Kai Wesleyan Takes on Silicon Valley [Wednesday]

Wednesday's reflections are written by: Paticha Areepipatkul '18, Alex Garcia '17 Caren Ye '17,  Korkid Akepanidtaworn '18, and Pate Sanders '17. Students visited Impact Hub, GREE, Code for America, and Google. 

Paticha's Reflection [Impact Hub, GREE, Google]

Paticha is a member of the class of 2018 from Thailand, Bangkok majoring in Psychology and Economics. She is also a founding member of WeStudee, a study partnering application. 

We started our Silicon Valley Trip running through blocks of buildings in San Francisco. I call it the “San Francisco Marathon.” The tight schedule made it a rush, so I have a vague memory of what the buildings look like and the environment of the place. But inside the building was a whole different world; Each place  had their own niche and sense of strong energy.

Walking into Impact Hub was like walking into a combination between a homey coffee shop and an art studio, and it gave a comfortable ambiance with a creative twist. At GREE, their simple design and organized setting fits with what they do, and everything in their office lined up with everything else. Meanwhile Google’s vibrant decorations at the Google office created an energetic playground look to the place.

On top of the unique atmostpheres every managers and director we met had unique personalities and came from diverse backgrounds. Within five hours I met top tech people who do similar type of work but have completely different backgrounds. This confirms my belief that there is no exact model to success and the only thing in common was the excitement in the work they do.  Every time they talked about their jobs, vision, and the mission of their company they lit up. Of all the places we have visited, visiting the Google office excited me the most. Meeting a Googler in-person and asking them about Google products that I’d read and searched about was awesome.

The first day tour gave me the insights of people who work in the tech field and a better understanding of their work processes, their purpose and the goals of what they do, and most importantly a reason for them to care about what they do. I think it is important to care about what you do, but what I really appreciated was how they shared their causes with others, and this really added to the value of the experience from this trip.

Alex's Reflection [Impact Hub] 

Our stop at Impact Hub really kicked off our trip in a meaningful and beautiful way. A smiling and cheerful Keely Stevenson greeted us at the entrance of the Impact Hub’s spacious open office, and she walked us through to an open conference room with “Welcome Wesleyan!” largely written on a white board flanking the entrance. Keely sure wasted no time in getting us to think about how to build things that actually mattered for the world. After we all sat down and gave introductions, she immediately posed the big question of “how do we address poverty issues?” Mentioning healthcare, water, and energy as things that many people don’t have access to in an affordable way. Keely’s discussion on the challenges and triumphs of building services and products for poverty stricken people was underscored by her previous work as CEO of Bamboo Finance, one of the first major Impact Investing firms. Impact investing is a field of finance that invests in socially good services and ventures that many traditional investors deem too risky. Despite the higher risks in impact investing, she expressed optimism for further growth in that field. And contrary to popular belief, she elaborated, investing in social change can bring in great returns on investment. In essence, the cliche of “doing well by doing good” really is something that is attainable and can be aspired to.

Keely definitely lives up to this saying. After discussing and answering questions about her career path, she proudly announced her current work—working on her startup the Weal Life, which aims to make health care coordination among family members and close friends less painful and exhausting. We really learned a lot about the different paths of social entrepreneurship and I’m so glad that this was our first stop for the first Kai Wesleyan Takes on Silicon Valley trip.

Caren’s Reflection [GREE, Code for America] 

Caren is a member of the class of 2017 from Shanghai, China majoring in Studio Art and Environmental Studies. 

I’ve always thought about doing environmental design for my future career so I came to this trip hoping it might be an eye-opening experience for me in terms of new perspectives on my art/architecture track as well as an introduction to a new tech-related field.

The office tours and talks offered valuable insights. The office spaces incorporated individual work desks, promoting personal productivity, in tandem w meeting tables and kitchens, which encouraged collaborative work. I was particularly impressed to find out that many players in the tech field actually came from non-tech backgrounds. At GREE, the Product Manager Alex Rosen, a Wes Alum of ‘08, shared what he’s done since studying CSS at Wes and talked about how his study abroad experience in South Africa as a computer tutor got him interested in technology. He also ran into a guy in a coffee shop in New York City and turned out to work for him in the gaming field, giving valuable experinence before going on to work at GREE. I couldn’t help but think about how our wide range of experiences get us to our current point and you never really know what you’re gonna get. Every choice and decision could give us an opportunity to discover a fresh idea or a path, and so I must be conscious about what I am doing and act boldly. I saw a similarly surprising life path from designers at Code for America who majored in art (printmaking) at college but found their interests lay in public engagement, design, and coding, all intersecting with each other with their work at Code for America. I’m now rethinking how my interests about politics and philosophy could incorporate into making environmental design and how this all could better serve civic engagement and the people using them. I’ve never really thought about working in technology before, but seeing all these artists applying their design skills through technology cast a new light on my career possibilities. Moving forward I can’t wait to learn more about computer science and get more involved in the entrepreneurship community.

Krid’s Reflecion [Impact Hub, GREE] 

Krid is a member of the class of 2018 from Bangkok, Thailand planning to major in Economics and Mathematics. 

“It’s been a long way from Wesleyan to San Francisco, California, but we made it!”

My first day of Kai Silicon Valley trip has been really amazing and inspiring. We met with many Wesleyan Alumni and entrepreneurs in San Francisco area. As a student interested lie in social entrepreneurship, tech startups, and business ownership, I was impressed by many entrepreneurs we met with including Tim Freundlich. Despite majoring in Film studies at Wesleyan in 1990 Tim went on to co-found Impact Hub which connects social innovators together to share ideas, office spaces and create social change. When we toured around Impact Hub I could feel the tangible energy the shared office space enabled. This co-working space business idea is also emerging and growing very fast in Thailand and I am so glad that I get to see real working environment in Impact Hub with my own eyes.

We went on to meet Alex Rosen at GREE International, a global leader in building top-quality, high engagement free-to-play mobile games. He graduated as a CSS major at Wesleyan, and ended up working in tech. He reflected that career life is like another college life, where you get to continuously learn new types of things. He advised us that we should keep seeking experiences and doing what we are passionate in.

This trip alters the way I look at things around me and the opportunities I have in college and my career. No matter what majors you graduate in, no matter what obstacles you might have, Wesleyan is a great venue and playground of idea experimentation. I am now developing goals to establish my own club at Wesleyan and contribute ideas I’ve seen in California to our Wesleyan community, as well as hopefully engage in social change projects for the Thai society.

Pate's Reflection [Code for America] 

Pate is a member of the class of 2017 from Los Angeles, CA majoring in English with a Creative Writing Certificate. He is the founder of Line, an early stage link sharing startup. 

Our Silicon Valley Trip has shown me many perspectives on what entrepreneurship can mean. Whisking around San Francisco and seeing so many unique constructive working environments, from Impact Hub’s wide open lounges of couches to GREE’s utilitarian all-white labyrinth of conference rooms. pointed to the many different roles that tech can take on nowadays, building games and providing aid alike. The office we visited that best demonstrated the versatility of tech and left the biggest impact on me was Code for America.

Code for America builds open-source applications for city governments, bringing the spirit and benefits of private entrepreneurship to civic structures and bridging the gap between the two. Code for America’s flagship program is their Fellowship Program. It offers 20 young people who submit the most compelling cases for the problems in government they want to change the resources to make their visions happen. Government structures often seem archaic, non-accessible and far-removed from our daily lives; they take on the role of barriers that keep us from what we want rather than assisting us in our lives. Code for America seeks to reverse this paradigm and reestablish government as both by the people and for the people.

City governments often seem to take a top-down approach to solving problems in cities, implementing systems and allocating money and assigning staff to general areas that will then approach their respective designations however they want. This makes the bottom-up, specific work that Code for America does all the more important, plugging the holes in access and utility that government leaves. Programs like Aunt Bertha help users find food, health, housing and employment based on their postal code, empowering local citizens to solve their own problems rather than rely on a government-designated solution and one-size-fits-all approach. This complements government’s capabilities as a general provider nicely.

One problem that Code for America’s quarterly magazine mentioned references these specific tech-based utilities’ tendency to solve a specific problem in the creator’s mind and their inability to change or scale well to actual user needs. They also require specific concerted upkeep to really offer anything to the public, and so years down the line can fall into disarray without input and disuse if the problems in a city have shifted. These issues point to the inherent differences in the public and private sectors and the friction melding the two can cause. But Code for America is reducing that friction and bringing the government closer to its people. They are building tools that help America function as a structure and as a populace. And I’m inspired.