Even during the glorious snow day, I couldn’t help the withdrawals I was having from California. Spending a week in northern California is just not enough, especially if you want to work in tech. Do not let my negative/nostalgic tone fool you though: I had an incredible time visiting some of the biggest companies in the world surrounded by some of the most talented and hard-working people I have had the pleasure of meeting. I want to thank everyone that made this trip so special: Professor Kane, Professor Doyle, Kelsey, Matt, our awesome hosts, and obviously the TechTrek Class of 2018.
January 17 – February 28
When I was accepted to this class, I knew one thing for sure: I would have a class where I was genuinely interested in the material week by week. Although I found the case studies to be consistently great, the class discussion is really where the education value came in. I had never considered Apple to be a lifestyle company (even though Frank Chen classifies Apple as a hardware company). I would have never known that Google’s profitability during the dot-com boom might have saved the technology industry as a whole. It is impossible to talk about everything I have learned in the class in a short blog post, but that should tell an outsider something about the quality of this class.
However, we all realize that there was just as much education outside of the class. Like Professor Kane had said, the blog posts and presentations each week were all so thoroughly researched and expertly crafted. I have to give credit to everyone for really putting in the effort for this class on top of the hundreds of commitments that the typical high-achieving BC student has. It may have been tedious to constantly monitor Twitter to stay on top of all the tech news, but it was so worthwhile to be able to discuss current events with industry professionals.
Hell Week: The Week Before the Trip
I hate to admit that I failed to be excited about the life-changing trip that I was about to embark on the week before the trip. My week was flooded with exams, catching up on schoolwork, and preparing for the trip. By the end of the week, I just wanted one day to take a break from everything. Looking back now, I can think of this week positively. When we landed in California, I finally felt relieved. I knew we would have a whole day to enjoy for ourselves and then a relatively calm second day mixed in with some great conversation. After a stressful week at school, I felt that I was able to appreciate the trip much more.
March 3 – March 10
I remember enjoying San Francisco as a seventh grader, so I thought I would like it even more as a college sophomore. I have never been more right in my life. The city itself was beautiful, but you could tell the culture out there is way different compared to the east coast. Dave Donatelli from Oracle mentioned that there was not much job diversity in the high-skilled workforce because everybody was in the tech industry. I never found this truer until I walked around Palo Alto. Palo Alto reminds me of a nice little town back home called Red Bank where there are a bunch of restaurants, shops, and small hotels. However, in the places that you would find a mom-and-pop shop in Red Bank, you would find a startup in Palo Alto. This realization convinced me that if I really wanted to be in the center of the tech industry, I would have to consider California as a home post-graduation.
In terms of our visits, I found the smaller companies to be the most fascinating. I felt that Ouster, Veem, and Split were able to be so transparent with us because they were in such early stages and were focused on one product. We were able to learn about the growth of these companies from the C-suite executives themselves, which I think is a rare opportunity. So what happens if these companies are able to stay alive throughout the years? Thankfully, we were able to see these types of companies too. WePay had recently been acquired by JP Morgan and now had some comfort in the form of capital. Rich and Angus taught us that entrepreneurship is really not that glamorous, but is incredibly rewarding.
The last couple of days in Silicon Valley were my favorite because of our visits to Apple and Facebook. It was much more intimidating to experience Apple’s culture than it was to read about it, but I thought it was eye-opening to be able to compare Apple to an open culture like Facebook. It taught me that massively successful companies could be brought up with significantly different work environments. However, Facebook was my favorite visit of the whole trip because they convinced me that they understand their consumers better than any other company. This is something that we had discussed in class, but talking to Margaret Gould Stewart and the rest of the alumni made me understand how everything they do is feedback-driven to provide a better UX.
We all had favorite companies, but I can confidently say that we learned something from every company. The trip was so valuable because we were able to sample every type of tech company, such as the more corporate Oracle or an established company like Pivotal that many people may not have heard about. Going into the trip, I thought Sequoia would be my favorite visit, but I found talking to Christiaan at True Ventures much more engaging. Christiaan really talked about how competitive the VC world is and how investors should pitch themselves to entrepreneurs since they want to have a compatible partnership.
I had always thought of the east coast as my home after graduation, but this trip has opened me up to reconsideration. I found that the B2C companies were much more interesting workplace environments than B2B companies because B2C companies impact regular people, so their challenge is to collect as much data as possible to understand their customers. Meanwhile, B2B companies have their own struggles, such as explaining enterprise software and convincing customers that they have the perfect solution.
As grateful as I was for this trip, I cannot deny that it has caused me some confusion. Regardless, I am happy to have met so many people that I can consider friends and professionals that are willing to help me through this confusion. Our relationships have just begun and that is definitely something that I am incredibly excited about.