When I was reading about San Francisco in the weeks leading up to my internship there this summer, I came across this quote by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Herb Caen: “One day if I do go to heaven I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.'” It struck me as particularly exaggerated to compare an immortalized haven to a mortal city. Not to mention, people haven’t exactly visited heaven and returned to describe the place, so the comparison didn’t really work on a logical level either. But I was excited nonetheless. It was going to be an adventure.
For someone interested in the tech scene there is no greater place to gain real-world experience than in San Francisco. This summer I am interning as a KPCB Fellow at One Kings Lane where I mainly work on developing its sites, but also twiddle with databases. Having previously approached programming mostly from the academic perspective of algorithms and run-time, I can’t begin to express how much I’ve learned since I started. Every assignment places me without fail in foreign waters, supplied with nothing but Google as a compass and my colleagues as the sail. And just when I navigate the waters and start to get the drift of things, I embark on a new assignment and am lost all over again. As a result, my typical workday breaks down to 50% Googling for help; 20% asking people for help; 10% wanting to ask people for help but deciding to Google it instead because I’ve bugged them enough that day; 10% playing ping-pong; 5% feeling dejected; and 5% actually knowing how to do something. Did I mention I get paid?
Outside of work, the environment in San Francisco constantly pushes you to challenge yourself technically as well. Almost everywhere you go, whether it be a relaxing park or a crowded bus, there will be people coding or talking about coding. It’s almost as if the official language here is not English but one where nouns are HTML tags and adjectives, CSS, all adhering to the grammatical syntax of Ruby on Rails. And the people here are some of the smartest I’ve met; conversing with them humbles me with just how much I have yet to learn and how much I can learn from them. From my internship, side projects, and just talking to people in tech, I daresay I learned more computer science during the two months here than my freshman year at Penn. Don’t get the wrong idea though; Penn’s Computer Science department is phenomenal — but the vibe in San Francisco is something you can’t replicate in a classroom.
Working at a burgeoning company provides numerous opportunities to learn about business as well. In companies striving to grow their business and become profitable, it is paramount to understand the implications tech ventures have on the business and vice versa. To that end, many senior leaders at OKL have been spending a lot of time with us, the interns, to help us really understand the business and leverage tech to expand that business. One example of this was a feature I developed to help OKL in building its brand image. When developing the feature, I had to not only know how to code it, but also be aware of what to and not to display to give a public impression that is in line with OKL’s goals. The KPCB Fellows Program has been a wonderful resource as well. Its intriguing lineup of talks at companies such as Zynga, Square, and Facebook has helped me better appreciate the symbiosis of business and technology, and has served as a perfect introduction to the M&T program.
San Francisco doesn’t fail to impress beyond its start-up scene either. The city is perfect. Yes, some guy did try to punch me on the street; and yes, in some neighbourhoods, the feces on the ground is just as likely to be from a human as from a dog. But despite all that, nothing quite beats the sweeping panorama of the city and the bay at Bernal Heights; and few things feel more hipster than exploring the many artisan restaurants and coffee shops in the alcoves of the city. There is so much to do here as well; every weekend there will be something going on: a concert, a congregation of food trucks, or a festival somewhere. And if you are feeling particularly adventurous, the surrounding regions provide ample outlets to brave the outdoors. To top it off, it’s nice and cool here, sometimes even cold — though being a Canadian I can’t say the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco; there is none of that heat and humidity that often breeds lethargy. It seems as if the city itself wants you to go out and explore!
In my 8th week here now, I realize that perhaps Caen wasn’t exaggerating. San Francisco has everything: good food, great people, amazing weather, and exciting things to do. I may not have been to heaven, but I’d say San Francisco could very well be its definition.
For like heaven, “San Francisco has only one drawback — ’tis hard to leave.”
George is a current M&T sophomore in the Class of 2016 from Toronto, Ontario in Canada. He studies Computer Science within Penn Engineering and has yet to declare his concentration in the Wharton School.