San Francisco Through Student Eyes

By Lauren Li W’16

Students in Professor Lori Rosenkopf’s new course WH 297x: Wharton Industry Exploration Program: The San Francisco Bay Area Tech Sector spent a week in early January 2015 in San Francisco. The trip featured visits to tech-sector businesses, lectures at Wharton ǀ San Francisco, extracurricular activities, and networking opportunities with alumni in the Bay Area. Wharton junior Lauren Li agreed to give us her insider’s view of this exciting new course.

Students

As I touched down in San Francisco I could feel that there was something different about this city. It was a short flight, coming from my Los Angeles hometown, but there was obviously a different air in San Francisco. Colder, yes. But also, more innovative. As I headed to the city, I got into a discussion with the driver about the difficulty of finding a nearby cab when I needed one. The cab driver let me out at the hotel and said, “Someone should just make an app for that.” I was definitely in Silicon Valley.

The program itinerary was thoughtfully packed with three panels, nine company visits, and several fun activities, including a Golden State Warriors game and a tour of Alcatraz. It was just the right amount to give us an idea of what it would be like to work in the Bay Area.

Rather than give you a play-by-play of this incredible trip, below I’ve come up with a list of things I learned and a list of trip highlights.

What I Learned:

  1. When considering working in tech on the West Coast versus the East Coast, keep in mind that the West Coast is a harsher, more competitive environment. A “B+” idea is more likely to fail on the West Coast, whereas it could become part of “the living dead” elsewhere in the country. A recurring theme we heard on the trip is that it’s better to fail quickly than to succeed slowly.
  2. Mark Pincus W’88, founder of Zynga, said that the three most important things he looks for in an employee is that they know how to “One: Code, Two: Code, and Three: Code.” However, others stressed that prior coding experience is not necessary (only two of our panelists had prior coding experience…Mark Pincus was not one of them!), but that having an engineer on the founding team is essential.
  3. In the Bay Area, it’s hard to attract the best engineering talent. Despite the abundance of brilliant engineers there, it’s competitive to find those that are “top tier” because many are attracted to large, established companies like Google or Facebook, or highly funded startups like Uber.
  4. Learning how to communicate through computer languages requires far more specificity than our own spoken language. You should learn this skill—at least enough to gain empathy for engineers—even if you don’t become an engineer or join a startup.
  5. Penn has a remarkable network of alumni. All the companies we visited and people we met had a connection to Penn, which inspired all of us to forge paths for ourselves in the Bay Area.

Highlights:

  1. The view from the Wharton campus – you can almost touch the Bay Bridge!View from Wharton SF campus
  2. It pains me to say this as a Dodgers fan, but visiting AT&T Park makes the list. It has a spectacular overlooking view, I guess.AT&T park
  3. Fearing that at every red light, our bus would go backward before going forward! San Francisco wins for having the hilliest streets.
  4.   Trying on Google Glass for the first time at the Googleplex in Mountain View. “Okay, Google Glass, translate this.”

As we closed out the program with a delicious set menu at Il Fornaio, I looked around at our tables. I saw smiling faces and heard the buzz of intellectual conversation, the boom of uncontrolled laughter. I could tell that the last seven days not only brought us a taste of the tech industry, but also an unforgettable trip with forty new friends, just wondering what lies ahead of us. Would it be Wall Street? The Bay? Or both? I think we all secretly hoped to land in San Francisco again one day.

Companies visited: Prosper, Ampush, San Francisco Giants, Madison Reed, Goldman Sachs, NEA, Greylock, eBay, Google

People met: Mark Pincus W’88 (Zynga), Andy Rachleff W’80 (Wealthfront), Aaron Vermut WG’00 (Prosper), Jesse Pujji C’06 (Ampush), Jeff Fluhr ENG’96/W’96 (Spreecast), Noah Shanok WG’04 (Stitcher), Jonathan Huberman WG’92 (Tiburon), Nehal Raj (TPG Capital), Inder Sidhu WG’91 (Cisco), Aydin Senkut G’96/WG’96 (Felicis Ventures), Bill Schlough WG’98 (San Francisco Giants), Amy Errett WG’88 (Madison Reed), Andrew Trader W’91/WG’99 (Madison Reed), Felicia Curcuru W’07 (Binti), Jeff Weinstein C’09/ENG’09 (Wagon), Jack Abraham, Wharton alum (Milo), Noah Ready-Campbell ENG’10/W’10 (Twice), Ilana Stern C’05 (Weddington Way), Boris Silver W’10 (FundersClub), Ryan Limaye ENG’93/W’93/WG’93 (Goldman Sachs), Ravi Viswanathan ENG’90/WG’90 (NEA), Aaron Jacobson ENG’09/W’09/EE’09 (NEA), Joseph Ansanelli W’92 (Greylock), Ashley Mohan W’98 (Google), Jonathon Youshaei C’13/W’13 (Google), Matt Jayson W’13 (Google)

Lauren4 croppedBio: Lauren Li is a junior at Wharton from Los Angeles, California, concentrating her studies in Marketing and Legal Studies & Business Ethics. She is a captain of the Varsity Penn Softball team. She enjoys cooking, singing, watching movies, and is an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan.