So for the past 7 weeks, I’ve been back out on the west coast living and working in the Silicon Valley for Google. It has been an out of this world experience thus far and I hardly want to come to grips with the fact that my internship will be over in a short 5 weeks. I definitely plan to make the most of it between now and then.
It’s strange in a way. I’ve experienced “doing what you love such that you never have to work another day in your life” before, but never in a full time job. I’ve always relied on side projects and small entrepreneurial ventures for that. There’s never been a time when I’ve felt such a sense of ownership with the freedom to create, build, develop and work cross functionally (and across oceans if need be) to execute what I am working on without much red tape in my entire career.
On one hand, I somewhat envy my classmates such as Lisa, Ileana and Raghu who got to work here earlier in there careers. Then again, much of the unique value that I now bring to the table at work is due to the hard skills and business lessons that I learned working in tedious jobs and stodgy old school companies that I hated showing up to each day. So when I look at things in full perspective, I guess its all awash.
Reflecting on My First Year at Wharton
What a ride. What an ef-fing RIDE! That’s not to say that it was all rosy and shit–nowhere is perfect. And even if the place and the environment were, I certainly am not. You know what they say, “Wherever you go, there you are”. That is certainly true in business school. The same personal problems, demons and challenges that you had prior are right there with you, but now you have a few hundred new drinking buddies to take a load off when the realities of life–and business school–have got you down. I’d say my darkest moments during my first year surrounded the need to put in hours of study to pass classes that I had blown off to work on co-curricular projects (like the new Data Club that I founded, The Rugby Club, and my startup) that were just more important to me than say…valuing bonds in my finance class. It has, however, been transformative in a number of ways…and I still have half of the experience left to go.
Years spent in corporate America can have a deadening effect on your sense of self. Your concept of who you are and what makes you most happy can become cloudy and hazy in the midst of a tedious day-to-day grind. My first year at Wharton has in many ways re-awakened a person that I used to be before most of my creativity and energy became stifled behind a suit and a pair of wing tips; but that is the perspective of someone who worked for over a decade prior to even applying to business school. Many of my classmates may not be able to identify with that sentiment. Few of them worked purposeless jobs long enough to hate them. Hopefully they never will. You certainly don’t have to if you really do the inner work to choose where you want to be and wholeheartedly pursue it during business school.
A Full Circle Moment
About a month ago, I opted to take advantage of a pretty cool perk that comes with working at Google in the San Francisco Bay Area–the ability to work from one of the other offices in the area just because. While the main campus is in Mountain View, The San Francisco campus is the most popular one to moonlight at because so many people live there and commute to The Valley. I actually live about 3 miles from work and commute on a company-issued bike, but on this day I wanted to attend a talk given by mega-venture capitalist and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz after work in the city, so I took the train up that morning, found a vacant desk area to squat and worked as usual, taking all of my meetings virtually.
At some point, I needed a break. I grabbed a piece of fruit from one of the micro-kitchens (there’s a hard and fast rule that no Googler is to ever be more than 150 ft away from food. I McLove that) and headed outside so that I could speak as loudly as I wanted to without interrupting people who were trying to work. About 20 paces outside of Google’s SF office, I found myself in a courtyard and immediately experienced deja vu. I had been in that courtyard before–almost exactly 18 months prior. It was the courtyard that exists between Google SF and Wharton’s west coast executive campus where I’ll be attending school for my fall semester this year.
I had known for some time that both Google SF and Wharton West were housed on the same campus, but just wasn’t in that frame of mind at the moment so I was startled when I found myself in such a familiar place. Just a year and a half ago, I had been standing in that exact spot, pacing back and forth in a charcoal pin striped suit rehearsing my 1 minute opening statement from Wharton’s team-based interview. My class (c/o 2015) was the first to go through that process, and while it is just one part of the application process, I’ve received direct feedback since at Wharton that my performance in the interview had a lot to do with my “sealing the deal” to my admission offer.
Outside of my Wharton interview, that day itself was FUBAR, to say the least. I had just watched $20k go down the drain investing in a business idea only to discover about 6-8 months in that it was a huge mistake. On that particular day, I literally had $10 in cash to my name and I spent it on 3 slices of banana walnut bread from a Starbucks around the corner that I ate in small pieces throughout that day. On my flight back to LA, we couldn’t land at the airport because there was fog that was too thick for a safe landing. We circled for nearly an hour before being routed to another airport in the region where I had to pay for a cab with my credit card–through sprawled out Los Angeles–to get back to where my car was parked in Long Beach–with the gas tank on “E”.
Before I returned to work that day, I made sure to take a few photos around Wharton West for the sake of memory lane…and then I went back to that Starbucks and had a slice of banana walnut bread…
A Semester in San Francisco
After my internship ends this fall, I’ve opted out of returning to Philadelphia to attend my second year fall semester at Wharton West as previously mentioned. I’ll miss a ton of people, but I’m looking forward to another few months in the Silicon Valley tech ecosystem as well as the memories that will be created with the rest of my Semester in San Francisco cohort of 65 classmates–which includes half of my learning team. This program, in fact, played a major role in my decision to apply to and attend Wharton.
There are at least 100 of my classmates in the Bay Area (mostly San Francisco) interning for various, tech, e-commerce, finance and consulting companies. I haven’t socialized with them as much as I had thought that I would because I’ve been focused on doing a good job at work mostly. I did, however, enjoy a nice weekend trip to Lake Tahoe for the 4th of July with a group of about 11, but that’s been it so far. I largely have not been as urgent about getting to the city more often perhaps because I know I’ll be there all fall attending school and hopefully digging my eagle talons even deeper into the rich networks and opportunities that exist in this area for someone with similar interests and career goals as I. With these thoughts in mind, I snapped one more photo before heading back to my squatted desk area to get work done on my internship projects…
My Advice to The Class of 2016
So, I have a few points of advice for those who will be embarking on their first years at top business schools this fall; but first, a couple of disclaimers:
*It really is what YOU make it. No one else’s perspective (or opinion) should overly influence how you choose to experience these next two amazing years
*Take everything I say with a grain of salt. I’m just one guy who attends one school. I can only speak from my own experience. So here goes…
1) The People Make the Place
A great school, a recognized brand, world class professors, fantastic experiences..that’s all good stuff. But the most important thing is to get to know your classmates (and the 2nd years). These are the people who you will be picking up the phone to call over the next 20-30 years for information, contacts and favors. You’ll also create lifelong memories, alliances and even businesses with them. THEY are your most important investment.
2) It will be harder than you might think
While its no Ph.D program or med school program or even the hell that I went through as an engineering undergrad, b-school is not a walk in the park academically. This is mostly true because so many of the people who you will meet there will already know half of what many others will be learning for the first time. The deck will be stacked in their favor and if you are not one of them, there will be little that you’ll be able to do to catch up to them without forfeiting your entire experience. Do what you need to do, but don’t kill yourself just for grades. You’ll regret it at graduation.
3) Talk to 2nd years and recent graduates and plan way ahead
B-school goes by quickly–VERY quickly. And while most people will be very nice (or pretend to be at least) to you there are a finite number level of plum opportunities–even at huge programs like Wharton, HBS and Columbia. The more you speak with those who have walked your chosen path before you (your concentration, your dream job, your desired internship, et al.) the better prepared you’ll be to take advantage of the best opportunities and avoid the worst mistakes.
4) As much as you can, FOCUS
There will be a million opportunities flying at you constantly. Don’t try to do it all…or even most of it. Choose 2 or 3 things that you will commit to and do WELL. Let everything else fall behind those 2-3 priorities at any given time. Don’t end up missing out on something you REALLY want during this journey because your ego couldn’t let go of some tier 2 or 3 priority that didn’t even deserve your time or energy. Also be prepared to make that list of 2 or 3 flexible as needed. During your first semester (or year depending on where you go to school), you’d be wise to let academics be at least #2 or #3. After then, you’re pretty much in the clear as far as the books are concerned
5) It’s way more expensive than the school is telling you
I’ve covered this before and I’m for real not bullshitting you. Save, save, save! Plan for $10,000 to $15,000 more than the budget the school gives you to leave your hands each year, depending on how much you’d like to travel and enjoy various things that many of your classmates WILL be doing.
6) Your classes are the least of what you’ll be paying for
While it is important to do “well enough” in class, don’t let your GPA run your life—unless you’re trying to make a big impression on a super elite bank or consulting firm; and even then doing so may only be marginally useful to you. My strategy? I’ve focused on the classes that have meant the most to me to learn right now. Other’s I’ve just made sure that I was decently exposed and I’ve saved the notes. Still others I just sat through, survived and kept it moving. You aren’t in high school racking up AP and IB points. Most of what will make you valuable in a job or running a company cannot be learned in a classroom. It CAN be learned–or developed, however, in activities such as starting and running organizations, organizing national conferences, raising sponsorship dollars, building startups, navigating interpersonal politics, balancing more responsibilities than you have time for, experiencing new cultures, negotiating group deals for holiday rental houses in Tahoe and giving 120% to crush your internship at a great company that you may want to work for. Much like your undergraduate degree, completing your classes without failing out merely communicates that you aren’t a noob; and quite frankly, just getting into the great school that you’re going to has already proved that. Just don’t f-ck it up.
7) NOTHING that happens within the MBA bubble is a secret. What you do in the dark may end up in follies.
If you’re going to be a whore (or a douche bag) be prepared for everyone to know about it. You may think your little ski trip tryst, racist remarks or the screaming blow up during your learning team’s PowerPoint prep was a secret, but half the class will be talking about it behind your back; and years from now they are unlikely to forget that you were THAT guy or THAT girl. If you think that’s a good thing, then GO for it! But if not, then don’t play yourself like that. Have fun, but keep it classy–or at least super discrete…or else that midnight gang bang on the Israel trek just might end up being spoofed in follies–if not in someone’s personal video collection.