Alumni Story: Phil Chwistek
Written by Sage Corps 2017 and 2018 alumnus, Phil Chwistek.
The one commonality among all of my professional interests, past and present, revolves around the opportunity to develop international relationships. It has always been a dream of mine to have friends and colleagues on every continent, and to learn how we can leverage our global technological interconnectedness to create solutions that were previously infeasible. So rather than pursue an internship experience that focused on a single title, I decided to seek opportunities that would help me get started along this path. Thankfully, with the support of my family and various grants from Penn State, I have been fortunate enough to participate in Sage Corps not once, but twice!
DUBLIN - 2017
My first Sage Corps experience was in Dublin, Ireland, where I interned at ServiceDock, a startup focused on creating a better customer relationship management (CRM) solution for brick and mortar businesses. At ServiceDock, I spent around two weeks designing and wireframing a data visualization dashboard, and spent the next 6 weeks building the necessary backend and frontend pieces.
During my weekends in Ireland, I managed to make some great trips to the Cliffs of Moher, Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, Wicklow, Kilkenny, and an abandoned castle in Galway. As a cohort, we also participated in a Game of Thrones tour, where we were able to explore numerous film locations in Northern Ireland with an actual Game of Thrones extra as our guide. Ireland is a great place for weekend trips, as it is large enough to house a whole range of sights, but small enough to travel across by coach in a few hours. Continental Europe is also only a short flight away.
I think that the most valuable lessons I learned in Dublin were (1) that iterative design is the key to developing a good product and experience and (2) that you need to be flexible regarding the product you envisioned, or in other words, kill your darlings (they probably weren’t that good anyway).
With a bit of professional experience under my belt, and having done a deep-dive into blockchain in preparation for my senior thesis, I wanted to repeat the adventure of the previous summer (while gaining some more professional experience, ideally in the fintech/blockchain space). When I reached out to Sage Corps to learn if there were any offerings that could suit my interests, I was happy to learn that Sydney had many potential opportunities.
SYDNEY - 2018
Here, in Australia, I am interning at a company called Zuper Superannuation, which aims to motivate young people to invest their Superannuation (a meaner, leaner, Aussie version of a 401K) in a way that supports the change they want to see in the world. Zuper helps users achieve this goal by offering socially conscious ETF’s (Exchange-Traded Funds) that invest in for example, green energy, and shun industries such as big tobacco and arms manufacturing. At Zuper, my role is split between improving and adding features to the web application and helping prototype Zuper’s blockchain initiative.
One of the most significant realizations that I’ve had, which I could have only discovered after working at ServiceDock, is the vast difference in product and strategy that is determined by whether a business is business-to-business (b2b) or business-to-consumer (b2c). For example, the user experience needs to be designed completely differently depending on whether the user will be using a platform for hours at a time at work, or will be simply checking the status of something a few times a month.
Although there is little that I can attest to in terms of differences in startup culture between Dublin and Sydney, thus far, there is definitely a difference in tech culture - broadly speaking. Ireland, due to its proximity to continental Europe and its attractive corporate tax rate, has become a popular place for many American tech firms to establish their European HQs. For example, the Dublin Docklands (nicknamed the Silicon Docklands) are filled with companies the likes of Facebook, Google, EBay, and PayPal. Sydney, on other hand, has a stronger financial services sector (due to its ties with Asian tiger economies), making it a better location for fintech and blockchain startups.
So far, while in Australia, I’ve been able to explore a former hippie commune near Manly Beach, hike in the Blue Mountains, attend a show at the Sydney Opera House, and be featured (for 2 seconds!) on Australian news. But perhaps most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to begin developing a professional network here in Sydney, which combined with my experience in Dublin, is one step closer to realizing my ambitions of developing an international professional network.