A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.
I encourage my UC Santa Barbara entrepreneurial students to err on the side of action and to take chances. To this end, I give them extra credit if they exercise their networking skills by attending off-campus, professional events and practice their Personal Pitch: (i) who they are, (ii) where they are going in their life and, (iii) how they are going to get there.
I was recently impressed with the networking skills of one of my international students, Jonas Bolduan, who hails from Germany. Most of my American students, for which English is a first language, networking in their home country, do not exhibit Jonas’ courage or confidence.
Courage And Confidence
Jonas wanted to visit Google’s headquarters, despite not knowing anyone who worked at the company. Undeterred, he connected with a Google employee after they gave a talk at UCSB and courageously asked if they could meet at Google for lunch.
Jonas describes how he put his courage and confidence to good use, in the following email.
Dear Professor Greathouse,
I hope everything is going well for you! I thought you might be interested in hearing the following anecdote, which was inspired by your lectures.
When I attended a Google Tech Talk on campus, I listened intently to Andrew Fuller, a young Hardware Engineer at Google Fiber, who talked about the future of Virtual and Augmented Reality. He had a passionate way of presenting latest projects and was engaged when answering student questions, which made me want to talk to him.
I approached Andrew after his talk and we had an interesting conversation about Google, “Cowspiracy” (the title of an environment documentary, which was printed on his T-Shirt), and company sustainability. Our conversation was spontaneous but honest, so I jumped at the opportunity and asked Andrew if he would like to meet me at the Googleplex. I was happy, when Andrew not only agreed to my request, but also suggested we have lunch as well.
When the time came, I was not sure what to expect and was a little afraid to encounter a rushed lunch with a busy Google employee. It was great to experience the opposite.
I met Andrew at the Google Fiber offices and we drove together to the Googleplex — the corporate headquarters complex of Google and its parent company Alphabet. We entered a welcoming courtyard with many seating areas, most of which were empty since it was a public holiday (Thanksgiving).
Right in front of one of the main entrances Google placed an Android statue, which is replaced whenever a new Android version is released — currently it’s the green Android robot standing on a big piece of Nougat, which represents the most recent version: Android 7.0 Nougat.
All over the courtyard I recognized a lot of security staff. It seemed as if their main task was to prevent tourists from riding on Google bikes, which are all colored in red, yellow, green and blue (the Google colors) and not possible to overlook. As Andrew explained, employees use them as a form of transportation in between the different Alphabet offices, which can be a couple of miles away from each other.
In the first building, my attention was caught by a huge screen showing a live overview of the most frequently entered search terms in Google’s search engine. Suitably, the №1 Google search term was “stuffed turkey”. While stopping by a snack-filled “microkitchen”, I discovered a side room full of washing machines and dryers. Andrew recognized my baffled face and confirmed: Yes, you can wash your private laundry there — at any time, as often as you want! We moved on to my favorite Googleplex room: An arcade full of old arcade machines, where Andrew and I played gaming classics such as Pong, Space Invaders and Pinball. It felt as if we were back in the gaming ‘80s.
As we kept walking in the courtyard, I spotted a weird looking bike, which Andrew introduced to me as “CoBi”, the Conference Bike. To balance our indoor gaming activity, we hopped on this circular 7-person bike and started pedaling — our unconventional conference’s topic: Exploring the car park.
My experience reminded me of what you always emphasized in class: Be entrepreneurial and make use of the (networking) opportunities that surround you in your everyday life.
Thanks for motivating me to take action during your lectures at UC Santa Barbara!
1) Get out — take advantage of speakers and don’t just passively listen. Ask them with questions and speak with them one-on-one after their talk.
2) Jonas engaged the speaker around a topic that was of genuine interest — the film Cowspiracy and Google’s commitment to sustainability.
3) Despite its ominous dominance of the Internet, Jonas was reminded that Google is a company full of normal, friendly people — albeit one that encourages it employees to eat bottomless snacks, do their laundry and play video games while at work. As Jonas told me in a follow-up email, “Seeing THE very headquarters of Google was kind of disillusioning after not knowing what’s behind that browser search engine. I sort of realized that even Google is “just” a company with a huge office building.”
4) The rewards of taking a social risk usually outweigh the potential, short-term pain. If Andrew had declined Jonas’ request to visit him at his offices, any awkwardness would have been minimal.
5) Some people at Google are hardcore, working and hosting guests on major holidays, including Thanksgiving.
Image credit: Jonas Bolduan