how to make waves in a tech sceneAs I stared out at the ocean, from the little mountain overlooking our hotel, I reflected. The moon was setting on the Pacific Ocean and the Sun was rising over the mountains. There I was standing between these four great natural powers. And I felt powerful. Not just because of the physical environment, but because of the entire ecosystem that is San Francisco. This is the story of my journey out West.

When I first learned that I had been chosen to go on Wabash College Career Services Professional Immersion Experience to San Francisco, I was doing backflips. The program had taken students to New York City for the last couple of years and had a focus on finance and corporate business. This trip to San Francisco was different with a focus on start-ups, non-profits, and the tech sector. This was right up my alley. As an entrepreneur whose tech startup had recently ended, the hunger to get back into that environment of creation was gnawing at me. What better way to satisfy that appetite then to visit companies like Google, Twitter, Wikimedia, and Indiegogo. Even more exciting were the start-ups like Red Rock Café Company, Mei Wu Acoustics, and Knack.IT.          

Our first day’s schedule: Google, Mei Wu Acoustics, Knack, Red Rock Coffee Company, and Shutterfly. Red Rock Coffee Company, a non-profit coffee shop that donates all extra revenue back into the local community, was the stop of the day for me. John Dustman, Wabash Alum, had gone out West for grad school and then took a life pivot. He was our host. He pretty much ran the shop from coordinating the import of the coffee to training the baristas.  He gave us a great deal of information on the coffee industry and the mission-driven structure of the business, all while providing us with phenomenal coffee. We openly discussed strategies for growth and it was clear how intertwined John’s personal life was with his work. If there was a common theme at the end of the first day it was that life takes you far from where you think you should be. The most important thing seemed to be the ability to take chances by being open to opportunity and believing in yourself. Cliché? Maybe, but these guys’ lives told the story. Their words just gave it structure.


Day 2 had a great line up as well.  There was: Indiegogo, Twitter, Wikimedia, Aon Consulting, Calypso Technologies, and the night concluded with a dinner with local alumni at Lolinda (A fantastic Argentinean steakhouse). Wikimedia was my favorite stop on the trip. From the homemade cookies to the passionate talks about how their mission drives them every day, Wikimedia was the most inspirational visit. Anna seemed to brighten up every time she would discuss how Wikimedia was changing the world through open education. John had the room soaking in his every word, as he told us the story of his COURAGE forearm tattoo and his journey to Wikimedia. He wore the word on his arm, but it was clear that it was also worn on his heart. Every person we spoke with was excited about what they were doing and found value in each in every task. Each one expressing that the impact of change that they were making was what made them want to be at work every day. Talk about mission driven.

The dinner that night was great and the conversation was even better. I sat with a Particle Physicist and a Community Hacktivist. Needless to say there were all kinds of topics covered across the night. The last night of the trip concluded. The next morning I got up before sunrise and made my way to the top of a small mountain that hovered over our hotel and beach. I had been trying to see the sunrise every morning before, but had not been able to stay long enough. I finally got my experience.

As I stared out at the ocean, from the little mountain overlooking our hotel, I reflected. Three conclusions came to me.

Success is not a matter of what you do, but rather how you do it.

There was a constant element of unpredictability in many of the stories I had heard, yet it seemed that a message of courage (facing of fears; not fearlessness) and hard works were just as constant.

If you are not failing then you are not taking big enough risks.

Whether it was dropping out of law school and moving out West or investing all of one’s resources into a passion project, our speakers all shared stories of risk, failure, the lessons that came with failure, and, quite modestly, success.

The only way to make change is to make it.

Both life and the work place are filled with opportunities for change.

If you want a change to be made, you have to take responsibility for it. The energy you invest into it is what causes action. Like a wave, that energy spreads to the vast ocean of people around you. Affecting more than just your intended target.  You change lives, even your own.  Lessons learned.