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.

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