Spring Break in Silicon Valley (SBinSV) is a week-long immersion trip hosted by the iSchool every spring. This immersion trip is a three-credit course with an emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurship, and real-world exposure to different industries. After a competitive application process, 19 students – ranging from sophomores to graduate students, and with majors from information management to television, radio and film majors – got the invitation to join the 2017 SBinSV trip, its seventh year running. Julie Walas Huynh, Director of Alumni and Student Engagement at the iSchool, Braden Croy, Program Manager of the Blackstone Launchpad, and John Liddy, professor and Director of the Student Sandbox, accompanied the students to California.
After more than ten hours traveling across the country, we began our initial descent into the San Francisco International Airport. Exhausted and dazed, I sat in a dimly-lit room at our hotel in San Mateo, California. Julie promised the group a meal from In N’ Out, which was enough to keep me going despite being up since 6:00 AM. Yet I was still excited as we began our first briefing for the Valley that night. We did several icebreaker activities designed to prepare us for our company visits. In total, our schedule included 24 companies ranging from tech giants like Google to medium size companies like Chegg and a handful of smaller startups.
Our first visit of the week was Google. Brian Garber, an iSchool alumnus that currently works at Google as part of their IT Residency Program organized our visit. There was a panel of five SU graduates, ranging from the iSchool to Maxwell to Whitman. The group then visited the welcome center, where we tried on the infamous “Noogler” hat. We also got to enjoy the ball pit for a couple minutes, which made us feel like kids again.
Throughout the week, some of the companies stood out to and surprised me. Chegg, the textbook rental and online tutoring company, was a stunner from the beginning. They’re incredibly passionate about education, and have initiatives that help their local community. Their CEO, Dan Rosensweig, gave a heartfelt speech about how life is not a straight line and serendipitous. The idea of serendipity was a concept that was repeatedly brought up in the Valley.
A Newfound Interest
VMWare and Cisco Meraki also surprised me. Personally, I don’t have an interest in cloud computing or computer networking. However, I talked to some of VMWare’s top management team members and took a tour of Cisco Meraki’s stunning San Francisco campus. I left the Valley with a newfound interest in the more technical side of the iSchool. I was so intrigued that I had to tell Professor Dave Molta all about it and geeked out. The visits reinforced the idea of keeping an open mind and how you can find new interest by putting yourself out there.
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Airbnb Takes the Cake
Out of all our visits, Airbnb was my absolute favorite. As someone who is passionate about travel, learning from different cultures and strongly believes that companies should do good for the community, Airbnb embodied all of these ideals. As an immigrant and first-generation American myself, the company’s Stand with Refugees campaign resonated with me personally. It was refreshing to see a large company that truly cares about the global community. This was not only evident in their marketing strategy, but also from the people who work at Airbnb.
Ellie Thiele is an SU grad who turned down an offer from Google and applied for a little-known startup company she found on Craigslist. She later became Airbnb’s thirteenth employee. She has been with the company ever since. The Airbnb employees we met were not only incredibly smart but also incredibly passionate. They spoke with such grace, confidence, and pride in the company.
I left with such excitement that I haven’t felt since I first visited Syracuse University when I promised myself that I was going to do everything I could to be accepted and attend Syracuse one day. As I was exiting their headquarters, I spoke to one of the other students, David. I told him “one day, maybe in like 2022, I will be hosting the SBinSV students here at Airbnb and you’ll have your company here in the Valley and it’s already blowing up.” We both laughed at the premise – but I know deep inside, we strongly believe in our dreams.
Although we visited plenty of companies that exposed us to a multitude of information and received a deeper insight to the real-world, one of the things that stood out to me the most about SBinSV is the realization that anything is possible. Even almost 3,000 miles away from the Hill, the Orange alumni network still bleeds strong and proud. As I sat down on my flight back to the East Coast after a long, but life-changing week, I was filled with joy and gratitude that I got to be part of this amazing trip, surrounded by an equally amazing group of people.
The most profound thing I’ve learned during my week in the Valley and was consistently present from all the companies we visited. From big to small, everyone was devoted to their craft and to their passion. I learned that one of the greatest privileges in life is the ability to do the thing you love, every day. After the trip, I might have just figured out what I absolutely love and what I want to do. But maybe not. And that too, I learned, is also okay.
2017 SBinSV Visits
Here are all the places SBinSV visited in 2017. Take a look and explore these companies for yourself!