Kai '17 Takes on Silicon Valley [3/22]

Students visited Illumina to meet with Julie Baher '88 and toured Slack to meet with Caroline McCarthy '13.  Wednesday's reflections are written by Yuan Wang '20 and Christina Wang '20

Yuan's Reflection

Yuan Wang is a member of CSS class of 2020 and also plans to double major in Math. He is excited about becoming an Eco-facilitator for Bennett Hall in the coming year. He is interested in pursuing a career in the business world after graduation.


We went to Illumina in the morning to meet with Julie ’88 in a conference room of the Illumina office. We learnt about how her experience at Wesleyan influenced her career path and eventually led her to Illumina, where she incorporated the knowledge of her major and her passion. We learnt a lot about Illumina, about its different markets, products, and initiatives, which were very interesting to me. One of my major takeaways from this meeting is that one’s career path is greatly influenced by things that are out of control. Julie never “planned” to be in a place at Illumina; instead, she tried to take advantage of all opportunities that were offered to her, and eventually found a place where she found a deep sense of belonging. The best thing we can do is to build up a robust skill set, try to understand what we want, and make the most of opportunities that are offered to us; eventually we will settle in a career path which we are very passionate about.

In the afternoon, we went to visit Caroline in Slack. Unlike Illumina, which is close to monopolizing its market, Slack is a rapidly growing startup that faces fierce competition from companies like Microsoft. It is apparent that Caroline is very passionate about the work she is doing, and she appears to me as a very smart and confident person. A major part of our discussions was focused on Slack’s relationship to its competitors and collaborators in the current tech market, especially about its strategy in dealing with the competing Microsoft platform that is free for companies who have bought Office. This conversation was very intellectually stimulating, and it gives me a much better understanding of how intense and intricate competition is in the tech business. I deeply felt that helping to develop and implement a strategy to ensure the healthy growth of one’s company despite competition is such a challenging yet interesting and meaningful task, and I could lucidly understand why Caroline was so passionate about her work at Slack compared to her position at Google.

The two tours today are very different, primarily because the companies are so different, which I really enjoy because we get to know about both a big company and a growing startup. The alumni are very passionate and kind, and the discussions we had are deeply interesting and helpful to me.

Christina's Reflection

Christain Wang is a freshman planing to double major in Economics and French at Wesleyan. 

On Wednesday March 22nd, we visited Illumina and Slack. We started our day with Illumina, a company that conducts a lot of scientific research. We met up with a Wesleyan Alum, Julia Bahrer, class of xx. Visually, Illumina did not have the sought-after feeling of a “new, sexy startup of Silicon Valley” due to its serious and scientific research; however, its impact is as important as that of Facebook or Slack which could be manifested in the fact that almost every employee had a PhD in their field. Personally, I do not have a scientific background, in fact, having taken only one Biology and Chemistry class says a lot about my lack of knowledge in the area. Although Illumina sounded interesting, it certainly did not excite me due the nature of the company; however, it was eye-opening to visit a company I wouldn’t necessarily visit on my own.


In the afternoon, we went to Slack which was only a short Uber-ride away in the heart of San Francisco. Upon arriving at Slack, it was clear to us that the company was completely different from Illumina. The completely open workspace, the vibrant corporation of its colors into their interior design, and a wall of bikes all gave us the appeal of a “Silicon Valley Startup.” We met Caroline McCarthy, an alum that I contacted before the trip. Not a Slack user myself, I learned a lot about the app and the company from Caroline. What I liked especially about her was that she had a sense of pride about working at Slack which states a lot about the company and employee relationship. Caroline also told us about her previous experience at Google, explained why she left such a big and established company for a small (at the time) start-up. Slack was one of my favorites due to how much we saw and learned from the company. To sum up Caroline’s feeling towards Slack, one quote would suffice: “Slack is this successful because we use Slack.”