One of the most exciting things about being a computer scientist and visiting the Bay Area is the proliferation of amazing technology companies. Berkeley and Stanford have exceptional computer science programs that supply and are supplied by the companies of the Bay.
Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, Stanford University is one of the top academic institutions in the world. With just 15,000 students on an enormous campus, the university feels incredibly spacious and well laid-out. And it's simply beautiful. The predominant Mission-style architecture, with red-roof tiles and stucco wall finishings, gives a cohesive feel to the entire campus that I've not seen anywhere else. Both Berkeley and Sydney Universities exhibit a more chameleonic character, with buildings reflecting the prevailing design styles at the time of construction.
In the main quadrangle a clutch of sculptures by Rodin (he of the famous Thinker) stood in proud bronze.
We learnt many fascinating tidbits about Stanford on our visit there.
- It has one of the most successful athletic programs in the country; last year's Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, was the first pick in the NFL draft for this season and is currently playing was distinction for Indianapolis.
- The unofficial mascot is the Stanford tree, as the university has never been able to come up with an official mascot. This is as hilarious as it sounds: you can buy t-shirts that say "FEAR THE TREE", and someone dresses in a tree costume for football games
- Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State, is currently on faculty as a political science professor
Following the university, we stopped by the campuses of Facebook, Apple, and Google. Being a weekend, the campuses were closed, but there were plenty of people wandering around each one taking photos.
Facebook, located just north of Stanford in Menlo Park, features this giant sign on the side of the road. Amusingly enough, if you look behind the sign, you can see that Facebook simply repurposed it from its previous owner.
In the carpark on the Facebook campus, we found a car that perhaps belongs to someone who takes the hackathon don't-leave-the-office-till-it's-done attitude a little too seriously.
Our final stops were at the two 800-pound gorillas of Silicon Valley: Apple in Cupertino, and Google in Mountain View. Apple's campus has something of an elegance to it; the buildings are understated in style, and the whole area has an air of being a place where people come and do serious work that changes the world.
Out the front fly American, California, and Apple flags, as if to signify the pride Apple places in being a Californian and American company. "Designed by Apple in California" indeed.
An aside: the primary buildings are located on a circular road and addressed as 1 through 6 Infinite Loop. This is a programming joke referring to a piece of code that does not terminate, like how one can simply drive around the loop road again and again.
In contrast, Google is like a playground. Brightly coloured Google bikes are everywhere for employees (and NOT, as it turns out, itinerant tourists) to get from place to place. The campus sprawls across a large swathe of Mountain View, with each building being unique in its own way. As the company expanded to take up more office space, the original character of each additional new building was maintained as it was refurbished for Google's purposes.
Making your way to Building 44 leads you to the famous Android statues, where picture taking is encouraged. There are statues for each dessert-themed version of Android so far, perfectly summarising Google's light-hearted yet no-holds-barred approach to taking over the world.
I don't know where my future lies. But there's every chance it'll be here in the Bay. With computer science so strong over here, powered by academic institutions and industry alike, there's no other place in the world more exciting to be in the technology field. These are all amazing places to visit, and I imagine they'd be even better places to work for.