Spring Break in Silicon Valley: Day 3 (abridged version)

Here’s the rundown of companies our crew visited today. (Early morning +  super busy day tomorrow = I need to get to sleep!)

Klout

MobileIron

Scale Venture Partners

500 Startups

We had incredible experiences at each stop and met some intelligent, innovative people everywhere we went. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on each visit in much greater detail in a later post, because each one deserves a bit more explanation and context.

It’s also worth mentioning that I ate dinner at In-N-Out burger AGAIN and our group played laser tag at the end of the day. It all kind of mirrored the work hard, play hard mentality that is present in many of the companies we’ve visited.

Thursday is our busiest day yet, with a packed schedule of company visiting during the day, and a series of Syracuse alumni networking events in the evening.

Spring Break in Silicon Valley: Day 2

With companies like Microsoft and Google on the agenda, expectations for Day 2 were high.

What was unexpected, however, was the impressions our group had after visiting both companies, and a few other stops.

Our first visit was at the Microsoft Research facilities, where we met with Brooke Simpson, a recruiter, and a panel of employees who work on projects such as Hotmail. (One of the panelists was part of the team that created SmarterChild! Oh, middle school nostalgia…)

We got a great overview of the company culture at Microsoft, as well as a comprehensive tour of the facility. What surprised me about the company was that the culture is innovative, fun and highly competitive with companies like Google. As someone who hardly uses Microsoft products, I had an extremely skewed view of the company. I’m proud to say that our tour of the company and the enthusiasm and passion of the employees greatly altered my outlook.

Our next stop was Google. The campus was even more expansive and colorful than I envisioned, and lunch alone was a relatively surreal experience. We had the opportunity to chat with Syracuse alumni about their experiences at Google and learn about their journeys from Central New York to the West Coast.

After lunch, the official tour commenced. It was incredible to see the employee “perks” Google was known for (bikes, tons of food, recreational facilities, etc.) up close, but I got a more corporate vibe than I anticipated. Yes, the fun aspects were present, but I couldn’t see/feel a collaborative atmosphere or innovation as I walked through the facilities. Granted, our group saw a small slice of a big company, but I expected to see more interaction between employees and more creativity beyond an aesthetically pleasing campus.

With that in mind, Google still offers its employees a plethora of opportunities and is obviously a fun, stimulating place to work. Our tour guide mentioned that he feels bad for the employees who start at Google and later move to different companies, because they become accustomed to an extremely unique corporate culture that is not replicated at other companies.

After purchasing some Google swag in the gift shop, we switched gears and headed to BrightEdge, a startup and SEO platform that manages digital marketing and SEO for over 2,000 brands. We spoke with CTO and Founder Lemuel Park, and learned how quickly the company has grown. After visiting two large companies, it was interesting to observe how rapid growth is managed as a company is starting out.

Our final stop of Day 2 was at Stanford University. It was extremely enlightening to have a dialogue with students involved in the BASES program (Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students) and compare the established startup/entrepreneurial environment in Silicon Valley to the emerging one in Syracuse. They had great insight into how universities can best support and foster entrepreneurship-based student organizations.

We also had a lovely walking tour of the university. I have to admit, it was pretty nice to see palm trees on a college campus instead of snow and rain.

As the group debriefed, we realized that although Syracuse University is not located in a startup hub, we still have tremendous potential to impact Central New York and develop it into a climate similar to that of SV. We also reflected on the diversity of interests and skill sets among our group, and learned to appreciate and capitalize on them as they pertain to startups and innovation.

Tomorrow we have five visits planned, and it promises to be a very full but rewarding day.

Spring Break in Silicon Valley: Day 1

The first day of SB in SV company tours was nothing short of incredible. Our crew kicked things off with a stop at LinkedIn, where we had an informative tour and Q & A session with Syracuse alum and Senior Manager of Corporate Communications (Consumer PR) Krista Canfield.

I was especially excited to hear about Krista’s journey from graduating from Syracuse to her current job in PR. She transitioned from broadcast journalism to a PR role, after finding a job through (funnily enough) LinkedIn. She emphasized the idea that many startups allow employees to craft their career paths and take risks as they search for ways to uniquely contribute to the company. LinkedIn has “InDays,” during which employees have an opportunity to work on passion projects outside of their daily tasks. 

Krista also offered networking tips, and her advice on how to most effectively leverage LinkedIn in our job and internship searches. One of the most important: avoid sending the generic LinkedIn invite to potential connections; always personalize it based on a conversation or common interest, and show that you’ve researched the person thoroughly.

After LinkedIn, we stopped for lunch and headed to downtown Palo Alto to meet with Peter Hébert, SU alum and Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Lux Capital. He took the group on a walking tour of the area, explaining the basics of venture capital funding and pointing out major VCs in the area. It was incredible how many VCs are located within a few blocks’ radius of each another, and how strategic and competitive funding startups can be. 

Our last major stop of the day was Twitter. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to visit and gain an insight into what’s coming down the pipeline for the company, as well as learn a bit about how it’s grown so rapidly over the years.  

We were hosted by Jessica Verrilli (aka @jess), who works in Strategy and Corporate Development, and was one of Twitter’s first employees. She explained how Twitter is based upon an open exchange of information, and many of its key features (tagging with the @ symbol, for example) were user-generated. Because it’s an open service, there are an infinite number of uses waiting to be discovered.

Jess also discussed the plethora of opportunities available at Twitter for individuals with a variety of specializations, whether they’re skilled at coding, marketing, development or something in between. The company has a number of extremely specialized teams, such as one devoted to handling relationships with politicians and other major players in the political realm. 

Although we only had about an hour at Twitter, I walked away with a better understanding of the company’s outlook and focus on integrity to the platform. It was surreal to be in the office and be able to talk to one of its key decision makers. 

After dinner at Fang and a surprise round of bowling, we headed back to the hotel for our debriefing and preparation for Tuesday. We have a full agenda, but it promises to be just as rewarding as Day 1.  

Spring Break in Silicon Valley

I’m currently sitting at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport waiting to kick off what I’m sure will be the most incredible spring break I’ve ever had.

I’m so grateful to be part of the Syracuse University School of Information Studies Spring Break in Silicon Valley trip. I’ll be touring major companies, startups and venture capital firms with 14 other students. I’ve been talking about this trip for months, and I really can’t believe it’s finally here.

One of the major reasons I applied for the trip was the curriculum I’m developing for implementation in girls’ schools in the developing world. My work with She’s the First has opened my eyes to the importance of girls’ education, and I firmly believe that with the right resources and mindset, girls in third world countries are fully capable of starting innovative, sustainable businesses.

I’m fascinated by startup culture and entrepreneurship in general, so I’m searching for a way to take the essential elements of starting a business in the U.S. and adapt them to the economic climate of the developing world. By the end of this trip, I hope to have a firmer grasp of what it takes to start a company in America, and gain a bit of insight into the related struggles and successes from new and established entrepreneurs. From there, I’ll continue to develop the business/entrepreneurship curriculum for a course that can be taught in some of She’s the First’s partner schools.

Of course, I plan to have fun too. It’s my first time in California and our group is visiting some truly amazing companies (ie. Google, LinkedIn…is this real life?!). We’ll be networking with Syracuse alumni and the iSchool Board of Directors that helped make this trip possible.

Plus, I have to admit that I’m pretty excited to see what all the In-N-Out Burger hype is all about.

I’ll be blogging throughout the week, so stay tuned! Follow #SBinSV on Twitter or at http://live.sbinsv.com/.

Home?

Well, it’s been a week since I arrived in America after nearly four months in London. I figured I’d post my final blog entry now instead of the day I got back because (1) Full disclosure: I slept for the better part of Friday, December 16, and (2) I wanted to take some time to let the feeling of being home (and being away from London) actually sink in.

So now that I’m home, all I want is to go back to London! Don’t get me wrong, seeing family and friends and sleeping in my own bed is absolutely wonderful, but the pace of life seems so slow here in the suburbs compared to the bustling atmosphere of London. I suppose that’s a symptom of culture shock that I’ll get over soon enough, but I can’t help but miss city life.

Not only do I miss having some amazing places being a walk or Tube ride away, but I really miss the people I met in London. The staff at Faraday House and my professors made the experience so meaningful and valuable. I also met so many new friends, some SU students and some from other colleges, that made this semester truly unforgettable.

London helped to broaden my global perspective as a student, and after living there, I am aware of the issues that Europe faces, as well as the developments that are underway to advance Great Britain and Europe as a whole. My COM class focused on comparisons between British and American media, and as I’ve consumed news at home, I now ask myself “How would The Guardian or The Telegraph cover this story?”

I also consider myself (surprisingly) lucky to have studied in London during the eurozone crisis, as I witnessed how the media, both in and outside of the UK, handled the potential collapse of the euro. Thanks to my European Union class, I was able to better understand the issue and the implications it has not only on Europe, but on the U.S. as well.

I packed a lot into this semester and traveled to places that I never thought I would get to see (i.e. Istanbul–thanks again, Charine!). My advice to other students who want to study abroad: travel as much as you can, even if it’s just around the UK, and plan ahead! At the start of the semester, plan out which school-sponsored trips you’d like to participate in, note which of your weekends are free for travel, and start booking! It’s ridiculous how quickly airfare, hotel room rates, etc. skyrocket, so book early to get the best deal.

For those students who are on the fence about whether or not they want to study abroad, trust me when I say that it really is the opportunity of a lifetime. This semester has been the best time of my life and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Thanks to everyone who read my blog and followed me on this adventure!

Cheerio!