The Meaning of Life & Everything Else #BCSTT Made Me Question

Hello Tech Trekkers! I am so sorry that I missed you all last Wednesday when Uber came to visit, I missed you all so much.

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First, I want to say thank you to everyone for making this trip so great, and to Prof Doyle, Prof Kane, Kelsey, and Matt for making everything run so smoothly. The conversations and stories with each of you will be ones that I will share with the future tech trekkers when they come to visit, and they made the trip so special.

Tell the World I’m Coming Home

I have really been struggling in finding a great way to summarize my feelings and experiences from this amazing trip. When a friend would ask what I did over spring break, I struggled to explain to them that my whole perspective was changed and my future goals brought into question (no, not on Arupe or Magis) especially in a few quick sentences. How do I casually explain the existential tailspin I am in while they talk about their time laying on a beach in Mexico? I settled on an easy script to recite in order to give them some idea about how much I loved visiting tech giants and startups and spending time exploring SF with my friends, but yet it was missing what I really gained from the trip. So, in this blog post, I’m going to try and do some therapy writing, trying to express to you who understand exactly what this trip meant and how it has so fundamentally changed and energized me.

Like so many of you, I was so hesitant to give up my spring break to basically do networking. I went on Appa last year and loved it, and I was going to be an Appa TL this year. I could have spent it visiting friends abroad, spending time with family and friends back home, or just relaxing after a grueling first half of the spring semester. But, I could not have imagined a better way to spend my spring break then with all of you.

 

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The advice gained in conversations with alumni and the friendships with all of you have helped me continue to grow as a person. In my intro blog, I talked about my desire to “learn more about how [Silicon Valley] thinks differently” and I think through my experience, it’s not just about the location. All of us on Tecktrek were searching for something more than just what would be steady and profitable as a post-college career, but we really wanted to make a difference in this world. It was amazing how we reacted very similarly when companies seemed to be “selling snake oil” or had a fugazi startup culture, but when people were real and unfiltered, allowing us to rip off questions, everyone was so energized. As ironic as it sounds, the valley is really about living and acting on your values, and the company cultures seemed to be much more aligned with who I want to be than on the east coast.

Growing up, “work” was what my dad went off to every day in his suit with a briefcase (not quite the same at an Ouster). It was the reason he came back stressed some nights or had to miss my hockey games because he had to stay late. It seemed like a box that he had to check, but he did it because he loved us and work let us have the things like a house and car and food on the table. While work will always be work, on the trip I saw that it could really be something more. Many of the people loved what they did, and had such passion for the way they were shaping the world. They didn’t feel the same “soul-suck” associated with banking despite working just as many hard hours (touch on that later). It was also interesting to see the lack of a path for the people that we visited. Many had pivoted careers multiple times, or at least jumped between companies. This passion for innovation and constant improvement is not only allowed but encouraged (like we saw at Talkdesk).

The Dark & Scary Abyss

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Just like Rohan and Mike have talked about, I have struggled so much back and forth about Investment Banking as a career path. When you reach for the candy bar, the bus starts to pull away and vice versa. The fear of winding up like Spongebob, although its a cartoon, is real for me. I don’t want to get caught in the middle and left with nothing. On one hand, the draw of wealth, exit opportunities, and prestige to a 20-year-old is pretty intoxicating. I have always been competitive, and I want to go where the people who push me are, so I have worked really hard to network and find opportunities in this field. I had always just assumed I accept the soul-crushing hours like a proving ground in order to get to somewhere I want to be. However, as if by divine intervention, tech trek changed that belief right at the point that is least convenient.

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Waling up the hilly streets of San Francisco with Professor Doyle, I realized that there is no 1 easy path to where I want to go. In talking with Sophie Miller, I realized it is more the journey than the destination that you have to love. In talking with Rohan and Julia breaking down the visits of the day, I realized that I have never seen bankers come happy to work with smiles on their faces, but at scrappy startups like Ouster, Veem, or Talkdesk people seemed lively and really excited to be at work. However, I fail to totally write it off because of the people like Trevor and Kagan from Split or Kevin Kelley from Sequoia. They talked about how banking was able to give them skills that make them useful to their roles. Tech Trek is on the beginning of this questioning for me, but the seed of doubt has been planted pretty firmly.

Where I can V-See Myself in SF

I knew coming in to tech trek that I would be most excited to meet VC’s like True, Amity, and Sequoia. My cousin CJ has always been a role model for me, but when he left for California to work as a VC, I was drawn to this field because of its intrigue and people focused nature. I think the process of finding great people and supporting them to make their dreams come true, while at the same time serving LP’s who come from non-profits, universities, or charities seems like a win-win. I really want to get to this point, but now the question becomes how? Many VC’s were entrepreneurs before, some have software backgrounds. Others were teachers, product managers, bankers, CEO’s, even accountants. There is no clear path, and to my logical mind this uncertainty is scary. Why would I jump off the train I am already on to chase this dream down? Getting into VC right out of undergrad is almost unheard of. That fear of failure is in the forefront of my mind. Rich Aberman was successful at Wepay because “we had no other options”. Nick Rellas made Drizzly because “he couldn’t do anything else”. Even Prof Doyle started his company because he couldn’t get a real job. Peter Bell once said that BC doesn’t produce more great entrepreneurs because we as students are so risk-averse, we pick the safe route without fail. That safe route is real tempting, let me tell you. Being able to tell your parents and friends that you are financially stable and prestigious job is something I think all of us are looking for in some form or another.

Destiny is calling me, open up my (Eagle) eyes

Does this mean I burn the boats? Drop my Finance concentration and never talk to a bank again? Does this mean that I ignore my passion for startups and lock into an accounting externship for this summer? No. I don’t think as a 20-year-old I have to have my life figured out. It was a piece of advice that Sophie gave that really stuck with me, to “have every experience you do answer a question”. I am still recruiting for IB jobs, and think a junior year job would be really helpful in making this IB vs. Tech decision more finally. However, now I think about how I can explore this west coast side. What about asking to shadow a VC, grab coffee with them, or trying to find a startup to work for little/no pay? As long as I am growing each day, I think that Tech Trek has showed me that there really is no limit to where I (and we all) can go.

Love you all so much and this trip is not the end, but the beginning. I still don’t know what the heck I am gonna be doing in the future, and I’m no closer to understanding the meaning of life than when I left but the questions Tech Trek made me ask are the most important thing I have gotten from this trip. I will keep questioning, and try and stay on the Brightside. We are all going to make great additions to wherever we end up. See you all Wednesday!

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3 thoughts on “The Meaning of Life & Everything Else #BCSTT Made Me Question

  1. As @paulosdbc posted elsewhere online, #TechTrekChangedMe is a real thing! The struggle you’re grappling with right now is also a real thing, and it’s amazing to hear that the advice of those you met with is resonating with you. You’ve got more time than you think to decide what you want to do – and even then, you can always change your mind. Welcome back – we missed you last week!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. John, what a great conclusion to your blog. I think you verbalized well a lot of the doubts and fears we all have as we try to sort out what we want to pursue as a career. But the great thing is that 1) we don’t have to know right now and 2) it can always change. Take Sophie’s advice to heart and I know you will find the experiences and path that will get you to where you want to go. If not, change it. I look forward to seeing all your success in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I asked Katherine Hayes why she started Massive, GenArts, and Vivoom, her answer was simple: she “couldn’t not do it”. I think you captured that sentiment perfectly. We are all looking for something that we can’t turn down — something that calls on us as a profession, vocation, passion, and mission (our ikigai, if you will). That may be VC, startups, IB, or accounting… but you don’t have to know yet. I agree with your goal to continue growing incrementally each day. If you manage to keep that up, the sky is the limit. It can be incredibly difficult to veer away from the safest path to take a massive leap into the unknown, potentially leading to failure. On that note, I’d like to share a quote that might help you take that leap — as Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

    Do not fear the ramifications of taking a leap (though it’s best to be aware of them). Everyone we met on the trip stumbled in their journey. It doesn’t matter how many times they failed. What matters is that every single time they failed, they made the conscious decision to get back up and keep on trekking. After all, a ship is safest in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for.

    Liked by 1 person

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