations decried D&D as a cult that had negative psychological consequences on players, especially children.  I played D&D and was even a Dungeon Master, and recall how my very religious half-sister tried to convince my mother that we shouldn’t play the game because it promoted Satanism.  This hysteria was best captured by a made-for-TV movie Community Dungeons and Dragons Episodewith a young Tom Hanks called “Mazes and Monsters”.  It seems after 30 years, the hoopla has died down, and D&D role-playing was fondly featured in VH1’s ‘I Love the 80’s’ (skip to 4:21 in the video) and more accurately portrayed in a recent episode of the TV series “Community” entitled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons“. (Read a very good article on this great episode by clicking here).

I predict that in the next 10-20 years, the hoopla around the perils of video gaming will also simmer down as a new culprit for childhood depravation emerges (holographic immersion or direct synaptic connections anyone?).  There will still be parents that will judiciously decide if and what games their children can play, and I believe that it is a good thing.  Since I don’t have children, I would love to hear any stories from others about how video games have impacted their children, whether positively or negatively.  Ultimately, the answer to the titular question, like most things, is probably “it depends on the child and the game”.

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Emerald City Comicon 2011 Highlights

The first Comic Book Convention I attended was the 2010 San Diego Comicon.  I was there to help announce the Xbox 360 Halo Reach Special Edition console, which I drove as the Global Product Manager at Microsoft.  It was an interesting experience to say the least, and I did get to attend a Smallville panel (my favorite show), for their last season.  So when my wife (of all people) told me that Seattle has its own Comic Convention called Emerald City Comicon, I decided it would be an interesting way to spend the weekend.

IMG_1025 I arrived well before the 10am start time to purchase my tickets, spending just under two hours in line.  My first picture opportunity came in that line with a group of Star Wars Stormtroopers and a decent Obi-wan Kenobi cosplayer.  After getting in and walking the main floor, I quickly realized that this was quite the different convention than San Diego Comicon.  First off, it was actually truly a Comic Book Convention.  The majority of the booths on the main floor were for comic book stores, whereas the San Diego Comicon has been taken over by lots of different media, including TV, movies, and videogames.  After trolling the floor for a bit and marveling at the $400 classic Transformers figures (and being bummed out that I don’t have my childhood Transformers anymore), I decided to spend most of the day attending the panel sessions.

The first panel was the “Skewed and Reviewed” Movie panel by Gareth von Kallenbach.  Essentially it was an hour of Mr. Gareth dishing out confirmed (?) rumors about upcoming movies.  Some of the newsbites that Mr. Kallenbach announced that most caught my attention:

  • According to 20th Century Fox, X-Files 3 is in the writing stage.  The main plot revolves around the pivotal date December 12, which Mr. Kallenbach says was a major part of the fiction of the TV series.  The movie is tentatively titled “X-Files: End Game”.
  • Elizabeth Hurley is slated to play a villian on the new Wonder Woman television series.
  • Paramount Studios authorized $175M for the Star Trek movie sequel to J.J. Abrams without ever reading a script.
  • Robert Downey Jr. and John Favreau don’t like each other.  Because of this dislike, Mr. Favreau will not be involved in Iron Man 3.  Additionally, when Downey Jr. found out Mr. Favreau was involved in Cowboys vs. Aliens, he turned down the part which later went to Daniel Craig.

IMG_1039 At the end of this panel I received a pass for two to see a pre-screening of Battlefield: LA.  After getting this pass, I went to the main room in 4A for 5 straight panels.  First up was a panel on The Guild with Felicia Day, Wesley Wheaton, and Amy Okuda.  The banter between the three was some of the most enjoyable of all the panels that day.  Asked if it was difficult to audition in Hollywood being Asian, Ms. Okuda mentioned that she finds it easier since there are not that many Asian actresses to compete with as opposed to the glut of blonde Caucasian women.  Mr. Wheaton, who I’ll admit I loathed as the character Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, did a great job on the panel and had me switching my tune by the end.

IMG_1040 I stayed on afterwards to watch the Fringe panel.  I must admit, I had never heard of this particular Fox show, but since I was able to get a front row seat, I didn’t want to give it up as I was looking forward to the Frakes/Spiner panel.  As I tweeted about the Fringe panel, I started to get some fans sending me information about the show, peaking my interest.  Since I was a big fan of the X-Files growing up, this seems like a show I’d enjoy.  The panelists were show stars John Noble (Walter Bishop) and Jasika Nicole (Astrid Farnsworth). 

IMG_1045 The Jonathan Frakes (William Riker) and Brent Spiner (Data) panel was definitely a treat, kicked off by Mr. Spiner impersonating Patrick Stewart.  It was moderated by a local radio host BJ, who apparently did an excellent job moderating the panel on Friday and was therefore invited by Frakes to moderate this panel.  Unfortunately, he didn’t do a stellar job at this panel.  At one point he started talking about Mr. Spiner’s recent colonoscopy posts on twitter, and started sharing his own rectal exam stories, prompting the audience to shout to him to move on and take audience questions.  To his credit, he immediately opened the floor to questions.  One unexpected tales from Mr. Spiner was his admission that he remembered a certain episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation because it was on his birthday and he was suffering from a shingles outbreak.  As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating”.

The next panel was for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including show stars James Marsters (Spike), Nicholas Brendon (Xander), and Clare Kramer (Glory).  My older brother was a huge fan of this show.  I’ll admit I know about it and have seen the random episode here or there, but never truly followed it.  I tried to remedy that by starting the series from Season 1 on Netflix, but didn’t get very far.  In any case, James Marsters played Braniac on my ultimate favorite TV show Smallville, so it was still worth sticking around. 

IMG_1052 The final panel I attended was “Spotlight on William Shatner”.  This was a self-moderated solo appearance by Mr. Shatner.  He started off taking questions immediately from the audience, and took an average of 5-7 minutes answering each question.  At one point he became so engrossed in his own story that he completely forgot the question he was answering.  Nevertheless, he made a strong connection with the crowd and kept us entertained with his stories.  My favorite story came when he was talking about his disappointment with the Star Trek Generations movie and the need to kill of the Captain Kirk character.  They originally filmed him being shot in the back.  Thinking that Captain Kirk deserved a more heroic ending, they re-filmed this to have him die by a bridge scaffolding falling on him.  Here he discussed coming up with his favorite line ever… With all the years of hearing “Captain on the Bridge”, he wanted to say “Bridge on the Captain”.  For obvious reasons, it wasn’t approved and the line was cut.

The rest of the show I spent walking the main floor and capturing some of the great costumes worn by the dedicated attendees.  I leave off with some highlights from what I was able to capture.

IMG_1106IMG_1063 IMG_1124




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1994 SAE Mini Baja East in Quebec, Canada

First I get a tweet from a current member of the Cooper Union Motorsports team the same day I find my old presentation slides from my senior project in 1994.  A week later I find the negatives for the pictures taken during the 1994 SAE Mini Baja East competition AND an old school newsletter with details about the competition.  Uncanny.  Seems like the story wants to be told 🙂

In my previous posting on the Mini Baja competition, I described the design and construction of the “dune buggy” for my Mechanical Engineering senior design project.  Now that I found the pictures of the actual competition, I’ll talk separately about the actual competition weekend.

PIC_0044 It came down to the wire, but on May 26, 1994, I rented a Ryder truck and packed up the official Cooper Union Mini Baja vehicle in the back, along with the few tools and equipment we had. George was going to join us in Canada, but his mother didn’t want him driving the whole way up there, so she bought him a plane ticket. She was also nice enough to by my younger brother, Jiovanie, a ticket as well, since this now meant that I had to drive the whole way on my own. My college girlfriend joined in the trip, so Abdel volunteered to be buckled into the Baja vehicle for the long journey up to Montreal. At Canadian customs, the officer asked me if I had anything to declare. I told him that I had a friend strapped down in the back of the truck. He just waved me through, and that was officially my first time out of the country (of course, Puerto Rico doesn’t count since it’s a US Commonwealth).

PIC_0053 We realized that we were small fish immediately upon arriving at the event in Quebec. While it was just the four of us there (me, Jiovanie, Abdel, and George), many of the other teams were twenty students strong (or greater), had custom trailers, and a list of sponsors that would make NASCAR drivers envious. I heard talk of $20,000 budgets, an order of magnitude greater than what I had to work with. I still remember the first time we pulled the Mini-Baja out of the trailer. Across from us was a team from Stonybrook (if I recall correctly). They had a ramp for their car and 4-6 people to push the vehicle out of the trailer. My friend Abby and I watched them unload. When they were done, we each grabbed an end and lifted our car out of the U-Haul truck and plopped it onto the ground. The team across the way were completely amazed at how light our vehicle was. I guess it was a good thing that the budget was so scarce – it helped to build a bare-bones vehicle. I ended up working with one of those guys from Stonybrook at Honda R&D in Ohio just a year later.









PIC_0056Before any racing could take place, we had to go through a whole series of design and safety inspections.  We pretty much nailed the safety inspections with the exception of the rear propeller guard.  I had a just put a temporary makeshift chicken-wire cage around the propeller, but it didn’t meet safety requirements.  Jiovanie set about modifying and building a custom cage for the propeller that was more structurally sound and helped us pass the inspection.  The safety/design judge was nice enough to give us some pointers, given that this was our first time in an SAE competition.  His first comment was that the front wheels were too small (something I was completely aware of, but decided to go with the left over wheels from the previous attempt to save money).PIC_0058

We had a tough time with our engine throughout the first day.  We were only able to enter two of the driving events.  We had to call over one of the Briggs and Stratton representatives to check out our engine for us.  This was the engine that was delivered the previous year and was not opened or used until this event.  After inspecting the engine, the Briggs and Stratton representatives told us we had a defective engine and they would get us a replacement.  Unfortunately, the vehicle wasn’t really designed for a quick engine replacement, so we had to withdraw from the rest of the events, including the all day endurance race the next day.  It was pretty ironic that the one part of the vehicle that we didn’t design or build and that we weren’t allowed to modify was the thing that kept us from competing fully in the event.  In the end, we ended up placing 39th out of 55 registered teams.  This was thanks to the two events in which we were able to compete and my design report.

1994 SAE Mini Baja Side Trip While we didn’t place anywhere near the top, at least we weren’t in last place, and we were the smallest team that I saw at the event. We did have a load of fun at the event, and after it was all over, we all went horseback riding to blow off steam. The following year, as a graduate student at Cooper, we had two teams enter the competition, and I served as an advisor. This event was directly responsible for my first career after getting my Mechanical Engineering degree from Cooper Union – an Automotive Body Design Engineer for Honda R&D near Columbus, Ohio. I also later went on to serve as the Chair of the 1997 SAE Midwest Mini Baja Competition held in Ohio.


1994 SAE Mini Baja East Competition from Cooper Union

Yesterday I received a tweet from a member of the Cooper Union Motorsports team seeking sponsorship for an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Student Competition.  The timing was uncanny as I literally just found the slides that I developed back in 1994 for my Senior Project presentation for the very first ever Cooper Union entry into an SAE competition, the 1994 SAE Mini Baja East competition in Mont Saint Saveur, Quebec, Canada from May 27-29.   I also just purchased a slide-scanning machine, so I can recount and share some of the pictures from that amazing experience which set the stage for my future career in automotive design.  (Long post ahead).

It all began with a dream and a failure, the trust of a Dean, the abandonment of classmates, and the help of friends and family.  More than a decade and a half later, it continues with a fully-fledged program at my Alma mater.

001Let’s start with the dream and the failure.  While my Mini Baja entry in 1994 was the first vehicle entry ever by a student from the Cooper Union for the SAE Collegiate Design Series, it was not the first attempt.  That would be credited to a group of seniors in the class of 1993.  I attended a senior project and/or SAE presentation from these seniors, who described the SAE Mini Baja and the competition which was to be held in Orlando, Florida.  I was inspired!  I decided right then and there that this would also be my senior project the following year, not only because the thought of building an all-terrain, amphibious vehicle was captivating, but also because it would result in a paid trip to Florida (which at that time I had never seen).  My dream was firmly established.  Unfortunately for Cooper Union, those particular seniors never got passed the procurement and preliminary design phase.  They ordered a bunch of parts, even purchased a Cushman 3-wheel traffic police vehicle, started on an aluminum frame design, and ended it with a partially constructed skeleton which was extremely fragile.  A colossal failure to say the least.

PIC_0015This is where the trust of a Dean comes in.  The failure of my  predecessors made it a challenge for me to get this program approved as my senior project.  The first thing I needed to do was to secure funding.  I knew that the team from the previous year had received funding from the Dean of the Engineering School.  I estimated that I would need about $2,000 for the entire project.  I put a full proposal together and proposed the program to my Senior Thesis Advisor, Professor Wei.  With his approval, I set up some time with Dean Eleanor Baum of the Engineering School to present to her my proposal.  In the middle of my presentation, she stopped me.  She said she had received a similar pitch the prior year by senior students and nothing came of it, so she had only one question for me… Can I do it?  I looked at her and responded, “Yes, I can do this”.  That was it.  She approved my $2,000 budget.  She took me at my word and I didn’t even have to finish the presentation.

PIC_0005 Enthused, my next step was to recruit some classmates for this project.  My first choice was my best friend at Cooper, George T.  As a senior, I took over as President of the SAE Cooper Union Student Chapter, so as one of the first meetings, I presented this as a senior project and recruited two more students to be part of the team, R.R. and S.S. (their real initials, but I won’t use their full names).  Unfortunately, over the course of the year, they dropped off of the team without making any contributions.  Even George had to relegate himself to small contributions as the academic work in our senior year was excruciating and he was struggling.  Of course, I had the same workload, but I was the one who gave Dean Baum my word that I could pull this off, so I ended up working unbelievable hours to complete the design and construction phases (as noted from the construction pictures, I’m the only one in any of them).  This is where my family and friends stepped in.  My father, Vidal Velazquez Sr., my brother, Jiovanie Velazquez, and my friend, Abdel Jerez essentially took over the roles of my teammates, and with their help, we were able to complete construction of the vehicle in team for the competition in Quebec (which, by the way, I was pretty disappointed to find out that I’d be traveling to Canada instead of Florida for the 1994 competition).

002_b But, that’s jumping ahead.  I first went about designing the vehicle using the CAD (Computer Aided Design) package available at Cooper at the time.  I designed the entire frame of the vehicle, as well as the dual A-arm front suspension system.  For timing and simplicity, I used a solid rear axle design with no rear suspension (the rear tires had enough give to absorb a lot of the shocks encountered at the event).  003_bAdditionally, while it was not the most innovative design in the world, I felt this would be a structurally strong design with minimum construction time.  Much of the design was informed by the requirements of the competition, which provided minimum requirements for safety, such as the height of the rollcage, the height of the side impact protection, the size of the Briggs and Stratton 8HP engine, etc.  I will admit one flaw in my design was the oversized rollcage height, which was a result of erroneously measuring the minimum rollcage height from the top of the side impact beam instead of the base of the seat.  But, better more height than less, so I kept the taller design.

PIC_0026George and I then used the ADAMS (Advanced Dynamic Analysis of Mechanical Systems) software in Professor Wei’s robotics lab to simulate the conditions that would be encountered in the race.  The entire first semester was devoted to the design and analysis of the vehicle, and the completion of the design report for the competition.  With that completed in the first semester, the second semester was devoted to the construction of the vehicle.  At this point, I had to take stock of all of the equipment left over from the 1993 attempt and see what I could salvage given my small budget.  I had the Briggs and Stratton 8HP engine, which had never come out of its box.  I had rear wheels and front wheels (the front wheels were lawnmower wheels and not 005ideally suited for the clearances I would need, but I didn’t have the budget to get better wheels, so I worked with them.  I also had some additional components such as a steering wheel, brake cylinders and tie rods.  I had a lot of the safety equipment that were competition requirements, such as the fire extinguisher, orange flag, helmet, gloves, five-point safety harness, and life vest.  A full list of the recycled parts can be seen to the right in the slide taken from my senior project presentation.  A life vest is required due to the unique nature of the SAE Mini Baja East competition.  The vehicles had to be PIC_0014designed to float as part of the obstacle course was to navigate through a deep lake.  I went with a flotation foam design under the entire vehicle and with wings to achieve flotation (the blue flotation billet in the picture above).  In retrospect, had I a better understanding of everything that I would need for the competition and what had already been purchased, I would have requested significantly more money.  I had to make some serious design concessions to stay within budget, but that was a good lesson for my future career.

PIC_0006 These parts were stored in an abandoned gas station that the Cooper Union happened to own at the time.  I had hoped to use that gas station as my workshop, but unfortunately, the Cooper Union was about to sell that property, so I had to get all of the equipment out.  I found a small room in the basement of the Hewitt Building (which no longer exists), near the PIC_0012 makeshift workout room.  I began ordering parts and equipment, starting with the square and round stock steel tubes (high strength yet light steel) that were part of my design.  I was able to use the Sculpture Shop in the School of Architecture to construct the main frame.  The rollcage was round steel tubes that I bent into the required shape.  The PIC_0029main body of the vehicle was constructed from square steel stock for ease of construction and assembly.  I used the mig welder, also in the Sculpture Shop, to complete the vehicle frame.  While the Sculpture Shop was a great resource, there were too many demands from other students on this, so I had to buy a separate mig welder to make sure I was able to complete this project on time.  I stored this in the Hewitt building and worked out of the basement for a while, mainly to construct the smaller components.

PIC_0025 I also put our Machine Shop in the engineering building to good use, mainly for the precision drilling and cutting of components needed for the front dual A-arm suspension.  For these I used a heavier gauge steel and custom designed the bushings from the same stock.  As part of my senior design presentation, I added a bit of humor by showing me supposedly bending the A-arms into their proper shape with my bare hands.  Even more humorous by today’s standards would be the Motorola beeper on my belt 🙂

PIC_0035 PIC_0034

PIC_0019_b By the end of the semester, I had completed the majority of the work on the vehicle.  The frame and suspension system was completely constructed and assembled, I could get all four tires on and have a seat in the vehicle.  However, there was still a lot of work to be done.  The slide at right shows what was left to complete after my final presentation for my Senior Design Project and during graduation.  When school was closed, I had to get what was remaining of the car to my house in Brooklyn for final completion before the competition in Montreal.  To get the vehicle home, I mounted the fixed rear axle, attached the rear tires, and hooked the Mini Baja vehicle to the back of my car and towed it all the way to Brooklyn from Cooper Union.  My father had to rewire the house to get the appropriate current for the mig welder to complete the rest of the work.  My brother Jiovanie and friend Abdel also stepped up their help at this stage to get the vehicle completed in time.PIC_0004

Progress was rapid over the next few days with their help.  We finally got the engine mounted and hooked up and were ready for a test drive.  We had a bit of trouble figuring out the operation of the engine.  Abdel volunteered to be the first to test drive the car, but it would just putter and die.  All of a sudden, out of the blue, it just kicked in and took off down a street in Brooklyn.  Jiovanie and I ran after it because we PIC_0027hadn’t installed the brakes at that point.  Abby had a thrilling first ride in the car and let up enough on the gas for us to catch up and bring it to a halt before he reached the intersection.  Tragedy averted.

At this stage I still had not built the propulsion system for when the vehicle was in deep water.  I ended up buying a propeller with a fixed drive shaft that I then coupled to the rear fixed axle.  One of the many things we didn’t get to do before leaving for the event in Mont Saint Saveur, Montreal, was to test the vehicle in water.  There are not that many places in New York City where you can drive a vehicle into and out of the water.  I would just have to rely on my calculations and MacGyver style design implementation during the event.  One thing I didn’t realize was the the exposed propeller, by the rules, needed to be covered for protection.  During the event, Jiovanie fashioned a safety cage out of chicken wire so that we could pass inspection and compete in the event.  It worked perfectly.

Overall Costs SlideI recently found the pictures of the actual event, so I started a separate post to describe the details when we got to the competition.  That blog entry can be found at

The history of the SAE Mini Baja East series is recounted in full at SAE’s website:


Ending the Parents-only-taking-pictures-of-their-kids Syndrome

I was walking Breezy (our Golden Retriever)  in Idylwood Park in Redmond today.  The sun was out, the lake was so calm that it looked like  a giant mirror, and the reflection of the trees and clouds in the lake looked stunning.  I approached a woman who was there with her three little children, lining them up on the lake shore for what would probably turn out to be a beautiful picture.

As I walked up, I asked her if she would like to be in a picture with her kids.  “No, thank you” she responded with a smile.  So, I kept on walking, heading back home.  But almost immediately after this exchange, my mind turned to my father who passed away last year.  My father was always taking pictures of the family.  For the funeral, I began looking through my childhood pictures for shots of me and my father together.  I could not find any.  There were, of course, plenty of pictures of me and plenty of pictures of my siblings.  At my father’s funeral, I was lucky that my aunt just happened to have a picture of me and my dad (shown here).  Of the hundreds of family pictures that my father took in our lifetime, this is probably the one I treasure most.image

I then started thinking about all of the parents that I see that take pictures of their kids, but never include themselves in these family pictures (just like the woman I had just passed).  Or the ones that send Holiday greeting cards with pictures of the “family” that are in reality only a picture of their kids.  If this sounds like you, think about the friends that knew you before you had children.  They want to see you too, not just your progeny.

And take it from me, some time in the hopefully distant future, your kids are going to sift through your family pictures, ignoring the thousands of pictures of themselves, searching for the ones that you shared with them.  They’re going to be very sad indeed to find only a handful.  So if a stranger ever asks you if you want to be included in a picture with your kids, just say yes.  Or if you decide to get a family portrait for the holidays, include yourself in that photo.  You’re not doing this for yourselves, or even for your friends, but for the very kids that you obviously treasure so much.  They’ll thank you for it.

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