DSV Final Reflections

By Ali Frank

I have nothing negative to say about my 5 weeks spent on Duke in Silicon Valley. To start, I feel so grateful to have been exposed to the innovation, talent, creativity, and genius available in the Bay Area. Nuggets of lessons learned from successful speakers, classes I found mulling over late at night, companies I imagined myself excitedly entering one day in the future, and foods I found myself wanting to eat again and again and again made the experience nothing short of amazing.

The most consistent part of our time here, our class Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise, was incomparable. I have always loved learning in the general sense of enjoying obtaining new information. However, in my academic career thus far, I have rarely felt as pulled to, intrigued by, and excited by a class each day. Our professor was an instrumental means to which I found enjoyment from our course. His passion for teaching was almost palpable and his wealth of knowledge was seemingly unending. A particular favorite class of mine was Dr. J’s leadership-based class. We learned about varying leadership strategies and effective ways to lead individuals. Most importantly, however, we learned that everyone has the capability to lead by playing into their strengths.

Another essential part of our time here on DSV were the guest speakers and sight visits. A favorite visit of mine was to Intuit on one of the first days of the program. We first listened to a few senior executives speak about their journeys and experiences at intuit. We then performed a rapid prototyping exercise, whose purpose was to create a product that solved the problem of managing and saving finances to prepare for disaster. My group, with the guidance of a senior HR Intuit employee, created a mobile application that automatically added small amounts of money to an emergency fund via either a percentage of weekly income or by rounding up to each whole dollar spent. We then heard from a panel of young Intuit employees about their journeys and current roles at Intuit.

A significant part of my DSV experience were my independent adventures in the Silicon Valley and Bay Areas. Some of the trips some of my DSV classmates and I went on were hiking the Stanford dish trail, going to Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay for a day, and driving to the Marin Headlands lookout to view the whole San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. My personal favorite day was going into San Francisco with my apartment to Chestnut and Union Street. We initially went to an incredible salad place (my favorite food!) called Blue Barn, and then did a little bit of shopping and wandering around on Chestnut Street. While in a store, a local came up to us and told us about the annual Union Street Festival nearby. We strolled over to Union Street and happened upon a massive street fair– with great snacks, jewelry, clothing, accessories, among other things. We then walked over to Dolores Park and grabbed a delicious coffee before heading home to Mountain View to spend the night with our classmates. All in all, it was a perfect day filled with relaxed wandering, interesting products, and friends alike.

The balance between an incredibly engaging class, experienced and thoughtful guest speakers and visits, and the freedom to explore all of the beautiful and fun aspects the Bay Area has to offer made DSV one of the most enjoyable periods of my life thus far. Not to mention, the kind and organized staff consisting of Kathie, Kevin, and Chelsea all helped plan DSV and ensure everything ran smoothly.


A Closing Blog Post on My Duke in Silicon Valley Experience

By Ed Hannush

I never thought that a five-week program could go by so fast. It feels like this past Monday that we were visiting Intuit at their headquarters and doing innovation workshops with their SVP & Chief of Staff, Lindsey Argalas. It was an amazing site visit, and started what was going to be a series of unique and engaging experiences for all of us Duke undergrads.

In the companies that we visited—like LinkedIn, Intuit, and PayPal—it was amazing to see that they were so big but still were so committed to an open, inclusive, collaborative, and extremely innovative culture. They had extremely broad like solving the international problem of unemployment, or ending the everyday problems of small businesses. The companies were loaded with passion, and all the while, they remained innovative. Their cultures were positive, and their hearts and minds were all aligned with the respective company missions. It was a very similar story with all of the startups that we visited. One startup, Win-Win Fantasy, was an innovative company that plans to help athletes’ philanthropic organizations in a massive way by taking advantage of America’s love for fantasy football. Win-Win founder Mike Brown (another successful Duke alum to join the all-star list of alums that we met) explained how he was combining sports, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship. Again, it was enlightening to see how the people we were engaging with were so passionate about what they wanted to do, and what they were doing.

Looking back on the program as a whole, one of the best things was that I was able to meet a diverse group of people that I would not have met otherwise at Duke given the university’s social structure. The group of twenty-three of us—who are made up of engineers, computer scientists, political scientists, and psychology majors—all became close because we were able to spend our free time together having fun on the weekends or in our group projects.

Duke in Silicon Valley was truly an amazing opportunity for all of these reasons, and it helped many of us find what we were passionate about. This is a major deal because some of us did not know what truly “got us going.” I’m very happy to say that thanks to the past five weeks, we definitely have some new passions that were ignited by the awesome experiences we shared.

DSV Final Thoughts

By Aditya Srinivasan

In characteristic fashion, the last week of Duke in Silicon Valley has been just as exhausting as the previous four. But I’m not complaining.

The Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship program was somehow able to organize the most action-packed, memorable, challenging, inspirational, and perception-changing month I have ever had. From site visits to rapid prototyping, from hikes with alumni to cold-calling manufacturers, and from incubators to the Googleplex the program has been a turbulent journey in the shoes of the giants of Silicon Valley.

We visited big companies and small companies, for-profits and non-profits, technology leaders and volunteer corporations. We learned about interviewing and iteration, fundraising and strategy, intellectual property and cultural fit. We talked to software engineers and data scientists, product managers and business analysts, CEOs and CTOs. We covered every inch of the Silicon Valley, from San Jose to San Francisco, in an incredible immersive experience that I will never forget.

And that’s exactly what made the program so great: the level of involvement I felt as a result of being in the trenches. Our incredible professor, Dr. Jeremy Petranka, emphasized learning by doing as opposed to learning by analyzing. For example, when we learned about the process of innovation, Dr. J (or J, as some of his students addressed him) made us apply our knowledge by innovating concepts for an actual product. By the end of the week, all 23 students had developed ideas and prototypes for games, which were played during class. The benefits of performing case studies pales in comparison to the level of learning achieved through this immersive style of learning. This propagated throughout the duration of the program, culminating in a final project that had students giving supply chain configuration recommendations to real company strategists, from the company Slack Lifestyle USA. After the final recommendations were given, Dr. J told us all how delighted the management team was with our suggestions, indicating that they might actually be taken into consideration and put into action. This was an incredible feeling, a true validation of the degree to which the students absorbed and applied the knowledge we learned.

Looking back at these last five weeks, I can safely say I learned more than I ever hoped to. I grew my character, not just my knowledge, and made connections that will last beyond the end of the program. Most importantly, I am instilled with an eagerness to invent and create, to build and develop, in the hopes to one day conquer a piece of territory in the ever-evolving landscape that is Silicon Valley.

Facebook Visit

By Claire North

Facebook was one of my favorite visits by far. Although they couldn’t tell us all the secretive new products and software they were working on, it was extremely cool to hear from a panel of relatively recent Duke alums and walk around a little part of the campus. It’s a company that truly emulates the “Silicon Valley dream,” starting your own company and having it grow into a multi-billion dollar company.

First, we walked through the doors to get our badges. We could already tell Facebook too had the startup laid-back vibe as the walls were covered in blue graffiti and abstract art. We signed in via our face books (lol) and followed Rachel, our tour guide, to the panel.

We then heard from about 10 Facebook employees that all had graduated from Duke. The panel was one of the more interesting ones we’ve had because the fields represented were so widespread. Some of the people we heard from was a former investment banker, a marketing team member, a product manager, a software engineer, and a graphic designer.

They beamed with joy talking about Facebook and the work culture. They loved the “startup feel” that this enormous company still had and the nice work perks.  Each gave us great insight on their early career experience and Silicon Valley in general.

Finally we concluded the visit by walking around one of Facebook’s many buildings and outdoor areas. The place was covered with dining and coffee shops and cool hubs to work in. It was incredible to see a company that we all knew so well.

Overall, our panelists and tour guide did a great job of showing us what Facebook is really about. The campus and culture is something truly unique and inspiring.

DSV 2015 Final Thoughts

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.

Final Week of DSV

By Jonathan Stern

The final week of the program was no gradual ease into the finish.

On Monday, we had class in the morning, visited Pamela Hawley at the ImpactHub in the afternoon, and attended the Giants’ baseball game that evening. The view from our seats was tremendous—we sat a few stories up from home plate, high enough to see over the outfield walls and onto the Bay, where the liners were in no apparent rush and were cruising by at a snail’s pace, a speed perhaps the result of their navigators’ being—like me—totally absorbed by the colors of the sunset. It was also the case that the weather was a tad chilly. And further the case that it didn’t seem to matter, for a number of people went anyway to the Dreyer’s ice cream stand and brought back to their seats some of the heartiest bowls of ice cream I have seen in a while.

After the first inning of the game, Bill Schlough, the team’s CIO, appeared a couple rows below us hoisting a large Duke ‘D’! He led us down into one of the stadium’s conference rooms, where we visited with him for the next five innings of the ballgame. I remember thinking the whole time—what an energetic and passionate fellow! I spoke to a number of students about his presentation afterwards, and we all found it one of our favorites. The first thing he did was pass around his most recent World Series ring for us to try on. It was dazzling and beautiful, but it really was a quite heavy thing to try to have on one’s finger. Then he spoke on his experiences at the Olympics, on how the MLB is working to remain relevant, and on the prospects of new statistics in baseball. Soon, he claimed, we will be able to track outfielders’ routes to pop-flies, and with such numbers, will be able to know which outfielders most consistently take the most efficient path to the ball.

After the meeting, we returned to our seats to watch another inning but unfortunately had to leave soon after. It was a busy week, as I remarked above, and it was important to get back to Mountain View as soon as possible because we had a huge case study on Apple to read for Tuesday—and most of us hadn’t even started.

Tuesday and Wednesday found us writing our final papers, combining and pulling from everything we had been taught that month. On Wednesday night, I stayed awake working to finish it until well after my ordinary bedtime. But I was not up all alone. Matt and Joe, on realizing that only two days remained to finish off all of their uneaten pancake batter, decided to throw a make-shift midnight pancake breakfast. I ate my share, as the pancakes were very good, but there was such a quantity of batter to start with that we hardly even made a dent in the supply!

Thursday was the last day of the program. One of my favorite moments of the month occurred at the end of our final class, when Professor Christensen offered his closing remarks—advice and personal stories. It was honest, surpassingly wise, thoughtful and deliberate, and powerful. We gave him as a gift at our final dinner a few pairs of elaborately patterned socks. Asked whether they would go with any of his suits, Christensen replied: “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it doesn’t really matter.”