Summer 2012 – Silicon Valley

A little over a year ago, I came back from an amazing summer at Silicon Valley in California. Here’s a small guide / story for anyone thinking about going out there to work, or if you’re just curious about my experience there.

Motivation

As part of my degree requirements at Imperial College London, we were made to apply for 6 month placements in the industry. I had interned at Goldman Sachs in London, so I was looking for a different experience to the conventional finance route that the City of London offered.
After relentlessly preparing for interviews by going through algorithm and data structure questions I got into a few companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York.

My first choice however was Palantir Technologies, where I was offered a place as a Forward Deployed Engineering Intern for their Metropolis platform. There were around 4 non-US interns and they sponsored our visas for the internships as well.

Palantir Technologies

We build software that allows organizations to make sense of massive amounts of disparate data

The company is based in downtown Palo Alto and the office I was working out of was the ex-Facebook headquarters, 156 University Avenue. For interns they provided free housing 5 mins from the office, bicycles and intern specific nights as well as the conventional perks for full time employees including free breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Palantir is one of the most relevant companies in the information age where we have terabytes of data floating around and no one has the tools to make sense of it. This is especially the case for large organizations.

Apart from all the fun and games, I was given a fair amount of responsibility during my summer projects. There was pretty much an open door policy at the company and I often found myself talking to interns, full time employees and directors late into the night about life, philosophy and code.

Fun, games and Silicon Valley

One of my friends (Rafal) from university was interning at ClassDojo on California Avenue and we often found ourselves going to Stanford over weekends where you can pretty much go around the whole campus and read under the beautiful lawns.

Once term time started I would often go to Stanford events where one of my Kenyan friends, Elahe was studying.

Cycling around Palo Alto is the best way to get around as everything is so close.

When you get bored of suburban Palo Alto, San Francisco is a stone throw away. The Caltrain goes into the heart of the SOMA district.

For our main Palantir intern event the company hired out the Exploratorium in San Francisco and had a party at Peter Thiel’s house (founder of Palantir and early stage investor in Facebook).

I also got the opportunity to visit the Dropbox HQ where some family friends are working.

Weekend getaways

Weekends were also spent traveling to attractions near and around California.

A few of my friends were interning at Amazon (Seattle, Washington) and we spent a weekend there which is ~2 hour plane ride away.  One evening we ended up at a beautiful restaurant called Ray’s Boathouse, which I would highly recommend.

Another weekend was spent in Los Angeles.

We had hired a car on these trips and didn’t have an issue with non-US driving licences. However, one thing to be wary about is that if you are under 25 then you have to pay a premium. They often require a credit card as well.

Rafal and I also drove to Yosemite despite the Hantavirus scare at the time.  We climbed up to Vernal Falls and were brave enough to take a plunge in the ice-cold water.

Freezing water!
Freezing water!

My last week of the internship was spent working out of the Palantir New York office in Manhattan, where I was staying in the vibrant Meatpacking district.

Interning for a company in the Valley is something that I would definitely recommend if you are student or have recently graduated.

Get in touch if you have any questions!

Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge (svc2c)

I visited Cambridge on the 18th of November 2010. I took a train from London Kings Cross at around 19:30. The evening was spent roaming around Queens’ College and Cambridge.

In the morning I rushed to the Judge Business School to attend the Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge conference. The first keynote speaker was Mike Schroepher (Vice President of Engineering at Facebook),  where he gave an inspirational talk about his past at Stanford University, Mozilla and Facebook. He mentioned that young people should constantly look at the things that they enjoy as future career plans as opposed to doing something for financial or other motives.

A panel on how to endure startups was particularly fascinating. Adam Nash (Vice President of Search & Platform Products at LinkedIn) was of the opinion that flexibility in employees is a key element. Mike was of the opinion that hiring employees that can solve problems surpassing specifications was what he looks for. He also gave a very different outlook on life and how the theory of flow is something that is so vital and fundamental in the short and long term. Tackling pertinent problems rather than entire industries was the advice he gave to budding enterprenuers.

A keynote speech by John Lilly (Venture Partner at Greylock, outgoing Mozilla CEO) focused primarily on how to handle a work / life balance. He mentioned how his contacts had an impact on his life, and advised the audience to look 10-20 years down the road and visualise people you would like to be and work with.  Exposure to random social activities and meeting lots of people was a good way of networking he said. Treating people well who resonate with you is another key element he mentioned.

Top commandments for entrepreneurs given by distinguished Silicon Valley guests are as follows:

  • Hire the right people
  • Be loyal to your markets
  • The ‘if’ factor is the most important
  • Talk about your ideas to as many people as you can
  • People need to think for themselves rather than be lectured
  • Making your own mistakes is a key experience
  • Questioning authority
  • Find mentors
  • Change the world

The conference ended with a speech from Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn). His vision for life was to build human ecosystems through Technology, Finance and Business. His tips to entrepreneurs include making decisions in a time compressed situation whether you want to or not and to look at your business competitive edge in the industry.

This was followed by a networking session.

I got some dinner at Queens’ College and headed for London at around 20:45.