Duke in Silicon Valley: Behemoth of Learning and Networking Opportunities

Kevin Hoch/ June 2, 2021/ 2021

Duke in Silicon Valley has been a behemoth of learning and networking opportunities. Filled with design thinking modules, erudite speaker sessions, and intense collaborative projects, this class has been a true simulation of what it takes to “build a successful enterprise”. This course is spearheaded by our distinguished Professor Kathie Amato, who has acquainted us with an array of avenues that we have used to foster our entrepreneurial proclivities. Just 3 weeks into this course, I can proudly say that my 4 Cs, namely Confidence, Competence, Character, and Collaboration, have blossomed beyond expectations.

The Summer 2021 course has been structured in an interesting format despite the obstructions caused by the pandemic: we spend a portion of our class time learning key concepts viz. the lean start-up, corporate design thinking practices, prioritization methods, negotiation tactics, psychological safety, etc. while the remainder is filled with speaker and/or networking sessions that cover an assortment of fields, from AI ethics to product management, and companies, from FAAG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google) to late-stage start-ups. This process occurs in tandem with completing individual and team-based assignments (via the Mural platform, online videos, or content from the Harvard Business Coursepack) and developing materials for our final class project: designing the Workplace of Future. We have undertaken this project for Google in consultation with its REWS (Real Estate & Workplace Services) team.

Throughout this course, we learned several soft skills such as psychological safety, clarity, and ostentatious listening not only because Professor Amato taught them in class but also because she implemented them by initiating every class meeting with a strong, relevant quote, a high-spirited welcome, and a clearly-devised plan for the rest of the day. The first day began with a bang where we were introduced to the schedule for the summer semester, to the point of contact from Google’s REWS team Ms. Betsy Rives, and to our teams whom we would collaborate with on different tasks. We also analysed some insightful cases such as IDEO’s shopping cart problem and learned key concepts that would be revisited in class such as “the jobs to be done” that day. Mr. Greg Victory from the Duke Career Center led a session on mind maps and empathy maps the next day, which we frequently use to map what our clients feel, say, do, and think. Mr. Ron and Mrs. Carrie Ludwig, who generously endowed this program, dropped in the next day. Their energy and excitement to learn were fascinating. It was fun to listen to their youthful anecdotes and learn alongside them in class. Google’s Project Aristotle and team interaction routines were some interesting things covered in depth that day.

I could really enhance my learning edges the next week when Mr. Robert Chesnut, former Chief Ethics Officer of Airbnb, and Mrs. Jillian Manus, Managing Partner of the Silicon Valley VC firm Structure Capital, came to meet us. The meeting was more productive since we had written an essay on Rob’s notable book “Intentional Integrity” the day before and, thus, went in knowing what we wanted to discuss. “Practice Ikigai in corporate life”, “Be proactive, not reactive when solving a problem”, and “Values=Trust” are some of the many insightful takeaways I had from that session. The following day, we dove into technical models such as the strategic sweet spot, the business model canvas, and the invention cycle when Mr. Tom Byers (Founder of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program), Mr. Blake Byers (Google Ventures Member and the First Investor in the trading platform Robinhood), and Ms. Marty Byers came to speak. The pulse of the valley was eloquently laid out for us as we unearthed the mindset of entrepreneurs who excel. The next checkpoint was ticked for us when Mr. Clay Maxwell, Managing Partner of Peer Insight + PX Venture Studio, came to class the next day and led a practical design-thinking exercise with us on the Miro platform. We used Nike’s subscription-based shoe model case for this session and subsequently learned about business prototyping.

Ms. Mackenzie Drazan, CEO and Co-Founder of the mental health start-up MiResource, came to talk to us the next day. In addition to the space of mental health, we also learned some key business lessons from Mackenzie’s journey: ask as many questions as possible in university since everyone is willing to provide free advice, and use bootstrapping wherever possible to prevent engaging with external fundraising. That interesting session was followed by a presentation to the Google REWS representatives on the next day. Through an extensive collaborative process, our teams presented the top three problems we felt were paramount to be solved for the workplace of the future. We received productive, critical feedback from those presentations that we are now using to build our final solutions. At the end of that presentation, we played host to a panel of product managers from Splunk, Uber, Amazon, Walmart, and GitHub where we learned the ins and outs of PM roles at corporate companies. From not micromanaging to ruthlessly prioritizing work, we had some great takeaways from that session.

The third week of the course began with a blast as we had current and ex-Facebook employees come in to speak with us. The first talk was given by Ms. Deb Liu, CEO of Ancestry and former Vice President of Facebook App Commerce and of Facebook Marketplace. Having been at the company for eleven years, among other things, she delved deep into work culture, luck, dynamism, and the distinction between an entrepreneur and a CEO in her talk. We were fortunate to connect with her and with the subsequent panel comprising a product manager, product marketing analyst, product growth analyst, product designer, and sports partnership team programmer. The next day, we transitioned from that “social network” to the field of AI and Ethics as Ms. Milena Pribic from IBM led an interactive session on designing ethical AI using models such as dichotomy mapping and stakeholder maps. Before calling on our next speaker for the day, we learned about important designing thinking scrutiny metrics to better prepare us for our Google REWS project. The next speaker of the day was Mr. Eddy Cue, who is the Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services at Apple. It was an honour to welcome him to DSV and to embrace his teachings. He broke down for us not only the recipes of Apple’s successful business model but also the intricacies of its disruptive innovations. This series of great talks were followed by a session on Technology Policy the next day. Ms. Kate Tummarello, who runs a non-profit in this space in Washington D.C., led a discussion that interlaced technology and public policy. Through a series of voting-based games, I got to learn a lot about components of this field viz. Section 230, Copyright Infringement Policies, IPC, etc. This session was followed by a deft panel from the Wikimedia Foundation, LinkTree, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association who further explained the topic to us.

As we head into the fourth week of the course, learning essential negotiation skills like BATNA and Integrative Principled Communication, I am excited to see all that this program has yet to offer. Although we could not visit Silicon Valley in person this time, we got a rich exposure to its people and practices. Through the abundant learning experiences we have garnered in this course, I am confident in our ability to go out there and build bridges that better our world!

Naman ParikhNaman Parikh is a rising sophomore from New Jersey intending to double major in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science along with a minor in Economics. He also plans on pursuing the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. Naman is extremely passionate about interlacing commerce and community using technology entrepreneurship. This fascination has enabled him to lead 3 tech-enabled social and commercial start-ups. At Duke, Naman is a member of Duke’s premier pre-professional business organization DSP (Delta Sigma Pi), works with mentors on his entrepreneurial ventures under the Student Founders Program, undertakes engineering projects for companies as part of the Duke Applied Machine Learning Group, is a part of the tech team that organizes HackDuke (the largest hackathon for social good), is a business development specialist for DIIG (Duke Impact Investing Group), and is a developer for BlueTech, a division of Duke’s largest run student Business Campus Enterprises. Other than that, Naman enjoys contributing as a member to the Duke Cyber Club, Duke Rotaract, Duke International Relations Association, and Duke Jumpstart (Teach for America). He is a golfer and soccer player and enjoys doing theatre, playing drums, and releasing music on streaming platforms in his free time. Having visited and worked with a Silicon Valley start-up, Naman is keen on using this program to further his dream of building bridges that better our community.

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