Undergrads Millie Yang and Spencer Yen earn engineering fellowships from KPCB


Two Columbia computer science undergrads, Millie Yang and Spencer Yen, have been selected to participate in the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) Fellows Program, a summer program that gives US college students the chance to intern inside Silicon Valley tech companies while being mentored by executives within those companies. The program also entails KPCB-arranged events that include talks by leading individuals from the tech industry and opportunities to meet and network with other fellows and KPCB partners.

Yang and Yen, among 54 students selected from 2000 applicants, will intern at DoorDash, a restaurant delivery service recently in the news for testing delivery robots.

Yang is a junior currently pursuing the computer science Applications Track. She came late to computer science, taking her first class in the subject her first year at Columbia. “I had thought that I would be disadvantaged, but the computer science community at Columbia welcomed me with open arms, and strongly encouraged me to try out computer science classes.” For her part, she embraces technology, and sees it as a way to empower underprivileged communities; it’s a lesson learned first hand after spending a summer volunteering in Peru. “I was astonished to find WiFi at a broadband greater than I had previously used. Watching the local Peruvians use their phones and second-hand tablets to check market prices and communicate in businesses, I realized technology is making a revolutionary impact and leveling the playing field in developing countries.”

For her, DoorDash stood out because it is a start-up facing rapid growth and is striving to revolutionize the delivery industry. The company’s mission statement of “streamlining the world’s cities” echoes her personal experiences. “Born in New York, and raised in Hong Kong and London, I embrace my multicultural background as a crucial part of my identity. My interviewers and recruiters at DoorDash have demonstrated their strong support of the company’s goals, and it made me feel very much at home.”

Yen is the rare first-year student to be selected as a KPCB fellow. Coming from the Silicon Valley (where he was a user of DoorDash), he is imbued with the self-starter ethos endemic to the area. He taught himself—with an assist from YouTube—how to code, and since early high school has been creating iPhone games and apps. “I love that I can come up with an idea and just make it, and seeing people enjoy using something I created makes it all the more rewarding.” Gaining confidence over time in his coding skills, he took the initiative, reaching out to companies in the area for summer work. Two summers ago, he finagled—via cold-emailing—an opportunity to work alongside Mark Pincus at Pincus’s Superlabs incubator where the other hires were all recent grads from MIT. “I learned a lot about how some of the best entrepreneurs and engineers in the industry operate. It was a great experience to see how they thought about design and product, and how they approached writing code.”

While he hesitates to call himself an entrepreneur—he is still in his first year at college after all—the early signs are all there, and he cops to “working on projects.” A startup last year made it into the Almaworks Startup Accelerator program before he and the others involved decided to go in another direction. While not actively looking to start a company, Yen is of course open to the possibility if the right idea comes along.

Neither Yang nor Yen lacked options for this summer, but both were looking for something more than just a job and work experience. The KPCB program came highly recommended; a former fellow from Columbia described the program to Yen as phenomenal. “It’s all about the other fellows in the program and the incredible people you meet through the program,” says Yen. “You learn a lot just by being around ambitious and talented people.”

Yang, who is studying economics in addition to computer science, would agree with that assessment. “KPCB’s Fellowship Program will allow me to be exposed to the venture capital network and educate myself on how startups succeed in the Silicon Valley.”

Linda Crane
Posted 3/27/2017