Reflecting Back on DSV 2019

In one word, The Ronald & Carrie Ludwig Duke in Silicon Valley program was phenomenal. In late May, 24 students entered as the 2019 cohort. One month later, one family returns to Duke with unparalleled experiences, opportunities, skills, connections, memories, and friendships. 

The diversity of interests and backgrounds strengthened the uniqueness of our cohort. To give you the numbers, we have 24 students from 11 states and 3 countries pursuing 13 different majors and 12 I&E certificates. I thought participating in the program without knowing any other students would be difficult. However, almost instantaneously after arriving in Mountain View, I had become close friends with the entire group. Not only did we engage in academic activities together, we shared every aspect of our lives for a month together. From visiting the Golden Gate Bridge to conquering escape rooms, we studied, worked, traveled, ate, explored, and had fun together. 

Each of our days involved class at the Computer History Museum and a site visit. . Professor Salman Azhar taught our I&E course, and he was simply magnificent. In the first week of class, he instilled an open, honest, and inclusive classroom environment. This enabled us to have intellectual, sincere, and fun discussions. One topic that resonated with me was the importance of being authentic and vulnerable. Authenticity is imperative in order to develop meaningful relationships and have deep conversations. This program did a great job incorporating and reinforcing that concept through team-building activities and class. In addition to traditional class time, we often had guest speakers who ranged from venture capitalists to nonprofit executives. 

The topics we learned included communication techniques, decision analysis, the lean startup, the business model canvas, ethnography, situation analysis, design thinking, and much more. This breadth of topics seemed intimidating, but Salman never failed to explain each in depth while educating the class in an interactive, exciting, and memorable way.  He encouraged each of us to embrace a technologically-curious and entrepreneurial mindset. He personalized his teaching style for every individual and constantly made jokes to keep class energetic. The academic aspect of Duke in Silicon Valley was terrific. 

The site visits were a signature component of the program. There is no other program at Duke where students can receive firsthand experience and knowledge directly from well-known tech giants and promising startups. 

Kevin Hoch arranged the site visits and is a fantastic director for the program. The variety of companies he coordinated visits for consistently appealed to the majority of our cohort. At most site visits, we were able to meet with Duke alumni working at the company and learn about their journeys. Each company had different events planned: campus tours, speaker presentations, and workshops. At each site visit, there was a large amount of time for Q&A, allowing us to ask insightful questions, helping us learn more about the company and individual career paths. 

TeslaIn the first week, we visited Smartcar API, Stanford, Google, Tesla and toured the Computer History museum. It was interesting to learn about and contrast aspects of a small startup with a large corporation. The Duke alumni at both companies also provided their advice on what to do after college. 

Our cohort visited Affirm, Netflix, ThirdLove, YouTube, Apple, and Planet Labs in the second week. The wide range of industries and types of companies allowed us to familiarize ourselves with different company cultures and lifestyles. My favorite visit was to Apple’s headquarters, Apple Park, in Cupertino. The massive donut-shaped building is a mile in diameter and an architectural feat – it was completed in April 2017 and was Steve Jobs’ last project before he passed away in 2011. Netflix

The third week, we met Ron and Carrie Ludwig. We also visited Impossible Foods, Uber, LinkedIn, Hyp3r, the San Francisco Giants, Palantir, and Rothy’s. The San Francisco Giants game was the highlight of the trip for most of our cohort. We took pictures with the Giant’s three championship rings and World Series trophies. It was a tremendously fun and memorable site visit. 

In the fourth and final week, we visited Accenture, Facebook, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Instacart, and Carbon 3D. And just like that, our one month program had concluded so quickly. We are so incredibly appreciative and grateful for this amazing opportunity. When we return to Duke in the fall, keep an eye out for all of our new startups! 

Philip Liu is a rising sophomore from Austin, TX intending to double major in Mechanical Engineering and Economics. Philip is a tour guide for the Undergraduate Admissions Office and the Pratt School of Engineering, a member on the Duke Student Alumni Board, a contributing writer to the DukEngineer Magazine, and the Co-Founder of the Duke robotics service organization. 

DSV Week Four: Making the Connections

IMG_3364On the fourth and final week of Duke in Silicon Valley, our group continued with visits to Accenture, Facebook, Goodby Silverstein and Partners, Instacart, and Carbon 3D. It’s baffling that in spite of the multiple visits and class sessions preceding this week, we are still learning something new. Many times the advice and guidance we hear from the alumni and guest lecturers go hand-in-hand with much of our class discussions. While visiting Accenture, we had a chance to perform sales pitches that would serve as practice for presenting our final projects later in the week. When speaking with Pamela Hawley of UniversalGiving, her career was uplifted from a passion she had when she was only twelve, an idea discussed frequently in past visits. It’s amazing to notice the patterns and similarities in so many great entrepreneurs that have ultimately laid the foundation for their successful companies today.IMG_3360

The companies that really attracted my attention were those that were immersive, and Accenture was one such corporation. The business itself is a global Fortune 500 company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operation. Our group visited the consulting firm, where we were able to learn about some of the work the business accomplishes on a day-to-day basis. The reason that I say day-to-day rather than monthly or yearly basis is that the firm is typically looking to take on a new challenge each day. Our class was challenged to solve health coverage for different personas, and this is where the immersive experience was in full effect. Rather than the speakers lecturing us on how their team would maneuver through the process, our group would try to solve the problems first and then be provided with feedback and guidance. I wish there was more time so we could have attempted other cases.

One of the visits that many of the students were looking forward to the most was Facebook, and it certainly did not disappoint. I am still baffled by the fact that a college student working in his dorm room nearly fifteen years ago could turn an idea into one of the largest social media platforms in the world. When reflecting on Mark Zuckerberg’s experience, however, it should not come as a surprise. Zuckerberg found a problem that millions of people wanted to be solved: a way to connect with friends in a simple manner, and this could be achieved as tech was escalating. Zuckerberg scaled the start-up into a successful enterprise by meeting people’s needs and by surrounding himself with other aspiring workers. One such partner was Deborah Liu, who is the current vice president of Facebook’s Marketplace. Marketplace is a convenient destination on Facebook to discover, buy and sell items with people in your community. Facebook is about to launch their new cryptocurrency product, Libra, that will allow users to complete online transactions through the ‘Libra Wallet’. This new form of cryptocurrency was announced recently, and as can be expected with a large company, it received some backlash. When speaking with Deborah about this problem in particular, she emphasized the importance of always growing through how you take feedback. She said, “You can’t let negative comments crush you, and sometimes it’s actually what you need”. I think it’s fair to say that everyone has received negativity in one form or another in their life, but what separates the successful from the unsuccessful is what you do with it.

I chose to participate in the Duke in Silicon Valley program because I wanted to gain a better insight on Entrepreneurship not only through a classroom setting but also through our visits and guest speakers. In a typical class, there is so much information given that sometimes you don’t know which parts to take away from the experience. It was through the site visits where I noticed the similarities in what the alumni emphasized and the units we covered in class. I will take these connections with me and will know what points to draw back to in the near future. There are many people to thank for this one-of- a-kind journey, and I think I can speak for all my DSV peers when I say that I will be moving forward in my career with a new, ambitious head on my shoulders.

 

Ryan is a rising junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, a minor in Mathematics, and a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Ryan anticipates gaining a vast amount of business insight from the companies in Silicon Valley that will supplement the Engineering degree he is working towards at Duke.

 

Bibliography

  1. “Accenture.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accenture.
  2. “Marketplace.” Buy and Sell Stuff Locally | Facebook Marketplace, http://www.facebook.com/marketplace/learn-more/.

DSV Week Three: Innovation is Everywhere

Week three of Duke in Silicon Valley found our group of innovators and entrepreneurs visiting companies around the Bay Area, learning about tech companies, ranging from Uber and LinkedIn, to industries like venture capital. In addition, we continued to be mesmerized by Professor Salman Azar and the way in which he allows us to learn through his entrepreneurial experiences and the successes and failures behind them. A large theme that has continually been brought up is the question, “Is failure or success more beneficial?” Through our discussions with Prof. Azar and the speakers at our site visits, we have learned that there truly is not a distinct answer, but that there are benefits to both. We were also able to have breakfast with Duke alum Ron Ludwig and his wife, Carrie, and were able to hear about their own experiences in the industry.

On Tuesday, we visited Uber, where we spoke to Matt Alston, an Associate Product Manager who graduated from Duke in 2017, and Matthew Mengerink, Vice President of Core Infrastructure Engineering. In our discussions, we learned a great amount about product management and its unique features at Uber. We were also fortunate enough to learn about Matthew Mengerink’s path to Uber and his daily responsibilities at such a large and innovative company. Speaking with Matt, we gained insight into the benefits of working at such a large company in comparison to a start up and how his role has been affected. After our visit to Uber, we became intrigued by all the products that we would be able to work on if we were lucky enough to work at Uber.

On our final stop of the day, we visited LinkedIn and met with an array of former Duke students. LinkedInSpeaking to Kara, Alex, Raven, Pranshu, Logan, and Dhru allowed us to dig deep into their experiences in innovation and why they chose LinkedIn. This group were extremely authentic  – even to the point where we found out that Dhru owns more than 90 pairs of shoes! The roles of this group ranged from data science to product strategy and business operations, allowing each of us to gain a greater understanding of our passions. Through our tour of LinkedIn, we appreciated the sense of community there and how every worker came up to us excited to hear about our stories and why we were there. All in all, the opportunity to tour and speak to former Duke students from LinkedIn was phenomenal and truly encapsulated innovation in the workplace.

Overall, the information that we learn from speakers, site visits, and Professor Azhar has continued to be extraordinary as we gain an abundance of knowledge, thanks to being in Silicon Valley. The immersion of living in the Valley continues to be remarkable in how there is innovation at every moment in time. The room for innovation is only increasing and thanks to DSV, we are realizing how we will be able to enhance the world.

 

Nick is a rising sophomore pursuing a major in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and a certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. During his first year, Nick was involved in Special Olympics, the Investment Club, and intramural sports. He chose to participate in the Duke in Silicon Valley program in order to speak to professionals in the technology industry and venture out to the beautiful west coast. In his free time, he loves to play basketball, read, and hang out with friends. He is interested in technology, entrepreneurship, and data science, searching for a career that can combine all three into his own company.

DSV Week Three: The Power of Mission & Vision

impossible

This week, we continued our visits to tech companies including Uber, LinkedIn, Palantir, and innovative start-ups, including Impossible Foods and Rothy’s. The common thread that I found between these companies is their mission-driven culture to solve critical problems.

Uber aims to bring smarter transportation to the world, LinkedIn connects the world’s professionals to make them more successful, Palantir helps institutions solve the most challenging and impactful problems, Impossible Foods produces plant-based meat to combat global warming, and Rothy’s creates fashionable and comfortable shoes for women to reduce waste by using plastic water bottles and 3D knitting technologies. Employees we met at these companies may work in different functions, such as engineering, marketing, operations, but they all are motivated by the company mission and are excited to create and improve products to solve problems that they care about. This left me with a deep impression and made me reflect on what a fulfilling job as an entrepreneurial problem-solver means.

Besides company visits, this week’s highlights were inspiring guest speakers and our visit to the San Francisco Giants Game. photo2

The first speaker we had was Sanj Goyle, a serial entrepreneur and the CEO at Finxera. He spent almost ten years building his latest venture Finxera and shared with us his experience pivoting the product use case before a successful exit. Another speaker we met at the Giants game was Bill Schlough, the Senior VP & CIO of SF Giants. Different from most people in the Valley who jump from one company to another, he has been with the Giants for almost twenty years and he oversees all technologies that are used for the operation of the Giants. The last speaker was Nick Zaldastani, a serial entrepreneur and an investor. He discussed his opinions on what makes Silicon Valley special, execution versus intention, the importance of integrity and transparency and more. Interestingly, although these three speakers talked to us on three separate days, all of them touched upon the topic of passion and had insightful perspectives.

We often hear people say “do what you are passionate about”. As cliche as it may sound, after hearing from all speakers, I believe it’s a piece of advice that’s worth following. Sanj suggested that not everyone’s success is related to passion and used enterprise software companies as a counterexample, saying that entrepreneurs who are working on enterprise software are not necessarily passionate about enterprise software. They are still successful because they are working on projects that they are good at. Instead of following the passion, he argued that we should leverage our strength and focus on solving the problem. Bill on the other hand, used his personal experience to demonstrate the value of “do what you are passionate about”. He is a huge fan of all types of sports and has always been fascinated by the athletic spirit. He played three types of sports at Duke and always wanted to combine his true passion and his work, so he found his job at Giants perfect. To him, there’s no so-called “work-life balance” because his work is part of this life: he loves being at the Ballpark, he takes his kids to games often, and he even uses his spare time to participate in Olympic organizing activities. Similarly, Nick also emphasizes the importance of passion by using the comparison between the word “drive” and the word “passion”: “drive” is external and “passion” is internal. People who are driven can be successful, but they are not necessarily happy. Passion is critical to what we do because it is the reason why we do it.

 

Lin is a rising senior at Duke University pursuing a double major in Statistical Science and Computer Science. She grew up in Shanghai and is very excited to visit Silicon Valley for the first time. She also enjoys reading, traveling, good food and spending time with friends and family.

 

DSV Week Two: There’s a Place for Everyone

Our visits this week truly focused on the idea that people from all different types of backgrounds can find their home in Silicon Valley. Tech and consumer companies need team members from a variety of disciplines like sales, marketing, finance, and software engineering to operate, and it’s the combination of these skills that truly make a firm successful. Understanding how these functions are interconnected was an essential part of this week’s visits to Affirm, Netflix, ThirdLove, and Baris Akis, Founder and Managing Partner of Nav Talent.

At Affirm, we spoke to the VP of Communications, Elizabeth Allin, who talked to us about the company’s origins, as well as how the company’s service is marketed and its future growth potential.  Affirm essentially focuses on making consumer goods more affordable by allowing users to pay for products in installment over time with low interest. Learning about this process and the company’s commitment to increasing transparency in the financial services industry aligned in accordance to concepts we discussed in class, such as ensuring that products serve utility in an industry and solve a problem for consumers. We then spoke to members of Affirm’s data science team to learn about the more technical aspects of the service such as how the company uses algorithms and machine learning to decide whether to approve customers for a loan. We talked to members of the sales team and product development team as well and appreciated that we could see how members of different teams viewed the product through a unique lens to frame their decisions impacting the company.

Affirm

On Tuesday we visited Netflix. Netflix approached our visit in a similar manner as Affirm, with the goal to teach us about all different aspects of the company’s operations. We learned about how original shows are created, the data science behind personalizing each user’s experience, and what markets Netflix hopes to expand into in the future. Engaging in these conversations helped us think about how we may fit into these roles in the future and talking about the backgrounds of people at the company pursuing these roles gave us insight into what paths we may take to garner the same skills.

Netflix

We also visited ThirdLove, where we heard from Founder and CEO, Heidi Zak, about why she started a company that empowers women of all sizes to find their fit for the intimates they wear. We discussed supply chain management and the company’s merchandising strategy with its team members and also learned more about the algorithms that help them identify distinct customer segments for marketing/advertising purposes.

ThirdLove

Finally, guest speaker Baris Akis, Founder and CEO of Nav Talent, came to class to speak to us about his journey as an entrepreneur and where Nav Talent serves utility as an effective career planning tool. His novel approach bridged the gap between high growth startups and high-achieving students from technical backgrounds, matching these students to jobs within the company. We heard about the multifaceted roles of members of his team such as the interns who plan events at various colleges, advisors who serve as the liaison between the student and companies, and the role of his executive team in strategizing for the company’s future growth.

This week in one word: holistic. Tech is more than its technical roles, and there’s a place for everyone’s individual skills and interests here in Silicon Valley.

Vandita Garimella is a rising sophomore intending on studying Computer Science and Public Policy with a Statistics Minor. At Duke, she is an Analyst with the Duke Impact Investing Group, on the High School Mentorship Committee for Business Oriented Women, and will be on the Marketing Committee for DUU this upcoming school year. In her free time, she loves to watch TED talks, dance, and spend time with friends. Vandita is very interested in entrepreneurship and wants to learn more about how companies are using tech to impact their unique industries, as well as how company leaders work to create collaborative and innovative working environments that largely define the culture of Silicon Valley.