Duke in Silicon Valley Week 2 Blog July 2015

By Mary Ziemba

We have recently wrapped up our second week here in the Valley. As we continue our progress in the program, my classmates and I are settling into the morning routine—the 8:15 bus pickup, Professor Christensen’s ‘cold call’ at the beginning of class—that is punctuated by more varied activities each afternoon.
After Monday’s class and a quick grocery run, we attended a workshop at the apartment complex: Understanding Yourself and Your Story. Kevin Hoch, managing director of education for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, directed the afternoon’s program. He guided our understanding of our individual results of the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI). Kevin talked me through my results—ENFP—and what kinds of jobs are best-suited to my personality: ones in which I design and create, rather than execute routine tasks. Kevin’s vast knowledge of the MBTI helped many of my classmates and me understand ourselves more clearly and translate our newfound understanding to our academic, professional, and personal lives.

We visited companies on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week—PayPal, Google, and Dropbox, respectively. The campus was stunning—the modern mirrored glass building was bathed in California sunshine and bordered with greenery and fresh flowers.

paypalgroup

Our host was Mr. Steve Fusco (Trinity ’98), who serves as PayPal’s Vice president and general manager of North American Distribution. He spoke about his need to develop innovative strategies for PayPal, given their various services and their role in the growing online and mobile payment market. He also spent a good portion of our time imparting the wisdom one can only get with years of life and career experience. Mr. Fusco participated in ROTC at Duke and had a subsequent career in the Marines, and the lesson he learned in this experience was simple yet profound: “Hold yourself accountable to creating value. Don’t find comfort behind a barrier between action and result.” His professional life had been driven by a desire to account for his actions, to see that his actions have well-informed, tangible results. To me, his advice was meaningful on both professional and personal levels, not only feeding an entrepreneurial spirit but also providing direction in college, an exciting yet uncertain time in students’ lives.

The following afternoon, the group visited Google’s campus in Mountain View. The famously nontraditional and secretive company lived up to expectations: we saw colleagues holding meetings on walks outdoors rather than in conference rooms, employees riding colorful bicycles, provided “nap pods” for tired workers, gadget-y games like virtual air hockey, and a mural of Google doodles.

googlepicture

googlegroup

Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing, hosted our group in the early afternoon, sharing Google’s innovation philosophy with us—a real treat, considering Google is among the world’s most innovative companies. The tenets were simple and powerful. We saw them manifest in various Google products; to name a few, “Launch and iterate” illustrated by Google’s practice of implementing user feedback to a beta product, and “Innovation comes from anywhere” illustrated by a doctor who made a suicide prevention hotline the top result for the search term “suicide”.

googleprinciples

Following Mr. Kallayil’s presentation, we were taken on tours by Duke alums working at Google. Although company regulations prohibited the group from seeing some of the campus, I felt the tour was a valuable insight into life and work at the tech giant. Google’s very nontraditional environment provided an interesting contrast to those of other tech companies we had visited.

We visited Dropbox headquarters in San Francisco for our final visit of the week on Thursday. The modern, industrial, urban building set it apart from the more suburban campuses we visited.

We started our visit with lunch in the company cafeteria. It truly rivaled a meal that might be served at a high-end restaurant:

dropboxfood

Our host, Adam Cue, was both welcoming and informative. Only about four years older than us students, Adam related to us very well. Adam recounted his story to us: he founded the successful email mobile application Mailbox as an undergraduate, sold his company to Dropbox, worked on the application within the company, and progressed to a management position.

I enjoyed our conversation with Adam for his fearless, thoughtful, and confident view of entrepreneurship. For me, seeing a Duke graduate find success so soon after graduation helped me realize the achievability of an entrepreneurial venture. I find that I am sometimes intimidated by entrepreneurship because of outside pressures to take a more traditional job, but Adam’s confidence helped me become more comfortable with the idea of myself as a startup founder or early-stage employee.

After our rewarding and exhausting week, we were glad to have the weekend to relax and spend time in the Mountain View area. On Saturday, I went hiking with a smaller group of students within the program and another Dukie interning in the Bay Area. On a nearly perfect California afternoon, we enjoyed the views from Stanford Dish recreation area in Palo Alto.

hiking

As the week went on, the value of the Duke in Silicon Valley program became more and more clear to me. Kevin Hoch, Professor Christensen, Dr. Kim, our TA Botir, and each of our site hosts have showed us how much they care that we benefit from the program. I’m graciously looking forward to gaining even more insight as I continue through the program.

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