DSV Week One: Kicking it off on the Cutting-Edge

“Using knowledge for the service of society!” -Brenda, Tesla Tour Guide regarding the amazing opportunity of DSV

Week one of Duke in Silicon Valley took our cohort of students around the Bay Area, presenting learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. There’s no better place to start than with our professor Salman Azar. Prof. Azar’s unique approach to teaching has encouraged us to think like entrepreneurs. By investigating his lectures and creating in depth conversations with our peers, we have learned to dig deeper and realize the true cause of innovation: challenging the current norms of society to create a more efficient world. This has also been reinforced at the sites we visited last week.

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Our first visit was to Smartcar API, a software company which allows consumers to connect their vehicles to an app. Utilizing their platform allows owners to locate their vehicles, pull a VIN number, lock/unlock their doors, and make car sharing easy. While we were all impressed by the concept of the company, it was especially interesting talking to Duke graduates working at the startup. What once was a team of two has now grown to over twenty thanks to the help of people such as Jeremy Zhang, ’17 and Sydney Palumbo, ’18. They discussed the benefits of working for a small company, such as working with various teams and learning different parts of the business. Being able to hear former Duke students talk with pride about being integral parts of Smartcar’s expansion truly embodied the spirit of Silicon Valley. I believe many students on the DSV program became interested in working with a startup after our visit to Smartcar.

We then had the great opportunity to visit Google. At Google, we received a different perspective of innovation from another Duke graduate David Thacker, ’97. Mr. Thacker talked to us about his position as a product management VP at a leading company in the technology industry. It was interesting to hear him speak about his work with applications we as students use so often in our academic careers, such as Gmail and Google Docs. He connected his position to Google’s mission statement: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Though we consume Google’s technology on a daily basis, we never think about what their goals are as a business. While being one of the biggest companies in the world, Google continues to focus on innovation and finding new ways to improve the lives of its users. Not to mention their basketball court, putting green, swimming pool, and cool water bottles.

Our final stop of week one culminated in our factory tour of Tesla. The pinnacle of vehicle innovation was showcased in their 5.3 million square foot factory, larger than Vatican City. Their world class facility produces cars “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Robots everywhere smelting, pressing, cutting, and building amazed us. The technology used in Tesla factory is not only incredible in itself, but its ability to create vehicles which environmentally benefit the planet exemplifies Silicon Valley as a center of cutting-edge technology. However, make sure you wear long pants if you want to go on the tour, or you might have to be innovative!

 

Overall, DSV has already provided us with an enormous breadth of knowledge after only one week. Inside and outside of the classroom, being immersed in Silicon Valley has allowed us to witness innovation and entrepreneurship at its forefront. I look forward to continuing the program and making the most of the incredible opportunity we are experiencing.

Evan is a rising junior from New York City majoring in Public Policy, minoring in Political Science, and pursuing a certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. His interest in entrepreneurship has sparked from his involvement in Bull City Beds, a student run company which provides luxury bed rentals. He hopes to sharpen his skills by immersing himself in the unique culture present in Silicon Valley. Outside of the classroom, his interests include New York sports, cooking, traveling, and philanthropy.