Five Rice engineers have been selected as 2018 Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers Fellows. Offered by one of the nation’s leading venture capital firms, the prestigious summer fellowship pairs students with Silicon Valley startup companies, giving them real world experience as well as access to industry insiders, venture capitalists and fellows from other schools around the country. Since its inception, Rice has always had at least one student in the program. Five is the largest number the university has had in a single cohort.
Junior computer science majors Spencer Chang, William Koh and Napas Udomsak, junior electrical engineering major Rebecca Lee, and freshman engineer Oeishi Banerjee have all been matched with startup companies for the summer fellowship.
“I’m ecstatic!” said Chang about being accepted as a fellow. “I’ll be at Airbnb, although I don’t know if it will be on the experiences team or on the payment side.”
Chang said he interviewed with the travel company that enables people to list rooms and homes for rent, and was offered an intern position before he learned he’d been named a KPCB Fellow.
Koh will be working with Fin Exploration Company, a virtual assistant company.
“Fin will carry out any request that you need it to, such as make call, schedule meetings, reply to emails, and so much more. I've used it so far to inquire about housing in San Francisco, plan trips to Austin, and find my friend's towed car.”
Banerjee will spend the summer at Synack, a crowdsourcing cybersecurity firm in Redwood City, Calif.
Udomsak will be working with Zumper, an apartment and house rental finder, with a mission of making the rental process easier for tenants and landlords.
“I have had to go through the apartment hunting process every summer to find a place to live during my internships, so I know how painful the process can be. This allowed me to empathize with Zumper's mission, and became one of the reasons why I chose to work there,” he said. “I hope to gain experience working at an early stage company with a small, fast-paced engineering team; Zumper only has 14 engineers. I also look forward to meeting the other fellows and learning from their experiences.”
To apply for the program, students must submit an application and write an essay explaining what they want their impact on the world to be. The KPCB selection committee funnels the best of those applications into interview rounds, and finalists are then submitted to the organization’s portfolio companies, which schedule a final interview and decide whether to extend an offer. Fellowship applicants also have the option to do a coding challenge. Chang said that even though the challenge is optional, his understanding is that most of the students offered fellowships have completed it. He did. So did Banerjee, who said that it was serendipity that enabled her to successfully tackle it.
“I was lucky that I'd gone to Google's Android workshop the week before because they'd introduced me to HashMaps, which is something we had to write for the coding challenge. I'd had zero experience with it before then,” she said. “That was probably the most difficult part of the interview process because, after that, Synack reached out to interview me pretty informally. It was mostly a conversation between their lead engineer and me. They later told me that they were very impressed with my background and work ethic even though I was a freshman, and proceeded to offer me a position with them.”
Koh's preparation for the interviews consisted of trial and error. He’d interviewed with companies for positions before, and said each time he was rejected, he tried to learn from his mistakes.
“The things I learned from classes helped a lot too, especially COMP 182 and 382, where I learned many of the algorithms that an interview question might consist of,” he said. “The technical portion of the interviews were the hardest for me. Waiting to hear back was really hard too. There were times when I just wanted to pick up the phone and ask, regardless of whether it was good or bad news, just so that I could get it over with.”
Lee, who will be working at Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods, said “I spent the majority of my time working on the essay portion of the application, which I think spoke the most about who I am, where my passions lie, and what my goals are since I intend to start my own company during my career. I really wanted to express myself fully so I spent a long time revising it and getting feedback.”
Chang is looking forward to participating in the program. He said he attended an on-campus information session about the fellowship as a freshman and was impressed with the Rice students he met who were past fellows.
“They were incredibly intelligent, and really nice people,” he said. “And that gave me a good indication of the kind of people accepted to the program, people I might be interacting with if I were accepted. And it’s such a great opportunity to not only further develop my technical skills, but also get a perspective on what it means to be a startup company — what kinds of hats you need to wear to run your organization. It’s also a chance to learn what venture capitalists are looking for when they decide whether to invest in a company.”
He believes the experience will put him on a path to success.
“Regardless of where I end up [after graduation], my biggest passion is to learn as much as I can and apply it to improve the world, even by a little. I’m especially interested in the intersection between automation and empathy, how to balance using the latest technologies to eliminate inefficiencies and still maintain a human-centered and natural product.”