One day I’ll go to Heaven… I’ll look around and say, “It ain’t bad but it ain’t San Francisco” – Herb Caen
Our last week felt like a whirlwind as last-weeks often do. Monday was a bit shortened, which allowed us all to catch up on our work and enjoy the divine California sun. We also heard from a former Duke engineer-now entrepreneur- whose first words were “Don’t record anything I’m about to tell you!”. Despite his warning, he did not divulge government confidential or the secret ingredient in Coca-Cola; Rather, he spoke on the importance of choosing to do the right thing over what might make you the most money. “You will always have chances to make more money in your life. Rebuilding your reputation is much, much more difficult.”, are some of his words that stuck with me. This type of thought has been a theme throughout this program. Time and time again we’ve heard about the importance of honesty, transparency, and fairness. We’ve had speakers who have made fortunes, who have worked at all the biggest companies with all the biggest names, and who continue to be extremely successful, and yet nearly everybody maintained that they only got to where they were by being earnest and sincere. It’s an amazing thing to see, and certainly the rest of the world could benefit from this kind of thinking. The rest of Monday was spent sitting poolside, playing basketball, and belatedly calling fathers to wish them a happy Father’s Day.
On Tuesday, we ventured into San Francisco to visit LinkedIn and Blackrock Financial, an investment company. I personally was unimpressed with LinkedIn; The speakers were uninspiring, and as one of my colleagues pointed out, they really don’t have much competition in the professional social network realm, which has limited their innovation. With a beautiful view of the financial district in their 18th story office though, it’s tough not to be slightly allured by their attractive design and mission statement to “Connect the World’s professionals and make them more productive and successful.”
Blackrock, too, was interesting. Their office offered a stylistic change to the open office and ping pong tables we had come to expect of the companies we visited. Blackrock was much more of a traditional corporate office building, with cubicles, large boardrooms, and lots of genuine leather desk chairs. After a traditional Q&A session, one of the panelists mentioned that her work day is “7:30-6, Monday through Friday.” Wow!
This highlights a point I feel is necessary to mention: innovation does not come without a cost. It can be easy to overlook just how hard these people are working when all we see are smiling faces gushing about the free lunches and awesome amenities their companies offer. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. However, I am constantly questioning to what extent people actually love San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and how many people love it because they believe they have to love it. During our whole trip, not once did I hear someone say anything incriminating about the Bay, which I found peculiar. From the outside, the bay has it all: a bounty of stimulating work opportunities, beautiful panoramic views, all the food you could ever want, along with an extremely diverse community of intelligent individuals. But this doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone. For a lot of young professionals, the goal is to simply make it here; Once they get to San Francisco, they believe they will be happy, because here is the place they have been working towards their whole life; San Francisco represents a professional zenith. And because who wouldn’t be happy here?
When the reality is a bit different- work is demanding and the paradoxical loneliness of a big city creeps its way into the self-conscious- it can be hard to admit that this isn’t the right place for you, especially when everyone else seems happy. The bay has a hypnotic attraction to it, and even I feel myself giving in to the mesmerizing appeal of California.
Wednesday, we visited the infamous Google. Their campus is enormous and amazing. With a huge ecosystem of interlocking buildings for business and leisure, it feels like you’re walking through a college campus. Each panelist had a palpable acuity and a refreshing curiosity that poured through as they answered our questions. This place is truly the heart of innovation, although one must question whether it’s really possible to “Do no evil” (A core value of google) when you have a company that controls more than 40% of the internet.
Thursday we heard from a self-proclaimed socialist who is currently dissatisfied with the present model of wealth distribution. Particular quotes included “People will receive universal income” and “There will be 12.5 hour work weeks.” At one point I would have scoffed at these kinds of fantastic claims, but with four weeks of training practicing analytical thinking, I digested these claims and considered why our speaker believed this and what made her come to these conclusions in the first place. It was a fantastic conversation, and one fitting for the last day of a great program.
As our week comes to a close, and we say our goodbyes with stomachs full of Neapolitan pizza and brains filled with new knowledge, I can’t help but feel another overwhelming sensation envelope me: love. Love for all the new friends with whom I’ve shared an amazing experience, love for the area and the “culture of innovation” that has challenged me and forced me to think in unique and special ways, and above all, love for the amazing opportunity this program was and the wealth of new experiences I have gained from it. Only by communicating, empathizing, and understanding with one another, will we find success in what we do.
I want to thank, too, our amazing professor, Salman Azhar. This program simply would not have been the same without his boundless energy and Cheshire-cat smile. Thanks too, to Kevin Hoch, the program director and trip “dad,” as well as Emilie and Megan, without whom the program would not have been possible. Long live DSV and go Blue Devils!
Lee is a rising sophomore studying Public Policy at Duke. He came to the valley to interact with interesting people and learn their favorite kind of bubble tea flavor. In his free time, Lee enjoys watching watching T.V., eating gelato, and scouring the internet for pictures of golden retrievers.