SU student shares the career tips she learned in Silicon Valley

Commentary: Senior Michaela Quigley visited 23 companies in Silicon Valley over spring break and received advice from Syracuse University alumni and CEOs.

The CEO of LiveFyre, Jordan Kretchmer, sat waiting to hear my pitch. He was dressed casually in a black sweater with jeans, mimicking the relaxed West Coast work dress code. Despite his casual vibe, I still felt intimidated by his presence, knowing that he founded a company that raised well over 50 million dollars in funds and was acquired by Adobe Systems. I'd prepared for this moment while showering earlier that morning. I ran through my one-minute pitch approximately six times as I shampooed my hair and scrubbed my body.“Ready when you are,” Kretchmer said.

The spring break group's first stop in Silicon Valley was Google.

Seeking advice and inspiration from accomplished entrepreneurs, I ventured on the School of Information Studies's Spring Break in Silicon Valley trip, along with 18 other students. Over the five days, the group visited 23 companies, as well as Stanford University, and met with Syracuse University alumni at almost every stop. We visited companies with less than five employees and others with over 50,000 employees stationed around the world.

At 8 a.m on Monday, the group boarded the bus to begin the week with a visit to Google. We met six Syracuse alumni who came from different backgrounds, such as international relations, English and textual studies, computer science, and information management and technology. I came into the visit thinking that Google was only interested in information technology and computer science students.

As a magazine journalism senior, I constantly hear people talk about wanting to move to New York City. However, I don’t share that aspiration. It is too crowded, too cutthroat, and too gloomy. I have also shed my dream of working for Vogue, Glamour and Marie Claire, which is difficult to admit because people put big-name publications on a pedestal. Alumna and Google analytical linguist Olivia Rhinehart taught me that writing is an invaluable and needed skill, especially at tech companies. The trip to Google reassured me that I am not bound to New York City magazines for life.

After Google, we visited MobileIron, a software company focused on mobile device management and enterprise mobility management.  While I have no interest or knowledge in software security, alumnus and employee Sean Ginevan captivated me. He had an unwavering passion for MobileIron and entrepreneurship. Because he cared about the information he was presenting, I cared.

The most important lesson I took away from Grinevan was not about encrypting passwords, but to “be wildly focused.” My dream is to make my startup company, Shine the Magazine, an online publication for teenagers with disabilities, a success. My friend Miranda inspired me to create a publication that forms a community among disabled teens and allows people with disabilities to become journalists, writers, editors, videographers and photographers. Grinevan’s advice taught me that I have to set aside time after class or my day job to focus on the startup. While it may be time demanding and exhausting, being focused will pay off. Hopefully Shine will increase the 17.5 percent employment rate of those with disabilities by providing them journalistic opportunities.

The first time we met a CEO of a company was at Chegg, the online student textbook rental and tutoring service company. Dan Rosensweig came to our information and networking session unexpectedly. Rosensweig told us to believe in serendipity. He explained that life won’t take a straight path. He told the story of how he was laid off from a job, but within two hours he got a job at a company he'd worked for previously. I felt reassured to know that I don’t need my life to be planned at age 22. While I believe in Shine, I don’t know where it will take me. The unknown is scary, but it’s also what makes life exciting.

On the third night, I made a speech at an alumni dinner. Established Syracuse alumni came to have more intimate conversations with smaller groups at a restaurant. I explained that the fear of failure had been holding me back from progressing Shine. I revealed that I had always been ashamed to fail and didn’t want to let people down, especially Miranda. The trip, however, had been influential in showing me that failure is not to fear. After the speech, alumnus Michael Librizzi, who started his own company prior to working at Google, approached me to reveal that he has always been afraid of failure. He told me, though, that failure is a badge of honor in Silicon Valley. People are proud to fail because it means they tried and are walking away with more skills.

On the fourth day, I realized I should hire someone to do the technology side of Shine. As I sat on the bus listening to a classmate brief the bus about the company Bugcrowd, I tried to comprehend the company’s goals and mission. Connor told the bus that the company collects bugs. I figured Bugcrowd must collect rare bugs. Then he explained that Bugcrowd rewards people who catch their own bugs. I thought maybe I could be a bug hunter to gain extra money. The presentation continued and Connor said those who make their own bugs will not be allotted money. I figured people must try to make a physical robotic bug, but I wouldn’t have to worry about that since I am not an engineer. After touring the two floors of the company, I was confused as to why I didn’t see any bugs. I figured they must keep the bugs in a special room. I didn’t realize that the company collects computer bugs and not insects until we finished the tour of the office. While this visit did not inspire me, it taught me to hire someone to handle the website.

Spring break gave me the chance to get feedback on Shine from the CEO of Livefyre. At Livefyre, my professors called my name to pitch to Kretchmer first. I stood nervously, but began my one-minute pitch. After I delivered my explanation of Shine, Kretchmer complimented by ability to tell a story and to convey my points clearly. He challenged me, however, by questioning how I am going to make money. He did not feel sufficed by my answer: advertisements. He gave me other ideas and suggestions on which companies' revenue models I should study. Kretchmer gave me the most honest feedback on Shine that I have received.

On the last day, the group visited Airbnb and chatted with Ellie Thiele, the 13th person employed by Airbnb. She began working at Airbnb during the summer before her senior year at SU. The team worked long hours in the founder’s home. Airbnb’s mission drew Thiele to the company. She told our group to be obsessed with what we do, and if we aren’t then don’t do that job. Employee Kyle Pickering emphasized, “Designing and building the world we want to live in.” He also shared a quote from Airbnb’s CEO, “Don’t edit your imagination.” I imagine a world where people with disabilities can be anything they want, whether that’s an athlete, a writer, or a doctor. To achieve a world like this, I am creating the publication to allow people’s abilities to shine.


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