Being part of the Master BIM has been great. As students, we have had many great events and got to know some cool companies over the year. This, however, would definitely be the flagship event of BIM; the Study Trip to Silicon Valley. For once, I would be a participant instead of the organizer, and I must say I am quite excited about that aspect as well. As a Business master which focuses on the strategic value of IT, Silicon Valley is definitely the place to be, being home for the largest IT multinationals of the current time.
In the first week we will visit some of these companies, and after that, we will hit the road and discover some of the beautiful national parks of the US. I can tell you that road tripping through the US is an awesome experience, never have I seen so many total changes in surroundings in such short time frames. It’s a long read, but then again, the road was long as well.
With June 20th being the deadline for the thesis, I can tell you that many of us were a bit unprepared though incredibly excited to be off and leave all the stress behind us. Only problem, a terribly long journey was still ahead of us before reaching our destination. Flying to Istanbul from Amsterdam when travelling to the states already doesn’t make that much sense, but having to wait over 10 hours as Istanbul airport doesn’t make it any prettier. The abundance of drinks available on the plane did make up for it to some extent.
The first night in San Fransisco was spent at a $1 gin tonic bar, which soon showed to be the favorite drink of many participants. Despite being quite exhausted, I woke up around 5 (jetlag) the next morning and decided to go for a little run, and found out that the sunrise of SF is truly beautiful. Afterwards, apparently many people had the same problem of not being able to sleep any longer, and therefore we decided to explore the city for a bit. All suited up, we among others visited Coit Tower, which gives you a great view over the entire city. Here you will realize how big the city actually is, and with that, you can see Alcatraz and of course the Golden Gate Bridge. In the afternoon, a visit to the Dutch consulate was scheduled. Most of us did not really know what to expect, but it ended up being a very inspiring talk about Silicon Valley and we got a much better impression of how things work around there. It was definitely a good start in that sense.
After changing clothes, we were in a hurry to get on a cable car, which brought us all the way to the harbor where a surprise activity would be waiting for us. Turned out, we would be getting on a Catamaran and we would sail all the way around Alcatraz and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, how awesome! While having some drinks and music, we chilled on the nets at the front of the catamaran and had some great laughs, and of course took tons of pictures. The first impressions of the US, for me, definitely already showed how friendly and cool locals really are.
The following morning we visited Microsoft Reactor, where we attended a very inspiring conference about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and many more topics. It is great to see experts of the industries that you have been learning about in the past year, talking about what they do with great enthusiasm. This interesting but somewhat exhausting day, was followed up by a baseball match of the SF Giants. I would say whether you can enjoy watching a game of baseball, totally depends on your mindset. Expect to just have a bit of a chat with your friends while having some beers while a game is going on in the background, and you will be fine. It is much different from a football match where all supporters are mostly focused on the game, but it was fun for sure.
The Saturday would be the day where some of us would be able to shine, the SF Pride. But not before having a bunch of beers while chilling at the Golden Gate Park. The Pride itself was quite cool, if you are not too scared of seeing a naked dude once in a while. The next day we had the chance to check out the Parade as well. Basically all companies that are settled in Silicon Valley that you would know, take a chance to show their face in the parade. It is an many hour long stream of people who are partying on the streets, while showing that they care about something too. Especially some of us really enjoyed it and consumed quite a few beverages during the day, and suddenly found themselves being on a boat to Alcatraz. This visit was for many, something to really look forward to, as we of course saw the movies of escaping Alcatraz. It was very cool to visit this place, the most famous prison of the world I would guess. With that, this would also be our last evening in San Francisco.
After picking up our cars (3 mini-vans, 1 SUV, 1 Camaro and 1 Mustang), we headed for our next visit, EA. After about 1 hour of practicing “EA Sports, It’s in the game” in the car, we arrived at HQ. Three representatives among others talked about the way in which EA makes use of data and what they are aiming for in the future. Afterwards, we had a tour on the EA campus, which is quite awesome. We played some basketball and had lunch, and then drove off to our next destination, San Jose.
The next morning, a visit to Google HQ was scheduled, during which we had the opportunity to ask anything we may have to ask about working at Google and got some tips on how to get there. We got the chance to have lunch at the Google restaurant, which is pretty cool as it really shows you how many different people work at this company. Next stop was the Computer Science museum which was cool, and afterwards we were invited by a specialist in field of semiconductors and renewable energy to have a drink with him, and we could ask him all questions that we had about the subjects.
I think for all of us, this visit to Silicon Valley was an awesome experience as we managed to get so much more insight in the world of IT and business. At the same time though, we were all incredibly excited for what was coming up next, THE ROADTRIP!!!
The Road Trip
The majority of the group would probably call this the most exciting part of the whole trip. For me, at least, I have been looking forward so much to finally seeing some of the national parks of this country. Funny thing, apparently even Obama needs to promote the parks on national television in the US as people don’t really care around here. For us however, it’s a dream coming true.
First stop of the road trip, Yosemite National Park. Still not 100% sure on how to properly pronounce it, but what an amazing place it is. It starts when driving to the long valley on which you will witness multiple beautiful waterfalls falling down from cliffs. We drove all the way to the end, and ended up hiking around 4 hours up to an awesome waterfall and back. On top of the waterfall, us guys got a chance to prove our manliness. That was definitely one of the coldest swims I’ve ever taken. Personally, I am a big fan of hiking (I wasn’t always), and it was cool that everyone enjoyed it as much! After some great tortillas we hit the road again, all were exhausted but also excited for what the next day would bring us.
Sequoia National Park. If you like nature documentaries, I’m pretty sure this one has come by once or twice. The park is home to the largest trees in the world, of which the biggest is named General Sherman. It’s 84 meters high, and would weigh 1.9 million kg. Yes, that’s insane. We drove uphill for about an hour to reach the park, our speed getting lower the closer we got to our destination as we were all hanging out of the windows looking at how amazing this place really was. Everywhere around you, you will find the biggest trees you have ever seen. When walking the Sherman Tree trail, it was quite challenging to find some quietness between all the enthusiastic tourists. It’s worth trying though, as imo it’s the only way to fully enjoy and grasp scenery. Driving towards our next hostel, we ended up finding a chill lake where we could escape from the heat for a bit, but afterwards the day came to an end. No drinking this evening (at least, not too much), as the next day we would drive through Death Valley, and you don’t want to be dehydrated when its 50 degrees outside.
After filling up the cars with gasoline, as well as cooling fluid and gallons of water, we drove all the way to Death Valley. The hottest, lowest and driest area of North America. We were told to not use any airconditioning during this trip, as the car may overheat. Must say I cheated a little on this one, but still, it was terribly warm. It does however feel pretty awesome to drive with 6 cars and 24 friends through such a deserted place; I did feel a bit bad for the folks in the convertibles though. So we would just drive to a certain restaurant where we would have lunch, but first we came across a very impressive sand dessert as I had never seen before. After lunch, we drove up to Badwater Lake. Once a lake, now a huge salt flat. When walking over it, you actually feel the heat reflecting on your calves and you are gonna regret not putting more sunscreen on. It was a very impressive sight, salt as far as you can see.
What the evening would bring got us to a whole other level of excitement, we were heading to Las Vegas! I must say my expectations were not too high, how cool can such a place be right. Well, I can tell you, this place is insane. Driving downtown, you feel like you are driving through Disney Land. Rollercoasters, Castles, Rivers, Ships, Pyramids, Eiffel Towers, Huge hotel. In one word, Impressive. After a pool session rich of beers, we went down to Ceaser’s Palace to test our luck in the Casino. Some won, some lost, some won a lot, some lost a lot, no free drinks, good times though. Next up was a club were prices where based on your appearance with a separate line for the dancefloor, with Lil Jon as DJ. With Get Low being one of the Study Trip classics from the Catamaran already, we definitely had a good time here. The next day, however, we had to get some drinks in at 10 AM already as we would be heading for Wet Republic, the most notorious Pool Party of Vegas. Although the last two hours are a bit blurry for most of us, we all seemed to agree that we had an absolutely great time here.
Leaving Vegas behind us knowing that we would be back a day later, we drove up to our next hostel which got us very close to the National Park visit of the next day. Of course, we took the detour passing by the Hoover Dam. Appearing in many movies, we surely wanted to see this for a bit and it was quite cool. If you haven’t seen the movies, you would already want to see it as the locals make a big fuss about it with all their Hoover hotels and such, but it’s nice to see. Most impressive is the difference which can clearly be seen between how high the water level used to be and what it is at now. It was cool, but we were more excited about what was coming up the next day.
The Grand Canyon. I would say this is something you simply have to see at least once in your life, because it makes you realize how small you are and how powerful nature really is. We took the eastern entrance to the park, and I would definitely recommend this as it takes you a long way along the Colorado River. Knowing that you are heading for the Grand Canyon and seeing it shaping around you like that, definitely gets every passenger in the car awake and excited for what is to come. Once at the first view point, you will be stunned by what you see. You have heard that it is huge and impressive… well, it really is. As far as you can see, the Canyon shapes itself along the river. The river which is the cause for this world wonder, transporting rocks and sand out of the valley for centuries and counting. As I said before, it is definitely worth the effort separating yourself from the crowd from the bit and just trying to comprehend what you see around you in full silence. It’s really amazing.
A 5 hour drive was still ahead of us unfortunately, but these actually went by smoother than expected. I guess we were used to the multiple hour drives by now and could cope with the heat a bit better than earlier. Also, it’s not too bad that another night in Vegas was waiting for us. Only downside, with the budget being killed by everything we have done, there would not be anything left for a decent hotel for this night. Well, that was joke apparently. The committee surprised us with a night in the Bellagio! And that’s not all, in some way they managed to get us into a Suite. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it. With a Pool table and an incredible lot of space, we decided that it may be best to just stay in for a while. Everyone chipped in, and we got ourselves a bunch of drinks and had a nice party in the room. The rest of the evening was basically a free-for-all one.
The last stop of the trip is Los Angeles. Nothing was really planned for this and everyone just filled it in in whatever way they wanted. Together with some more people, we headed for Venice Beach and just spend our day chilling on the beach, having some nice food and walking along the Boulevard. Together, we had one last dinner all together in the evening to round off the trip. The day after, we would all pack our bags, and head for the airport.
It was definitely an awesome trip, and I would like to thank the committee for putting so much effort into it! Rinke, Henning, Wouter and Tim, you are awesome!