Spring Break trip connects students with Silicon Valley tech professionals

Twenty-two students spent time networking and visiting a variety of Silicon Valley-based tech companies and startups as part of ENGR 10301 Intro to Silicon Valley and the Tech Industry.
Students standing in front of an airplane
At Joby Aviation, students surround one of the company’s all-electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. 

Spring Break 2022 saw 22 students trade their time on the beach for time spent networking and visiting a variety of Silicon Valley-based tech companies and startups as part of ENGR 10301 Intro to Silicon Valley and the Tech Industry. 

The one-credit course is an effort by the Purdue Office of Professional Practice (OPP) to help students understand the skills necessary to work in a variety of industry sectors, explore the types of opportunities available within various engineering disciplines, develop professional skills, and build a network of contacts for careers in the tech industry and Silicon Valley.

“The company visits were outstanding, as every organization granted us access to their leadership,” said Joe Tort, associate director of the Office of Professional Practice. “Our students’ curiosity and questions made it really difficult to stay on schedule, as they were soaking in as much knowledge as they could get.”

People in a meeting, sitting at tables
Purdue alumni, who are members of the Silicon Valley Boiler Innovation Group (SVBIG), share their experience working in the tech industry.

He said the study away program collaborated with the Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships office, who helped recruit the students, prepare them for travel, and arrange logistics. “Arrangement of logistics was not easy as there was still a lot of COVID protocol to be followed,” Tort said.

Stephen Sposato, director of the Silicon Valley Office of Purdue’s John Martinson Entrepreneurship Center located in Palo Alto, Calif., has over 20 years of leadership experience in technology management. As co-developer of the course, he sees the impact on current and future students. “I know many of the students will return to Silicon Valley for co-ops, internships, full-time jobs, or possibly as entrepreneurs,” he said. 

In all, contacts have been established with 12 companies and nine were visited during Spring Break. Three visits included Joby Aviation, Zoox, and Lucid Motors.

Joby Aviation was one of the most impressive startup visits, Sposato said. “They covered the details of design, manufacturing of each part, traceability of each component, their carbon fiber build process, aircraft assembly, titanium 3D printing, and their flight-testing approach.” 

He described the visit to Zoox, who was recently acquired by Amazon, as stepping into the future of autonomous vehicles. “Think of it as Uber without the driver,” Sposato said. “We toured their vehicle production line, discussed the complexity of navigation systems, software, assembly and testing.”

Lucid Motors, who builds a premium luxury EV, covered the intricacies of vehicle design and all the detailed engineering and testing for each vehicle part, he said. “They showed us their innovative battery and motor designs which are superior to their top competitors.”

In addition, students met with the Silicon Valley Boiler Innovation Group (SVBIG), Purdue alumni who currently live and work in the Valley. 

People standing around a car
Students explore one of the luxury electric vehicles built by Lucid Motors.