A Student Drawn to Silicon Valley Through Duke's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate

Matt Alston will move to Silicon Valley after he graduates, where he will work as an associate product manager for Uber. Video by Pilar Timpane/Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative

Upon graduation, Matt Alston ’17 has plans to step into an associate product manager role at Uber in Silicon Valley. However, he wasn’t always interested in working in tech.

“I kind of fell into tech,” Alston said. “When I got to Duke, I thought I was going to do more academic research or maybe pre-medicine.”

But once he stumbled into coding and technology, he was hooked.

Along with a computer science major, Alston completed the Innovation & Entrepreneurship certificate.

“As soon as I heard about the program, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

One of the first opportunities that Alston took advantage of through Duke I&E was the Duke in Silicon Valley summer program.

Through the program, he had the opportunity to take a course that interested him and to meet and network with Duke alumni at successful startups. The program gave him not only a love for Silicon Valley’s culture, but a few long-term mentors, as well. Alston will call Silicon Valley home after graduation.

While completing his certificate, Alston has taken many classes that have taught him skills needed to thrive as an entrepreneur.

“In the courses, you learn valuable frameworks,” he said. “You learn how to evaluate an idea and validate a problem, you learn how to build an audience as far as branding goes, you learn marketing and how to identify the needs of a customer.”

But what really stood out to Alston were the required experiences for the certificate. He knew he wanted to be in product management and kept that in mind while choosing his experiences.

“I consciously picked my experiences to give myself a breadth of experience that I thought would be relevant to a product manager,” he said. “I wanted the technical experience in the code, but I also wanted to be able to think about business problems and to be able to talk to customers to identify needs and then validate those needs.”

After his sophomore year, he completed his 300-hour experience as a growth analyst for a small education tech startup in Silicon Valley. He learned about the business side of how a startup runs, from sales to marketing to search engine optimization.

The next summer, he completed his required 150-hour experience, an internship as a software engineer for Goldman Sachs in New York City.

“It was cool seeing the contrasts between the two experiences,” Alston said. “I got the business side versus the technical engineering side, I got New York versus San Francisco, I got big firm versus startup, so I got a breadth of experience, which was really cool for me given what my aspirations were.”