Palo Alto High School is calling the annual Career Month series a success after speakers shared their experiences in a variety of careers with Paly Students.
Paly kicked off its eighth annual speaker series on Feb. 29 and it concluded on March 11.
According to Career Adviser Christina Owen, approximately 700 students attended at least one speech. While parent volunteers helped to organize food logistics, student interns primarily spearheaded the annual project as part of Get Involved Palo Alto, a student-based organization that aims to provide volunteer and internship opportunities to Palo Alto students and manage certain school-wide events.
“The student interns have taken Career Month to a new level, and made it sustainable without having to depend on parent volunteers,” Owen said. “These students collaborate to perfect all the aspects of Career Month, from speaker communications, to publicity, logistics and documentation of the event.”
Get Involved Project Manager junior Candace Wang, along with various other student interns, helped to run the event and ensure its success.
“It is amazing to see all these role models coming in to talk to students about their jobs [and] their lives, hoping that maybe it will inspire one or two of them to go down a similar life path,” Wang said.
Missed Career Month? Read on to meet the speakers and see the most important points from their presentations.
Graphics by Adrienne Kwok.
Alan Eustace — Senior VP of Knowledge — Google
Alan Eustace worked as a manager at Western Research Lab for 15 years before transferring to Google and eventually becoming the Vice President of Knowledge. His decision to leave a stable job to join a company he had known so little about ultimately allowed him to pursue a passionate research project. Though he admits the main motive behind finding a job was finding stability and a reliable source of income, Eustace acknowledges that it was ultimately taking a risk and joining Google that allowed him to reach success.
“I wasn’t so sure,” Eustace said. “I had a family. The idea of a small company versus one with fifty billion dollars revenue. I was scared about making that decision, so I kept turning them down until a friend of mine said, ‘Alan, I am no longer going to take no for an answer. You are coming to Google.’”
Jesse Cool — Founder — Cool Eatz
Jesse Cool founded and currently runs her own restaurant, Cool Eatz. Though she may be labelled as successful, Cool does not believe success was handed to her. Previously on welfare as a single parent, Cool hitchhiked to California to start anew. She opened the first organic restaurant at the age of 27 and has been working in the restaurant business for over 40 years. Cool feels that it is her responsibility to provide healthy, organic and accessible food to the community, and currently lives out this mission through her restaurant. The main piece of advice she gives to students who are considering working in the food industry is to find a mentor and experience being in the workforce.
“If a student wants to pursue a career in either farming or food, my advice would be to find a mentor — to find a place where they can learn,” Cool said. “Volunteer for a day or a week and sense if they belong in that career rather than spending a lot of money on school or changing your life in a way that could be hard to backpedal. Just go be there for a while and you’ll know whether you want to do that as a career.”
Ben Johns — Choir Director — Musae
Ben Johns was a singer in the Grammy Award winning group Chanticleer, a men’s San Francisco based ensemble, but is now the Director of Education at Chanticleer. Although Johns was interested in science as a child (later earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry), he decided his talents lay in music. As a youth, he first found work singing children’s songs on cassette tapes, later working at a mall and as a dancer.
“I never expected to do music as a career,” Johns said. “It was always just something I enjoyed doing.” Johns later taught classes to Bay Area students and sang in Chanticleer for three years. He also explored further subjects, earning an undergraduate degree in dance and winning the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for a thesis on neurobiology. For students interested in pursuing a career in music, Johns advises lots of practice and perseverance.
“I learned it’s more important to be nice than right,” Johns said.
Katrina Chew — Veterinary — Adobe Animal Hospital
Katrina Chew detailed the hard work of veterinarians and how a love of animals can propel one onto a path to success. Chew attended California Polytechnic State University before attending veterinary school. She previously lived in rural America with numerous pets.
“I jumped into the ocean of veterinary medicine and started paddling for my life,” Chew said.
A typical day as a veterinarian is extremely busy, with appointments often spilling into the lunch period. Chew said that at first being a vet could be tedious and intimidating, but “when you work with people that are very supportive and are there to help you, the better you get.”
Chew also said that veterinarians are in high demand world-wide.
“The nice part about being a veterinarian is it’s universal,” Chew said. “You can work anywhere in the world. Every place in the world needs veterinarians.”
Emily Bobel — Head of School — New School SF
A Stanford University graduate, Emily Bobel co-founded The New School of San Francisco in 2013 and previously worked at Teach For America as a math and science teacher in New York City. Bobel hopes to change the definition of learning through New School SF. Bobel said that moving from the Bay Area to teach in the Bronx was a life-changing experience that solidified her commitment to creating equal education opportunities for all students. Her frustration at the inability to create her own curriculum to best teach her students remains one major reason Bobel continues to push for change.
“How can we ensure that every kid regardless of the color of their skin and the thickness of their wallet has access to a phenomenal education?” Bobel said. “We have a very long way to go until that’s a reality in our country, but I feel like my calling is making clear that I need to figure out what my small part in chipping away this systemic issue is.”
Tom Kuhnle — Judge — Santa Clara County Superior Court
Tom Kuhnle is a Santa Clara County judge first appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. Prior to his appointment, Kuhnle studied at Stanford University, earning a J.D. and working as a private attorney. For 15 years Kunle practiced law at an international firm, focusing on business disputes and intellectual property litigation. As a judge, his cases have ranged from issuing restraining orders to settling family violence disputes. In 2008, Kuhnle served as President of the Santa Clara County Bar Association. He is also an avid cyclist and visited all 50 states.
“After law school, I worked in a law firm and I actually worked in the same law firm for approximately 15 years,” Kuhnle said in an interview with a Social Justice student. “In those 15 years I’ve worked on all kinds of different cases including; environmental cases, and intellectual property cases, car dealership cases where always interesting and a number of pro bono cases as well. And I had a terrific time practicing law in that area but I also was interested in becoming a judge at some point.”
Ann Marie Tran — Advocacy Associate — Asian Americans for Community Improvement
Ann Marie Tran actively participated in nonprofit work throughout high school and identified it early on as one of her passions. However, Tran decided to take a break from strenuous work and took a hiatus from nonprofit while at University of California, Santa Cruz, only to come back to it later. While Tran admitted that finding balance between her many passions was difficult, she stressed the importance of reflecting back and evaluating past decisions to ultimately reach a healthy relationship between life and work. Currently working at the nonprofit Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Tran plans to study paralegal classes and become a lawyer.
Her main advice to students?
“When you see something that you like and you want, make a step forward to take it, but also work on building your resume and building yourself up,” Tran said. “Not only your resume, but your character and your qualities to deserve it. You can’t just get something — you need to work for it.”
Terry Trumbull — Environmental Science Professor — San Jose State University; Santa Clara University
Terry Trumbull is an environmental scientist who has worked for a multitude of agencies, including the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. Trumbull began as a Chair of the California Waste Management Board for five years, eventually becoming a managing partner of the Trumbull Law Firm. His occupation includes solving environment-related issues for over 200 California cities and clients. Trumbull advises students to take up internships and other learn more about all types of science.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of understanding science,” Trumbull said.
He also advocates for student involvement in contemporary issues by taking up internships or jobs in related fields.
“I don’t care whether its an environmental one [organization] or not,” Trumball said. “There’s just a zillion different opportunities to make a difference.”
Abha Kumar — Ophthalmologist — Santa Clara Valley Medical
Abha Kumar began her career in medicine at the age of 16 while at a missionary school in India. After travelling to the U.S., Kumar began her residency at Stanford for ophthalmology and currently works part time at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in that same field. Though entering the field of medicine requires many years of work and “150% of the hours you are willing to give,” Kumar believes that no other field is as gratifying. As Kumar’s teachers and mentors shaped her decision to enter medicine, she likewise advises students to understand medicine’s demands and find a leader.
“When you are thinking of going into the career of medicine, this is the advice I would give you: research the field, come to talks like this, research on the internet, talk to people who … are in medicine and ask them questions about what a life in medicine is,” Kumar said. “The second step is to see if you can actually go and work with somebody who has done medicine or is practicing medicine. You may have this idea in your head from Grey’s Anatomy or ER of what you think medicine is, but when you actually line up after many years of studying you may realize this is nothing like what you read.”
Altay Sendil — Qualitative Researcher — Pinterest
Altay Sendil is currently a Qualitative User Experience Researcher at Pinterest, and conducts research and surveys. Sendil grew up in Saudi Arabia and attended Georgia Tech, majoring in mechanical engineering. He felt unfulfilled with his engineering job, and decided to return to Graduate School.
For the past few years Sendil has been working with Pinterest, and previously worked as a Project Lead at design and consulting firm IDEO in Palo Alto.
“I think of my job as understanding everyone’s perspective reality,” Sendil said. He said he enjoys trying to understand one’s views and the motivations behind their decisions, using such skills to analyze data and information for his job.
Tim Kawakami — Sports Writer — San Jose Mercury News
Tim Kawakami writes as a sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Throughout high school in California, his original intentions were to be a lawyer or a rock ‘n roll critic. It was only after attending Northwestern University and observing journalism students passionately covering sports stories that Kawakami realized he could live his love of writing through journalism. The main piece of advice he tells students is to actively participate and show bosses that they are capable of taking responsibilities.
“Just show up. I tell this to beginning journalists all the time. Eighty percent of this [journalism] job is showing up and making sure they [bosses] know you’re going to show up,” Kawakami said. “Determination and curiosity would be the two things that bosses want to see. The boss has to hire you to do the job. You can say you can do the job but the boss has to know that first. Once they give you that opportunity you gotta run through it.”
Avi Lele — Entrepreneur — Stockpile CEO
Avi Lele is an entrepreneur who founded Stockpile, a company that produces stock gift cards. Lele grew up in Tennessee and Massachusetts, and later studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and law at Harvard College. While Lele practiced law for over 15 years, he decided to pursue Stockpile after discovering that a large number of people are interested in obtaining various companies’ stock. Lele says that perseverance is important as an entrepreneur.
“We’ve faced every challenge you can think of,” Lele said. “Everyone says ‘No you can’t do this. This has never been done.’ You just have to stay focused. If you think you know what you’re doing then figure it out. There’s a reason a lot of things haven’t been done before. It’s because people just figure you can’t do them but the truth is you can.”
Cordelia Duff — Creative Lead — Kiwi Inc.
While writing may have been Cordelia Duff’s initial passion, by chance it allowed her to enter the field of game design when she received an internship to create video game story lines. A University of Chicago dropout, Duff began an internship at Kiwi Inc. at the age of 19 where she worked to create story and character lines. An aspect of working at a game design company that Duff herself has experienced is its instability. One main lesson from working in game design is to never take failure personally and learn to grow from them.
“What I’m starting to learn through all this instability in my job is that … there are so many different things in your life that are important and so many different things that change and grow,” Duff said. “That’s usually a really good thing. I got laid off and it turned out awesome because I got back in contact with the people at Kiwi and found out that the CEO and two other people were trying to revive the company.”
Rob Koo — Story Board Artist — Dreamworks
Rob Koo is a Dreamworks animator and storyboard artist, and for the past 20 years has worked on films such as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Chicken Run” and “Shrek.” Koo first began work in the “grueling” animation industry at age 17 and developed his skills at an art-based high school in Canada. After graduation, Koo worked for multiple television series including “Care Bears,” traveling to nations such as Sweden and Denmark to observe and work in animation there. In 2001 and 2010 he won two Annie Awards for excellence in animation for his work in “Shrek” and “Merry Madagascar” respectively. As a storyboard artist, Koo assembles movies together, creating a blueprint that details how a movie progresses. Koo advised students to follow their passions regardless of how difficult such profession is.
“Make sure you do something you really love to do,” Koo said.
Philippe Bouissou — Managing Director — Blue Dots Partners
Philippe Bouissou graduated from a university in Paris, France, holds a B.S. in mathematics and has a Ph.D. in physics and chaos theory. A former Apple employee, Bouissou now works as a consultant to streamline companies’ business opportunities and increase revenue. However, Bouissou’s initial aspiration was to become an Air Force pilot, a dream cut short due to his poor eyesight.
“If anything, I was sure that I was going to be a pilot,” Bouissou said. “I was working hard and there was nothing that could derail me from my dream. Then it happened and I couldn’t be a pilot. The first lesson I learned is to have a dream — that’s great — but also think about what happens if for whatever reason you can’t fulfill that dream.”
Bouissou also advised students to look beyond money incentives when searching for a job, and instead suggested finding something that they are passionate about.
“To me success has never been about the money,” Bouissou said. “It’s been about how happy I am and how much I learn and grow out of the job I do everyday. … You need to look at yourself very deeply and say, ‘What is it that I really, really like?’”
Lisa Gevelber — VP Marketing — Google
If you had asked current VP of Marketing at Google Lisa Gevelber when she was a teen, she would have said that all businesses are evil. Gevelber grew up in Michigan and began working at age 13 to put herself through the University of Michigan, earning a Bachelor of Arts.
“One of the most important lessons I learned from that [the job] is a really strong work ethic,” Gevelber said. After graduation she moved to Germany and experimented with several business-related jobs before relocating to Silicon Valley, eventually joining Google as a recruit and working her way up to her current role. Gevelber currently runs marketing for the ad businesses.
“It’s one of the biggest businesses in the world and probably one of the most successful,” Gevelber said. Gevelber’s advice to students is to work hard and accept feedback to improve at each task.
“You do not need 10,000 hours to become a master at anything, you need 10,000 hours plus very focused feedback,” Gevelber said. “Without the feedback, you can’t actually get better.”
Diego Rey — CTO — GeneWeave
Diego Rey co-founded GeneWeave Biosciences that recently became a Division of Roche Molecular Systems. Throughout his educational career he adapted and transitioned to pursue his goals, and what began as a childhood interest in electrical engineering became a Bachelors of Sciences at UC Santa Barbara. Through an internship he realised he wanted to be a part of a product that benefits people, leading to his Master’s and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University. While studying he joined forces with a business student to co-found GeneWeave, culminating in his current position as Chief Technological Adviser of the Los Gatos based company.
“GeneWeave started as two people and became a team of 50 people,” Rey said. “We took in $25 million of venture capital financing, which in perspective isn’t very much, and we became very attractive to a company like Roche. I went from electrical to biological engineering and had to learn about healthcare and business. I went from sciences to building a team and managing the projects. I wanted to show you that any of you guys could take a similar path and make it happen.”
Cynthia Munoz — Architect — Stoecker & Northway
Architect Cynthia Munoz, the first in her family to attend a four-year college, did not originally know what her direction in life would be. While she had hobbies and interests, she did not have any set goals on what she hoped to accomplish. As a student at San Francisco State University, her mother persuaded her to seek a job in architecture, a topic that she had thought of pursuing while in high school. After taking classes and transferring to the UC Berkeley, she was hired for her first internship and officially began her path towards success. As an intern at an architecture firm, Munoz loved the fact that she “got a practical look at what an office looked like.”
Munoz obtained a Master’s Degree in architecture, and soon found other architecture-related jobs, eventually getting work at architectural firm Stoecker and Northway Architects in Palo Alto. Currently she focuses on projects from the early design phase through the construction administration phase, having worked at the firm for the past 19 years. Munoz’s advice is to take teamwork seriously.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” Munoz said. “The world of work is a team sport. … The thing that makes you successful in life and in work is you need to be successful at working with the people around you.”