San Francisco STEM trip

Posted In Academic, Overseas

During the October half term break Mr Hamilton, Mr Hart Dyke, Mrs Hill and 30 Bethany pupils spent six wonderful days in San Francisco. The golden state of California certainly lived up to expectation! The sun shone and we soaked up the atmosphere and took the opportunity to find out more about living and working in Silicon Valley. We stayed in a hostel in Fort Mason, a former United States Army Post on Fisherman’s Wharf. The hostel was comfortable and perfectly placed for watching the sun rise over San Francisco Bay, bathing the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in glorious pink and gold early morning light. San Francisco truly is breathtaking.

There was plenty of time for sightseeing during the trip: photo opportunities at the Golden Gate Bridge; souvenir buying in Fisherman’s Wharf; serious shopping in Downtown San Francisco; a boat trip to Alcatraz Island; sea lion spotting at Santa Cruz boardwalk. However the sightseeing came second only to the visits Mr Hamilton had organised in Silicon Valley. These were both educational and inspiring.

On day two we had an invitation to the Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), situated a short stroll from the magnificent Palace of Fine Arts, where we were treated to a private screening, showcasing ILM projects both past and present that make use of visual effect technologies to create immersive storytelling experiences. Year 10 pupil, Imogen Daddy said: “I was wowed by the ILM presentation. It opened my eyes to how much work goes into making visual effects and I will never watch a film in the same way again.”
A panel of three staff answered questions about their roles and gave us an insight into the reward of working for such a prestigious company. They highlighted the benefits of learning Python and the link between Computing and the Arts. The lesson was quite clear – if you want something, work for it, and persist until you get it.

Day three saw us venture into Silicon Valley for the first time, with visits lined up to Google and the Intel Museum. Our host at Google, Mike, delivered a thought-provoking, and self-proclaimed depressing presentation in which he encouraged us to imagine the implications of a world where artificial intelligence renders humans obsolete. Year 10 pupil, Dan Akowe, said: “The talk about how A.I. will develop was both gripping and disconcerting; the best lecture I have ever attended!”

However it wasn’t all bleak; during the visit, Mike answered the many questions that we had about careers at Google, what it took to get employed and what staff benefits they offer. Some of these were evident during our visit, including the mini kitchens loaded with snacks and drinks, Google bikes dotted around campus, the staff lunches and the famous Google slide. Again, we left with a very clear message, this time about the importance of initiative, problem-solving and creative thinking as all vital skills for succeeding in the modern workplace.

On day four our first destination was Stanford University where we were guided around the stunning campus by two student ambassadors. I think we were all shocked at the cost for a full fee-paying student ($63,000 a year) and that all courses take four years to complete. However our student ambassadors were convincing in their argument that this represented value for money in terms of facilities, resources, quality of education, and a step up the ladder to a successful professional career.

After a short trip back on the bus, we found ourselves at the offices of eBay where we were hosted by Raquel who gave us a tour of the site whilst answering our questions about the company. Like both ILM and Google, it was clear that eBay is also a company who seeks to employ the best and then do all they can to keep them. Raquel had been given many opportunities to develop in her role and she talked with enthusiasm about the 10% of time employees are given to explore their own creative development, and the 30-day annual secondments that give employees the chance to undertake voluntary work. Once again, the visit was inspiring and left us all contemplating the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and taking time out to develop ourselves. All of the business visits highlighted the importance of creating a good online profile, namely LinkedIn, and using networking to gain internships and work experience.

As well as this, whilst in Silicon Valley, we took the opportunity to stop off at Intel and the Computer History Museum. Both served to remind us how rapidly technology has developed over the last 100 years. A demonstration of a restored IBM 1401 was particularly fascinating; to have one of these in your company in the 1960s would have required a dedicated floor of office space and several operators with engineering skill as well as the technical know-how! STEM pupil, Sebastian Smith, said: “The tech museums were fascinating, and the information brilliantly presented. I loved learning about how far technology has advanced and it made me think a lot about how things will develop in the future.”

Our final day in San Francisco was spent soaking up the delights of San Francisco Bay, the highlight of which was a trip to Alcatraz Island. The Island sits a 15-minute boat ride from the quayside and is the most popular destination for visiting tourists, attracting approximately 1000 visitors every day. Scaling the hill to the jail, we all immersed ourselves in its history with the aid of an excellent audio guide. It was sobering to see the conditions that inmates lived in and to hear about the numerous escape attempts that often resulted in fatality.

As we strolled back to the hostel in the heat of the afternoon, we were all sad to be leaving and wished we could stay longer. The trip had been a huge success and enjoyed by all. We have to particularly thank Mr Hamilton for all the work he put into organising the trip – we were the first school party ever to visit eBay! Finally, the pupils who went were exemplary in their conduct and behaviour and a real credit to the school and who knows? Perhaps we will be visiting Silicon Valley in 10 years’ time on a school trip and being hosted by one of them!

To view a collection of our photos and videos from the trip, visit @Bethany_CompSci on both Twitter and Instagram or search the hashtag #bethanyschabroad on either network.