Riding “The Wave” as a Tech Engineer Intern in San Francisco

Filed in Exchange Visitor Reflections by on October 30, 2015 0 Comments


 By Sander Vocke, J-1 Intern at Mindtribe

If you’re a techie, you probably have a few preconceptions about life as an engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. I also did when I began a three-month J-1 internship at Mindtribe, a product development company in the heart of San Francisco. Now the time to return to the Netherlands (home) is coming close.

Being in the United States was the ultimate way to see the bustling tech and start-up scene first-hand. Mindtribe takes on projects developing hardware products for various customers, be it start-ups or large established names, and the variation of cool projects I’ve seen come and go in just three months has been great.

In taking all of this in, I can reflect on the expectations I had when I came over. Is there really so much going on in the San Francisco tech scene? Well, yes – definitely yes. I can’t imagine finding a scene like this at home, with start-ups developing anything from smart consumer to medical devices coming in left and right. I’m sure it inspires people too. My colleagues here are all amazingly driven, and it’s contagious! Do engineers work too hard as a result of this craziness? Some probably do. Most of all, it clearly varies from person to person and company to company. I was glad to find out that the company culture I saw up close really valued work-life balance.

And that work-life balance leads me to some advice to my future fellow J-1 travelers: you may or may not have heard that the J-1 exchange visitor program allows for a 30-day grace period both before and after the duration of your internship or training program, during which you’re allowed to be in the United States. I would recommend to all J-1 exchange visitors to make sure to fully use them! This country has so many ridiculously beautiful things to see – something I didn’t even fully realize until I arrived here. My girlfriend Jess and I both flew over, making sure to arrive 30 days before the start of my internship. In those 30 days, we didn’t even come close to seeing all that California has to offer, let alone the west coast of the United States. What we did see was something awesome every day. California is an outdoor lover’s dream, with loads of scenery and wildlife.

Here are just a few highlights of our road trip:


Sequoia National Park, the location of the biggest tree in the world – and a lot of the runners-up too. We couldn’t believe it when we spotted a mother bear and her cub, grazing in the meadow between the giant trees – can you believe we saw a total of five wild bears that day?


Well-known Yosemite National Park didn’t disappoint either, with its beautiful valleys, waterfalls and awesome rock formations. Climbing the Half Dome, a huge rock shaped like, well, a half dome, using steel cables for support, made us feel like rock climbers and rewarded us with views of the entire park.


Coyote Buttes North National Reserve in Utah (just a “short” 14-hour drive from California), where with some imagination, you can go surfing on rocks! This park is quite different from the maintained, paved and tourist-ready National Parks. There are neither roads nor trails, and only 20 people get to go in every day. This is to protect the park from harm – but it also gave us the feeling of being on a true adventure. The crazy curves of a rock known as “The Wave” were a highlight that blew our mind.

Now it’s almost time to go back. For the next few months, I’ll be experiencing a chilly winter in the countryside, and a change of pace. I’m sure that now and then, I’ll be craving some California “crazy,” so I’ll make sure to grab as much of it as I can. After all, I’ve still got a handful of free days before my flight! Can anyone help me think of a good Halloween costume?