With public stock offerings by Twitter and Chegg, a smartphone launch in play by Google — and Colgate making major strides in its own mobile platforms — it was an exciting week for Colgate to be in Silicon Valley to launch its new Digital Media and Technology Professional Network.
The reception and panel discussion drew 150 alumni and parents who work in all facets of the business, from venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, to marketing executives and product developers, all fiercely loyal to Colgate and grateful for the liberal arts education they received.
And as one might expect from any Colgate conversation, there was depth and breadth, as well as humor and drama.
Bharat Mediratta ’92, distinguished software engineer at Google, ribbed Michael Sippey ’90, vice president of product and design at Twitter, about the length of his commentary on the massive transformation to mobile in developing markets (“That was more than 140 characters!”). Later, in response to a question about what technology areas might be unimportant a decade from now, Sippey retaliated with “The whole search thing!”
Julian Farrior ’93, founder and chief executive officer of Backflip Studios, which he recently sold to Hasbro, offered to “take the conversation up a level” — to gaming — which, he said, today is “rewarded and a great way to teach young people.”
And David Fialkow ’81, P’17, principal, partner and co-founder of General Catalyst Partners and the consummate weaver and bobber, barely missed a beat when threatened by a nut allergy. After rustling up an EpiPen from a Google security guard, he returned to the stage and later said, “Success in the tech economy requires creative thinking and the ability to overcome obstacles.”
President Jeffrey Herbst led the wide-ranging conversation with aplomb, covering the ubiquity of mobile, threats and opportunities for higher education, the socioeconomic implications of global technology, and the need for Colgate, through internships and other professional means, to expose its students to the West Coast culture of “try and fail.”
Mediratta described his career path, working for five failed companies before joining Google. “On the East Coast,” he said, “you wouldn’t get the fifth job. On the West Coast, people are perfectly happy to hire you.”
Farrior, who is based in Colorado, agreed: “Great ideas happen every day. People repeatedly try interesting and outrageous ideas, many of which will fail.”
Last year, California became the third most popular state for applications from prospective Colgate students, and the California contingent of alumni and parents is growing. Today, approximately 2,500 alumni live in the state, with more than 1,200 in the San Francisco club.
Murray Decock ’80, vice president of institutional advancement, has witnessed the growth.
“Over the past 15 years I have watched our alumni move into real leadership positions at some of the more significant software, hardware and Internet companies,” Decock said. “Of course, many have undertaken some real risks in their careers and suffered some distinct failures, but the persistence and drive that was clearly honed on our little campus has served them well as the digital media and tech industry has evolved to the mature state we see today.”
“We want to build a bridge from Colgate to here,” Herbst said. The day after the professional network launch, Herbst convened a new West Coast Advisory Council of alumni, parents, and friends to exchange ideas and provide feedback on issues of technology, entrepreneurship, recruitment, and marketing.