Duke in Silicon Valley: Unlike Anything I’ve Taken at Duke

Kevin Hoch/ June 21, 2021/ 2021

This summer I had the pleasure of being a part of the Duke in Silicon Valley program offered by Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) department. The course is unlike anything else I’ve taken at Duke. I wanted to reflect on the experience, and share some of my key takeaways with other students, who might be deciding on how to tailor their I&E experience at Duke or deciding if they are interested in entrepreneurship in the first place.

Duke in Silicon Valley was a very interactive experience. Class sessions consist of a mix of lectures and guest speakers. The lectures cover a broad range of topics but focus mainly on the process of design thinking and concepts that are adjacent to it. The guest speakers are from a diverse set of backgrounds and allow students to peek into a wide variety of career paths. Both lectures and speaker panels are largely driven by students; discussions are a key component of Duke in Silicon Valley. Whether during a practice negotiation, speaker Q&A, or group work session, there is always an underlying focus on the importance of effective dialogue. Communication has always been something I am working on and Duke in Silicon Valley provided me with ample opportunity to do so. Looking back at the earlier presentations in the course, I can now see how much I improved within the span of just four weeks.

As students, our main task during Duke in Silicon Valley involved applying design thinking principles to create solutions for the workplace of the future. We went through the process of interviewing people to find pain points, brainstorming to come up with ideas, and refining our ideas to reach a feasible solution. This all culminated in the final presentation, where each group had to condense their work over four weeks into a ten-minute pitch for their vision of the workplace of the future to the Google REWS (Real Estate & Workplace Services) team. Going from finding problems about the workplace all the way to delivering a pitch for our solution was a wonderful way to apply everything we learned throughout the program. The lessons learned in this practical design thinking exercise were many, but two, in particular, kept appearing while we worked on our solution. First of all, we needed to always maintain a focus on the problems we were solving and not on solutions that we liked. While this might seem obvious at first, it is really easy to get stuck on an “innovative” idea and not really think about how the innovation solves the identified problems. Second, coming up with an innovative idea is messy and requires a lot of thinking and brainstorming to refine it into a feasible solution. Being able to navigate the mess and steer towards a solid direction is what makes good entrepreneurs.

To summarize my key takeaways from the experience; I would recommend anyone who wants an engaging introduction to entrepreneurship and design thinking to be a part of the Duke in Silicon Valley program. The program was a unique and valuable experience and allowed me to connect with an excellent group of peers, who I look forward to meeting in person this fall.

Baran YBaran is a senior from Ankara, Turkey pursuing a major in electrical and computer engineering. He is interested in emerging technologies in machine learning infrastructure. He chose to participate in the program to explore different parts of the innovation culture in Silicon Valley. Having worked previously with a large tech company in Silicon Valley, Baran is excited for the program to provide him with entrepreneurial exposure to startups and early-stage ventures. In his spare time, Baran enjoys traveling and spending time with friends and family.


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