Learning how to ‘start-up’ a career in Silicon Valley

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Computer Science student Jay Hansen talks about his experience travelling to San Fransicso. 

I never thought I’d get to go to Silicon Valley. But as part of my ANU degree, I got to go on a whirlwind adventure when I won a scholarship to travel to the heart of the tech industry, San Francisco.

The College of Engineering and Computer Science offered two students a fully subsidised grants to attend the program and before I knew it, I was hanging out with the world’s biggest start-ups, learning from the best and making career defining  connections.

I was part of a program with The Hacker Exchange, an Adelaide based start-up that sends Australian students overseas, and embeds them in the world’s biggest entrepreneurship hubs, like Singapore and Tel Aviv.

I got to see start-up businesses in action and experience all the culture shock that comes with being an Australian in America. The best part was that with some extra assessment the program counted as credit towards my degree!

The CEO of The Hacker Exchange, Jeanette Cheah, was our coordinator and I got to learn about how entrepreneurship and innovation really works in Silicon Valley.

She was always there to help during the intensive two weeks of lectures, site visits, interviews, Q&A sessions, and networking events so there was no shortage of mentoring and advice.

My favourite lecture was by Nathan Gold, a TED-talk coach, who taught us how to deliver more compelling and memorable presentations – a skill that I have taken to heart.

This wasn’t just a passing guest lecture either, after talking to Nathan he offered to always be available to introduce me to any contact he had in his network for me.

I was stoked, because Nathan is networked with hundreds of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, so that’s truly amazing that he’d offer to do that.

This was a very influential moment for me, it was the embodiment of the spirit of the Valley which was drilled into us at the very start - to ‘pay it forward’.

The program wrapped up with a pitch session, where I would pitch my idea, to four real life Silicon Valley venture capitalists, including Queensland Trade and Investment Commissioner for North America Viki Forrest. It was nerve-racking, only 3 in 500 start-ups receive venture capital in the Valley, and I was going to have my idea scrutinised by the best in the business.

My start-up idea was very much inspired by my father, he’s a firefighter - and the closest thing to a real hero that I know.

I’ve spent a long time around emergency service workers and there is a common theme - paperwork sucks, and it’s often derivative of the things they have to say during their work.

Basically, I was pitching an AI assistant much like Siri, Cortana, or Alexa that was able to create electronic versions of paperwork and fill it out using speech.

I gave the pitch all I had and… I got grilled, but that’s ok! I learned about what I can improve on the next time I pitch to venture capitalists.

I only scratched the surface of Silicon Valley during my trip, and I wish I could expand on more. I’d recommend that anyone with a knack for entrepreneurship apply for the program offered by The Hacker Exchange, it could change your entire worldview - it did for me.

Updated:  10 August 2021/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing