Before getting into this reflection, I would just like to sincerely thank you all for such an amazing trip. To Professor Kane, Professor Doyle, Kelsey and Matt, I truly appreciate all of the work that you each did in making TechTrek West the best that it could be. Likewise, I could not have asked for a better group of students to go with: this is the most passionate, talented, and hilarious group of people that I know, and I loved every second of it.
Moving on to the field study itself, I was absolutely blown away. Along with just being insanely cool, I learned so much information and valuable life lessons from the alumni. I was also exposed to various roles and career paths that I never would have looked into had I not been a part of the program. This latter aspect, as well as its repercussions for me going forward, are what I would like to focus on for the bulk of this blog post. With that said, allow me to set the scene:
Imagine a kid raised by two business-oriented parents, each of which forming strong connections and experiences in their careers. Have him grow up in northern New Jersey, a short drive away from the biggest collection of banks in New York. Next, make him relatively good with numbers and attentive to detail. Finally, place him in a college whose business school’s default track is finance, and which even has a club solely devoted to investment banking. You can probably tell where this is going.
But then, throw him across the country and into a region completely foreign to him. Put him in a ball pit at Google, in a movie theater at AirBnB, and with a dog named Winston at Veem. Show him a vastly different approach to company culture, and occupations that don’t require grueling 80 to 100-hour work weeks.
Confronted with this alternate reality, along with significantly nicer weather, he’ll probably start to question the validity of that original track. Despite the absurd amount of networking and case competitions that he’s already been through, it just doesn’t seem to have quite the same glamour that it once did. The entire foundation of his post-graduate plan begins to waver, and in the wise words of Chinua Achebe, “things fall apart.”
So now I’m here and have no idea what to do. I can’t really articulate the feelings behind that, but here’s a picture that I think does a pretty good job:
These companies throughout our field study have not only redefined office culture and aesthetics, but also redefined what a company can be for its stakeholders: it can serve as a platform for social change (as we saw in Salesforce’s 1/1/1 model), a vehicle for empowering others (such as Sequoia and True Ventures), or even just a learning experience for those involved (like Trevor and the members of Split). Regardless of the specific intention, these organizations clearly go beyond the bounds of a rectangular building dedicated to revenue. Moreover, productivity is always an important factor, but it became apparent that the nature of one’s work does not necessarily have to be a grind. Individuals can actually come to work with a joy and passion for what they’re doing, instead of some rationalized tolerance or passive indifference. In a time when I’m constantly forcing myself to memorize responses for “why I want to work at ____ company,” such distinctions really resonated with me.
Unfortunately, though, I’m hesitant to make the immediate jump from one field to another. As much as I would have liked for TechTrek to be a kum-ba-ya moment in completely shifting my career path, I don’t think it’s as black and white of a decision. The overlaps and gray areas in this discussion are both enormous and difficult to distinguish. As a result, I figured the best way to compare them would be to weigh out their respective pros and cons as best as I can. Also, before getting into them, I really want to emphasize that these are paths I would aspire to take on (and not ones that I think I could simply walk right into). So, here we go:
Financial Services (and Probably Investment Banking If We’re Being Honest)
That thing I said I wanted to do freshmen year because it sounded cool and because every other Finance major wanted to do it as well. After beginning to learn what it actually entails, however, one aspect that really stands out to me is the hours. As an analyst at the bottom of the totem pole, much of my work would require the approval of others above me. The inefficiencies of that structure, as well as all of the changes that each superior person wants to make, could very quickly drive me up to 80-hour work weeks or more. This makes a work/life balance extremely difficult and effectively muffles company culture. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the role would be very fulfilling from a personal or external standpoint: in terms of the former, I don’t particularly have a burning desire to make Excel models or PowerPoint slides, and regarding the latter, the Veem engineer hit the nail on the head in saying that they don’t do much aside from “adding liquidity.”
On the other hand, this role is fast-paced and I would constantly be learning tons of information. Along with that, a growing number of analysts join the industry for two years and then leave, which would allow me to take those skills and meaningfully apply them elsewhere. Lastly, although not as important to me, the salary and prestige of investment banking does objectively seem to open doors down the road. I even remember Katie Bailey asking the Split team why so many founders and executives seem to have some type of background in that field. This reconciling of an unhappy two years with various potential long-term benefits is something I struggle to deal with.
The World of Tech (Both Big and Small)
That thing I never really understood or looked into because I thought it was mainly for software engineers. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Hopefully you can gather from earlier paragraphs that I now see enormous value in the business elements of technology. Yet, it certainly still has its drawbacks: first and foremost, I would probably have to start on the West Coast after graduation. The area itself is phenomenal, but the distance and time zone change would certainly make for a difficult transition. Secondly, product managers and analysts don’t seem to be appreciated as much as they are in banking. All power dynamics aside, it does cause me to question the tangible value that I could bring to these types of firms. Finally, I do feel that there would be an inherent risk in undergoing this path. On the side of big tech, Google and the like have extremely delayed recruiting timelines, meaning that I may not know where I’m working until the very end of senior year. Unlike financial services, they also don’t have as clear of a structure for moving up, which could prove challenging in the goal of progression over time. Shifting to small tech, the risk of startups is clear in less benefits, lower salary, and the underlying fear of it failing.
Conversely, I think it’s pretty clear that the work/life balance in these industries is incredible. The hours are not only much more reasonable, but also much more flexible in unusual situations. These companies are far ahead of the banks in culture as well, with vibrant offices and individuals who are genuinely happy to come in each day. In a similar vein, this passion is infectious: when the members of an organization are all aligned under one mission and set of values, the nature of that work is completely transformed (Madison Reed and its emphasis on love are an amazing example). This was true among any of the paths that we encountered, whether that be big tech, small tech, or even venture capital. At least in the short-term, then, I feel that this industry would be more fulfilling and enjoyable. When Rich Aberman explained Chase’s anger with them after a cryptocurrency blunder, and his only response was “how cool is that!”, I couldn’t help but find so much truth in that small statement.
So now I’m here, again, with questions that I still don’t really know how to answer. Is potential long-term success worth short-term unhappiness? Does the risk involved with something even matter if it makes me fulfilled? Am I actually willing to move across the country and make completely new friends? This list could go on, and I may not know the answers to them for quite some time.
But maybe that in itself, at least for me, is the point of TechTrek West. Maybe it’s not about going in ball pits or movie theaters or dogs named Winston. It may not even be about meeting alumni or seeing all of those different companies. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff was fantastic, but maybe that kid from northern New Jersey just needed to open his eyes more than anything.
This whole time at Boston College, I had been so set on a track that I didn’t fully desire or even understand. My ultimate goal was ambiguous at best and largely driven by those around me. I have no idea where I’ll end up or which path I’ll decide to pursue, but at least I know now that it’s a conversation. I know that I will be making a conscious decision for what I genuinely want to do, and that never would have been possible without this trip. For that, I am unbelievably grateful and appreciative for my time in MKTG3205.01.
Thanks for reading!