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In many ways, Silicon Valley and the international development world are polar opposites. To say that they offer different challenges and work towards different outcomes would be a massive understatement. For this reason, you might not expect many people from a development background to find their way into the tech world.
Yet this doesn’t always hold true. Six current Medallians — including co-founder and President Amy Pressman — along with several Medallia alumni, are former volunteers with the Peace Corps (a service organization which sends Americans abroad for two-and-a-half years of grassroots work in fields like education and small business development). In fact, Pressman credits her Peace Corps service in Honduras with inspiring her to start a company in the first place.
So was it mere chance that led all of these former volunteers to Medallia — or something else?
This was one of the questions addressed recently when Medallia hosted a networking session and social hour in partnership with the NorCal Peace Corps Association.
Over snacks — and several drinks — Medallia’s former volunteers met with other local Peace Corps alums to share stories and discuss ways to apply their experience abroad to jobs back home. The conclusion: Peace Corps forces volunteers to use limited resources creatively, experiment with new problem-solving approaches, and find motivation in the face of tough situations — skills that are highly valuable in a fast-moving environment like Silicon Valley.
“Medallia’s insight into bridging Peace Corps with Silicon Valley was extremely valuable, and a much needed message for Peace Corps volunteers returning to the South Bay,” said Meredith Miller Vostrejs from the NorCal Peace Corps Association. “The returned volunteers in attendance were very appreciative to network with a private tech company; this event sets a great precedent for supporting the South Bay Peace Corps community.”
For Medallia’s resident Peace Corps alums, the event was an opportunity to reflect on their service. They have served in countries all over the world — Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Nicaragua and Namibia, to name a few — and, as is common for Peace Corps volunteers, they’re always eager to swap a few stories.
The event was also an opportunity to explore in more depth key connections between their service and their time at Medallia. One common connection involved ways to deal with failure. Due to the difficulties of working in an unfamiliar culture, Peace Corps volunteers often fail many times before finding a project that’s the right fit for their host community. The ability to learn from these failures becomes an important survival skill.
This mindset resonates particularly strongly with Dorian Stone, Medallia’s Vice President of Customer Experience Strategy and a former volunteer in Panama.
“Peace Corps helps you understand that failure is part of the path to success, which is something Medallia believes very strongly,” he said. “It also teaches you a level of humility and a willingness to look past hierarchies, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. That’s an attitude we try to foster every day.”
Rachel Nagrecha, a member of Medallia’s product enablement team and a former volunteer in Nicaragua, identified another point of overlap.
“We’re just starting to define standards and processes for our trainings, which give us a lot of flexibility to create based on the needs of our students,” she said. “The work is not at all prescriptive in nature, and lends itself to a deeply satisfying sense of autonomy — very much like the projects I worked on with my colleagues in Nicaragua.”
Given these similarities, it’s likely that Medallia hasn’t hired its last Peace Corps volunteer.