Silicon Valley Tour 2016

by , Wednesday November 2, 2016
Silicon Valley Tour 2016

First Blog, and all about my recent trip to San Francisco

I think the title says it all.

Day One:

Today was the day we flew out to California, San Francisco. Our flight was long, just over 10 hours. We arrived late and we all prayed to avoid jet - lag. After all, we had a long week ahead of us, and it was only just beginning!

 

Day Two:

Today was our first proper day in California, San Francisco, and today was going to be the busiest day, or one of the busiest at least! Today we were on our way to see:

Chuck Rossi from Facebook
Carolyn Troyan for EA Games
Thuan Pham from Uber

 

Getting on the coach at around 8:30 we arrived at Facebook not soon after. Getting out and entering the campus, it was almost like entering a whole new world! We were told that when Facebook brought the building, they wanted everyone to feel equal within their company. The group was told that at Facebook they always wanted to feel like there was a long way to go. To emphasise this, they had ripped up all the ceilings so you could see the infrastructure. All the tables and walls where whiteboards since “engineers always want a whiteboard”. Leaving the talk with Chuck Rossi which was all about how Facebook had changed the world and their sales we had a tour of their campus. This was undeniably the most exciting part of the trip to Facebook.

 

The Facebook campus can easily be compared to a university, even so it can be compared to a small town! They painted the pavements to look like roads and have many restaurants so that the staff feel like they can come and work any time and not have it feel like a chore to do so.

 

Once our mini tour was complete we begrudgingly made our way back to the coach to get over to EA Games.

Upon arrival, EA Games was a massive shock in comparison to Facebook. EA Games had a very black - and - white feeling as you arrived, far more professional than Facebook. When the group entered EA Games all were greeted by an impressive lobby with characters from famous games on the walls and a whole store dedicated to EA Games and Merchandise. On the tour around the EA Campus, everyone saw how open it was.

 

We had lunch in the EA Conference room where the group met with Lindsey Pearson. She’s one of the people who’s been working on Sims from the very beginning of its creation. She talked about how gaming has changed over the past years and how the environment and global changes can alter gaming, both for the developers and the customers.

The group left not soon after, but not so soon that we didn’t get to visit the store. Games were brought and many purchases were made.

 

Arriving at Uber (our final stop) at 14:12 we all looked out the windows to expect sunny, American weather, but no. All we saw was grey skies and a rain. A lot of it. We sat in a conference room and had a talk with Thuan Pham about his story and how they’re trying to make Uber better and stronger to be able to stay on par with it’s competitors with new projects: self driving cars and trucks.

Once the talk with Thuan was finished we had a conversation with three of of Uber’s female engineers and how they felt about being women in technology and the challenges they’ve had to face in their lives.

The talk finished at 16:48 and we all returned back to the hotel after a casual dinner at ‘In-N-Out Burger’.

 

 

Day Three:

Today we were up at 7:30 as today we were going to Carnegie Mellon, which is linked to Ames NASA Centre and then we were going to Stanford University.

 

We left at 8:45, and, horrifically, we brought the British weather with us to California as it was pouring with rain at this point.

 

Arriving at Carnegie Mellon at 9:20 we had breakfast with some of the students who were studying for their PhD’s and Masters in technology. After breakfast we had a small tour of the small campus. Three of the main interesting facts they told us was: their campus used to be a hospital, 50% of applicants are now female and they have a “cheap” 3D printer, costing $2000.

One looking at the printer, we went outside where we were talked to about drones and how they were using some drones to help with their projects and how they want to understand technology better.

 

Once the tour of Carnegie Mellon was done, we took some quick pictures at the entrance and got over to the NASA Ames Research Centre since the two are linked. We looked around the small station where they had a small section of a real shuttle which did actually go to space and we got to see the evolution of space suits. The group made a small stop at the shop before we had to board the mini bus or get in the car to make our way over to Stanford University.

 

We rolled up to Stanford University at 4:00. Stanford was opened in 1891 and is the size of 97 Disneylands. Our tour guide was very helpful and honest with the group, admitting if she didn’t now something, for example the international process to get into Stanford. The first part of our tour was being guided around the sports halls while being given the history of Stanford itself, why it was built, the inspiration behind it which was “it was aimed to be beautiful like the east coast universities, but different and on the east coast”. We got told about what Stanford look for in applicants.

 

Evening came around quickly, we had dinner which Sharon who was an engineer. She wanted to know what we had been told before and told us about her life and what got her into coding and why she wanted to do it and how being a well - rounded person and how communication can be helpful and why it’s important in any field of work you go into. The main bits of information she gave us was to “put yourself in unconformable positions because then you know you’re growing as a person”.

 

 

Day Four:

Day four was, thankfully, a later start for the groups, with a slightly calmer day ahead for everyone. Today was the day we were going to visit Berkeley, University of California. We left to get to the university at 9:30 so we could arrive at around 10:30 - 10:45. We made it in good time, arriving at 10:40.

 

The first impressions of Berkeley was the big, grand buildings with the few students there looking professional yet casual. The tall windows and imposing buildings gave the sense of honour but the mood in Berkeley was very different to Stanford. Berkeley was founded in 1886 and our small tour of the Campus finished a few hours later we made our way past the Botanical Gardens to the top of the bluff where we got to see and take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from afar.

 

Instead of shopping, we decided to go sight seeing and make the most out of the beautiful weather we had, we were told it wasn’t going to last for long, so we had to see all the sights with the best weather we had!

 

We got to the Golden Gate Bridge at a reasonable time of 14:58 and had an amazing time admiring the view from the top and taking more photos, although these had much better quality than the ones from the bluff. Maybe because we were nearer, for one! Driving over the bridge itself once everyone had got sufficient photos we all got a small, interesting history lesson from Richard about the bridge itself. It was built in 1931 to try and combat the wall street crash which had put may Americans out of work.

Also, on the way back to the hotel, we had a quick stop at the twin peaks to get a good look at the city below. It’s fair to say the view was very scenic, with the city split in two by the road…

We got back to the hotel where we had an hour to relax before going out to see the new movie ‘Inferno’. After a relaxing day of not doing much, somehow, everyone was exhausted! Lights out for the group followed soon after we got back to the hotel, we all needed to be ready for the most important day: shopping!

 

 

Day Five:

This was the day. The most important day: shopping! And Alcatraz. Thankfully we had done all the sightseeing the day before, and, as predicted, the rain was pouring down. We arrived at the island at 10:50. Alcatraz is a prison which was used to store criminals which were a large threat to society. During the audio tour, we learnt about how people tried to escape and what life was like, both for the inmates and the guards. One of the most well known sayings is “break the rules and you go to prison. Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.” Alcatraz itself was, as many on the group said, one of the most interesting things we did, but also one of the scariest due to the fact that you can vision what it must’ve been like.

Our tour finished at 12:00 and we all got on the boat back so we could grab lunch before going shopping.

 

We got to the mall at 15:30 and spent 2 hours there. It’s fair to say that everyone decided to use all their money on whatever they wanted, since it was our last day and we all wanted to treat ourselves - staff included. Dinner that day was at a Vietnamese restaurant where everyone got to try something new and taste a new culture with different dishes. The day of shopping ended earlier than previous days, 21:45 where we all finished packing, ready for our last day of the trip, all dreading the ten hour flight which lay on the horizon.

 

Day Six:

Day six was the last day, and had the latest lie in we had ever had. We got up at 8:30 and our last breakfast at the hotel was around 9:20. We all left the hotel for the final time at 10:35. We got to Gigya at 11:00 and got told about the company’s history and how it got to where it was. The talk was short and we left at 12:30 to head to KFC for a quick lunch next door before we made our way to the hidden, secret Google X.

 

Arriving at the Google X Campus, we saw a lot of self driving cars, although it was hard to tell when we were at the Campus as it all looked very unsuspecting. In our talk, we got told that Google X is a “skunk works” project, meaning it gets secret funding and some of the projects they were working on weren’t allowed to be seen by the general public. While walking around on our restricted route, we were told that Google X was once a shopping mall, making it the perfect place for them to conduct their secret experiments. We left at 15:55, spent an hour back at the hotel until the coach arrived to take us back to the airport. Our flight was pushed back until 22:00, but we didn’t mind, it was a night flight and besides, it was a night flight so we would be asleep for most of the flight. We were in the air by 22:50 and landed the following day at 15:11 in London, Heathrow.

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