Works and Days

Reed Winter Externship Reflections 14: Number Six, Frontier Data Corp, Sarah Brauner

            It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, and I’m sitting with my chair swiveled to the center of a room in “Silicon Alley”, New York City, in a recap-of-the-week meeting. Very quickly, lists of tasks completed and accounts secured turn into talk of what the next steps are, who the next clients are, and eventually, what the next ideas are. How should we design this particular feature of our app? How will we deal with the millions of people that lack addresses in the traditional sense? What kinds of services will our app be facilitating? Once our product is streamlined, how will the information seekers interact with the information finders? Should we buy up this domain name too, in case we expand the franchise in this direction?

            I don’t know much about the business world, but it’s my understanding that CEOs don’t usually hash out ideas about the fundamental next steps of their company with low-level employees, let alone interns. And yet, here I am, on the last day of my two-week stint as an intern at Frontier Data Corp, not only listening, but actually being asked to participate in a company brainstorm alongside the CEO, CTO, CFO, and other employees who don’t yet have titles with acronyms. Of course, seeing as the company is 6 members strong (myself included) a meeting with only senior staff members might be somewhat lonely—but still, I can’t help but think how rare, how adrenalizing it is to get to play an active role in coloring what is now only the outline of an application with aspirations of becoming as big as TaskRabbit, Uber, maybe even Facebook. I remember reading an article in The New Yorker this summer about the infectiously optimistic attitude that is pervasive in Silicon Valley tech startups, and at the time, I rolled my eyes; it seemed to me unbelievably naïve and arrogant to think that the world’s problems could be solved by a bunch of programmers working in a bubble perhaps thicker than Reed’s.

            Yet here I am, a more-cynical-than-average college student, in a city that is distinctly not warm and fuzzy, unable to shake this feeling of excitement, even hope, at the possibilities for the future. I can feel my future-self cringing.

            There is reason to be excited, though!

            The Internet is actually very exciting, guys!

            Big data is awesome!

            I try to explain this to my family, friends, and future self: Findyr, the application Frontier Data Corp is working on, expands crowdsourcing to the third world, I say. Think of how far we’ve developed the body of human knowledge in the United States alone; think of how much more efficient almost every aspect of our life is thanks to crowdsourcing; and then, think how much more human capital there is to be gained by incorporating the most populous regions of the world into this, I say. It’s development that doesn’t necessitate building sweatshops and raping the land of natural resources!

            Obviously, there are some gaping holes with this theory, and the farther I get from Silicon Alley, the more apparent they become. But still, even as I sit on a plane, en-route to Portland, the excitement isn’t completely gone: I am hopeful about the form the internet is going to take in future years, and part of that, I realize, is because I was able to watch a new side of it unfold before my eyes.

Tags: Frontier Data , information gathering, Crowdsourcing, Technoloy, Externship, Silicon Valley