Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to San Francisco and the greater Bay Area for an internal Google conference titled “Converge”.
I must say, I was really excited, as it had been a goal of mine for the past 2 years to visit Silicon Valley to see what the hype was all about. And now that I’m working at a tech company, I felt that the timing couldn’t have been better!
I spent the first couple days with South African friends of mine (from way back) who went on to study in the US and now live in San Francisco.
To be more specific, Andrew Musk (the younger brother) studies Computer Science at UCLA, while James Musk (the older brother) studied Computer Science at Berkeley and now works at Tesla as a part of their super innovative autopilot team (autonomous driving technology).
Catching up with them and hearing their perspectives on tech and South Africa’s future was really refreshing and interesting. While many South Africans leave the country and disassociate themselves with the place, these guys are still very much focused on identifying how they’ll one day be able to give back to the South African economy. This was really motivating, as I of course share the same perspective.
San Francisco’s streets are filled with super laid back people who are clearly working in tech, and yes, there are loads of Teslas on the roads. Something that I found really interesting was seeing the number of (non-Tesla) autonomous cars being tested on the roads too (you can clearly spot them as they have about 6142 cameras attached to the car). Of course, James assured me that all of their technology that they’re testing is years behind what he’s currently working on!
Thanks to Anda Ngcaba‘s recommendation, I also made sure I made a quick pit stop at an Amazon Go store, where you simply pick your groceries and walk out the store while your Amazon account is magically charged for the exact items you walked out with. It’s pretty impressive!
A perk of hanging out with a Tesla employee was definitely being able to drive around San Francisco in a Tesla! James had one of Tesla’s super cool Model Xs (the slightly bigger model with wing-like doors). And as it was my first time in a Tesla, I was genuinely star struck.
To top it all off, I was afforded the opportunity to do a highly sought-after Tesla factory tour in Fremont (they’re not open to the general public). And while the non-disclosure agreement I signed is really water tight, what I can tell you is that I was absolutely mind blown!
If you didn’t know it already, Elon Musk is changing the world.
After a weekend in San Francisco, I made my way towards Mountain View where I spent the day at Google’s Headquarters (Googleplex).
If you’ve watched the Internship, you should know the exact office I’m talking about. As a Noogler (new Googler), it was really a dream come true being able to visit Googleplex in person. I spent a day working out the office, riding around on G-bikes and taking pictures of all of the iconic landmarks. This office is where a lot of Google’s engineering and exciting product development goes down, so you definitely get the “innovative” feel in the air that you might associate with being at Google.
The last stop of my trip was the conference itself in San Jose. Although not too much happens in San Jose, the drive from San Francisco was really interesting as you pass by the areas where NASA, Google, Facebook and Tesla (just to name a few) are based.
The conference itself was really fulfilling. I felt challenged in many ways but also really inspired. I was able to connect with Googlers from around the world and reconnect with Googlers from our team based in South Africa.
There were two main highlights for me:
A) A round table discussion led by Mzamo Masito (CMO for Google Africa). If you didn’t know already, a talk by him in my final year of university is what sparked my interest in working for Google.
Mzamo spoke of the challenges that Africa as a growth prospect for technology currently faces and how we need to all rally behind it. More specifically, he spoke of the challenges in getting people connected online and how high data prices on the continent is hindering growth. To support that, he gave an alarming statistic:
In Africa, on average, 1GB of data costs 8% of a person’s average income.
While this talk was frustrating, I left feeling really motivated.
B) The second highlight was undoubtedly hearing the keynote from none other than Trevor Noah.
My biggest takeaways:
1. In my opinion, Trevor’s biggest strength is his empathy.
His ability to listen, take in information, understand social dynamics and nuances and adapt his message to different audiences around the world is what sets him apart.
This is of course something that most people and businesses are not able to get right. We (and I include myself) are quick to assume, jump to conclusions and label things before taking the time to understand.
2. He is incredibly passionate about putting Africa on the map.
Trevor speaks really passionately about his love for the continent and South Africa in particular. He also spoke about his vision of seeing South Africa as a hub for tech and the various initiatives he’s driving towards this goal.
On a personal note, seeing someone like him, not only flourish on the world stage, but use his platform to host and punt other South Africans such as Nelson Makamo and Black Coffee (to name a few) puts him up there with one of my biggest inspirations.