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Social Networks and New Perspectives

Social Networks and New Perspectives July 15, 2016

Faculty in Silicon Valley

Daily posts and photos from the ACM SAIL faculty seminar on Silicon Valley as an Innovation Ecosystem.

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Day 4 – Thursday, July 14, 2016

Posted by Ross Sowell, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Cornell College

We began the day with a hike in the wetlands surrounding the Facebook headquarters. The hike in the California sun was lovely, but unfortunately, it was as close as we would get to Facebook.

As is the case with many of the large companies in the area, security is of the utmost concern, and they are rather averse to group tours. We would witness this again when we visited Apple, a company that is notoriously secretive and difficult penetrate, later in the afternoon.

In stark contrast was our noontime visit to LinkedIn, where they rolled out welcome signage to greet us and invited us into their dining hall for lunch. Our host was Chiao-Yu Tuan, a Lawrence University graduate and software engineer at LinkedIn. She was extremely generous with her time, giving us a tour of the working spaces and engaging in a discussion with us about her experiences.

Ripon College faculty Timothy Reed, Mollie Oblinger, and Henrik Schatzinger on the wetlands hike.

Two things stood out to me: the food was amazing and the demographics were jarring. Based solely on my observation of the lunchroom, I would guess that it was 80 percent Asian with a median age of 27. The latter was exemplified by an anecdote Chiao-Yu shared with us. Rather than the typical, “bring your kids to work day,” LinkedIn has a “bring your parents to work day.”

Our next stop was Moxtra, a startup company building a mobile-first collaboration platform. This is the first startup that we visited, and it shed light onto another important facet of the culture in Silicon Valley. Matthias Broner, a Luther College graduate working in business development and marketing at Moxtra, introduced us to the company and answered our questions about his experience.

MoxtraTalking with Luther College alumnus Matthias Broner at Moxtra.

When I asked him to relate some things that he did not get from his liberal arts education for which he might have been better prepared, the first thing out of his mouth was, “I wish I had learned some coding skills. After all, computer science is the new math.” Designers of bachelor of arts degree requirements, take note.

We capped the evening with a lecture and discussion with Dr. Jan English-Lueck, Professor of Anthropology at San Jose State University. She is also a research affiliate with the Institute for the Future, whose slogan is, “Making the Future with Foresight.” She offered yet another perspective on the culture of Silicon Valley — one more critical in tone.

Dr. Jan English-LueckDr. Jan English-Lueck sharing her insights into the culture of Silicon Valley.

In a world that is rapidly changing with ever-increasing velocity, she pauses and challenges us to think about what those changes mean. What are the consequences? My mind is still reeling from our discussion, but I will leave you with a quote from her web site: “Understanding the social life of Silicon Valley people allows all of us to reflect on the choices we make — both inside and outside Silicon Valley.”

We are not even halfway through the seminar, and I already have much on which to reflect.

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