I woke up to the sounds of the city and my blaring alarm clock at 7 AM. I was pumped up for the first day of the iSchool’s Spring Break in Silicon Valley (SBinSV) and excited to visit the companies lined up for the day.

So what did we actually do? We spent the whole day with people we had never met before, but who were willing to share both their time and their experiences with us. And I learned that I like this “industry of big ideas” a lot. And that’s probably the most important lesson.

The Visits

A stop at GoogleOur first visit was Google. We were welcomed by the host, a Syracuse alumnus. He told us what it’s like to work at Google, and also gave us some insight into the type of work he does on a daily basis.

During our icebreaker session, we were able to get a better view of the Google culture including: how employees are encouraged to use their 20% time toward personal projects, the ease and encouragement of moving around the company, and how it’s understandable to make mistakes sometime. All of the speakers had unique perspectives based on their own experiences and were more than willing to offer advice for those of us interested in making the trek out West.

Our next stop was Yahoo! where we met a panel that included people from variety of fields: engineering, corporate development, finance and corporate communications. Another aspect of the culture I noticed was how everyone is so passionate towards innovation.

We headed next to MobileIron, it was a different environment than the previous two. We talked about how that company of 35 people grew to around 600 employees now, asking them all questions about press releases, to-go market strategies, funding and lot more. Unlike other places, Silicon Valley respects entrepreneurs who have tried, failed, and learned from their mistakes.

Aruba Networks

Aruba Networks

Aruba Networks was our next stop. Greg Murphy, VP for Business Operations of Aruba Networks, shared his story with us. Murphy was a history major from Stanford, but he decided not to pursue a career in his field of study. Instead, he pursued a career that matched the interests he had developed over time.

I was inspired by his vision “to build a small company big.” Aruba Networks values their customers, and wants to be connected to them as they grow larger.

I was impressed how they focus their products towards solving day-to-day problems. For example, if you’re watching a game in a stadium, they need to address problems like traffic, parking, seating or getting food. I remember one of them saying “I learned how to build Legos long ago, but I’m still building them.” The passion for the work they do never dies.

Lessons and Takeaways

I believe my biggest takeaway from each of the company visits was the clear focus on people. Conversations at each company were refreshingly frank about the churn in the industry, talking extensively about acquiring and retaining the right talent. They all wanted flat and fluid company structures with open communication and feedback channels. And most importantly, there was an extraordinary sense of trust and transparency that runs in the companies.

The first day of SBinSV can’t be described with one word. It was exciting, interesting, challenging, rewarding and 20 other words I could rattle off for you which all seem meaningful and meaningless at the same time. But, bear with me, and I promise it all makes sense.

I am sure the coming days of SBinSV trip will be inspiring and filled with lessons to learn. I feel I am breaking the shell that I have built around myself out. I think I’m ready to take off and see myself fitting in Silicon Valley someday, somewhere, building Legos.