For three recent graduates of SouthLake Christian Academy, the dream of making it big in Silicon Valley has become a reality.
“I am living my dream,” said Alex Palmer, who graduated from SouthLake in 2009.
After studying computer science, mathematics and physics at High Point University, Palmer got a job with Apple as an iOS advanced development, senior engineer.
“In a lot of ways (life in Silicon Valley) is similar but in a lot of ways, it’s very different,” he said. “The diversity of the population is one big difference. You’re exposed to so many different cultures and ways of thinking here; much more than I have experienced anywhere else I’ve lived.
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“People here also tend to be a lot more outdoorsy and people seem to spend fewer weekends hanging out at home. It’s not at all abnormal to take a trip to the San Francisco or head down to Santa Cruz (Calif.) for an afternoon. There are so many amazing places within a few hours that sitting at home seems like a huge waste.”
Palmer said the cost of living is higher there than around Lake Norman, but there are compensating benefits: “Rent is high, and traffic isn’t great; these are prices you pay to live in such a desirable area. The weather’s great, and there are so many things to do and places to visit.
“There are very few companies where you can work on projects that impact hundreds of millions of people; many of those companies are here. If you want the opportunity to have an impact and work with the best and brightest this is a great place to be.”
Shelby Barnes, a 2010 graduate, now works for Amazon as a financial analyst for their Entertainment Media team.
After majoring in economics and international business at UNC Charlotte, Barnes got the job at Amazon, where she oversees the promotions that run for EM on Amazon, creates financial reports for the business team and trains teams on financial metrics and levers.
“It’s really exciting to be working for a company like Amazon – one of the top companies in the world that is constantly growing and changing,” she said. “Companies like this are at the forefront of changing the world as we know it.
“Amazon has already made a huge difference in the world of retail and is now making huge strides in the tech and business worlds. Working there makes me feel like I am right in the middle of change and that’s amazing.”
After graduating from SCA in 2008, Daniel Stallsmith majored in history and played baseball at Furman University.
Although he recently began working at a start-up in the Silicon Valley area, he also worked in sales at Google for 2 1/2 years.
It was a path that Stallsmith said God directed him to.
“I was sitting in my dorm room in my senior year of college and asking God what I should do next after graduation,” he said.
“I felt him tell me to move out to Silicon Valley, get a job at Google and share his love with coworkers. I took the leap of faith after graduation, bought a one-way ticket to California with only a bit of graduation money in my pocket and moved out knowing only one person.”
He got a job at Google two months later.
“Everyone that I meet in Silicon Valley is trying to change the world somehow,” he said. “Maybe they’re working on a company that will change the world of space travel or maybe just change the world of laundry, but everyone is trying to work on something that can scale across the whole world.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse to live among that type of shoot-for-the-stars mentality. On one hand, it’s wonderful to be in the midst of so many hard working, brilliant visionaries. I daily am pushed to think bigger and harder than I ever have before. On the other hand, it would be nice to feel fine lounging about Lake Norman for a weekend.”
All three credit SouthLake for helping them reach the points they are at now.
“SCA taught me a lot of skills that I used through college and that have already been beneficial in my career at Amazon,” said Barnes. “SCA had high standards – the classes weren’t easy, and the teachers pushed you to do your best. I was constantly challenged to do better and thus had to learn things like time management, study and testing skills, hard work and analytical skills.”
Jennifer Baxter is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.