This report describes the key learnings and most touching experiences from my summer school in Stanford. The report begins with describing the context, i.e. the path to getting in to Stanford and what happened while there. After the introduction, the report focuses on describing the academic and extra-curricular activities what I experienced while there.
Path to Stanford
Having been interested in entrepreneurship before going to Stanford, I’d always wanted to experience the atmosphere there. Despite my high expectations, I had very little real knowledge on what would happen once in Stanford. To gain a better understanding prior to my departure to West coast, I asked several Stanford alumni from Aalto about the best tips about which courses to select, what to do while there etc.. Based on those advices I thought I had formed a solid understanding on what would happen. I couldn’t have, however, been more wrong – Stanford by far exceeded all my expectations in a positive way.
Based on discussions with Stanford alumni, I initially selected three courses: Interactive Management Science, Introduction to Decision Making and Technology Entrepreneurship. After the first week, all courses seemed really interesting and practical. I decided, though, to swap one of the courses, namely Introduction to Decision Making, as I wanted a bit more challenging courses while in Stanford. The course I chose instead was Data Mining, which ended up being both extremely interesting and insightful.
Interactive Management Science
The course combines basic mathematic theories to make management decisions. The course challenges the insight of using average as a key decision criteria, as average has several in-built flaws in real, rarely linear World. Course consisted a lot of Excel exercises, lectures and final project on the topic. Overall, the course gave me insight on how to communicate relatively complex topics in a way that is both not too complex to understand but is not merely an average of assumptions.
The course teaches basic methods on how to understand relationships between data attributes and predict future outcomes based on data. The focus of the course was especially, how to handle large datasets which consume a lot of computing power. The workload of the course was relatively high, but the course was also extremely rewarding. The lectures itself were well organized and the professor, working at Google, was able to provide us with practical insight on how the data mining is conducted in practice. I’d say this course was the most educational of my three courses.
The course gives exceptionally well-organized overview on entrepreneurship and the subtopics in its core. In practice, the course comprised several panel discussions with real entrepreneurs, VCs, lawyers etc., as well as top quality lectures from Tom Kosnik and Rebeca Hwang. A big part of the course was a practical project, where teams of 5 selected an idea, broke it to hypothesis and validated those hypothesis on real customers to find out whether the idea was worth pursuing or not. The course taught me more than I could have imagined and most importantly, gave me a real spark to learn more about entrepreneurship – hopefully by starting my own startup one day.
Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford provides unparalleled opportunities to explore life outside campus. I visited three companies, namely Google, Facebook and YouNoodle, to hear about how it is to work there and how they differ from Finnish companies. As a really brief summary of those visits, Silicon Valley corporate culture is extremely achievement-driven and meritocratic, and at the same time, organizations are really flat.
In addition to the aforementioned three academic courses, I participated in Silicon Valley Innovation Academy, 7 weeks long project focusing on design thinking and how to move from an idea to real startup concept. During the project, we had several workshops e.g. in understanding Silicon Valley mindset and how to do design thinking in practice. The experience was really helpful and the teamwork taught me a lot on working in a team with totally different strengths and capabilities.
The trip wasn’t of course only about academics. California has several places worth seeing and, thus, I spend my weekends mostly on travelling around the area. The trips I participated included but were not limited to Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Napa Valley, Sausalito, San Francisco, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe… Furthermore, those trips and hangouts at the campus gave me several friendships which will surely last even after leaving Stanford.
– Mikko Rajala –