We arrived at HP a little early, which was great because we had the opportunity to look aroundt he Welcome Center before our tour. The lobby to the Welcome Center houses the actual offices of the founders, William Hewlett and David Packard. Visitors can walk around the preserved offices and see artifacts from the company’s history. The more modern part of the lobby features an enormous video wall that supports touch input, so visitors can select items on the HP timeline and watch videos about certain events or people from the past and present.
Our tour included an explanation of HP’s biggest profit machine: printing. You didn’t think we’d go to HP and not learn about printers, did you? The most impressive aspect of HP’s printing business is just the sheer magnitude of its reach. Their equipment is responsible for printing the now famous Coca-Cola campaign wherein the beverage giant had individualized bottles and cans with the 400 most popular names in the country emblazoned on the labels. That could not have been done cost effectively without HP’s printers. HP also has a printer that outputs at around 100 mile per hour. We were treated to a demonstration of this lightning-fast printer, and it was remarkably impressive. Certainly, more impressive than one would think a printer could be. The Chief Supply Chain Officer of HP, Stuart Pann (Michigan Tech alum), greeted us about halfway through our tour and we were able to sit down with him in one of the conference rooms. His story is incredible, and it was pleasure hearing some of the things he recounted to us. He came to Silicon Valley and originally worked for Intel. At Intel, Dave House (currently of Brocade) sought him out and provided mentorship. Later, while still working for Intel, he told us about the time that Steve Jobs approached Intel to produce parts for a project in 2006, one that would later go on to completely revolutionize a semi-stagnant market segment. That projec twould be called the iPhone. Intel turned Jobs down, instead partnering with Nokia on the Meego-based N9. Needless to say, Stuart expressed interest in what could have been.
As a group, our first experiences on Netflix’s campus were interesting. Jim Baker, one of the attending Michigan Tech staff members, commented “I thought Netflix was a video streaming company, but I didn’t know it was a restaurant, too.” That’s because most of what we saw was a working environment that seemed to place community above all else. Humans tend to place a lot of social worth in sharing food and breaking bread, so as a result, a lot of Netflix’s communal space seems dedicated to cafes and eating spaces. =I believe it was Adam Johnson, MTU’s advancement officer and the photographer and organizer of this trip, that added Netflix may have taken into account the “Google ratio,” which sets aside a certain number of lounge areas or areas per square footage. From what I saw, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Our tour guide was Lilit, and she walked us through quite a few spaces and at least three buildings per my count, but several buildings are connected via skywalks, so it can be difficult tos eparate one building from another. At the end, we were led into a very unique room that had informally been dubbed “the Thunderdome,” after the eponymous location from the Mad Maxmovie. Over lunch, we chatted with Lilit and four additional women that work at Netflix, T.Y., Samantha, Sue, and Alayna. Each of them comes from a different department, but they all had a very similar message: Netflix is a company with a unifying mantra of freedom and responsibility. That is to say that employees at Netflix are given the freedom to work the way they choose and are expected to take responsibility for all their actions, and that seems to be a two-way street for employees and the company. For instance, employees are given the choice to work in a “bull pen” style space or have their own cubicles. It’s a culture of “context, and not of control.” And for any aspiring Netflix applicants, please know that curiosity is a highly desired trait for employees; embrace that curiosity and try not to let “magic” explain how things work behind-the-scenes. -Tommy Stuart
Our very last company visit was to Ford’s technology lab in Palo Alto. In 2012, Ford opened their first Silicon Valley lab. In January of 2015, Ford expanded that operation and opened the Research and Innovation Center here in Palo Alto. Very soon, they’ll be expanding the Palo Alto lab to include two more buildings. Clearly, Ford wants in on the technology market. And we were told as much by Dave Kaminsky, a Michigan Tech alumnus who has worked for Ford in Dearborn, and in places like Brazil and Germany. He’ll be transitioning back to Dearborn within the next couple months, and he hopes to bring some of the Silicon Valley back with him, so keep an eye out for possible internships and co-ops at the MTEC SmartZone.
Our tour of the facility in Palo Alto included the project and demo space, which I did not get to experience, because I volunteered to take part in a virtual reality demonstration out in the parking lot. The concept was to provide drivers with a simulated environment that would be devoid of physical consequences while also testing the driver’s ability to maneuver the car. The provided scenario was that eventually, this technology could be used in an empty lot, and the driver would wear the VR headset while driving the car. Simulated obstacles, either stationary or otherwise, would present themselves and the driver would do their best to avoid hitting these obstacles. The data collected from an experiment like this could potentially be used for granting licenses or even for determining safety protocols. Our group, at the suggestion of CameronBurke, began calling the experience the Ford Onboard Reality Display, or the recursive acronym “F.O.R.D.” In its current incarnation, the F.O.R.D. resembles something akin to a 3D version of the Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog, but the project is still very young and improvements are inevitably on the way. -Tommy Stuart
House Family Vineyard
The last event on our itinerary was hosted by Dave House at his vineyard in Saratoga. He and his family have an absolutely beautiful home at the top of a mountain that I believe is called Mt. Eden, and the estate overlooks the entire city, with additional views of Cupertino. We arrived a little before sunset and it was brilliant being able to see the city go from daylight to moonlight. Of course, what would a vineyard reception be without wine? The House family provided all attendees with free wine from the vineyards, as well as hors d’oeurves, dinner, and dessert. It was quite the reception, as you can probably tell. Students in attendance were granted the opportunity to network and learn from Michigan Tech alumni currently living and working in Silicon Valley, and I don’t think any of us squandered that opportunity. Many of the faces that we had seen throughout the week came to the reception and students gravitated to Christine from Twilio, Amy from Clari, and Stuart from HP. And it goes without saying that many of us tried to get Dave House’s ear and his advice. – Tommy Stuart