How one W&L grad’s search for his passion took him to another continent and landed him in the tech innovation center of the world.
When I graduated in 1993, interesting opportunities for new grads were few and far between. As a double major in Politics and German, my options seemed even fewer. Throw in a US recession, not unlike today, and I may as well have left it all behind to become a street performer. Although I had moonlighted in the W&L Glee Club, I decided that wasn’t the career for me. I knew that I’d have to think creatively in order to do something interesting and cool.
I was fortunate enough to land two internships while at W&L, which had a huge impact on my future career plans. During my sophomore year, after declaring my majors, I decided I wanted to pursue something in either the Foreign Service or international business. (Really, what else are you going to do with Politics and German?) I got connected with a W&L alum living in Munich who worked for Siemens and I was offered the opportunity to work at Siemens headquarters for the summer working in logistics strategy. My stint there was successful, so Siemens invited me back (along with two other W&L classmates) for the second summer.
When it came time to graduate, having had positive experiences with my internships, I wasn’t willing to settle for “just any job.” I found that the communication skills and life-smarts I’d gained from being around quality students and professors at W&L was what was going to take me in the right direction. That, coupled with having the competitive edge of my internships, gave me the credibility and confidence I needed to pursue meaningful work.
Upon graduation, I doggedly pursued (some might call it stalked) a VP at Siemens in New Jersey, and lobbied for the chance to work for him. Hey, I might as well put some of those politics skills to use! He finally acquiesced and hired me. At 22 I was working for a global brand on interesting projects and traveling around the US – with a lot of time spent on consulting projects on the west coast. Over time, I grew tired of the transcontinental commute and I fell in love – both with my wife-to-be and with the Bay Area.
So we packed up and moved to Sunnyvale, California in 1997. Since that time I’ve held positions in business development, product management, product marketing, and project management. I’ve worked on innovative projects and products with innovative minds at both large tech companies as well as start-ups. I’ve been an individual contributor, a people manager, and a founder/CEO of a new venture. Not unlike a liberal arts education where you sample from a vast catalog of courses, it’s advisable to experience a number of roles in business early in your career. It helps you identify what you’re good at and what you are most passionate about (these things tend to be highly correlated).
Playing all of those roles allowed me to figure out what excites me in the workplace: building businesses by defining products that consumers love to use. But it’s a process and this didn’t happen overnight for me, nor should you expect it to for you. But when it does, follow it.
Today, I am General Manager and Vice President of Products of Room 77. We’re a 20-person, venture-funded start-up, changing the way people search for hotels online and on mobile devices. Our focus is on transparency (read: honesty) by providing more insight, accuracy and truthful results than you’ll find on traditional online travel sites. The business is growing rapidly and it’s a joy to work on something that is loved by users. In the spirit of “paying it forward”, I’m a huge proponent of interns so don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Kevin@room77.com.
You never know where that first internship may take you.
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