How To Steer Clear of Online Education Scammers

Warning of Scam

The NY Times recently busted an empire of more than 370 so-called universities which were awarding fake degrees in exchange for greenbacks. The constituent pillars- which claimed to be universities- were subtly connected and run by a single mammoth self-styled software house in Karachi, Pakistan. The customers, believing themselves to be students, came from all parts of the world. Most of the universities purported to be based in USA. The authorities in Pakistan have arrested the self-styled emperor behind the shady empire. Whether he is found guilty or not is another debate, but one thing is for sure: there are thousands of fake universities operating over the internet. How could the prospective students know if they are dealing with a real, legit university that will add some real value to their resume? The following advices will help a great deal in this respect.

Go for Established Brands:

It might appear obvious at first, but it’s not. Name a few established brands (i.e. universities) that offer online education. 9 people out of ten wouldn’t be able to come up with one. They could be forgiven for this. Distance learning or online education is a complex, rather obscure mode of learning that does not attract much attention, which makes people all the more vulnerable to scammers. However, there are actually a few established, prestigious institutions of higher education that offer quality education. Here are a few names: University of Oxford, University of London, New York University. There are hundreds more. The key to spotting these universities is that nearly all of these were established at least decades ago. The University of London, for example, was established in the nineteenth century and its graduates include even Nobel Laureates. You should know that most of these institutions did not start five years ago and started offering online education overnight. Pardon me for saying this, but there is no entrepreneurship at play here. This is education.

Go for Places like Coursera, EDx:

Platforms like Coursera and EdX are recognized globally. Coursera, for example, offers programs from hundreds of universities. You can chose to get free education or pay for the cost of the certificate, but there is no ruse involved. The universities involved in sustaining Coursera lead the world in the realm of education. These platforms don’t offer courses from ‘Stanphord’ (instead of Stanford) University. You can trust these platforms blindly.

Smelling a Rat:

If you chose to go for any other university, do this: Go through a reliable ranking of universities like USNEWS, THES or The Economist’s ranking. See if the university is listed there or not. If not, it’s best to leave it alone. However, if you do find the university listed in the ranking make sure that it’s spelled exactly the same on its own website as on the ranking list. Don’t go for ‘Hairward’ instead of ‘Harvard’. Lastly, the inclusion of the word ‘international’ does NOT make any ranking or accrediting body reliable.

A final word of advice: If any university shows willingness, initially or later on, to award you the certification without having studied for a specific duration of time, skip it.

The Art of SEO, or Daylight Robbery.

seo-company-tampaIf you have ever gone so much as near the idea of making a website of your own, you’d know what SEO is. For those of you who haven’t, it’s basically some made-up sh*t claiming to put your website in the first page of Google’s search results- That’s the nuts and bolts of it, basically. Cutting to the chase, there’s a billion dollar industry that has propped up lately claiming to do SEO for all sorts of websites. Website owners shell out thousands of dollars to these companies hoping that they’ll recoup the cost once they are on top of the world, and by world, they mean Google search results. But really?

Search engine optimization is a technique- It’s claimed by almost every SEO firm that’s out there. But the reality is that it’s nothing but a big, fat lie. It’s no technique at all, unless we equate technique with scam, because that’s what all SEO business is: an elaborate, cleverly-marketed scam by a bunch of guys, somewhere in India or some other country, playing the pied piper and making the neophyte site owners dance to their dulcet tunes of a mindboggling success just around the corner.  Let’s take a look at how this works.

The Mechanics of SEO:

Search engine optimization is a process based on algorithmic calculations done by super-fast Google processors after attaching value to certain pre-defined variables. Put simply, the engineers at Google have a mathematical formula by which they decide how to show search results. Needless to say, this formula is extremely complex, and Google does not disclose it to anyone at all. And the reason for this is simple: to prevent web owners from manipulating their way to the top of search results. When we go to Google and make a search, we expect it to show us the most relevant links. If the formula were out, the web owners could simply use it and get whatever-crap-they-have on the top, and within days, we will stop using search engines and Google will be out of business.

There is a genuine reason that Google is so jealously secretive about its formula. It has purposefully made it extremely complex, and it keeps changing it every now and then. Think of it this way: it’s the key to the country’s nuclear arsenal, and it works only if you have been able to reach the lock after typing a thousand different types of codes to the doors guarding it. It’s the question of life and death for Google. It’s the only thing that keeps the company alive. Ever used another search engine? No, why? Because their results are not what you want, and it’s because their formula is not as good as Google’s. The only reason Google lives and gets more than 98% of the internet search market is their bloody formula. It keeps them bloody alive.

Of SEO firms Now:

Where do the thousands of SEO firms fit in then against this Google’s insatiable hunger for secrecy? Well, here’s how SEO firms make fool of people. They claim that, by virtue of their experience, they have somehow discovered Google’s formula. They’ll tell you they have experimented so much that they have actually not only discovered Google’s formula but also worked it out. Yes, this is what every SEO firm, in one way or another, will tell you. There is actually a term for this claim. You know what it is? It’s infinite, absolute, utter, bloody non-sense- Yes, I just made it up and now it exists!

The claim of knowing Google’s formula is simply ludicrous for a number of reasons. To start with, Google employs more mathematicians than ten times the number of software engineers in your SEO fu*cking company. In fact, Google is the brainchild of two PHD mathematicians. By the way, do you know where they got their PHD from? It’s called Stan-fu*king-ford. And if you think that you could gang up with a couple of young computer graduates and beat the team of mathematicians that has simply revolutionized the world less by its computer techniques and more by its algorithmic formulas, go fu*king publish some papers and be in race for the Nobel Prize. There’s more money in that than doing SEO for people, and you stand a fu*cking good chance of winning it after having accomplished such a great feat. Descartes would be turning in his grave for not being able to kiss your a*s.

But why is then it such a big industry?

Yes, it’s true. SEO is a huge industry now. Billions of dollars change hands every year in this market, and universities have also put SEO on the list of their courses. The reason behind all this is not very complicated.

Your search engine ranking could be boosted by a series of small steps, which includes back-linking, on-page optimization, off-page optimization, right placement of hyperlinks, etc. If you don’t have all these things, you’ll be worse off than if you did. And here’s the catch. It assumes that you don’t have any of that. It assumes that the content on your website will still be the same, but the fact is that it won’t be after you hire an SEO company.

Yes, they’ll get somebody from Kenya or Bangladesh to write stuff for you and put it on another website to plant your backlinks, and by this, they displace the very first assumption because of which you hired them: that your site with the same material will be worth more. And now they have added to its material, more specifically, the content meant for its online marketing. But, and it’s an important but, why should you care if it works?

The Short answer: you should. Why? Because you could have done the same yourself. When you pay a marketing firm, you do it so that it could increase the worth of your brand without any corresponding increase in its value. If it increases the value, and then claims to have increased the worth it’s pretty pointless because you could have increased the value yourself. You paid them to increase the gap between the worth and the actual value, and that, in this case, will still be the same.

You could directly invest more money into increasing the value of your company. This way, you won’t have to lose the money that’ll go to the SEO firm’s profits after they have paid their writers. You can simply go on to sites like Upwork and Freelancer and get writers do some online marketing for you. Why pay a company extra bucks for that?

But if the SEO firm is itself on the top; it surely knows its stuff. No?

No. As I explained above, SEO involves a series of small steps. If a company ranks on the first page, it means merely that it has followed those steps, not that it knows the formula. And this is why it’s important: If you have been around for the past few years, you would have noticed something: the company that was on the top in 2010 is not even on the first page now. The same goes for the leading firms of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. They all had their peak times and then they disappeared. Why?

Because, contrary to what they claimed, they did not know the formula. They implemented the simple, widely-known steps and were in luck to land on the right side of Google’s formula. And after they did, they decided to make money from their lucky landing. The point is if they were really good they’d be around even now, but that’s not the case. They were there because they were lucky, not because they knew the trick. And when that luck receded, so did their businesses.

And it’s one of the reasons it becomes all the more dangerous for you to use their services. When an SEO firm goes down, so does all the work it has done. It did whatever worked for it. But when Google’s algorithm stopped being on its side, all the work it had done became worthless. In one moment, all the dollars it charged its clients stopped delivering. Do you really want to risk your thousands of dollars and then see them gone down the drain in a second?

And the University courses:

Yes they exist, and they are also there for baking and Microsoft Office. If you really need a university course to tell you how to use Microsoft Office or bake a cake, then maybe these SEO firms are for you. But the fact is that most of us don’t. SEO could be done by almost anybody by following a couple of simple small steps.

The most important element of SEO is your online popularity, often connoted in the term ‘backlinks’. And here’s the biggest trick when it comes to backlinking: if your content is really good, it wouldn’t need any backlinking at all. The readers will themselves post its links on other sites and do your SEO for free. This is how news websites always stay on the first page. Their readers are always posting their links at other places because they find their content really valuable and want other people to read it. So instead of squandering money on these firms, maybe you should start working on your content. If you rule the world of content, you don’t need to worry a thing in the world of internet. Google will always show you first. Ever wondered why Wikipedia always comes first?

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When It Comes to College Admissions, Everything’s Twisted- Even the New York Times.

universitysealsThe New York Times stooped to a new low by publishing a not-worth-a-dime item on college admissions. Sh*t, that’s not news. Not from my standards. It’s more like the NY Times sales pitch, so screw it. Let’s get to what they’ve got to say. Here is their first argument:

Peter & Jenna managed to do well even without it:

Yes, that, according to the NY times, is an argument! Even a high school kid could spot the glaring fallacy in it: That some smart kids who couldn’t get into an Ivy League school managed to do well even without it doesn’t prove that if you didn’t go there, you are well on the road to something big. It merely proves that there are some students who will find their way to the top even if they don’t have one of the hallowed brands of higher education on their CV. Is that news? Heck, no. Here’s what Harvard has got to say about its process:

Of course, no process is perfect. Inevitably, some students who are not admitted will see great success, and even with a 97 to 98 percent graduation rate, some admitted students might have been better served at another institution

So if you are one of those thousands who have been turned down by the school of your choice, I’ve got some bad news for you: you simply weren’t good enough. It’s harsh, it’s cruel, it’s heart-rending, but it’s true. And facing the truth now will save you a lot of pain later. Stay in the state of self-denial, as these popular-views-pandering paparazzi would have you do, and you’ll see all your bubbles bursting at some point in the future. And when they do, they will burst all at once, and then, all hell’s gonna break loose. And your entire life from that fateful point will be nothing but a tale, relentless and endless, of gloom and depression. Do you want that? If yes, go on and keep believing that you were good enough & Ivy League schools are stupid. But you could be another Peter or Jenna, no?

Well, yes. I am not saying that the admissions process at the top schools is fool proof. It’s not. And there will always be students who are smart, yet won’t make it. But the percentage of those students will be small. Not everybody turned down will go on to build Apple or Ali Baba. There will be a Steve Jobs somewhere in the rejected pile, but there will be only one. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that just because you haven’t been admitted means you’re good enough. So should you accept a low self-worth and live with it for the rest of your life? Well, here’s the trick.

The traditional elite would have you believe that if you went to an Ivy League school, you will do great. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t. The dissenting voices like the NY times’ would have you simply dismiss the worth of going to a good school. For this latter lobby, it’s no big deal that you didn’t attend a prestigious school. The reality is somewhat different. Actually both of these groups put you in, what philosophers call, a false dilemma, i.e. they give you wrong choices. They limit your choices and exclude many other equally strong possibilities.

The reality is that the stage of rejection is an important point in the life of any student. You can simply choose to sink into a state of denial or accept the reality. If you accept the reality, then you are left with two options: A) Buy the old school’s view and accept that you are going nowhere in life- which is surely false; B) Accept the reality that you are not good enough, spot your weaknesses, work on them and be like Peter and Jenna. And that’s possible. Human beings show very little variation in terms of intelligence. If one person could do it, there is all the likelihood in the world that you could do it too provided you take the necessary steps. Simple!

The Crap called Self-Worth:

This is an equally important part of the rejection stage. The NY Times article includes the letter of a boy whose parents told him before the acceptance/rejection intimation stage that his worth didn’t depend on the outcome of his college application. To some extent, it’s true.

The thing about self-worth and the school you attended is that your self-worth surely doesn’t depend on your college, but to the world outside, it pretty much does. Yes, the world, the real world is cruel and insensitive. You may not like to hear this, but it’s a fact. The world is very unforgiving and if you think you’ll be judged on your own strengths and not by your school name, you are damn wrong. Employers don’t give a sh*t about your realities. They need guarantees and prefer to stick with the brand names they already trust. Most employers- and by most, I do mean most– would not even give you a hearing if you didn’t attend a top tier school. You will never get the interview call, and be fu*king real, there’s hardly anything you can do that will make you stand out in a competition where everyone is trying to stand out unless you have built Facebook. And if you think you’ll be able to build it by the time you graduate from your mid-tier college, good fu*king luck!!!

My Little Suggestion:

So don’t just dismiss your rejection, slip into self-denial or start telling yourself that everyone from Harvard to Berkeley made a mistake. Take a day or two off. Then go back to your room and start analyzing. Read what was expected of you. Going through the profiles of the people who got accepted could be one good idea. Read on what SAT exams are supposed to assess. Then make a list of the skills your dream college graduates are expected to possess. After you have made these two lists, stick them to the wall in front of your study table or bed, and start working on them. Make it your target that, by the time you graduate from your mid-tier school, you’ll have mastered both the skills that you lack and the ones the ideal graduates are expected to have. And one more thing: do something alongside to spice your CV, like learning a language or winning a debating competition. This will help you stand out from the crowd. Here’s another good tip: download the resumes of some “ dream graduates” and start learning a skill that they don’t have. This will give you a small leg-up when you’d be competing against their juniors. Best wishes!

If you’d like me to write for you, simply ping me at 🙂

Business Insider’s Stupid Reporting on Walmart Closing

funnypigA Few days back, Business Insider tried its incompetent best to report Walmart’s decision to close 269 of its stores. Take a look at their crappy reporting. Here’s how the story starts:

Walmart is closing 269 stores and laying off thousands of employees.”

Here’s what it becomes a few lines later:

The company said it would try to place laid-off employees at other Walmart stores

The second line, as you can see, is meant to support the first one. It’s intended to be part of its explanation, but in reality, it comes out negating it. The two cannot stand it in the same context, unless we assume that laying off is not the same as trying to lay off. This assumption holds true normally but in this context it doesn’t. The context does not challenge that Walmart’s trying to rehire won’t hold true. In short, it’s like saying that America won’t be importing any cotton this year, and to explain this point saying that we’ll be consuming cotton and won’t be producing it ourselves. So clearly, you’ll be importing- something you denied in the very first statement.

In fact, those not possible to accommodate will only be a small number, not thousands, as initially reported.

And if you are trying to take the company’s one claim as a given, then you have to give’em another one too. This might not always be true, but in this case, you are essentially using the first given to reach a conclusion when clearly a completely different conclusion comes attached to the premise: They are clearly stating that the company would try to accommodate these employees.

Here’s what it looks like even a few lines after:

The retailer said it still planned to open more than 100 US stores in the next year

Now, naturally these employees could be accommodated here, and most probably, they’ll have a better chance at getting a job there than most of us, thanks to their experience. So what’s all the sensationalism for?

Oh yes, maybe they are trying to sell that it’s all gonna be gloomy after they shut down. Well, not really, because even if they do shut down the laid-off people could simply find a job at the neighborhood stores, who will naturally get a surge in their sales after this Walmart shark leaves their pond. There’s absolutely no reason to panic, but yes, maybe there’s. It’s for Business Insider & Walmart, because the thing for common folks like us is nobody’s gonna die if Walmart pulls its shutters down. Walmart could just go to hell, and we’d still be happy and making babies.

Maybe Business Insider needs to start doing some better journalism.

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Dreaming of a Wall Street Job? You Might Wanna Read this first.

bull-on-wall-street-for-WAMoolah, Tesla X, strippers … you name it. It has got it all, and it’s called the Wall Street. Fortunes are made here in a day, and lost in a second. It’s a place with more money than almost every country in the world’s GDP put together. The bear standing in the middle is ferocious. And what better than having a desk of your own in it? But really?

The average guy, which you’ve been told is a rich pervert driving Ferrari in the day and screwing a Playboy model in the night, actually makes somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000. If you are smart and lucky enough to have a brand name like Wharton or Harvard in your CV, you’d probably be pulling in between $100K and $150k. Yes, the upper end is for the born-to-be-winner types. Most people, which includes most financial analysts, make around $70K. Don’t like my stats? Never mind, they are not mine. Take your objections to US News, because it’s theirs. But yes, there’s some good news called performance-based bonus, which might even exceed your original salary.

The mechanics of performance-based bonus schemes is simple: you deliver more than the expected, you get paid extra. But in reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that. First, that you’d be able to deliver more than the bare minimum expected of you is not as easy as it sounds. The firms there set that standard very cleverly. They are there to make money for themselves, not to make you a billionaire. At any rate, there comes a point where the value of your work exceeds the salary you’d be getting, and they wouldn’t want you to join the guys in the next block, so they’ll give you a bit more cash, which will be your performance-based bonus. It doesn’t always make people happy though. The reason: Your bonus will actually be a fraction of the profit generated by you for the firm. Yes, you’d be the one who’d be calling all sorts of guys from filthy millionaires to an old aunt in a God-knows-where state named Nebraska. You’d be the one convincing them all to give you their money. And when they do, the firm will make money from their money, and out of this profit, you’ll be given a small pie and a pat on the back. That’s all. Your hard work, your clients, your achievements, but their cake. For you, it’s just gonna be a small piece from the cake you brought them from absolutely nowhere. And here’s the biggest trouble with this scheme.

If you are smart enough to talk people into giving you their money, the last thing you need is an employer all set to take most of it. Why not invest it yourself and cut the number of stakeholders to just you and the investor herself? If you are really smart, you’d probably never even fall for this bonus-trap, but the reality is quite different. The truth is that smart, really smart, people do fall for this trick. Why? Because of fear. Yes, this is one thing that has dominated ambitious men since day one. They get frightened, and it’s this that kills them most often. A typical line of that fearful reasoning is this: What if I am not able to get so many investors? I would even not have a job then. My God, really?

The fallacy in your skewed reasoning, my friend, is that, in the absence of any performance-based bonus, your job would be bringing you just $70,000 a year. Holy sh*t, why not turn your car into a taxi and make more than that? Why not be a weed-smoking truck-driver and make a lot more than that? Why on earth do you then have to be in this sh*tty place with a fake smile over your over-worked face all the time?

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A thing or two about MBA

MBA-1MBA, the business version of bachelor of history or master of theology, has come under a hell of flack lately. Why? There is some MBA-grad from a hard-to-spot-on-the-map country called Argentina who has written a book to deflate the ‘MBA Bubble’. What’s the name of her book, any guess? Come on, you know I can’t name it. Anyway, as you all know, I love bashing people but this time it’s not out of the desire to bust. It’s just that I have become sick and tired of this ubiquitous, endless MBA-hate-campaign that has taken off after the recession screwed the economy- by the way, it came out a real beast, man!

MBA is too general:                                                                                                           

This argument goes like this: The world has become very complex. In this complex world, MBA is too unspecific in its focus to be of any value. Since it’s of no value then, it’s rather worthless. I can’t believe I am deconstructing this sh*t, but let me please. It’s my freaking job.

First, you have to grant the premise that the modern world is pretty complex. Does it then mean that MBA has become incompatible? Hell, no! To start with, MBA is itself a goddamn product of this complex modern world. We didn’t have this degree in the last century. Sure as hell, Carnegie didn’t have it.

She may now say that maybe it was effective in the early days of the modern world but not now. News: Henry Ford didn’t have it either. In fact, the MBA bubble has taken shape only recently, i.e. in the post-modern world. That it’s a creation of the modern world and has been working well in it until very recently is ample proof that it doesn’t have any tension with modernity or Facebook. It’s just that there’s something more at work.

The Specialization Problem:
This is an even more hilarious argument: Here’s the reason: it’s MBA, Master of Business Administration, not a vocational degree. It’s really difficult to imagine that somebody would make it to any good school without even knowing what the hell this degree’s all about. If you are looking for specialization, go for MS engineering or PHD in ophthalmology. Expecting specialization from MBA is like complaining that Starbucks didn’t serve you French fries when you ordered an Espresso. It’s just not fair- to the coffee, at least!

Another thing: as an icing on the cake, and only as an icing, many MBA schools do offer some specializations now, ranging from finance to marketing. And this is  f**king better a bang than your buck. After all, if one really wanted a finance specialization she should have gone for CFA, which, by the way, hasn’t broken any bank in the recorded human history. You bargained for MBA, god damn it! Remember?

Listen, guys, MBA is by definition a generic degree. That’s why all business schools ask for work experience before they admit you. It builds, nay, builds on, your management skills. You get to live in an ultra-competitive business environment, where everyone from business leaders to academics gets to mentor you. That very setting refines your mind and makes it more business-oriented. Plus, you get to build a lot of relationships. Imagine you knew so many people in high places. But wait, somebody came here searching for specialization? Never mind.

One last thing: don’t expect a place at Goldman Sachs after a post-journalism MBA. One suggestion would be to blame your non-mathematics background instead of the program.

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