Duke in Silicon Valley – An experience, not just a class

Kevin Hoch/ June 10, 2022/ 2022

This summer, I was a part of the cohort for Duke in Silicon Valley, a course led by Duke’s I&E department. This project-based program was centered around preparing us for our journey into the startup landscape while innovating solutions to imagine a workplace for a prominent startup.

As we continued our research for the project of designing the workplace of the future, we had several visits to companies in Silicon Valley to learn from their experience adapting to the pandemic and picking the brains of top entrepreneurs to prepare us for our journey.

Through our visits, we picked up on many interesting quirks of offices in Silicon Valley, our favorite one being, of course, unlimited free food. As we marveled over huge kombucha bars and large meditation rooms, we realized how important it is to take care of the people who make a company. Be it through fun activities organized or clever conference room names, company culture seemed crucial to a successful workplace.

A highlight of our trip was our visit to Oracle Park. After watching the San Francisco Giants play San Diego, we had the opportunity to get a tour of some of the highlights of the park from the Senior Vice President of the team: Bill Schlough. Along with breathtaking views and some unforgettable stories about the construction of the park, and showing us his championship rings, Bill talked us through his journey to where he is right now and gave valuable insights for us to keep in mind.

One of our most interesting activities in class involved practicing negotiating in a context that most of us are likely to encounter: a job negotiation. For this exercise, everyone in the class was given roles that dictated which factors were important to us in the negotiation along with other contextual information to make us aware of the circumstances.

As some pairs struggled to come to a compromise that satisfied both parties, others realized that there in fact, was no need to compromise in many areas since often negotiating partners have shared interests.

“Yes, and…”

These two words we learned play a crucial role in innovation. Building on the ideas of others instead of changing them or shooting them down creates a collaborative atmosphere that fosters unparalleled innovation. To practice this, Duke in Silicon Valley students took the stage with BATS improv in San Francisco and developed skills pertaining to brainstorming and innovating through simple yet engaging exercises.

The concept of empathy and collaboration has echoed throughout the classes we have had with Professor Amato as we try to learn as much as we can from the experiences of people who have worked in different styles and innovate a proposed system of work for the growing startup.

In addition to this project, this course has facilitated growth in each student as they try to learn about being an entrepreneur from so many people who have done it. Here are some quotes from our guest speakers which I found valuable.

  • “What does your future self wish you did today?”
  • “The reputation you leave behind really matters. Do the work!”
  • “If you help lots of people, lots of people will help you. Say yes!”
  • “You are at the age to optimize risk for learning.”
  • “Startups don’t run out of money, founders run out of energy.”
  • “Be surrounded by the smartest people you can find!”

I’m thankful for the opportunities this course has offered me and hope to continue to capitalize on all the priceless knowledge I have encountered this past month.

Aditya is a rising sophomore at Duke University – pursuing a double major in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science. Aditya enjoys building products, watching Formula 1 races and spending time with his family. At Duke, he is a member of a premier pre-professional business organization Delta Sigma Pi (DSP), is a part of the Duke Academy of Model Aeronautics and the HackDuke organizing team. Over his gap year, Aditya worked on his EdTech startup where he talked to people involved in the startup space in Silicon Valley. He is now excited to meet more people to prepare him for his journey into solving problems using technology.

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