Silicon Valley Tour – Day 5

Day 5 marked the culmination of a lot of planning on the part of our staff, our corporate partners, and especially Michigan Tech’s California-based alumni. It also marked one of the most full days of the week. Another early morning start at Netflix with computer science alumna Dianne Marsh – director of engineering tools – who provided breakfast and an in-depth, honest look at Netflix from one of their theaters. Computer science faculty member Dr. Linda Ott joined and learned as much as the students.

The activities at trip sponsor Brocade Communications began in the early afternoon with an introduction by Rachel Moussa and an executive briefing by VP of software marketing, Kelly Herrell. Herrell gave a presentation on leadership and answered questions by the students before transitioning to a panel discussion led by Michigan Tech VP of student affairs and advancement, Les Cook. Rita Hui, Sindhu Payankulath, Dhanashri Patil, Jeff Rangel, and Jodi Podolsky represented engineering, corporate affairs, and diversity. The group tackled a wide range of technical, strategy, and leadership questions before taking a lab tour with Josh Oelrich. A networking social followed and the students were joined by additional Brocade employees who discussed career opportunities, technology, and life in California.

The networking continued at an alumni event at Mezcal Restaurant in downtown San Jose. Michigan Tech president Glenn Mroz and wife Gail were joined by local alumni including Dave House ’65, Darel Hodgson ’63, Alex Hays ’86, Frank Shoffner ’62, Dan Lykowski ’01, and many others who shared their own stories and heard first-hand of the students’ experiences from the week. Their summaries below:

Thursday was our last day in Silicon Valley before we had to head back to Michigan and it proved to be the busiest day of the trip. We started off nice and early again, meeting at 7:15am, with Netflix as our first stop of the day. We received a brief tour of the building before having a meeting with some Netflix representatives, including a MTU alumna. While the tour was quick the building seemed to have a nice ambiance. Since the meeting was early Netflix was gracious enough to provide us a catered breakfast from Panera. Netflix turned out to have a pretty interesting work culture. They explained to us how their number one value is speed of innovation and it shows in many aspects of the company’s culture. For example, they typically do not hire new graduates and favor candidates with around 8 years of experience. This is for the simple fact that they can give their employees more liberties if they are experienced. One of these liberties is to commit their own code to the without need for approval from anyone, then if their code changes break anything they are contacted directly. This allows the whole process to be accelerated, therefore innovation can happen faster. We were also able to receive some career advice while we were there. The best piece of advice I think we received was to figure out what is the absolute most important thing to us at work, then in interviews ask questions about its shadow. They gave this example to help explain, if you want to know how they handle an employee making a mistake then ask the interviewer about a time they made a mistake and what the outcome was. This allows you to get a better idea of what actually happens due to the policies they have opposed to if you were to ask the question directly.

We had a lot of time to before we needed to be at Brocade so we decided to make a stop at the Intel museum. The museum had much of what you might expect including history of their products, how their products have helped drive innovation, along with the process of fabricating silicon wafers. Then we made a quick stop at the hotel so people could drop off/pick up some things and headed over to the plaza right behind the Brocade building.

Soon we headed over to the Brocade building where we met up with Les Cook before heading in. Once we were in we headed to a conference room where Brocade had a panel Q&A for us. We had prepared a list of questions that was given to the Brocade panel before our arrival so it was mostly directed by the list but we were able to embellish on the questions and ask further questions based on their responses. Through the panel we were able to get a better idea of Brocades significance to the market and how they see themselves leading innovation in the future along with a little bit about their company culture. Next we received a short tour culminating with a tour of their massive data center. Data centers aren’t really my area of expertise but it was still pretty impressive. As expected it utilized Brocade’s latest and greatest products and we were given a little education on them. The last stop at Brocade was a networking event where Brocade employees from different areas were present. We were able to talk to mingle with them and discuss the different roles they played within the company as well as connect with them for potential job opportunities.

From there we went to Mezcal, a restaurant where the school was hosting an Alumni event. Michigan Tech alumni from various companies in the bay area showed up to the event. I was able to connect with many of them including Dave House, the Chairman of Brocade’s Board of Directors, as well as people working at Amazon, Apple, HGST, and more. The event, as well as the trip in general, was truly a great way to meet some of Tech’s alumni and see the success they are having innovating the future while working for some amazing companies.

During the event one of the alums invited us to stop by the Hacker Dojo afterwards where he would be willing to show us around. The Hacker Dojo was a makerspace/hackerspace where people can go to utilize the equipment they have and along with the community that forms there. The Alumni event got over kind of late so some of the group wasn’t up for the visit and went just went back to the hotel while some of us decided to go check it out. The area was simple but provided some tools that would be a little too expensive for the average person to buy themselves including some 3D printers, a laser cutter, and some machinery such as a drill press. The biggest advantage the space provided though was the community of people that use it. There are lots of people with lots of different backgrounds that use the space and they are always willing to help out however they can and that can lead to some pretty amazing things. For example, we were informed that Pintrest and the Pebble watch were two projects that originated from the Hacker Dojo. When we were done there it was pretty late and we headed back to the hotel, arriving right around midnight, and most of us went straight to bed.

Our flight was in the afternoon the next day and we had nothing else planned so we didn’t have to meet until 10am and we were able to get some extra sleep before starting our journey back to Houghton. As I said before it was a long day but it was full of great opportunities and I am sure we were all grateful for the entire experience. I personally believe the entire trip was one of the best, if not the best, opportunity I have ever had and it is certainly an experience I will never forget.

Kevin Coleman – Computer Engineering, Fifth Year

Our final day in sunny California, it was a bitter sweet feeling.  Waking up late to my alarm, I missed breakfast and hurried to get ready.  Once in the vans, we headed to Netflix.  Netflix was one of the companies that I was most excited to see.  I had a few questions in mind for Netflix. I was surprised to find that the building had a more adobe feeling to it rather than a skyscraper with hundreds of windows. Sitting in one of their meeting rooms, we had a breakfast provided by Netflix and started asking questions.  I really enjoyed this type of setting because we could all hear each other, there was plenty of time to ask questions, and it was a more intimate setting.  We sat and asked questions, shared laughs, and when it came to leave, we were sad to go.

We had almost 3 hours between Netflix and Brocade, so we took a detour to the Intel museum.  The museum was surprisingly interactive.  Hearing our stomaches start to growl, the group headed to the Brocade campus to have lunch.  He groups split up and headed which restaurant they thought would satisfy their hunger.

Bellies full, the group reconvened and walked over to Brocade where we met up with the Vice President of Student Affairs, Les Cook, to have a panel discussion with a few members of the staff. Les mediated the questions that we had sent in in advance, while the staff members answered them.  The next part of the Brocade tour was being able to see some of the data rooms. When we entered the room, it seemed almost as if we were in a movie.  I had never seen such technology before unless it was in a picture or in the movies.  After everyone got the tour, we headed back to building three for a meet and greet with various members of the staff.  I had a great time meeting with company members and being able to talk to them about what their positions were at Brocade.

Following that, we headed over to the alumni reception.  The alumni reception had to have been one of my favorite parts of the trip.  I got to meet alumni that had been at tech when my mother was, some that had graduated only a few years ago, and some who graduated many years back.  Being able to hear their stories and how far they have come was inspirational.  Most of their job careers have taken them to start their own consulting firms and other to companies such as Brocade and Apple.  It seemed as if many people do not stay at jobs for more that a few years before switching to a new job.  At the alumni event, I was able to get great advice on the startup company that I am working on, as well as future contacts if I many have any questions about starting a company.  The day was so eventful that as soon as I came back to the hotel, I feel asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I wanted to thank the advisors that came on the trip, Russ and Andre.  Also, Adam for putting together the company tours.  I would have not had this experience if it weren’t for these people and Brocade for sponsoring the trip.  Thank you to all that took time out of their work days to open their offices to us.  It was an overall amazing experience.  I will be recommending this program to other students in the future.

Kirsten Dulbandzhyan – Mktg & Mngmt, Third Year

Today was quite involved. We were scheduled to visit not only our trip sponsor Brocade, but also the ever-popular Netflix. We left early around 7:15, and pulled into Netflix about 15 minutes later. Dianne Marsh greeted us in the lobby, sporting an enormous bag of Panera Breads breakfast treats.  She lead us upstairs to a theater shaped office room, and got us going on the food. Soon we all were sitting around chomping, and chatting. She then introduced herself and her colleague Roy Rapoport. They gave us a brief overview of what it takes to make Netflix run, and what their jobs entitled. We then were able to ask a huge variety of questions, on everything from Net Neutrality to job opportunities. I learned a lot about Netflix in the process, and discovered that they truly value the customer above all else. After thanking Dianne and Roy, we packed into our white vans and set out to find the Brocade Campus.

Brocade turned out to have a very nice campus, complete with an almost Google like feel. There was a small play area, and even basketball courts! The tour started with a speech by Kelly Harrel (VP for Software Networking), where we received awesome advice on how to get somewhere in life and technology. Then a panel of five other Brocade employees came in for a more robust Q and A. It was truly eye opening to hear from active professionals in the company. After an hour or so of panel discussion our tour guide Rachel Moussa took us to an adjoining building to meet up with Josh Oelrich. He gave us a tour of Brocades state of the art lab and Data Center; which was beyond impressive. The technology in these rooms was dedicated to modern networking, and represented hardware found throughout the world. Data Centers like this one literally run the modern economy, government, and pretty much any other company that stores data.  Josh and Rachel then accompanied us to a meeting room in Brocades main building. Once there we were treated to a table of appetizers, and even more Brocade employees. I was able to network and engage in great conversation with a multitude of people. Some were just out of internships while others had senior positions. I must say that the event went off without a hitch, and showed shear professionalism. I’ll take this time to once again thank the folks at Brocade for sponsoring the trip, and for making our last day one of the most memorable.

Anyway, after that we left Brocade and went straight to the Mezcal Restruant for an alumni event. Once there we enjoyed more food, and introductions to more than a dozen former MTU grads. There was a slight concentration on computer and electrical based vocations, but quite a few of the alumni had degrees in other areas; such as chemical, geological, and business. The highlight of my night and possibly the trip was meeting Dave House, who is a current chairman for Brocade. He has been wildly successful in areas surrounding computers, occupying high job positions in Intel and other major companies. His start at MTU and long list off accomplishments really showed me that hard work can pay off in a big way.  By the time we got back to the hotel that night I was exhausted, and could barely muster the energy to pack, but my day was nothing short of exhilarating.

Nicholas Schweikart – Mechanical Engineering, First Year