Amanda Yeoh ‘19
Visiting Samsung’s Accelerator was an extremely transformative experience. After giving us an overview of Samsung’s mission, our host, David Jay presented us with a device he was working on. It was the first time I saw someone move a device by gestures alone, without any physical contact with the object. We broke up into smaller groups to brainstorm potential applications for the technology. Talking to Pi, I realized that surgeons would be able to carry out more precise surgery, thus reducing human errors.
Our visit to AppNexus was informative in a different sense. It gave me a broad overview of the working culture in an open office. In our visits to Electric Objects and Givkwik, I found it refreshing to listen to Jake Levine’s and Jason Rosado’s paths to entrepreneurship. Both Wesleyan alumni ventured into banking after graduation. Jake left the industry after about one year after realizing that it was not the right path for him. On the other hand, Jason made his way to becoming the Vice President of a prominent bank before finally pursuing his passion for impulse philanthropy.
The main takeaway I got from these visits was that perseverance and conviction are key. They also made me see the tech industry from a new light. I realized how much companies need more than just programmers to flourish. There is room for designers, artists, programmers and even lawyers for companies at different stages. What most employees have in common is that they are passionate about their work.
Mario See ‘18
The variety of offices we visited today really exposed us to different types of companies within the technology industry. All four places had varied working environments, and my feelings shifted according to the environment.
We got a chance to visit Wesleyan alums David Jay '04 in the Samsung Global Innovation Center, Jake Levine '08 in Electric Objects, and Jason Rosado '96 of Givkwik at ImpactHub NYC. Additionally, we were fortunate enough that my sister Michelle managed to get us an office tour at ad-tech company AppNexus at late notice.
I really enjoyed starting the day off with learning about David's research and work for Presto. He used his watch, which had an accelerometer, to control an Ollie drone—it was pretty cool. Afterwards, we divided into smaller groups and had a brainstorming activity on how motion commands in products can improve society. Many of us said that it would be great for the people with disabilities who can benefit from using small gestures to move their wheelchair or send everyday messages.
Kafilah '18 brought up an important point on mistakes the accelerometer can make by misinterpreting gestures, and David went on to discuss how they are minimizing false-true cases. I felt really happy to understand what David said when he discussed truth table cases (from Discrete Mathematics) to make sure his product works as it should. Many people say that what you study in college matters less than what you learn on the job, but it felt great to recognize a concept used in real life that you learned in class.
David also expounded on how his liberal arts education at Wesleyan, studying two seemingly disconnected fields of Sociology and Physics, actually helped him tremendously and tie really well together with his company Presto, which definitely made me feel more confident about my liberal arts education at Wesleyan. I think this really set the right mood for a day filled with learning from people who were in our shoes years ago.
Antonio Robayo ‘16
If I were to describe my feelings after today’s trip in one word, I would use the word “inspired.” The tech companies we visited today varied in size but all had invaluable lessons to teach. Although each visit had some new insight to offer, I would say I learned the most from our visit to Electric Objects, founded by Wesleyan alum Jake Levine ’08. What Levine reinforced for me was the notion that in order to accomplish fulfilling work, one must be truly passionate about what one is pursuing. And I would say that this is true of any work, whether it be an essay for school or a side project like home renovation. My other takeaway from the visit was that in order to make an idea come to fruition, one must find avenue for creation and commit. What I mean by this is if there’s something you don’t know necessary for accomplishing a goal it’s on you to make the effort to develop the skills in order to move one step closer toward reaching your objective. I know all this sounds somewhat preachy, but it was truly inspiring to hear this from Levine who was once in my position as a Wesleyan student trying to figure out his passions. Aside from the life/work related tips, it was cool to visit a tech company that was more modest in not only in terms of its workspace size but also in terms of its team size, compared to Samsung Accelerator and AppNexus, which we had also visited that same day.
Pi Songkuntham ‘19
Meeting alumni and professionals who are working in the "real" world reminds me that college curriculum is not everything. What to major in is what I have always been thinking about. But it is more important to put oneself out there, to meet people. I also realize how important writing and discussion intensive classes are. One can learn practical skills by oneself like learning to code online. But one of the skills that I can develop at liberal arts school is critical thinking skill. To be able to ask good questions, come up with new ideas, to understand other people, one needs such skill. Today's trip completely changed how I educate myself.
My favorite part of today was meeting with David Jay. His Samsung accelerator is fascinating. I have very little experience on virtual reality. I have no idea today's technology has gone this far. One thing I found these alumni have in common is that they are great speakers, lifelong learners. They are confident. They believe that they can succeed. They meet and learn from new people. Most importantly, they love what they are doing. Also, to be in the tech world, one does not need to be able to code, but one does need to have passion in tech.
We visited both big and small companies. All offices are open space with good kitchen. Everyone can see and interact with each other. One thing I noticed at AppNexus was the lack of diversity. I saw very few people of color. However, one of the similarities of each workplace is the diverse talent background of its people. Is tech world a meritocracy? In addition, its goals are mainly to serve wealthy consumers. David Jay posed an important question on how we can make tech business contribute more to society as a whole.
Elliot Williams ‘18
I grew up never having stepped foot in this country, and yet I knew exactly what the streets of New York looked like; New York, in many ways the city all other cities are compared to; the standard. The vivid imagery of it that I already had speaks to New York’s status as the cultural capital of the world, exemplifying the USA’s cultural supremacy in the world. We all listen to your music, watch your TV shows, and subscribe to your fashion values. It thus surprises me how little that the vibrant tech scene this city contains is present in the New York’s image to the world.
Our stop at the Samsung Accelerator today clearly demonstrated to me how innovative the work being done here is. The folks at Samsung were using the Intelligent devices of the future (Smart Watches, Smart Televisions, etc.) in a way that integrates more seamlessly in our lives. In addition to that work, our mentor David Jay of Presto enumerated how he gets involved with socially-conscious technology initiatives, in one example to support the Black Lives Matter movement. This really touched me, in that it is such an important cause to put technical skills towards, and the need is there. Those most oppressed and disadvantaged by the social dynamics that, unfortunately, discriminate against all those who aren’t cis white males in this country are also the least represented in the tech field; their concerns are mostly overlooked by a tech industry that often sees it more important to be working on superfluous apps based on the fads of the present day. Seeing Wesleyan alums conscious of this unfortunate reality, and actively working to acknowledge and ameliorate it, is inspiring to me. It speaks to the social consciousness that we as Wesleyan people value, and how this consciousness can positively impact the communities in which we live.
Jisung Jung ‘17
I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity that I met up with the three alumni from Wesleyan from Global Innovation Center (Samsung accelerator), Electric Objects, and Givkwik. The conversations with them not only provided me with professional guidelines and specific introductions of their companies but also gave me some advices as to what I can invest my time at Wesleyan or just during my two years before graduation. Since such advices and instructions derive from them experiencing various successes and failures, I tried my best to not miss any of those vital lessons.
There were some commonalities among the conversations and advices:
1) Do what you are passionate about
2) Share and talk about your ideas to as many people as you can
The last advice was very obvious, but shocking in some sense since they also experienced the same mentality that I had when approaching the alumni, ‘I am afraid that I am annoying them and they would not be willing to spend some time with me since they are all very busy people.’ All of the three mentors that I met were very consistent on this point that there are a lot of resources, especially from Wesleyan Community, that you can utilize even only in New York City and many of them are very willing to give advice and share their lessons. Talking with the three mentors, or alumni, ascertained the fact that we (Wesleyan undergraduates who are passionate about something somewhere) should be reaching out to our alumni more.
One could say the advices that I have listed above and some of the personal takings are too clichés and they are nothing new. However, I believe humans forget and doubt. So, the encouragement and reassurance of what to do and where to head from the “ancestors” of the field in which I am interested definitely are and will be invaluable.
Alex Garcia ‘17 (trip leader)
As promised, the video of yesterday’s pitch activity is posted below. The activity gave the group 10 minutes to come up with a 1 ½ minute pitch for a famous tech company. We ended up choosing Venmo, Airbnb, and Snapchat to practice with in this quick activity!
Today was a full day of office visits and as always alumni and friends of Wesleyan were working on interesting and bold concepts in their respective companies. The Samsung accelerator focuses on technology five years ahead of the game, a rarity in the industry. Electric Objects brings digital art into homes sans the burden and distraction common with many of the tech gadgets in our lives. Givkwik enables corporations to give their employees the freedom to choose where to give corporate philanthropy. Looking forward to the next set of alumni ahead and reading through the trip reflections from everyone else!