By Grant Kelly
For the Duke in Silicon Valley Program, five weeks went by far too quickly. In our brief time here, we have read 28 case studies (we studied Kevlar, low fat butter alternatives, Netflix, Dollar General, Ford, and a bunch of other cool topics), visited 11 companies, listened to and received advice from over a dozen guest speakers, explored San Francisco, took many unreasonably priced Cal Trains (where no one checked for our tickets), meticulously searched for study spaces (including rooms in the music building) at Stanford’s vast, beautiful, and well organized campus, cooked an absurd number of cheap pasta dinners with the help of large vats of low cost tomato sauce, went on hikes to some humongous satellite dishes, got a back stage tour at a Giant’s game in San Francisco, and applied Clayton Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to contemporary companies in our final papers. Overall, DSV has been an unbelievable experience filled with many exciting adventures and opportunities to learn.
The last week of our program was dominated by our final papers. Our assignment was to apply the theories of disruptive innovation that we had learned in class to a company of our choosing. Unlike many of the other weeks, which had been filled with site visits and guest speakers, the program coordinates had toned down our after class activities in order to give us more time to work on our papers. Having been thoroughly warned by both our professor and by previous alumni from the program, many of whom had spent all-nighters writing their papers in past years, almost all of us took special care to start our papers well before the deadline. However, while this meant fewer of us spent the final night in Silicon Valley awake, the paper occupied much of our time during our final week. Conveniently, our program had been scheduled so that there were almost no site visits in our final week, giving us plenty of time to work. One of the upsides to having papers to write and few site visits was that there was more time to explore Stanford’s campus. Stanford, like Duke, has a wonderful campus with many great study spots. It was a great opportunity to better know the campus, and see what life was like for students at Stanford beyond our own classroom.
On the last evening of the program, the entire group met at a restaurant in Castro Street for our farewell dinner. Being near Castro Street, a street about a mile long filled with wonderful restaurants with out door seating, bookstores, and shopping, was one of the biggest perks of living in Mountain View. At the dinner, we reflected on what we hard learned during the program, and chatted excitedly about our remaining summer plans we had scheduled for the time before we headed back to Duke. Many of my classmates, who were rising juniors, were planning to head off to foreign countries for their study abroad programs. Other classmates were preparing for brief internships at the end of the summer. Finally, many of us were planning on heading home for a few weeks in order to prepare for our busy semesters back at Duke. During the dinner, we got to hear many fun stories from Professor Christensen. He told us about his days in consulting, his life as an investor, impactful stories about how disruptive can apply to the way you live your life, and even funny stories about how much food basketball players have to eat during basketball season. As we sat around the table, desperately trying to figure out how the tapas ordering situation was going to work for 20+ people, we were struck by how lucky we were to be surrounded by such wonderful people.
Now, at the end of the program, I can say with confidence that I have learned far more in five weeks than I ever would have thought possible. The combination of having such a great curriculum (the case studies), amazing teaching, a group of passionate and self motivated students/friends, tons of expert advice (guest speakers), and an unbelievable itinerary (site visits) made for a remarkable environment for learning. I feel lucky just to have participated, and I know that I will be coming back to Duke with more knowledge, and, more importantly, with a better ability to differentiate between what is busy work and what is important in the grand scheme of my life and career.