Bringing it all together: Lessons from Silicon Valley

Brendan Quinlan/ June 21, 2018/ 2018

As our Duke in Silicon Valley experience comes to a close, I am ready to go home, but also reluctant to leave this amazing place and program. These past four weeks have been challenging, thought-provoking, exhausting, invigorating, incredibly valuable, and everything in between. We have spent days tested by Professor Azhar in class, bonding with my classmates on long bus rides to San Francisco, and picking the minds of industry leaders about everything from utilizing big data to enhance hurricane relief efforts to an algorithm that predicts the best bra size, and nights analyzing case studies, cooking with friends, and exploring the Bay.


DSV 2018 @ Google

In the past week, we visited the robot lab at ABB, spoke with associates at Canaan Partners, were hosted at Google, networked at LinkedIn, and finished the company visits with Freestyle Capital. At each of these visits, Duke alums and others spoke to us about their company culture and their career paths, while also offering advice and answering our many questions. The fact that we have visited such a diverse group of companies, from tech giants to minute start-ups, from grocery delivery platforms to venture capitalists, has contributed to a comprehensive view of the many opportunities that Silicon Valley has to offer. Our concluding visit of the program was to a tiny office in residential San Francisco, housing the small venture capital firm Freestyle. The majority of us agreed this was a phenomenal company to end the program, because of their genuine passion for innovation that was evident in their talk. Although each company has given us a unique perspective on the technological industry and Silicon Valley, a few themes have cemented all experiences – the importance of failure, the unparalleled value of a good team, and a desire to remake the world.

The classwork for the last section of the course has been centered around designing a game, incorporating principles of design, customer archetypes, and ethnographic skills that we have learned throughout the past four weeks. My group’s game was designed for “Peter the Plotter”, a customer who enjoys individual games that incorporate strategy. In our second to last class, we presented our games, playing and evaluating all the other groups. Although my group’s game, Loan Shark, fell flat in the engaging and fun aspects, we succeeded in being the most individual, player interactive, and deliberate games, which aligned with our customer archetype. Creating a game was a great way to consolidate all of our lessons about design, innovation, and empathizing with the customers into a final project.

While this program has given me a basic understanding of starting a company, it has also gifted me with a breadth knowledge of the lead tech companies, a network of gracious Duke alumni and other hosts, and an intimate understanding of the Silicon Valley culture and its culture of innovation. However, for me, the most valuable part of this experience has been creating lasting relationships with my inspiring, creative, and intelligent peers, many of whom I am positive will become industry leaders.



Audrey is a rising sophomore at Duke University who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and pursuing a minor in Economics. She was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and attended a boarding school in Massachusetts. At Duke, Audrey is a TA for a freshman engineering class, involved with FEMMES and tutors local Durham students. Audrey is interested in technology startups and product design processes, and hopes her experience in Silicon Valley will provide a basis to further explore these topics. In her free time Audrey enjoys running, reading, and eating at new restaurants.

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