Kai Tech Trip NYC: On Problem Identification, Pitching, and Media Representation of Women and Minorities in Tech

Reflections for October 25th, 2015 (Day One)

On the Highline for the Pitch Activity. Not pictured: Jisung (away at Church service).

On the Highline for the Pitch Activity. Not pictured: Jisung (away at Church service).

Alex Garcia ‘17 (trip leader)    

Today we dove deep into problem identification, personal pitching, and media representations of the tech industry. On the hour subway ride to a Chipotle right across from the NYC Google offices we started our discussion about problems we recognized growing up in each of our hometowns. The goal was to get the juices flowing for problem identification and to recognize that how and where one grows up can influence the problems one sees as worth solving. From my background growing up in San Diego, I pointed out how poor public transportation has had a negative impact on the economic mobility of the poor. Participants on this trip come from as far away as Ukraine and Thailand to as close as Queens and Brooklyn, New York. So it was no surprise to me that each student brought up very different problems and perspectives on our subway ride into the city.

From our brunch on we continued alternating between a partner and group arrangement to share ideas and practice pitching. I was very impressed with the hard work of the group in putting in the practice to get better and also the receptiveness to giving and taking constructive feedback. I think showing is better than telling when it comes to the pitch activity so I recorded some of the activities and will post the videos shortly.

Maimouna Siby ‘16

We started our days bright and early, shuffling from the J to the L train towards the city. While on the train we had an awesome discussion in pairs about problems we notice in our respective communities and what tech solutions we could come up with to rectify them. I really enjoyed the exercise because it made me reflect on pressing issues like police brutality and our underserved communities in NYC being rummaged and destroyed by gentrification. We came up with a lot of creative ideas for an app that would work to consolidate resources, provide live mapped information, and spread awareness. We got so into it that we started drawing out our layout design and discussing how our app would function on different phone platforms. We went to Chipotle right after had lunch and got to know each other more by learning about the problems in communities around the world and how different individuals would go about effecting change.

Finally we went to the Highline and practiced personal pitching as well as role play pitching to gain investment for actual companies. We started by writing out what we’d like to say about ourselves and then took on the tough task of cutting it down in an effective yet highly communicative ways. It was so helpful to hear the direction everyone took with their pitches and modify my own based on positive feedback or helpful criticism. Coming back to our Airbnb we watched Silicone Valley and had a great conversation about the lack of people of color and women in the tech industry. It was a really productive conversation capped by a great YouTube clip showing the lack of perspective that exists in the writing room of these shows. Overall twas’ a great day filled with great discussions!

Mykhailo Iakovenko ‘18

Today has been a transformative day for me. In the morning, we had a great discussion about technologies and artificial intelligence. Will computers ever have feelings, can they be a threat to humanity, can they love? These and many other questions drove an extremely interesting and engaging conversation. As a fan of “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” by Ray Kurzweil, I think it is absolutely possible that artificial human-like intelligence will soon be created and might transcend human intelligence. Moreover, given the exponential, not linear, development of computer computational ability, it might even be possible that human consciousness will be digitized and form a single immortal consciousness.

Apart from pondering on the faith of humanity, we shared our own experiences with technology. I was surprised to learn that in Hong Kong one can pay for groceries with their metro card and the fact that my home country, Ukraine, has the same infrastructural and educational problems as Thailand does. It was also interesting to hear about different startups all over the world and think whether they can be implemented in the US and in our own countries.

But the most transformative experience for me occurred later in the day. Coming from a very conservative and homogenous country where racist and sexist ideas are a norm, I sometimes have trouble recognizing many issues that exist in our society. After watching a few episodes of Silicon Valley, a satire on the technological capital of the US, I stumbled on the same problem, my insensitivity to some of the issues portrayed in the show. Yet the discussion that we had right after, made me more aware of the diversity problems in the tech world and once again reminded me of the importance of inclusion not only in the Valley but also in the workplace in general.

Kafilah Muhammad ‘18

Today was a wonderful day. At the very start of the day I woke up next to my beautiful roommate and wiped the sleep from my eyes. Yawning, I stretched my long legs and prepared for the day ahead of me. I couldn’t be more excited to be spending the day with the individuals in my cohort. As we walked through the arid NYC streets I gazed upon the ever changing landscape of my hometown, Brooklyn NY. While traveling on the classic J train, I talked with my friend about how technology could be used to make our lives and hometowns more efficient. Realizing that technology is basically interspersed in all segments of our lives, we discussed solutions to several problems that play larger roles in our lives like police brutality. As the day progressed I learned and observed the ways in which all of the individuals I was on the trip had a passion for learning about the world of technology and entrepreneurship. Each of us had different ways of conveying our pitches, but that was one of the most beautiful parts of the day. Having the ability to recognize we all possess different skills, from writing to public speaking allowed me to appreciate a vast range of personalities combined. After a long day of experiencing the illustrious view of the highline, we recapped at our comfortable apartment and discussed the problems with diversity in the tech industry.

Mario See ‘18

I felt that a lot of the activities we did in the day like practicing personal pitches and pitching ideas and companies were important lessons we need in the professional world. We need to know how to showcase our experience, interests, and goals to gain opportunities to work with purpose and to turn our passions into reality. I felt like it was a great introduction to knowing each other in the trip. In the subway ride and over lunch, we talked about issues back home and what developments we could start to fix these problems. A few examples that really struck me were how Elliot said everyone in Hong Kong is taxed equally from the 1 percent to the lower class, which is absolutely ridiculous, and how Misha talked about how bad public transportation, expensive cars and high gas prices have been producing transportation woes in Ukraine, which definitely resonates with how I perceive transportation in the Philippines.

The purpose of this trip is to learn more about the technology industry in NYC. I just found it interesting how we're watching HBO's Silicon Valley to analyze how media portrays the tech scene to be. I feel that the lack of representation in Silicon Valley is a big issue in the fields of technology and media; the main characters of the show consist of mostly white males, which also happens to be the largest demographic in many Silicon Valley tech companies. This satire of Silicon Valley also has sexist and racist "humor"—which the show is trying to convey that these issues exist in Silicon Valley and must be tackled—but I feel that the execution fails in that aspect. Rather than putting down these backwards viewpoints, this show perpetuates it further into society, ultimately contradicting itself.

How can we—the youth, the future generation—transform these environments to be more representative, accurate, and most importantly safe for women, people of color, underprivileged, and the oppressed? Organizations like Girls Who Code and events like Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing are necessary opportunities for women, who are often discouraged to pursue STEM fields as they are a "male" field, to learn more about computer science in a safer environment. I believe that there needs to be more people aware of these issues and opportunities to help minorities to make Silicon Valley an inclusive environment.

Antonio Robayo ‘16

Today was the first day that we got into the actual meat of the Kai trip. During our ride on the L train we began discussing different issues that affect our respective neighborhoods and possible tech solutions to address these issues. Being from New York, I couldn’t just think of my neighborhood as a single, isolated entity. I had to think about the surrounding neighborhoods, which then led me to think about all of New York City. When I think of every neighborhood in New York I think about all the families similar to mine, families composed of immigrants. One of the issues that plagues New York is limited literacy for immigrant families who take up English as a second language. While there are initiatives for educating individuals whose first language is not English, there are no initiatives that also tackle tech literacy.

As the tech industry continues to grow and digital tools become more and more integral to everyday life, tech literacy becomes increasingly necessary. Tackling tech literacy alongside literacy in English could solve the diversity issue affecting the tech industry by inspiring the future generation of programmers all the while teaching them English. After getting off the train we walked to the Highline to work on pitching ourselves, which I was really anxious about. I still kept an open mind, though because I knew that I would learn a lot from hearing and seeing everyone else present themselves. When it eventually came down to pitching myself, it was nice to put myself out of my comfort zone. It was great receiving constructive criticism in a friendly space. I look forward to visiting the tech companies tomorrow.

Amanda Yeoh ‘19

The first exercise of the day required that we think critically about solutions to issues our respective communities. I reflected on the state of public education in Malaysia and discussed my ideas with Maimouna, Antonio and Kalifah. Online education, I told them, had lots of potential to help students in rural areas overcome infrastructural learning gaps.

I’d never heard about the phrase “personal pitching” until this trip. This was the next exercise for the day. It seemed intuitive, succinctly selling the “best parts” of yourself to others. Soon, I learnt that filtering out important details into a coherent profile was much trickier than I thought. After drafting my pitch, we regrouped as a team to deliver our personal pitches. Projecting oneself was key—I made a mental note of that. On another note, as Alex pointed out, it was important to strike a balance between delivering one’s passions and one’s work experiences. The constructive feedback we received from each other helped me understand how to effectively demonstrate value in a short amount of time.   

The second part of the pitching activity was a little more upbeat. We assumed the roles of startup founders, pitching three existing companies: Snapchat, Airbnb and Venmo. I found it helpful in thinking along the lines of the customer. With that in mind, Misha, Elliot and I introduced Airbnb as a company selling an authentic and thrifty holiday experience.

We wrapped up our day with a discussion on Silicon Valley’s lack of on screen representation of minorities. I noted that HBO has a trend of producing provocative dramas, such as Game of Thrones. We settled on the idea that comedies aren’t always humorous.

Pi Songkuntham ‘19

At brunch, we discussed about what do we mean by the term startup, startup ideas for our hometowns, and successful startups. We also discussed about whether machines can think, what we mean by love, whether we can make computers love.

Then we did pitch practice. I have never pitched before. It was challenging for me to convince myself to be confident and to get out of my comfort zone. I got to practice “marketing” myself. Practicing with partners helped a lot. Everyone all had creative ways to present themselves. I learned that it is not only about how many internships one has done, but it is more about how one present oneself. My partner said he doesn’t have many work experiences but his pitch was great. Then we practiced pitching companies. I like the Q&A part after pitching because it is more challenging. I learned how to ask good questions and give smart answers. Although it seems like a simple task, I find it to be pretty difficult.

We then watched episodes of Silicon Valley and had some discussions on diversity in tech world. I didn’t notice that most of my favorite shows could be problematic. It is good to remind myself to think more about the issue.

One of the best moment I have had is to get to know more about my Wesleyan friends. We see each other all the time on campus but we never have a deep conversation. It is fun and meaningful to share my experiences and listen to and learn from what others are thinking.

Jisung Jung ‘17

I joined the group today very late due to attending a religious service and being lost in the city. However, the discussion and the questions that the group raised after watching “Silicon Valley” were complex and challenging enough for today. We mainly discussed about our personal experiences and opinions about the gender and racial issues in the tech industry and, furthermore, in media. Since I was also struggling with the racial problems in U.S. while I was walking around the streets today, our discussion enriched and complicated my thoughts more.

What is the reality for the racial minorities and females in media or tech industries? Are media and shows such as “Silicon Valley” portraying the reality or the biased reality of the script writers? If the racial and gender problems are as severe as I perceive, what are some possible solutions in order to better the environment and the industries? What are other means to help solve these problems? What is my role in all of these issues? I have a lot of questions that I would love to struggle with the friends in the group and also ask the alumni or professionals who are currently working in the tech industry. I am looking forward to how I come to answer these questions or develop my thoughts on these questions.