Co-teaching a new class at Cornell Tech: BigCo Studio

cornell tech

Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in NYC

I’ve been formally involved with Cornell Tech as a Fellow for about a year now and it has been super-fun having a front-row seat to seeing a major university rise on an island in the middle of New York City, the greatest city in the world. Cornell Tech’s major point of differentiation from most graduate institutions is its Studio program. All the components of the program are described on the web site but to really boil it down, the Studio program is about combining a top-notch academic foundation with the real-world experience of building actual products and services with multidisciplinary teams (design, engineering, business, and legal).

The Studio program has had an excellent Startup Studio track for years, led by David Tisch. Many students coming out of Cornell Tech will work for larger companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.) and I’m excited to write that I will be co-leading and co-teaching a new track to complement Startup Studio with my good friend, former colleague, and Google exec Bradley Horowitz. We’re calling it BigCo Studio:

In this class, students will learn how to successfully navigate the opportunities and challenges of a BigCo (Big Company) and build products in a complex environment at scale. Students will also learn about how business development, M&A, and other corporate activities complement, and sometimes compete with product teams to drive larger strategic initiatives forward in BigCos. Students will work in teams matched with a real-world opportunity and advisor from a BigCo. Teams will then build and pitch a working product in three sprints culminating in a final presentation and demo. The class will include lectures and prominent guest speakers from the industry.

BigCos and their products and platforms are increasingly central to our lives, even if you’re a startup (think Gmail, AWS, iOS, and Google Cloud, just to name a few). Chances are you are using one or more BigCo products to read this post. There is a vibrant ecosystem of blogs, books, and information about the startup world but very little practical guidance out there about life in BigCos. We’re looking forward to covering the good, the bad, and the ugly of building products that matter in complex orgs. We’ll be sharing the dark arts of life in a BigCo that we spent the bulk of our careers learning the hard way.

I am particularly excited to be working on this with Bradley, whose professional expertise I respect deeply but also someone I love like a brother. We went through some serious wars at Yahoo! while having an incredible amount of fun. We last worked together in 2008 and since then, Bradley has gone on to run product for some of the most-used consumer products in the world at Google and I joined a little startup called Etsy and grew it into a BigCo. I can’t imagine partnering with someone more suited to the work and it feels like getting a band back together.

If your company is interested in working with our students, first read the How it Works and FAQ sections on the BigCo Studio page and feel free to reach out. If you’re a leader in a BigCo and there’s a topic you really wish students knew more about when they joined your company, let me know. My email is firstname.lastname@cornell.edu.

Urban biking in NYC

When I lived in the Bay Area, I fell in love with biking, both on dirt trails and on the road. I knew the dirt trails of the East Bay like the back of my hand and seeing the transcendent views of fog over the bay in the morning calmed my soul. I never tired of it, not even a little. I even saw the occasional cow or two. I made significant major life decisions on the hundreds of miles I covered with my friend Andrew. So when I moved to NYC, aside from missing friends out in California, I missed riding through those gorgeous hills more than just about anything else.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been determined to get back in the saddle, so I signed up for the 55-mile ride in the NYC Century, which is tomorrow. To prepare, I’ve been running 2-3x a week and doing a training ride on the weekend. Urban riding is way different from what I’m used to, but it has its own kind of excitement and I’m having a blast exploring NYC on two wheels. Here are my past two rides (I’ve been biking to and from work, too, which is awesome in the fall weather):

1. Manhattan Loop (right around 30 miles)

This ride goes over the Brooklyn Bridge, up the east side to Harlem, down through Central Park, cut over to the greenway on the west side, down around the perimeter of Manhattan, and back across the Brooklyn Bridge. Going over the Brooklyn Bridge is a little like a video game as you dodge tourists who step into the bike lane to get the most scenic photos. The bike-and-pedestrian-only greenway on the East River stops around the United Nations and you have to get back out in regular traffic, and pedaling amongst the crush of taxis and pedestrians was a memorable experience that kept my blood pumping. Shooting down into Central Park at the north entrance was absolutely awesome (side note: the Great Hill in Central Park — which felt like a big climb relative to everything else — is only 135 feet above sea level). The greenway on the west side along the Hudson is really nice, too, though I almost wiped out when an elderly woman came barreling towards me with a “I don’t know how to stop this thing!” look (whew).

(I used Veloroutes to map this trip).

2. Brooklyn waterfront to Marine Park to Prospect Park (about 40 miles)

Beach at Jacob Riis ParkI took some photos along this route, which goes along the waterfront in Brooklyn along Gravesend Bay, out near Coney Island, through Sheepshead Bay, out to the Rockaways, Jacob Riis Park, Floyd Bennett Field (NYC’s first municipal airport), and Fort Tilden, then back up Bedford Avenue (the longest road in Brooklyn!) to Prospect Park. If urban decay and post-apocalyptic-Planet-of-the-Apes NYC are your cup of tea, you’ll get your money’s worth with Jacob Riis Park and Floyd Bennett Field, both of which have been beautifully neglected.

For this ride, I dusted off my Garmin Edge 305, which records all sorts of data about your ride, including speed, lat/long coordinates, elevation, heart rate, and calories burned. While this is a bit of overkill for my level of riding, I find that looking at all the data after the ride is fun for a data geek like me. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know the exact lat/long coordinates where you hit your peak heart rate? The data from the Edge can be loaded into a program like Ascent, where the data can be exported to a KML file, which is how I generated the map below.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=embed&hl=en&geocode=&q=http:%2F%2Fwww.chaddickerson.com%2Frides%2F05-Sep-10.kml&sll=40.736852,-73.913956&sspn=0.461488,0.979156&ie=UTF8&ll=40.625255,-73.953697&spn=0.125237,0.176132&output=embed
View Larger Map

The 55-miler starts at 7:30am tomorrow in Prospect Park. Tonight, it’s early-to-bed for a fresh start.

Best broadband ISP in NYC (Brooklyn)?

I’m getting down to brass tacks on my move to Brooklyn (just ordered the gas and electric hookup this morning) and I’m ready to set up my broadband account. For the past several years, I have been a happy customer of Speakeasy’s OneLink Select Plus service. It’s more expensive than the Comcasts and Time Warners of the world, but I’ve never had a single problem in four years as a customer, which is remarkable. Here’s what I get:

  • 6mbps down / 768 kbps up
  • 4 static IPs
  • great customer service (very rarely used, but when I call, the person on the other end of the line is smart and empowered)

So, I could re-up with Speakeasy in NY (which I’m leaning towards, but don’t know if their quality is better/worse out there), or I could consider other options. The high-speed Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse services are not available in my area. Any thoughts?

Carroll Gardens: my new home in Brooklyn

Carroll GardensAfter what I’m told is by NY standards an unusually short search for a place to live (it was the second place we looked and on our first day of looking), we found a place in Carroll Gardens, one of our favorite neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Our place is the top floor of a brownstone built around 1900, similar to the ones you see in the photo at the bottom of this post. I’ll be out here (i.e. NY) for good by September 1.

The landlord is very friendly and lives three doors down (we signed the lease at her kitchen table, which was filled with photos of her with her family). We were warmly welcomed to the neighborhood by both the merchant at the corner store and the kind folks at Moonshine (which is officially in Red Hook, but a short walk).

All in all, it’s been a surprisingly delightful experience after I had spent the last few weeks bracing for a brutal apartment search. Since we booked over a week in NY, we are using the found time to catch up with friends here and do the kind of things you do in New York. While we still have to pack up our stuff back in the Bay Area and move cross-country, knowing exactly where we’re going to land makes the whole process a lot simpler.

Carroll Gardens brownstones

(Photo of Carroll Gardens district by Fecki, brownstones by wallyg)