Exploring the promise and pitfalls of a tech economy

Exonians meet with company leaders at Facebook and Google, and discover regional impacts of tech growth.

Genny Beckman Moriarty
July 27, 2018
Exonians in San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Exonians visited leading tech sites, explored the Bay Area and learned about the city’s housing crisis. 

As evidence of the Academy’s commitment to helping students become globally aware and engaged citizens, Director of Global Initiatives Eimer Page oversees more than 40 exceptional educational travel opportunities across five continents. The opportunities for place-based learning include 17 term and yearlong curricular programs, plus numerous experiential excursions that take place when school is not in session.

This summer, nearly 125 Exonians will participate in one of 16 immersive learning trips around the globe — from community service in the Big Easy and language immersion in St. Petersburg to film and STEM tours of the West Coast.

In this first in a series about the wide array of travel opportunities provided by the Academy, we highlight a recent trip to Silicon Valley.

The seat of innovation

Serving as the global hub of technology and innovation, the Bay Area of San Francisco is a vibrant cultural and economic center. During a weeklong visit, Exonians had a chance to explore the city and experience its diverse and dynamic culture while learning about the changing nature of work in the 21st-century.

The 12 travelers engaged in design-thinking workshops and toured Silicon Valley start-ups and leading tech companies such as Dropbox, Facebook and Google — where they interacted with company leaders and Exeter parents and alumni who are working in the field. Discussion topics ranged from advances in artificial intelligence and the role of technology in medicine to the lack of diversity in the tech world.  

On the students’ shared blog, Johanna Martinez ’20 recounts a visit to Facebook: “Mike Devine ’96 and Hyan Park ’06 were kind enough to show us around and explain their career paths. The group asked great questions about data security, the making of revenue, and how Exeter has impacted their lives. Hearing their stories and the fact that so many Exonians work at Facebook made the possibility seem like a more realistic possibility for the future.”

Limits to prosperity

While the tech boom has brought opportunity and resources to the Bay Area, the ensuing prosperity and rapidly expanding population have had unintended consequences on the region. Learning about those “spillover effects” was part of the students’ curriculum.

Hiking the Marin Headlands.

During a visit to a youth homeless shelter and through conversations with alumni, business leaders, community advocates and local residents, Exonians became familiar with some of the issues the city is working to overcome — skyrocketing living costs, housing shortages, racial disparities in hiring, and an ever-increasing income gap among them.

JaQ Lai, a rising lower from Hong Kong, notes in a blog post that he and his fellow travelers didn’t shy away from asking hard questions about whether and how businesses are dealing with tough issues. Lai, for one, found their answers more nuanced than he expected: 

“I was surprised by the concessions, and the uncertainty that they contained. These companies are by no means sinister, but they are not perfect. As we move along into our trip, and venture further into the valley, I think my perception of technology as an industry will get only more complex. But that complexity is welcome.”

Want more photos and highlights from the trip? Read how an excursion to the Marin Headlands added another dimension to senior Adar Tulloch’s comprehension of American history, see what Rose Martin ’19 discovered about the Latinx experience, and more.