How did your years as a student at Stanford University impact your career?
NF: I received my Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD Degrees from Stanford University. I hugely enjoyed my student years. I found myself taking courses all over the university - in history, economics, literature and art in addition to my course work in engineering. Indeed, if I were to go back to university again, I wouldn’t study engineering but would instead do economic history.
Three life-long impacts from my student years:
When one considers any issue, going back to first principles always helps. What does the underlying theory say? Rigor in thinking that makes one keep asking why something is so, ensuring that whatever one observes must fit into a broader pattern of understanding, this to me is critical.
Some of my greatest professors were also the quietest. In a discussion one rarely heard them express a view, or they argued the opposite to whatever the majority view was. The best learning happened that way.
Learning was good for its own sake, for the simple joy of knowing or understanding something new; it didn’t need to be useful.
What did teaching at Stanford teach you?
NF: I was an occasional Lecturer and Consulting Professor at Stanford University from 1987 to 2004. I had complete autonomy to teach what I liked in the way I liked. I was fresh out of college, but never once did anyone look at what I was doing, so the responsibility for doing well or badly as a teacher was completely mine. I loved the students and was passionate about the subject. If you do something you love, you’ll do it well, so it all worked out well. I developed courses on Technology in Newly Industrializing Countries. I also came away completely convinced that any attempt by a government to determine a curriculum, or try to enforce teaching standards, was a rather foolish thing to do, certainly for any highly competitive institution.
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