Two months ago I was writing a blog post to introduce myself to twenty-nine strangers for a class in which I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know what AI, machine learning, or blockchain were, and I had no idea how venture capital worked beyond watching Silicon Valley on HBO.
Two weeks ago, I was a bit more familiar with these topics, but I was still full of nerves as I hopped on the bus to New York at 8:30 in the morning to depart to New York.
As the trip progressed however, I realized that I was much more prepared than I thought possible to meet with founders, executives, and dozens of BC alumni working in tech.
Before I get to all of that, I have to thank Professors Kane and Doyle, Kelsey, Rohan and Julia, and all of you for making this class possible. Tech Trek has been an extremely rewarding experience and is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve done at BC so far. I wrote in my intro blog that I hoped that this class would help me answer the question of if I wanted to pursue a career in tech. In that sense, I got much more out of Tech Trek than I expected, and the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The wide variety of companies we visited means that there’s still a lot of narrowing down to do for me, but I know for a fact that I now want to pursue a career where I can work with and continue to investigate the concepts we have covered as a class.
To begin that process of narrowing down, I suppose I should start with a few things I’ve learned so far:
- Although I’m not sure I’m ready to break out a pair of jeans, New Balance sneakers, and a hoodie for work every day, I can say that I wouldn’t mind working in an office where ties are not necessary (and even discouraged!)
- While small startups really excite me, I’m not sure I’m ready for the unpredictability of them to start my career. I really liked what Freshly’s Michael Wystrach had to say about being an entrepreneur/working for a startup in your 30s. You can learn a lot by first working for a medium-sized or large company, and then apply it to a startup or your own business if that excites you.
- Each company we visited utilizes data to inform almost every decision their business makes. The prospect of getting to work with big data to drive decision making is really exciting to me.
- I found myself most compelled by the companies that were consumer-facing. For example, I loved Lovepop’s mission of creating one billion magical moments. Having a tangible product/network that provides value for consumers be the result of all the engineering and technology behind a company seems like an amazing way to align everyone’s goals and would make me feel like my work is really meaningful. The company doesn’t have to be world-changing, but if its products can provide a little value to customers or even just brighten someone’s day, working there would be extremely fulfilling to me.
These were the most important things I learned about myself on Tech Trek, but I also learned a lot about each of the amazing companies we visited. My Dad has always told me that in every experience, I should try to take away at least one “nugget” of information – even if the experience doesn’t live up to my expectations, it’s still worthwhile if I can learn one or two nuggets.
Tech Trek far exceeded my already high expectations, so without further ado, here are my favorite nuggets from our visits:
- We are a tech company that sells furniture, not a furniture retailer that uses tech.
- It doesn’t matter what a company says to its customers anymore, it matters what the customers say about the company.
- Crowdsource from your peers when working on a difficult problem; it’s free research, and the more diverse your peers are, the better the results will be.
- It’s valuable to convey complicated information to consumers in simple ways with benchmarks for them to attain.
- There is an an advantage to taking other jobs and learning, then doing a startup at 30.
- Their products are about collaboration, not just raw storage, and they’re not meant to be full replacements for other products, they’re meant to make everything else you use (Microsoft Office, Google Drive) easier to work with.
- Organizational behavior differs greatly based on cultural differences, which made it really hard to integrate their New York offices and German factories.
- Take your work seriously, but not yourself.
- Having a why gives you stamina.
- The media has been tough on Facebook at times because Facebook is disrupting traditional media.
- JW Player
- Get over the fear of admitting that you don’t know something.
- Having a clear focus is critical: a company could try many ideas, but to execute them well, it’s more important to focus on a few bets at a time centered around your core competencies.
- Consumer facing tech companies like Spotify look at 35+ as the older audience.
- As a non-profit, they focus on meaningful and quality engagement, not just getting as many clicks and views as possible.
- Two Sigma
- West Coast tech tends to be more idealistic, and pitches often involve how the startup plans to change the entire world, whereas East Coast tech is a bit more realistic and grounded.
- There’s plenty of data available, but the biggest problem is structuring, organizing, and labeling it all.
- Innovation isn’t about the idea – anyone can have an idea, it’s about who will have the discipline and ability to execute the idea.
- There’s value in the connectors, the people who can connect the technology a company works with/creates to the business and the customer.
- Reinvent yourself every year.
- Fintech Panel
- Tech is beginning to center around human capital in cities like New York and Boston where industry expertise is available that does not exist elsewhere.
- Google/Sophie Miller
- Find a company that values people and values you specifically.
- It doesn’t have to be difficult to work with people from a more technical background than your own, just be comfortable being honest about the things you don’t know and asking questions.
- Goldman Sachs
- Build up a tolerance for uncertainty and chaos, and roll with the punches.
- Prioritize your work and don’t worry too much about each failure, just worry about learning.
- Step back quarterly and ask, “Am I learning? Am I having fun?” If the answer is yes to both, keep going, but if not, it’s time to reevaluate your role.
When I write it all down, it really is unbelievable how much I learned in just a few days. It wouldn’t have been possible without Professors Kane and Doyle, Kelsey, Rohan, and Julia, and every one of us for preparing each other for each visit. So, Tech Trek East 2018, thank you!