Duke in Silicon Valley: A Culture of Collaboration

Kevin Hoch/ May 26, 2022/ 2022

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Duke’s annual Duke in Silicon Valley program as part of an Innovation and Entrepreneurship course taught by renowned faculty member Professor Kathie Amato. The experience has been transformative, not just in terms of the skills of enterprise management I learned but also with regards to the level of quality networking and relationship-building I was able to achieve.

As I sat through classes consisting of informative lectures on business strategies, business models, interview methodologies, product design and case studies as well as speaker sessions from talented and accomplished professionals based in the valley, I contemplated what truly connected all these lessons and experiences together. This puzzlement and curiosity was addressed in one particular lecture. We had an in-class activity where we had been assigned a partner and we had to carry out a business transaction. Confidential information such as role assignment and task details were emailed to us beforehand. I happened to be a seller and my partner, Tim, the buyer in this simulation. As I initiated the offer at $1000 (to ensure profit), Tim made attempts to lower the price and we eventually settled on $700. Reconvening with Kathie, we discovered that had we worked together by sharing essential information, we could have completed a set of items and generated even greater combined profit. Instead, we seemed particularly focused on personal gain and resorted to secrecy and distrust. “Had you exchanged information and collaborated, you would have gained much more,” Kathie ensured. And that’s when it all started falling into place for me.

Silicon Valley is far from a mere collection of corporations competing against each other in a mountainous desert. It is where talent thrives and passion prevails. Where the lone-wolves struggle and the pack succeeds. The DSV program aims to teach students about these very insights into the surrounding region and its socio-economic structure. Our lectures emphasized the need to foster and maintain effective teams, not just through well-developed business models and role assignments but also through a strong social network between peers and competitors alike. Our guest speakers supplemented our learning with discussions on their own experiences in the industry and the importance of collaboration and connection. Kelly Hirano, a Director of Engineering at Meta, mentioned the way his friends were able to help him in his pursuit of early career opportunities; Fred Ehrsam, the creator of Coinbase and Paradigm, underscored the importance of seeking out the perfect co-founders; Max Cohen, CEO of Sprinter Health noted how well his VP of Operations, Ariana Afshar, complements his strengths and weaknesses as they both expand their startup; and Mackenzie Drazan, CEO of MiResource, highlighted how pertinent Duke’s academic and professional resources were in supporting her business while she operated out of her college dorm. These are the stories I shall recall and take inspiration from as I embark on my very own entrepreneurial journey in the near future.

In conclusion, Duke in Silicon Valley and, by extension, the Valley itself is marked by a unique culture of intelligent risk-taking, iterative planning and, above all, a sense of unwavering collaboration and networking. Silicon Valley’s essence lies not in the ideas and innovations it generates, but in the coming together of individuals behind those very ideas as they work to achieve exponentially more than what they ever could alone. As my fellow teammate, Aayushi, reminded us through a quote (which became a lovely inside joke for us all thereafter): “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” I believe this saying rings particularly true for the phenomenon that is Silicon Valley, California.

Muaz is a rising junior, hailing from Islamabad, Pakistan, who is double majoring in Computer Science and Statistical Science at Duke University. He is interested in exploring the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for social good as well as the evolution of network structures, particularly WiFi, LTE and the Internet. Muaz’s dream is to, one day, utilize the skills he will pick up in Silicon Valley and from Duke’s I&E Certificate to start a software venture of his own with his father who is also a software engineer back home. In his free time, Muaz loves to cook, play Wordle in each of the 3 languages he knows and build his souvenir cap collection.

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