Silicon Valley Tour – Day 4

Day 4 of the trip began with Michigan Tech alumna Danielle VanDyke leading the group through Google’s Mountain View headquarters. She explained work / life balance, her typical day, Google culture, and how she uses her 20% time. Danielle introduced the group to Googler Ben Chang who answered questions from the students and highlighted stories of leadership and responsibility. A highlight was a tour through Google’s own trading room arranged by assistant treasurer and Tech alum Tony Altobelli. This eye opening and behind the scenes view of how Google manages 18.8B of on-hand assets was a treat.

The group’s next stop was Tesla’s manufacturing facility in Fremont. The former NUMMI plant sits on a 370-acre site, with most activity concentrated in the 5,500,000-square-foot main assembly building. Sheet metal in one door, vehicles out the other. Michigan Tech mechanical engineering alum Glenn Wheelock walked the group through Tesla’s red and white, robot-filled facility for two hours before letting the students play with a showroom vehicle. Their impressions below.

Starting off our day, we hopped into the vans and headed to the Google campus.  The welcome area of Google had a very relaxed feeling to it.  We got to play with a giant version of Google Maps, there was about 6 different screens that displayed what we were looking at. We were taken from the welcome center to the trading room. Oddly enough, most of the employees that did not work in the trading room have never heard about the trading room.  It was very eye opening to see how Google operated their finances, why they bought the smaller startups that they did, and how they estimated the risks.  The coolest part of Google, was being able to see a self driving car.  I had never seen one before.  This was on our way out of Google, heading towards Inn and Out Burger.  Being able to sit outside and eat lunch under the sun was refreshing.  We were very lucky to have such great weather while in Silicon Valley.

Out next stop Tesla, one of my personal favorites.  I was not caught up on all the innovations that Tesla was experimenting with.  Being able to walk through a car manufacturing floor for the first time was interesting.  Seeing the start of the model S at the beginning stage through to the finished product showed how much work and detail went into these automobiles.  Tesla let our group sit in a model S in their show room, I was ready to camp out there.  Next Christmas I know what I am putting on my wish list.  There was no chance I was leaving the Tesla campus and not getting some swag to take home with me.

Later that night, after visiting Google and Tesla, we went out in search of a restaurant that would suit a college students budget.  We walked for about an hour trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t too expensive, my group ended up back at the hotel restaurant enjoying their choices instead of the few other options.  We were getting tired at this point and decided to hangout by the pool and chat, until one by one, people started falling into the urge of sleep.  There was a lot of excitement about Netflix and Brocade the next day.

Kirsten Dulbandzhyan – Mktg & Mngmt, Third Year

Today started with more excitement than any so far. We were scheduled to tour Google, and Tesla Motors; basically two of the coolest companies in the world.

The first stop of the day was Google’s campus in San Jose, and all that was on my mind was the movie “The Internship”. Upon arrival our group was bummed to find out that much of the campus was undergoing construction projects. I noticed a lot of contractor trucks, big fences, and torn up ground. This may have taken away from the expected look of Google, but I knew the best things were inside the building anyway. After struggling to find the right entrance door for about 15 minutes, we managed to meet up with our MTU connection Danielle VanDyke in the visitors lobby. From there we all followed her through crazily decorated rooms. Some had doors over the windows, balloons, etc. Our first stop was the Google trading floor, which apparently not many of the employees even knew existed. The trading floor was a collection of 20 or so computers, each sporting 6-monitor displays, and all the stock market data imaginable. Danielle turned the tour over to a worker familiar with the trading floor, and he gave us a basic rundown of what they do there. I was not surprised, but still amazed to know that in that room they control about 60 billion dollars worth of assets and cash. From the trading floor we moved outside and walked across a very beautiful courtyard to another building. This one turned out to be a small professionally catered cafeteria; which is free to all Google employees. Here another Googler was waiting for us. He gave a speech and answered questions relating to Google, and professional development. Overall Google appeared to be a great place to work.

We left campus after a quick stop at the gift shop, and shipped out to Tesla Motors. By the time my van arrived at the gates to the factory, I had already seen about 20 of the absolutely stunning Tesla Model S cars zipping through San Jose. Now before me was an enormous building with the words Tesla printed across it in 20-foot tall letters.  Needles to say I was chomping at the bit to get inside. As a group we stood in the parking lot for a while gawking at a maroon Model S parked up by the building. As it turns out this particular car was one somebody owned, and he was more than surprised to see 15 college kids taking picture and scrutinizing his car. Our guide for the day finally found us, and herded the group inside to get nametags. This MTU alumni was Glen Wheelock, a B.S in Mechanical Engineering major. Once inside I was blown away by the size of the factory, and the fact that at every point in my vision there was a Model S in some stage of completion. Were talking everything from body shells, to drivetrains half mated to the frame. Glen gave us a walking tour of the factory floor, which was shut down for lunch. It was beyond imagination to see the assembly lines riddled with Tesla parts, giant robotic arms, and impossibly complex machines. Just when I thought the tour couldn’t get any better, Glen led us through some doors to a hidden outside parking lot. MY MIND WAS MELTED! I’am pretty sure I started drooling, because before us sat about 200 Model S cars in every color of the rainbow, gleaming in the Californian sun. With weak knees I followed Glen to inspect one of the Tesla Supercharger Stations against the building walls. He explained how it could bring a Model S to half charge in 30 minutes. Which for anyone that doesn’t know, is absolutely astounding. To end the tour Glen deposited us in the company gift shop, but surprised the group by letting us explore a Model S that was parked in the Showroom. This took the cake for most awesome part of the day, and I was able to sit in the 106,000-dollar car. The fit and finish was unparalleled by American standards, and there was enough technology in the car to sink a ship. All said the entire group left Tesla with wide grins, and hopes that we all could own one somewhere down the road.

Nicholas Schweikart – Mechanical Engineering, First Year

Wednesday morning we were able to sleep in a little bit and take our time getting ready and having breakfast as before meeting up at 9:45am and heading to Google. It felt good to sleep in a little bit since we had such a long day on Tuesday and I think we were all happy that we were provided a breakfast buffet at this hotel. When we got to the Google campus we had a little trouble locating the front lobby due to some construction but we eventually found our way there and met up with the MTU alumna that would be showing us around. We got a brief welcome to Google and were introduced to the Google culture a little bit before heading over to visit the trading floor. On our way there we made a quick stop to see Stan, Google’s T-Rex which is modeled after an actual T-Rex skeleton. Stan was decorated in flamingos as though he had eaten them; helping to show the fun nature of the Google campus. We continued on to the trading floor where we were able to talk to the employees responsible for making secure investments. It was a pretty interesting room that looked much like something right out of a movie scene of Wall Street. Each person sat at a computer with six different screens used for various things from what looked to market monitoring to taking care of emails. The room also had a couple fairly large televisions set to help them monitor the market as well. However, the most interesting thing to me was that each person also had two phones, one standard phone and one with a direct line to the bank that could be used to continue trades in case something happens to their standard phone lines.

Next we met up with an employee that provides support for Google’s enterprise customers. He gave us some insight into the type of work he does on a day to day basis before opening up for questions. During the Q&A we were able to get a better view of the Google culture including how employees are encouraged to use their 20% time, the ease and encouragement of moving around the company, and how it’s understandable to make mistakes sometime. The guy we were talking to told us a story about how he was troubleshooting an IMAP problem for a customer when it was first rolling out and he accidentally turned the feature off for everyone in the world and quickly received a call from someone telling him to never touch the feature again. He said he was pretty scared he was going to lose his job at first but he was ensured nothing would come of it and that everyone makes mistakes. Then they told us how there is a joke that new Googlers are considered Newglers until they break something in production.

Before leaving we made a stop at the Google store so some of us could buy some Google swag before being on our way. For lunch we just found an In-N-Out Burger which many of us had never been to before and were told was a must have. Personally I found it to be just another fast food place but that’s just me.

After taking our time for lunch we headed over to the Tesla factory. We were shown around the factory by another MTU alum. The tour was pretty awesome as we were able to see pretty much the whole process starting with body assembly and ending with a complete vehicle that gets some in house QA testing. I found it pretty awesome to see the vehicle at each stage and see how it progressed throughout the assembly process. Once the factory tour was over we were once again given the chance to ask any questions we had. Throughout the tour and the Q&A session we were able to learn a lot about the company’s vision and the vehicles they currently make.  Then we were given the opportunity to sit in and explore one of the vehicles they had in the showroom. I am pretty sure this was some people’s favorite part of the trip.

We headed back to the hotel after that. Most of the group decided to go to a Greek restaurant for dinner but some of us decided to just hang around at the hotel for a bit and explore the area for a restaurant to eat at. We soon realized that we didn’t have the same luxury of selecting from dozens of restaurants as we had in San Francisco. So we ended up just eating at the hotel restaurant and then just hanging out outside around the pool for the rest of the night and enjoying the nice weather.

Kevin Coleman – Computer Engineering, Fifth Year