Twenty-five University of Virginia students spent their spring breaks visiting alumni and employees at some of the world’s most influential technology companies.
McIntire School of Commerce associate professor Ryan Wright took 12 students to San Francisco to visit 15 companies, including tech giants like Google, Pixar, IBM, Facebook, Instagram and Accenture, as well as startups like Airbnb, Hotel Tonight and Expensify.
“I wanted to expose students to different ways of thinking about their careers in technology companies and technology startups,” Wright said. “We saw a lot of startups that UVA alumni are involved with in the Bay Area, and even one – Virta Health – that officially launched the day after our visit.”
Meanwhile, in London and Dublin, associate commerce professor Nicole Montgomery took 13 students to the international offices of some of the same companies, as part of the Commerce School’s Global Commerce Immersion program.
The European contingent’s itinerary included Google, Facebook, Accenture, Twitter and more, and focused on new developments in digital marketing and analytics. In addition to the major media companies, they visited analytics companies that sort through digital marketing data, agencies that develop advertising content and strategy and brands that utilize digital marketing.
“In general, the trip reinforced the idea that this space is evolving really rapidly,” she said. “We all knew that going in, but listening to the companies and what they are thinking about and working on, it became very evident just how quickly things are changing in digital marketing.”
Third-year commerce student Tobias Noyes said the trip gave him a clearer understanding of what is possible through digital marketing, especially in the non-profit sector that he hopes to work in after graduation.
“Although this trip focused on how businesses leverage digital to increase their exposure and sales, the principles we learned will apply to non-profits as well,” he said. “For example, Facebook Pixel [which tracks advertising audiences] can help non-profits run retargeted ads to potential donors and Google Analytics can work to increase the conversion rates of volunteer signups on a website.”
Both trips connected students with UVA alumni working in the cities and companies they are interested in and gave them a good idea of what day-to-day life on the job would be like.
In San Francisco, Assistant Dean for Commerce Career Services Denise Egan organized meetings and tours with alumni, both at the companies and at the nearby Stanford Graduate School of Business.
“I enjoyed that we were able to speak to both junior and very senior employees, or founders, of the companies we visited,” said fourth-year commerce student Ripley Carroll, who will apply insights from the trip to his own budding startup and post-graduation job in venture capital.
In London and Dublin, students heard from executives recounting their own career journeys and offering advice.
“I was so inspired by the executives we heard from, the story of how they arrived at the position they now hold, what their inspiration is, and to potentially see myself in a similar capacity,” third-year commerce student Alyssa Mazanec said of the London and Dublin trip.
Many of the companies also gave students an inside look at the problems and new products they are currently working on.
Students met with one of the Facebook teams tasked with combatting the spread of fake news following accusations that the company’s algorithms fail to separate fact from fiction. They also got to test developing technologies at several companies, including virtual reality headsets, new apps and even robotics.
“Right now, these companies are trying to figure out how to use these new technologies, fold them into their current business practices and make a profit,” Wright said. “Our students were exposed to the business models that come with these new technologies.”
The wide range of companies that the group visited let students see many different positions that they might want to pursue, second-year student Kasey Whitfield said.
“By going to different companies of different sizes, in different industries, I felt I could get a full experience of the tech world and the different positions that companies had to offer,” said Whitfield, who is planning to major in economics and global studies.
Fourth-year commerce student Osama Saleem agreed. “The trip provided a holistic view of the startup process, in the sense that we were able to explore everything from the ideation of a startup, its incubation and acceleration and even its interaction with a venture capital firm,” he said.
Saleem, who will join Ernst and Young’s advisory division after graduation, said he was also encouraged to hear alumni talk about innovation within large companies.
“One alumna, Linda Yates, expressed that it isn’t necessary for everyone on the trip to go into tech or startups, because any of the traditional, large enterprises are also desperately in need of entrepreneurs acting as ‘intrapreneurs’ within the company,” he said. “I plan on taking what I have learned about the business models and thought processes of those working in technology into my next job and beyond.”