Kai '17 Takes on Silicon Valley [3/23]

Students visited Apple to have lunch with Paul Johnson '08 and toured IDEO with Amanda Sim '08. Thursday's reflections are written  by Tristan Ang '19 and Virginia Johnson '18. 

Tristan's Reflection

Tristan Ang is a sophomore double majoring in physics and computer science. Originally from Singapore, Tristan is currently working with Professor Starr in Starr Lab. In his free time, Tristan enjoys hanging out with his friends.


We met Paul Johnson, an optics engineer, for lunch at the food court in the Apple campus at Cupertino. Paul graduated with a PhD in bioengineering and thus his role was more technical in nature compared to the other alumni. Like Erik, Paul shared with us the detail-orientated nature of Apple; his team did significant amount of studies to determine the optimum wavelength of light the human eye processes at different times of day and implemented that research into the Nightshift application in iOS. Although similar apps have been available on the android platform, the extra care Apple puts into their work is remarkable. The Apple campus itself was very scenic and calming, with many trees and greenery. 
CEO Tim Cook also happened to be sitting adjacent to our table and it was fun taking secret selfies with him.

We met Amanda Sim, a graphic designer, who gave us a tour of IDEO. IDEO is a small design consulting firm which does design from a very human-centric perspective. Amanda elaborated deeply on the numerous and detailed interviews IDEO conducts with potential end-product users. She explained it as such: if IDEO wanted to know what was the favorite color of the consumer, it is insufficient to merely seek a verbal affirmation, IDEO instead would go to this person’s house and note the color of the things they wear, the furniture, and etc. She also explained the utility of fast prototyping, which is making a somewhat useable product for testing even though said product is still far from the final output. There were also no fixed desks at the office of IDEO and employees moved around daily, forming new teams as necessary. It was a very bubbly place where people were happy to work in.

This trip gave me a solid idea of the processes involved in tech development. Personally, I did not realize how important non-technical roles were in tech. However, I realized that it is people’s needs and how developers are able to conceptualize them that drives progress forward and the technical aspects, although important as well, has no direction unless provided one by those who have a vision of how the world should work. It gave me confidence in being competitive in tech despite coming from a small LAC who people might think have trouble competing with big flagship schools.


Virginia's Reflection

Virginia Johnson is a junior majoring in Studio Art with a Data Analysis Minor. She's interested working to find exciting and sustainable solutions to problems by combining creativity and artistry with logical analysis. On campus, she is a leader within Wesleyan Outing club, spending her time enjoying the outdoors while working on new ways to get people outside.

The first alumni we met today was Paul Johnson, who works at Apple. He met us in the campus’s lobby and explained some of how the Apple campus was set up as we walked to lunch. We had lunch in the Apple Cafeteria, and had the opportunity to ask Paul a huge variety of questions. He told us a lot about his job position, working to engineer the Apple display screens, and about his career trajectory since graduating in 2008. It was really interesting to hear about how he came to make decisions about his career, and what his advice would be to us. He gave us some insight as to how working at Apple feels like, such as the day to day of his job and what interactions with his team and bosses are like. I really feel that I understand better what working for a big tech company like Apple is like, and more equipped to decide if that is something I would be interested in doing.

After going to Apple, we went to meet Amanda Sim at the IDEO offices. She gave us a tour of the office, told us what the company does, and showed us a lot of examples of individual projects they had worked on. Because IDEO does design consulting on so many different types of things, this was really helpful for me to understand what types of work the company takes on and what the company’s goals are. It was really intriguing to me how IDEO is structured to inspire creativity among it’s employees by giving them the opportunity to work on new projects and with new people so frequently, but to really dive deeply into each problem that is presented. This seems like it allows the employees to always bring novel ideas and perspectives to a problem and to not grow complacent. I really appreciated getting the chance to take the tour with Amanda because I was not previously aware of that this type of work was taking place within tech, and this provided a refreshing contrast to a lot of the more computer science focused jobs that we learned about.

As this was the last day of the trip, afterwards we were off to the airport to head our separate ways. The Kai Wesleyan trip was so helpful to me to get a clearer picture of what types of work is being done in tech in Silicon Valley. Even though most of the alumni had roles that I couldn’t quite see myself in, they all had valuable insight that helped me to think about what type of work I should be looking for. It was a nice bonus to have so much fun exploring San Francisco and getting to know the other students on the trip! I’m really thankful that the leaders of this trip put it together and that I had the opportunity to go.