Cathy in Silicon Valley

January 12, 2017: Game-Changing Tech Companies

Groups of engineers stand together, engaged in discussion between endless rows of computers, car parts and prototypes in this massive industrial office space. Even as visitors, we can sense the energy of productivity that can only be attributed to a company whose mission is to accelerate the movement toward sustainability–Tesla. Ride in a Model X, and you can be sure that Tesla understands acceleration.

Tesla was just one stop among many on this two-day road show to the Bay Area. In this blog post, I want to focus specifically on the companies we visited and give a summary of each one, including the activities involved in the visit, the company’s mission statement and key takeaways. In the final blog post of this series (coming soon), I’ll take a step back and write a more reflective post about this trip as a whole.

A summary of each company:


Yelp’s San Francisco HQ is located in a historic building–where Winston Churchill made one of the first trans-Atlantic phone calls, in 1929.

Activities: Office tour, breakfast, presentation by a Tech Lead, networking

Mission Statement: Connecting people with great local businesses

Key Takeaway: The tech team is highly valued. Not only was the main feature of the visit a tech talk given by one of their Tech Leads, Zach, but he also specifically stated that Yelp has a culture of doers, where credit is given to the people who do the work. The tech talk focused on  the in-house metrics storage system called tscached that he built; it stores, but more importantly, extracts data for Yelp users faster. If you’re interested in hearing Zach’s talk, you can view it here:


Are we in Bauer? Nope, this is Square, whose co-founder Jim McKelvey attended WashU.

Activities: Office tour, lunch, presentation, Q&A

Mission Statement: Making commerce easy

Key Takeaway: Diversity is genuine. Maybe it’s the company’s ties to LaunchCode, but Square seems to truly care about diversity in tech. They hold Code Camps to encourage women and minorities to pursue careers in engineering, technology and computer science. Our host for the visit, Gloria, first became involved with Square through a Code Camp. Learn more here: It was also intriguing to hear the unique challenges that Square faces as a financial transaction company, in terms of navigating the economic laws of other countries, as well as differing customs in payment methods.


Macy’ gave us swag bags upon arrival.

Activities: Presentation, panel Q&A by engineers and product managers

Mission Statement: Our goal is to be a retailer with the ability to see opportunity on the horizon and have a clear path for capitalizing on it. To do so, we are moving faster than ever before, employing more technology and concentrating our resources on those elements most important to our core customers.

Key Takeaway: We traditionally think of Macy’s as a retail store, but the e-commerce side of the business has become increasingly important, making it an omnichannel company that connects the in-store and online experiences. is the digital technology division of Macy’s and is the fastest growing division. It even houses the Macy’s lab, a team in which new and lean ideas are voted on, pitched and implemented.

AT&T Foundry

The AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto is just one among six, the others being located in Plano, Houston, Atlanta and Israel.

Activities: Presentation, Q&A, self-tour

Mission Statement: Where ideas are made

Key Takeaway: AT&T Foundries are collaborative and open spaces where technology experts and entrepreneurs can come together to inspire ideation and innovation. Each Foundry has a different company partner and focuses on different areas. The Palo Alto Foundry has partnered with Ericsson to make developments in Domain 2.0, A.I., Drones and AR/VR.


All the conference rooms at Medallia are named after a country and decorated according to each country’s culture. Here is the America room (cardboard cutout of Obama not pictured).

Activities: Tour, lunch, panel Q&A

Mission Statement: Make software that improves the customer experience

Key Takeaway: Medallia was the first company we visited where we had the opportunity to speak with WashU alumni that currently work there. The culture there seems similar to WashU’s, as indicated by the significant representation of our university. As an example of their company culture, one tradition of Medallia’s is reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, which emphasizes the importance of having a growth mindset.


Visitor badge at Tesla. We couldn’t take pictures of the cars, unfortunately.

Activities: Tour, presentation, Q&A, Model X test rides

Mission Statement: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy

Key Takeaway: Tesla’s vision has notably changed from speeding up the world’s transition to sustainable transportation to the more comprehensive goal of promoting sustainable energy. There are several exciting developments all simultaneously in the works at Tesla, including the development of their first mass-produced car, the Model 3, to be released this year and the construction of the gigafactory I in Nevada, which will double the production of lithium-ion batteries. These two projects and the rest of Master Plan Part 2 are definitely stories to follow.


We spotted a Waymo (company under Alphabet, the parent company of Google) self-driving car on our way to Google’s Mountain View HQ.

Activities: Tour, panel Q&A

Mission Statement: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful

Key Takeaway: Besides Medallia, Google was the only other company where we met up with WashU alumni. The panel Q&A at Google was unique from other company Q&As because the panelists included two individuals that have actually taught CS classes at WashU. Furthermore, the advice gained from this visit was more holistic than just providing information about Google, ranging from career advice to making the most out of the WashU experience.