Whakatane High students living the Silicon Valley dream

Issue: Volume 94, Number 13

Posted: 27 July 2015
Reference #: 1H9crf

April Fools’ Day 2015 couldn’t have started better for 13 Whakatane High School senior digital technologies students embarking on the first leg of their Silicon Valley tour, during the term one school holidays. Whakatane High Schools Careers and Transitions assistant Toni Martin reports.

The trip that started out as a daring challenge between two staff members in the staffroom blossomed into a fantastic opportunity allowing Whakatane High School students to visit and talk to employees at some of the world’s most prominent technology companies and take a walk along the Manufacturing & Technology Vocational Pathway, to see where their dreams could lead them.

First up on the tour was Twitter. Imagine 13 WHS students sitting around the boardroom table at Twitter. We were greeted by four Twitter employees, two of whom have communications roles, one who is responsible for data and one who works with the community. Important meetings and business deals are done routinely around this table-we were in awe to be sitting there.

The students heard four very different presentations about the roles of each of the employees within the company and the paths that they had taken to get there. Students heard about how one employee’s childhood love for Lego inspired her to pursue her career in site infrastructure, design and problem solving.

Another employee talked about how he had been heavily involved in blogging and chat rooms and discovered that he was an excellent creator of content and good at communication – and was eventually picked up by Twitter. The next employee talked about how a long career in sales had helped him discover a passion for communication.

The last employee talked about her love of working for non-profit organisations and travel, and how the combination of those two things led her toward a role in community outreach for Twitter. During a Q&A session, all of the team encouraged our students to discover what they love and then to work hard at it.

Next up were two amazing presentations at the beautiful Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown San Jose. We really enjoyed a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) Space Project presentation from former NASA employee, Tony Leavitt. His dream is to bring the STEM Space Project to New Zealand schools. We also received a snapshot of Lockheed Martin’s US defence technologies by senior programs manager, Bob Stene.

Google day was incredible! The Google team spent three hours taking the students around the Googleplex where they got to try out the sleep pods; see a driverless Google car; play with the Google cardboard goggles; experience the Google bikes and other modes of employee transportation; eat lunch with the team, and play all of the games available to Googlers.

The students also received a motivational presentation, via Google Hangout, from YouTube’s Los Angeles office. Perhaps the highlight of this visit was an inspirational presentation by Kiwi Victoria Ransom, CEO of Wildfire by Google. She talked to the students about creating her company while studying at Harvard, the importance of students finding their passion, and working hard to achieve their dreams – and that being from New Zealand is not a limiting factor for success.

Kiwi connection

We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit a New Zealand start-up education technology company called Hapara, in Redwood City. They build the teacher dashboard that sits on top of the Google Classroom platform. The Hapara team broke into small groups which our students rotated around. This allowed both groups to meet each other and to share ideas and knowledge about Hapara, career paths and the future of technology in general.

It was a fantastic way for the students to hear about how an idea that solved a problem for a school in Auckland, and is quickly becoming a global solution in education. The group shared pizza and stories at the conclusion of the two-hour session.

We also visited start-up companies Lumiata (next generation medical technology) and Plantronics (audio technology). Both provided our students with further insight into the energy, focus, and hard work that goes with creating an innovative technology company from the ground up.

Visiting Facebook towards the end of our week was beneficial for students who had started out a little shy and reserved, and developed confidence among the group considerably by the end. They were able to leave our hosts with some suggestions around how to improve Facebook gaming notifications.

Students remarked how they felt that the Facebook campus was similar to a theme park atmosphere, with its restaurant, gaming arcade, free ice-cream shop, post office, hairdresser etc. - all designed to help employees with their daily needs.

We were fortunate to be shown around by an executive who helped to develop the Facebook Messenger app and by an Australian who works on Instagram, both of whom shared great anecdotes with the group about their experiences working on ‘interruptive technology’.

Dotted in between our technology company visits, the students were fortunate to spend time at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. This is one of the must-see attractions if you’re interested in science and technology as it’s completely interactive. The group also visited Alcatraz and attended a San Francisco Giants game where they received free T-shirts and memorabilia cups.

The Intel Museum’s history of the silicon chip was also a highlight, along with their hands-on learning labs class about how circuits work. The Tech Museum of San Jose illustrated the history of Silicon Valley’s technology companies.

One of the trip’s highlights was a cultural exchange dinner with juniors from Leland High School in San Jose. The students traded stories about each other’s schools and lifestyles. The Kiwi kids challenged their US counterparts to a fun quiz about New Zealand terminology and knowledge, awarding New Zealand chocolates as prizes.

Ivy league learning

The visit to Stanford University was an eye-opener for students who have only ever heard about ‘ivy league’ colleges. The campus was incredible! Especially standing outside the Bill Gates Computer Science building and knowing that powerful executives at some of the companies we’d visited had once studied there.

Our students gained a wealth of knowledge about computer science and career advice from our various hosts, but perhaps most of all, they gained a realistic view of what working in the industry looks and feels like. The common message throughout the visits was that students should try to find their passion, and work really hard at it. Many of our hosts also expressed their belief that not knowing exactly what students wanted to be in the future wasn’t as important as discovering what they love.

BY Toni Martin
Whakatane High School,

Posted: 6:16 pm, 27 July 2015

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