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Saturday, May 17, 2014

My CIT Real World Engineering Silicon Valley Experience

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At the famous Android Park
This week, I had the honor of going with eleven other Carnegie Mellon students to Silicon Valley, through CIT's Real World Engineering program.  It marked one of the most memorable experiences in my life, reminding me just why I chose ECE and making me look more forward to the future than ever.  During the course of our trip, we were given the chance to see many of the companies we use products from every day from the inside out.  We were able to tour everything from startups just beginning to bud to some of the largest corporations in the world.  In addition, we were given a taste of what it is like to work at all of these companies.

Late night at the airport
Tuesday morning, we left for the Pittsburgh Airport.  In the course of a day, we would be in California.  While most of the crew arrived around noon that day, unfortunately, those that had to get bags checked (including me) did not arrive until later that night.  Those that made it had toured Backplane, a social media startup that worked with many big name clients, including Lady Gaga.  

Image via

After many struggles with United, we finally landed in California.  I could not have been more excited than I was, as this was my first trip ever to the Valley.  We made our way to Hotel Strata in Palo Alto, where we would be spending the week.  

Intel Headquarters
The next morning, we made our way to Intel's headquarters, where we were given the opportunity to speak with engineers and managers of Intel, many of which were Carnegie Mellon alumni.  They told us much about the company, including its vision and what goes into the creation of a processor.  We were told about many of the different types of positions available and taught about the clean rooms where processors are constructed.

Gordon Moore's Desk
We then made our way to the former office space of Gordon Moore, one of Intel's cofounders and the man who created the famous Moore's law, which has dictated the creation of processors for the past few decades. 

Altair 8800
We then went to Intel's company museum, where we were given an informative and interesting tour on the history of Intel processors and computers.  The museum was extremely interactive and contained many interesting pieces, including some of the first microprocessors.

Tesla Lobby
After visiting Intel, we made our way to Tesla, where we were given a tour of the headquarters.  In addition, we were given the chance to speak to a Tesla engineer and learn much about its work culture and what is involved in being a member of the Tesla family.  It was amazing to hear about the competitiveness of a Silicon Valley automotive startup which has been able to compete with the large corporate oligopoly which is the American automotive industry.  Despite the fact that it has a much smaller number of employees, it has been able to launch new models at a rate faster than that of many large corporations.

Driver's Seat of a Tesla
We were given the chance to take the seat of a Tesla Model S and Roadster.  Someday, I will own one of these.

Google's Main Campus
Our final stop for the day was one of the greatest corporate locations in the world: the Googleplex.  This campus was unlike anything I had ever seen, a mixture of work and play, with many cool activities and things for employees to partake in.  In addition to having a company swimming pool, volleyball beach, and much more, I have also heard much about their famous cafeteria, though I was not able to sample it.  

Google Infinity Box Selfie
We were given an informative tour from two CMU alumni.  I have heard much about what it is like to work at Google, but it was interesting to actually hear about it from someone experiencing it.  It was amazing just how informal, colorful, and relaxed the campus was.  Instead of seeing the suits of the business world, everyone was casually sporting a Google t-shirt.  The mood of the campus was very relaxed and calm, yet its members are among the hardest working in the industry.

So Scare.  Much Afraid.
After touring the campus, we made our way to the famous Android Lawn, which I had seen an uncountable number of times on Gizmodo and other tech sites.

In front of Apple's 1 Infinite Loop Campus
Our tour for the day concluded, and I then had the chance to meet up with a friend and visit the Apple campus.  I took my obligatory photo in front of the campus with another friend on the trip.

Box Headquarters
The next morning we made our way to Box's headquarters.  We were given the chance to tour the entire campus, play in its awesome game room, and even slide down its employee slide.  Box had an interesting company culture, with inspiration posters hanging everywhere depicting the vision of its company and even a collection of inspiring books for its employees. 

Box Slide
After touring, we were given the chance to sit with several software developers and learn what it was like to be on the Box team.  They told us about the kind of daily tasks they would partake in and what was necessary to become a Box engineer.  Many of them had joined the company early on and watched it grow greatly.  We were then gifted with Box t-shirts.  Like its rival Dropbox, it has become almost as much of a t-shirt company as an online storage company!

Following our visit to Box, we made our way to Carnegie Mellon's Silicon Valley campus in NASA Research Park, where we were informed about what CMU has to offer in California.  In addition, we were given the chance to learn about many of the research opportunities there.

The CMU Brig
Because the building was formerly used by the military, it even had its own prison!  Perhaps, it's where they throw the people that failed their finals?  

Not as big as the other fence!
We also got to see the campus's mini version of CMU's famous Fence.  

Image via Plug and Play Tech Center via Photobucket
Our last stop was to Plug and Play, a startup incubator of the Valley.  It had helped many great companies set off including Dropbox, Zoosk, and Paypal.  Each summer, it accepts around 20 companies to its program, which are funded and given space in the building to work.  Surprisingly, the person giving us the tour stated that the success rate of the companies it sponsors is quite high, something unusual for the risky business of startups.  Plug and Play is one of the largest incubators in the Valley and even received visits from many celebrities from around the world.

"To die for" sushi
After our final tour, we went to Santana Row, a luxury shopping area.  I had never seen so many Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and luxury sports cars in one place in my life.  After [window] shopping there, we went to Blowfish Sushi, where I ordered the "To Die For" sushi, which contained filet mignon, marinated lobster, and mushrooms.  It was literally one of the best things I had ever eaten in my life.

That evening, I met up with two friends in Palo Alto by taking my first Lyft and Uber rides.  I was surprised how great the service of each was.  Both drivers were interesting to talk to, and I was offered candy and water at no charge.  I had inspiring conversations with each about the greatness of the Valley.

Stanford Frat House - Much Bigger than those at CMU
In Palo Alto, I went with my friends to a great coffee shop, an awesome store where we could customize our own ice cream sandwiches, and finally, Stanford.  I could not believe how large the campus was.  Its fraternity houses were practically mansions!

Last moments in Silicon Valley
I had an amazing time during Carnegie Mellon's Real World Engineering trip and cannot thank Deepak and Sunita Gupta and the CIT Dean's Office enough for sponsoring this program.  In addition, I must take time to thank all of the great employees of all of the companies that we visited for the very interesting and informative tours and information sessions.  They showed me just how amazing the Valley is and the many differences between startups, small companies, and large corporations.  As I fly back to Pittsburgh, I am already missing the area.  However, someday, I hope to be a leader there and join the people in one of the most amazing places on Earth in creating the world of tomorrow.
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