14 Floors Bay Area 2016: Handshake. Porter Vineyard. Ford. Netflix. Apple.

portervineyard2

Tuesday – March 8
Handshake
handshake2handshakeOur second day was spent visiting Garrett Lord at the growing company Handshake – originally started in Houghton. From their recent move in just a week before, the team was hard at work while Garrett and select members of his staff revealed the secret to the success of the business model. Now working with universities like Princeton, Villanova, Michigan, and Stanford the company is rapidly scaling and expanding into new spaces. Understanding the struggle of a multinational and all-inclusive company vision, the team has key metrics in place and features unveiling in the near future to improve the software.

Handshake, a company founded by a few Michigan Tech graduates who quickly realized their company had potential and moved to the Bay Area. The office sits atop Bank of America and has an unreal view of San Francisco, something I think every new college graduate dreams of. The employees are all relatively young and the environment is very Silicon Valley – everyone there was willing to do whatever it took to see the company succeed.

Porter Vineyard
portervineyard2portervineyardTim Porter worked as an engineer for several years before finally moving to take over the vineyard that his father started and made so successful. He led us through the cellar tunnel carved through this very vineyard, where all of the fruit processing, fermenting, and storage is done. The incredible part was that they also had furnished tasting rooms inside the cellar. In the main dome tasting room, they had prepared wine and cheese/chocolate pairs for us all to try and then mingle with a pizza lunch to follow. They were extremely generous and it was a fantastic afternoon in Napa.

Netflix
netflix2netflixI wake up and my first thought is, ‘I am exhausted’. Day 1 and day 2 were amazing. I have a dozen new Linkedin contacts, and interest in companies I did not know existed 48 hours ago. Today can’t go any better.

“From the moment we walked in I could tell this place is serious about movies.”

Each of the rooms were named after movies or tv shows, not that shocking, but there was also extensive theming to match. We were in the Cowboy Bebop room right at the door there was a huge mural of the characters. Dianne, a Tech alumna was our host. She is the Director of Engineering Tools at Netflix. Her and three other engineers gave us a great understanding of how technology behind Netflix works. We got a pretty cool behind the scenes look into all that makes the streaming service work. We even got a little insight to the technical challenges in optimizing streaming quality for a wide variety of internet conditions and streaming platforms. Netflix hosted us for breakfast and we discussed their jobs doing stream rate optimization, hardware integrations and expanding video streaming into different cultures and remote regions. The part I found most interesting was Netflix exceeded expectation in the viewing habits among different cultures. They found certain shows worldwide were strongly homogenous among viewers regardless of location and culture, something I’m sure anthropologists and sociologists alike would find fascinating. With the conversation never in a lull, the question and answer session scheduled for the initial part of our tour took the entirety of our time.

Apple
apple2appleThe next stop was 1 Infinity Loop. Michigan Tech grad Dan Lykowski was pretty cool. He works on the security stack for pretty much all Apple devices. He was humble, but It sounded like has a pretty important position. According to Dan all of the positions at Apple come with a high level of responsibility. Even the interns are assigned specific task that play a direct role in ongoing development. There was very little we were allowed to see and even less Dan was allowed to tell us. Dan was able to get us pass the Apple security and inside the infinite loop. This is not small feat and was an absolutely glorious feeling! We got to stand on the same ground at as Steve Jobs. If I had a bucket list that would definitely be a check mark.

“I asked Dan to sign my Macbook Pro… He said no, but I had to try.”

Seeing Infinite Loop and the Apple campus in person left me a bit star struck. Although we were only allowed in the main lobby and into the courtyard inside all of the main buildings, it was still an incredible experience. The MTU graduate who spoke with us told us all of the different projects he had been a part of and different release delays he was responsible for, which was pretty funny. We also walked right under Tim Cook’s office, which left several students a bit starry eyed.

Ford
ford2fordOur last official stop of the day was the Ford, more specifically the Ford Research & Innovation Center. This Silicon Valley office is Ford’s stab at developing a young technology focused division within their cooperation. I did enjoy hearing the history and success the office has seen. Dave Kaminski was our host for the event, he is the Director of the Research & Innovation Center. He is another very successful tech alum. Ford chose Dave and his partner Dragos Maciuca to start this satellite office whose focus is autonomous vehicle technology. We got a full tour of the faculty and even got a look at some of the development products. Spoiler alert, not all of them have four wheels.

Ford Research and Innovation Center was pretty incredible – although as a mechanical engineer I may have been a bit partial to them. It was very interesting to see all the different projects they were actively working on, including the autopilot or self-driving vehicles. We were led to their garage where they were benchmarking the performance of the open source Tesla Model S for Ford’s vehicles, as well as to their driving simulator.