Posts Tagged With: Personal

So, you’re visiting Silicon Valley’s biggest companies next week

Two years ago I went on the Silicon Valley ITAB trip. This was the turning point of my college career and more than anything else put me on the career path I'm on right now. However when I went on the trip I lacked a lot of context about the companies we went to go see. We ended up talking to some pretty high powered executives at those companies and it would have been great to actually have material for high powered discussions about those companies.

You might want to also read over my daily blog posts from the trip.

In no particular order:


Atlassian makes tools for programmers to collaborate with each other. Basically, programmers have tools like carpenters have hammers and screwdrivers and other purpose-driven instruments. A good introduction to what tools are used and why these tools are necessary is a blog post called The Joel Test).

Atlassian has a lot of competition in all of its product lines. But they get people to pay for its products and a lot of people swear by them. Which is really, really hard to do, and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Is it sexy? No. But as I noted in my blog post it's a place where "Silicon Valley's bread is buttered," and they are probably going to IPO soon and make a lot of people at the company wealthy.

Atlassian also has a great culture; it's a fun place to work and there's not a lot of bullshit. In terms of internships I've heard mixed reviews; I was fairly lucky in that I got to sort of design my own. Once you get there if you can think of something cool to work on, if you give a good enough pitch they'll probably go for it.

Bloom Energy

I've never heard of it but they have a pretty impressive list of board members. This Quora post looks interesting. Might be worth asking them about their patents and whether they've been sued.


I don't need to tell you much about Google, it's a great company and it's like number one on everyone's list of places they want to work. Believe it or not CMC is actually pretty good at getting people into Google; if my stats are correct they hired 300-400 new grads last year and six of them were CMCers. Here's what those CMCers are doing:

  • Two One answers phones as part of the sales team

  • One processes refunds for Google Offers

  • One works in HR

  • One looked at websites one by one to see if they were spam or not (I quit after 8 weeks)

  • One works on the help documentation for a product

So I would probably qualify "Google is a great place to work" by saying, "Google is a great place to work... if you are a product manager or an engineer" The fact is that Google needs a lot of bodies to walk new users through Adwords or manually approve Google+ photos and they have no shortage of people with Ivy League degrees to fill these jobs. The actual role is obfuscated during the recruiting steps, and once you actually get there, you think something like this to yourself:

  1. I'm an attractive, young bright person

  2. My job is sort of awful

  3. But if I was really bright, I wouldn't have taken it.

  4. Therefore, my job must not be that bad.

Also, there are a lot of people that put up with it for the free massages, free food, steady drip of insider news/product releases and the ability to tell people they work at Google. I resented waking up and going to work, which is when I knew I had to quit.

Electronic Arts

Video games are glamorous. Working on video games, not so much. However, everyone wants to do it.

In grad school, a friend told me he wanted to go into videogame programming, so I described this post to him. His response was immediate and unwavering: "I don't care, I want to do game programming so much that I'll do whatever it takes." I suspect that enough people like this graduate every year that EA can maintain their high employee turnover indefinitely. source

Read this post for more on what it's like. Hard deadlines are a reality in the game industry, and EA used to have a really nasty reputation for forcing everyone to work overtime without any extra pay. This has apparently improved since they settled a class action lawsuit in 2007, but probably still worth asking about.

EA will ask you to apply through their online thing. I don't think anyone from CMC has even gotten a first round interview, for any position.


You probably have your own opinion on their games. You should read about the business with trying to take back unvested options from early employees right before the IPO.


Scott Cook is the CEO in Silicon Valley whom I most admire. He's a genuinely nice guy and laid all the groundwork for later companies like Google, Amazon and eBay to follow. From all I've heard Intuit is a cool place to work. They also grok stuff like the Lean Startup there and have a bunch of cool initiatives.

They will probably talk about SnapTax and the programs they have to reach out to farmers in India. That said it's also a big company and your milage will probably vary with the department you land in.

Mint is a really cool product. However they also store the large majority of their customers most secret passwords in the clear; that is to say anyone who hacked Mint's database would be able to log in to every customer's bank/credit card/investing site. This is contrary to password best practice, where passwords are stored in the database as gibberish. I would definitely ask them about this as it seems like a huge PR and security risk. I would also ask about whether Intuit needs to buy innovation now and why their company couldn't grow that solution in house.

Infosys, eBay, Applied Materials, KKR,, Microsoft

I don't know that much about these places. No one's ever gotten an internship or an interview at Microsoft. Also they will show this concept video with "the future" and people executing horribly complex UI interactions with just one button press. Just keep in mind that today, it takes three clicks just to open your favorite website in Internet Explorer.


A lot of these companies are cool, have great products/reputations and the trip is really cool. You should definitely work in the tech industry - you can wear whatever you want to work, set your own hours, and they don't block Twitter; in short, it's the only industry I've found where you are treated like an adult. However you should think really carefully about the specific role you're going to take at each place.

You should also take a look at my post on how to get that job in tech you are looking for.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Kevin goes to Coachella

I went to the Coachella music festival last week. It was a wild weekend and I will surely go again in the future.

  • I was surprised at how little thought bands put into their onstage appearance and mannerisms. It’s natural for artists to want to focus on their music, and expect others to judge them based on their music, but the fact is the show is more than just the music, especially at a festival where you are going to have more casual fans than a regular concert. The three artists who did the best job of putting on a show were Empire of the Sun, Kanye and Sleigh Bells.
  • Kanye’s show had the clear marks of an egotistical maniac: forty dancers dressed in white, several interludes where he proclaimed his own greatness, and a fifty-foot-tall Greek tragic relief behind him. He let the music play and the dancers dance for about three minutes before appearing. He performed the first song while circling thirty feet above the crowd on a riser. I thought this was brilliant cause it let people take camera phone pictures of Kanye alone against a dark background.
  • Phones were really unreliable for most of the event, so we had to make really concrete plans like “meet at this spot at exactly 6pm” and so on. I don’t understand how people did things before cellphones. People must have just lost each other a lot.
  • At times it seemed like the only thing everyone was doing was just walking around. For a while I flipped out that everyone walking the other way had better information. That theory did not hold weight.
  • As my college career is coming to a close I’m getting really nervous about whether I’ll continue meeting people and making friends. So I’m making more of an effort to talk to strangers. This generally went well. However it’s not a good sign that at a place like Coachella, with 150,000 attractive people in my own demographic, with something really obvious to talk about (the music), and virtually no downside to having a conversation go badly, I only maybe talked to 5 strangers each day.
  • Cell phones aside I was amazed at how smoothly everything ran. I was particularly impressed by these trash cans:

    They are a great example of form following function. The round hole was for round recyclables (bottles, cans). The square hole was for compost items (plates, forks, paper). The other hole was for trash. The one critique I’d have is that the holes were not very large so a drunk or lazy person might just throw their recyclable in the trash. This error may be better than throwing trash in the recycling, however.

  • My favorite acts were Sleigh Bells, Kanye, the Strokes, Cut Copy, Two Door Cinema Club, and Wiz Khalifa. If you have a choice between two acts, choose the louder, more upbeat, or more electronic sounding one.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk, the social media expert and Wine Library TV guy, came and spoke at CMC for lunch today. Here are my thoughts in no particular order:
  • Vaynerchuk got famous for talking about wine on video. Well a lot of people did wine TV shows, but his was the best and he had the best customer outreach - as he put it he spent 15 hours a day answering every question he could about wine. However it's been shown in many studies that people can't tell red wines from white wines and can't tell that high priced wines are better than low priced wines, and even Robert Parker gets a ton of wines wrong when he does a blind taste test. So I don't pretend I can distinguish between different types of wine and I don't put any faith in wine ratings or people's ability to be consistent with ratings. I don't believe Gary has any magic powers in wine discernment either.
    Then Vaynerchuk starts speaking and his style is very, and we really need better words for this, prophetic. He made many grand predictions about the future, and backed them up with stories, which sound really interesting and intuitive, connecting two ideas in a way you hadn't thought of. My first conclusion was that talking about the future and pitching wines require the same skills: taking ideas where no one really knows the true value, commenting on them in an interesting way and selling people with enthusiasm and sheer force of will.
  • But then I thought "He's pretty successful, and it's probably not from selling snake oil." So then I thought that he probably does a shitload of research to back everything up (and sees it for himself, as an entrepreneur). But he's smart, and sensitive enough to other people's demands to know that presenting all the data would be boring. Plus he's getting paid to give a talk and he needs to be a crowd pleaser to win people to his team. But I'd love to know whether he's made money on his angel investments so far.
  • Vaynerchuk talked a lot about how companies need to get on board with social media and realize that customers are giving them an extraordinary window into their personal lives, that they should be taking advantage of. I generally agree. However to me at least the big winner from the "Thank You Economy" isn't the business but the consumer, who gets more personalized attention from businesses they care about. At the margin one company may be able to outperform another by providing better service, but I'm not sure it will have any long term effects on GDP, unemployment, etc. if every company suddenly picked up and started following along from Vaynerchuk's book.
  • Vaynerchuk talked a lot about the differences between what people say ("I won't ever use Twitter", etc), and what they actually do. I wanted to point out there's an easy way to do this - get people to bet with you on their beliefs. However Vaynerchuk has started to do this through angel investing.
  • Vaynerchuk is an amazingly hard worker, and extraordinarily persistent. This is why I think he'd probably be successful even if everything he said about the future, and wine, was wrong. He claims this is because he's an immigrant, and he "knows what the alternative is."

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Eric Ries Talk at LuxR

Two of my New Years resolutions are to maximize serendipity and stop worrying about spending money, so I spent $30 to hear Eric Ries talk about lean startups yesterday in San Francisco.

  • Ries’s basic message is that most startups fail, but if you are able to get feedback quickly and change your idea (“pivot”), you can test out more ideas, and maximize your chance of finding a profitable idea before you run out of money. Instead of spending tons of money building out a product and then testing it on customers, you should get feedback as quickly as possible, to make sure that your product will actually have customers.
  • I think of Ries’s ideas as checks against human bias. People are extraordinarily protective of their ideas and projects, don’t like to be told that their product won’t be successful, and especially don’t like to be told that the 6 months of work they just put into a product is useless. If startups fail because of the hubris of their founders, then a methodology that tells you to learn from customers early, and tighten your feedback loop will improve the success rate of startups. One of the two questions I would have asked would have been about the root causes of startup failure, whether they are related to too little feedback, or just poor execution.
  • Conventional wisdom says startup founders are supposed to be irrationally optimistic about their product; anything less and they might not have the werewithal to persist through the trough of disillusionment, persuade VC’s to give them money, etc. Lean startup says that you should be more realistic about the prospects of success. Ries pointed out there are tradeoffs for each approach. Irrationally optimistic founders won’t have problems getting people to put out 120%, getting money from VC’s, and selling people on a product, even if the product doesn’t exist. However, if a startup organized like that has to pivot to a different idea, the employees might find it hard to switch. With lean startup/more realistic approach, every employee has a tougher mental burden, but it’s easier to pivot, and decisions will be based more on data (instead of “vision”).
  • By default people should be skeptical of someone trying to sell them advice. If the lean startup is such a useful tool, why isn’t Ries founding startups and crushing the competition with it? Thus my second question was going to be about how Ries measures the success of his philosophy, especially at the margin. In Ries’s defense, he was at a profitable company (IMVU), and probably is applying the lean startup approach to his own brand.

  • Someone asked Ries about hiring, and I was interested to hear the answer. Ries said he didn’t really have any special advice, except that hiring committees use the fundamental attribution error too often; they attribute qualities to a candidate that are really factors of their environment. (As an example, it would be a fundamental error to say that a Microsoft programmer was going to produce more bugs and be a more boring person than an average software developer).
  • I was the only college student at the event out of about 30 people. Most people were happy to talk to me, give advice, etc. I suspect this is because it was a pricey event and it was marketed to professionals. Either way, it would be good to go to more events like these.
  • However, one thing I need to continue to work on is trying to get to know one or two people very well, so that I can gain mentors and friends instead of making a good impression on six different people. I would do better if I focused my energies.
  • As usual I was pretty nervous about approaching strangers. My usual strategy is to a) ignore the voice in my head telling me to leave immediately, and b) warm up with someone “easy” before moving on to people I really want to talk to. That strategy continued to work.
  • If you close your eyes, Ries and Andrew Warner sound like the same person.

About Me
I’m a senior at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. I like building tools that make my life easier. Email me here or you should follow me on Twitter here.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Changes to site RSS feeds

I've moved the links to a separate links page. They won't show up in the main RSS feed anymore, or on the homepage. To subscribe to "Posts," which is everything but links, add this page to your RSS reader: If you are already subscribed, you don't have to do anything. To subscribe to links, add this feed to your RSS reader: I'm sorry for the trouble.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Where do I find cool/interesting links?

1. I use an RSS reader to follow about forty different websites (here's an OPML file with all the feeds I subscribe to). Many of the websites I read are also aggregators of good content. My two favorites right now are Hacker News and The Browser. Jason Kottke is also good, as well as Tyler Cowen. 2. I use to save links. I also have the bookmarks of several people on Delicious show up in my RSS feed. Two good people to follow are Andy McKenzie and Ben Casnocha. 3. Very Short List sends out an email a day pointing to cool stuff. 4. I keep a Twitter account that just follows people who link to interesting things. Currently I'm following aaker, bakadesuyo, vaughanbell, globeideas, and harpers. 5. I'm not on Facebook at the moment but Shane Davis and Chris Blees have consistently good material on their Walls. They are possibly the two people at the Claremonts who spend more time browsing for links than I do.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Fall 2010 Semester Goals

This semester's going to be the toughest semester I've had in terms of demands on my time. My goal this semester is just to show up, which Woody Allen says is "90% of life." If I can be reliable and turn in assignments when I'm supposed to, show up to parties when I'm supposed to, and meet application deadlines, that would be outstanding. Of course there's a lot of work that goes into that. I also have a body language related goal, to stop touching my face, stop looking around, and to keep my shoulders back. I also want to visit at least ten of Jonathan Gold's top 99 LA restaurants.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Four days in Sequoia Nat’l Park

  • I noticed that when I hiked at the front of the group I had lots of energy, and wanted to hike quickly, but when I hiked at the back I got tired more easily. I am sure that this difference is mental, and I wonder why that would be. Maybe if you were someone at the back of the group, evolutionarily, it made more sense to conserve energy and expend it elsewhere. It may just be the difference between setting your own pace and marching to someone else's pace.
  • We played lots of word games on the trail. Word games are like NP computational problems: difficult to solve, but once you have the solution it's easy to verify that it's correct (here's an example: A man is dead in a room, and the only other object in the room is a rock. How did he die? He's Superman, and the rock is kryptonite).
    That said, I'm pretty good at solving these, especially rule-based games like Green Glass Doors. The game solutions fall into one of three categories: properties of the object, properties of the words, and habits of the speaker. To check if the solution is in the third category, try repeating exactly whatever the speaker said followed the rule - if it does not pass, then watch the speaker closely for verbal or physical tics. To check if the solution is in the second category, try saying words that mean the same thing or resemble the same object that passed, to see if they also match the rule. If they don't, then you're in category 2 and you should examine the words to see if they fit. Otherwise try category 1.
    The other key point is that your brain is your enemy, because once it generates theories it will latch onto them, and you'll continually try to confirm your thesis instead of disconfirm it. A famous example from Peter Wason in psychology is that subjects were given a rule and a sequence of three numbers - 2,4,6 - that fit the rule, then told to make other guesses to figure out the rule. Most subjects generated fancy rules - only even numbers, only increasing by 2 - when in fact the rule was simply three numbers in ascending order. The key to winning word games is to try to disconfirm your theories as quickly as possible.
  • The conversation was superficial for most of the trip. Topics of conversation included SAT scores/schools applied to, cool stuff you and your friends from home do, favorite music/movies, sharing values through condemnation of other groups - lazy people, stupid people, etc. Many times this was extremely disjointed - one person shares, the other person shares, with no continuity. I tried where I could to steer the conversation to stuff I was interested in talking about - whether people become more cynical as they age, why people drink for fun, instead of bowl or ballroom dance, what are the best questions to ask to get interesting conversations, etc.
  • As a self-imposed punishment for hiking way ahead of the group for most of AWE (a three-week wilderness trip I did with other Athenian students in 2005), I hiked in the back the entire way, with one girl in particular, far behind the rest of the group. This is a persistent hiking problem, and led me to think of the other group members as selfish, but also led the girl to worry about holding everyone else back. If hiking together is the goal, the only solution is to put the slowest members at the front. If you're ahead of the slow people you'll always hike away from them.
  • More than a few times I wanted to do something a certain way, and on reflection realized that it didn't really matter and that I probably just wanted to show I was in charge, and stopped. I'm glad I caught myself and I'm wondering if I'll have to deal with that forever or if I'll learn a new style in time.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.