Tech Trek: An Empowering Experience

The first word that comes to mind when I think of our Tech Trek trip is: Churn. Just kidding! Although I learned what churn is and I heard it used in almost every possible context, I learned a significant amount more on Tech Trek than simply the meaning of churn.  

Since coming back from Tech Trek, everyone that I have talked to has asked me the following question: “What was the best company that you visited?”  In my opinion, this question is impossible to answer because there were so many amazing and memorable components of each visit.  As a result, I decided to structure this blog by explaining some of the “bests” on the trip. 

Best Culture: Facebook

Before we even sat down to talk with the employees at Facebook, it was apparent that the company fosters a very transparent culture where employees are encouraged to innovate and share ideas.  On the campus tour, we saw multiple spots such as restaurants or an arcade, that were created and instituted by employees who were given the freedom to develop their wild ideas.  Additionally, it was refreshing to hear the employees talk about the amount of transparency between departments and also between them and Mark Zuckerberg.  Even though Facebook employs tens of thousands of people, Mark still takes the time to hold an open mic Q&A with his employees every week.  The fact that the CEO of such a massive company cares so deeply about his employees’ thoughts and concerns is what gives Facebook the best culture out of any company we visited.  

Coolest Product: Brava Home and Nuro

Both the Brava Home and the Nuro win Coolest Product because they are both revolutionary products that are going to massively disrupt our traditional ways of life.  The Brava oven is the futuristic, adult version of the Easy Bake Oven.  I was so excited and inspired watching the chefs cook gourmet meals in a split second with only the guidance of their smart oven.  Similarly, I was absolutely amazed by the Nuro team and the tactics they have used to create a smart “car”.  It was so fascinating to watch their simulations with the Nuro bot and to see the incredible ways in which the bot’s response was better than a human response. I felt very privileged to see both of these products at such an early stage in their development because both companies are going to be hugely successful in the future.  

Best Office: Apple

Although I would rank most of the offices that we visited as being very cool, the Apple HQ was by far the most interesting and memorable office that we toured.  Apple HQ looks like a UFO that landed in the middle of Cupertino.  Most walls in the Apple offices are made of glass, which gives the illusion that you are outside in nature while you walk through the sparkling clean halls.  Every inch of the building is futuristic – from the interchangeable walls to the solar panels that line the roof, creating net zero energy on the building.  Getting to tour this brand new office was an amazing experience that I will never forget. 

Best Mission: Instawork and Wonolo

Both of these companies left me feeling inspired and empowered by their missions to help others and give back to their communities through their businesses.  Yong, the CEO of Wonolo, has built a team of dedicated employees whose stories resonate with the mission of the company.  Many of the employees were very open with us about the challenges that they’ve faced in the past before coming to work for Wonolo. As a result, many of the employees are extremely passionate about helping their users find jobs and success. Similarly, I admired the way in which Sumir, the CEO of Instawork, genuinely cares about his users and wants to help them succeed.  For example, Sumir is happy for his users when their Instawork gigs lead to them being hired full time, even though creates a higher churn rate for his business. Additionally, he invited immigration lawyers to come speak with workers and small business owners about their concerns with recent changes to immigration policies.  Both Yong and Sumir are inspirational CEOs because they’ve founded companies with the mission of helping people and the greater community. 

Greatest Lessons Learned

1. I want to work for a company that values innovation.  

This is a lesson that I learned multiple times over throughout the week.  One of the most incredible and attractive qualities of startups is that their employees have a wide range of autonomy and freedom to innovate and express their ideas.  Additionally, some of the much larger and more established companies continue to encourage innovation from employees at all levels.  Salesforce is one example of a company in which innovation is a core value and a mindset that is instilled in each and every employee.  It is hugely important for a company to value innovation on this level because this idea generation and sharing is what makes people excited to go to work every day.  I want to work for a company that inspires me and encourages me to feel confident and passionate about my opinions and ideas. 

2. Use your voice.

This is a lesson that I learned from both Dave Donatelli from Oracle and Sophie Miller of Google.  Dave told us that smart people get good jobs, however the ones who become great leaders are smart people who are also capable of expressing their opinions and ideas.  Dave believes that one of the most valuable skills that a college student could develop is the ability to use their voice.  This resonated with me because I often feel like I have a good idea or something to share, but I am too scared, for whatever reason, to speak up.  Additionally, Sophie taught us that it is a valuable skill to be in touch with yourself and to know what you want out of life.  From there, it is even more valuable to be able to explain to others exactly what you want and what resources you need to achieve these goals.  This is an important life lesson that I am going to apply to my internship search now, and to all aspects of my life in the future.

3. Always believe in yourself.

This is a lesson that I learned from many of the hard working founders who have dedicated their lives to their companies.  Each of these founders believes in their vision and is so passionate about their mission that they are able to inspire everyone around them to dedicate their lives to the company as well.  Out of all the founders we met, I was by far the most moved and inspired by Amy Errett of Madison Reed.  As a female founder and venture capitalist, she has faced countless hurdles in the largely male dominated tech and startup industries.  Even though she has dealt with this misogynistic culture for many years, Amy has faith in men and believes that they can be taught to change this culture. Amy’s entire talk was especially impactful because she is such an incredible female role model who is deeply passionate about her business and is fearless in overcoming any hurdles in her way. 

Photo with Amy Errett at Madison Reed

Like I said at the beginning of my blog, there is one word that comes to mind when I think of Tech Trek.  That word is: empowering.  Tech Trek empowered me to have more faith in myself and in my ideas and opinions.  I was empowered to use my voice and to take a stance for the things I value and believe in.

Lastly, I would like to thank Professor Kane, Professor Doyle, and Kelsey for being such incredible leaders and for empowering each of us through this incredible journey.

8 thoughts on “Tech Trek: An Empowering Experience

  1. This trip was definitely fun and an absolute learning experience. I like hearing how you broke it down into superlatives. Facebook definitely had the greatest culture and the people made that clear. It was so interesting to hear how Zuckerberg is so transparent in his company-wide Q&A’s. Nuro was also one of the coolest products and its easy to imagine its success. On the other hand, Brava was another extremely cool product but also allowed us to see the hardships of such startups. We got the full perspective of peaks and valleys in the midst of the Valley!

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  2. Cannot agree more on the “empowering” aspect of the trip! It was nice to visit the big-names and fun startups, but it all comes down to how it contributes to personal growth. After the trip, I also feel that TechTrek empowered me to believe in myself. Nonetheless, the word “churn” was a big part of the trip.

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  3. Jane, you hit on some awesome points.I think it was really important what you said about using your voice. It is so important for us to feel confident and comfortable in expressing our opinions and ideas. We need to be able to speak up when something is wrong or when we believe our opinion can add value in certain situations. Also, I agree with you about Amy Errett. Even though I don’t personally relate to hair coloring in any way, I felt that Amy was the most inspiring person we talked to on the trip.

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  4. Wow what a great post Jane! I definitely feel the same in that I realized what kinds of companies I would want to work for, and Salesforce was one of them! I absolutely loved how they still value innovation while being such a huge corporation, and the office didn’t feel so tense as some of the other big companies that we visited.

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  5. Such a great post! You put into words everything I was thinking. I love how you summarized the whole experience as empowering. I think that really captures what we experienced this week. Also, I could not agree more with Apple as being the coolest office. It felt like we were in the middle of a forest with how much plants/trees and nature was around. So glad to have met you on this trip!

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  6. Great post! I know describing the “best” company we visited was a challenge for me too and part of what I’ve been thinking about since we got back— I think your way of breaking it down about sums it up!

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  7. Freaking churn! I totally agree with your opinions on Facebook; it was hard to express to friends here that it isn’t as evil as some may think. Goes to show the direction the company is moving in!

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