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Alum Travels to Silicon Valley on Tech Pilgrimage

Jacob Koperski on life post-high school as a self-professed nerd and software engineering hopeful

Jacob+Koperski+living+in+the+fast+lane+in+San+Francisco+
Jacob Koperski living in the fast lane in San Francisco

Jacob Koperski living in the fast lane in San Francisco

Photo by Jacob Koperski

Photo by Jacob Koperski

Jacob Koperski living in the fast lane in San Francisco

Lily Yates, Quintessence Editor-in-Chief

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Jacob Koperski had no idea that one email from an adviser could not only put his feet on the street at One Hacker Way but also (hopefully) change the rest of his life so much.

The Skutt Catholic grad, now a software engineering major in the Raikes program at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took part in the trip of a lifetime this fall – all the way to California – and experienced an inside look into firms like Google, Facebook, Uber, and more. This week, he sat down with the Flightline to talk about his life since high school graduation, the wide world of computer science, and his recent trip.


The Trip

A 2016 graduate with a penchant for dogs, caffeine, and tech company apparel, the sophomore also moonlights as an intern for CSG International- a position that has done wonders for his workplace credibility but didn’t do much to supplement his college student budget in considering a foray to San Francisco. “I was like, well, that’s $1200,” said Koperski, “But I looked at my bank account and decided that these really are the kinds of things you save up for.” While any stay in The Golden State would likely be tempting for many Nebraskans, this foray offered not only warmer weather, but also a chance at an opportunity on a big scale.

Google

“All of the companies we toured were tech or business companies that were offering internships,” said Koperski. The tour group, consisting of select professors and students of UNL’s technology and business schools, began bright and early with a tour of Google on their first full day in the City by the Bay.

Feeling starstruck, Koperski described the fun of photo ops in front of the offices and the whimsy of the campus. However, “The Google tour was a little disappointing,” said Koperski. “It was kind of a walk-in style tour, even though they knew we were coming, but we got to… see their visitor center and some of their cool developer stuff, so that was neat.”

Facebook

Though the group was fairly late for the next tour, the little time they did spend on campus did not disappoint. “Facebook’s office is actually really interesting because we walked into the main lobby, you have to get a badge that says you’re supposed to be there, walk through a turnstile- and then you walk into a Disneyland,” he said. “It’s all outside- their office buildings are just all connected by a peninsula sort of thing. There’s a diner, there’s a DJ, a music shop, bumper cars, a merch store (where I got my Facebook hoodie), and then offices everywhere. It was absolutely insane; it didn’t even feel like an office.”

Box

Next on the agenda was a look into the company Box, described by Koperski as similar to Dropbox, but often used in offices and larger organizations such as UNL itself. “I got a good connection there- actually, right now I’m helping one of their employees do research,” said Koperski.”Box’s offices were amazing. They had a slide, they had turf- like a green space, just in the middle of their building, full of hammocks- and it was insane. There were no doors except for a few meeting rooms per floor.” But a fan-favorite amenity was of the food variety. “They also had a bunch of kitchens, vending machines that were all free for employees, and just fantastic coffee,” Koperski said, a proud connoisseur of the drink- he says, a side effect of many late nights spent coding. Along with his coffee endorsement, he was impressed overall by what Box had to offer, saying, “It would be really cool to get a job there, I think.”

Uber

The final destination of the trip was the car service Uber. “Uber was interesting because they have gotten a lot of bad representation lately due to a number of things- but we did manage to get a tour. We had to go through security, which took like 45 minutes and was worse than the airport,” he said. “But then we went up a few floors and got to chat with a lot of their developers, so that was fun. We also walked around through their offices, and they have a massive staircase that’s just completely light- you can’t see any metal- and it was sort of cool because it lit up most of that whole floor, it was so bright.”

A New Way to Work

The group also hit a smattering of more scattered campuses, such as Marqeta, a smaller Oakland-based firm with close connections to the Raikes program as well as all-whiteboard walls and a spunky feel; then came Dropbox, which boasted a movie theatre, professional chefs on each floor, a massive, $100K chrome panda adorning the lobby (with a surprising backstory), and an innovative approach to the workday. “They had a really good policy- you get 20% projects. So 20% of your time, you get paid to do kind of whatever you want,” said Koperski.

“On one of the floors, a group of people were doing a 20% project. They had renovated a meeting room, it was all dark in there, and big light up balls were rolling around all over the place. Then you could put on these glasses that make every light source fracture into like, three trillion rainbows. You walked in there, and if you looked at the person next to you they seemed three miles away, or ten feet away straight ahead.”

Lasting Impressions

After the group returned home, Koperski was able to reflect a bit on his experience. “I was hoping to see Mark Zuckerberg,” he said. “I was kind of blown away by Uber and Dropbox because they’re such cool spaces that no company in Omaha really is doing that.”

He returned with some raised career hopes, as well. “I got to talk to a guy at Adobe about possibly pursuing an internship there in experience design. So that would be awesome because I work on experience design all the time for web development,” he said. “I got an interview for that internship, but after that, who knows?”

Why It Matters

For those not as technologically inclined, Koperski connected the dots as to why the opportunities were so perfect for his experience. “Software engineering… is kind of a weird middle place between computer science and computer engineering,” said Koperski. “So a lot of companies need people to engineer software, for lack of a better term. Uber, particularly, was concerned with issues such as ‘How do you get a certain number of Uber drivers to a specific place for a concert?’ and some of those challenges that they’re facing that are really relevant to what I do,” he said.

I’d say the biggest thing that a lot of computer people miss or don’t put priority on is being able to talk to non-technical people about technical things.”

— Jacob Koperski

High School Memories

Koperski remembers his experiences at Skutt Catholic as being a good springboard for the challenges he now faces in college. “I took C++ and Java classes. I took those with Mrs. Rago, and I think they prepared me enough to be able to talk about some of the things that happen in programming. I was able to talk shop when it came to like those basic things,” Koperski said. “I think Skutt did just fine when it came to preparing me for it. It was also through my other involvements like Mock Trial where I got good at talking to people about some of these things that I could do and presenting myself in a much more favorable light.”

On California Culture Shock

“I think I would want to intern over in the Silicon Valley or somewhere on the West Coast, but the culture there is so vastly different from ours. Like, Midwestern culture is just much more sedate than San Fran culture. Anytime you had a conversation with someone in San Francisco unless it was their job to give a tour or something like that, you almost felt like you were wasting their time. Some people were better than others, but that’s just sort of the attitude they had. Like, I’m a lowly college student, wasting your time by talking to you, please don’t hate me. Whereas Midwestern culture is just, yeah, we’ll talk to you, I’ve got nothing better to do. So I’d be interested in maybe doing an internship there, but after that, I’d maybe be interested in the West Coast for a work life. But that would be a big culture shift. I think it’s much easier to go from San Fran to the Midwest than the Midwest to San Fran.”

On Getting Nerdy

“I like getting nerdy,” said Koperski.”I like saying the word ‘polymorphism,’ because it’s a topic that’s actually relatively basic in computer programming, but has such a complex name. It’s nice saying that and seeing people’s reactions. It’s just a really cool field to just envelop yourself in because there’s no way to possibly go through everything in the computer science field. It’s so big, it’s pretty young, maybe 50 years old, if that. There’s just a lot to it- it’s all recent history, but it’s like, such an integral part of how the world works right now. Just the ability to set up a printer from scratch is something that a lot of people still struggle with, so being able to take any task I’m given and say, ‘Oh yeah, I can just write a script real quick that can automate this for me, and now I don’t have to waste that time anymore. I can be, like, super productive, just because I wrote this script that took me like ten minutes to write up- that’s cool. It’s just nice getting nerdy on that stuff.”

Advice From a Pro (in Training)

“I’d say the biggest thing that a lot of computer people miss or don’t put priority on is being able to talk to non-technical people about technical things. Because most of the conversations that you’ll have about computers will admittedly be with other people who know a thing or two about computers, but for me to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t know how to set up a printer, and be able to explain to them what object-oriented programming is, in the work environment that will be something that will have to happen. It’s good to have good technical skills and to be able to talk shop with someone who’s technical, about technical things. But you have to be able to talk to people and not just be someone who goes home after school, works on a computer and doesn’t talk to anybody. If you’re looking for a job or connections, you’ll need to be able to talk to people about technical things and not go way over their head. Being able to talk to people and not just a computer is like, a huge thing.”

Future Focus

As for the future, Koperski says, “Where I want to be when I’m like, 30, is maybe a decent tech position, maybe not requiring a whole lot out of the normal 8-5 schedule, that pays reasonably well so I can have a small house with a couple of dogs. I’d like to be able to go home, code a little, read a book, or just hang out with my dogs.”

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Lily Yates - Quintessence Editor-in-Chief

Lily became a member of The Flightline in August of 2015. She is a senior this year and enjoys an array of activities including choir, theatre and slam poetry. She is also on staff as a library aide at the Omaha Public Library. You can email her at [email protected]

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