Silicon Valley through the eyes of Romanas Zontovičius

While there are so many discussions about the bad influence of social media on our lives, I am the one who rather looks at its opportunities and advantages such as meeting new inspiring people. And this is exactly how I virtually met Romanas Zontovicius who was interested to hear more about my experiences in Uganda since he has engaged in a quite unique philanthropic initiative there too! Romanas is helping Blossomwood Foundation which is run by Lithuanian founders who manage a variety of humanitarian operations in one of the villages in Uganda’s Baruuli Kingdom.

After getting to know Romanas better and each time discovering new things about this extremely active person, I thought it would be great to share his learnings from his career in Silicon Valley and all the other activities Romanas has done. Let’s get started!

Romanas has worked in Silicon Valley for over 10 years. This is the place which has lots of rumors and myths. Could you share your experience – how does it really feel working there? 

Silicon Valley is a unique and fun place. Only here, in some bar in Palo Alto, you can see it all: Stanford alumni partying hard, Pirates of Silicon Valley celebrating their first funding, and legendary Sand Hill Road investors sharing hilarious stories with the founders who “sometimes talk to Zuck” (Mark Zuckerberg). All of this is the reality of the Valley and an integral part of it.

Burning Man festival is a part of California’s culture, so I had to check it out in 2015

Looking from the outside, someone might think that in Silicon Valley, everyone drives a Tesla, queues overnight to get the newest phones, work summer-hours, take advantage of all the generous employer’s benefits, and constantly travel around the world. The reality is very different. First and foremost, Silicon Valley is highly competitive. One job or room ad gets applicants not only from the Valley itself, where 7 million people reside, not only from California, and not only from the US – but from the whole world. Usually, these people give up a comfortable life for a long time and move here to get some experience at first. People are allured by the opportunity to contribute to globally significant projects. To obtain such an opportunity, you must simply be there physically and work very hard.

You have been working at Waymo, which has begun as Google’s autonomous car project. Waymo cars have passed 20-million miles on public roads. Can you tell us more about this project?

As they say, in Silicon Valley, the future is now. Waymo’s mission is to create the best driver in the world, to ensure a safe and convenient transportation of passengers and things. Self-driving cars never get tired, distracted, annoyed, intoxicated, nor do they peek at their phones. Due to a variety of built-in sensors, the car always has a 360-degree view of the surroundings.

This is my favorite self-driving car.

Autonomous cars will provide an opportunity to move independently for millions of people that cannot do so at this time. This includes people that don’t have a license, the elderly, children, blind, or people with other challenges. For millions of people, the opportunity to move independently would give a chance to lead a full-fledged life which we often take for granted. At the moment, some residents of the capital of Arizona – Phoenix – can already test the Waymo One robo-taxi service.

Waymo is the most interesting project I got to contribute to here in Silicon Valley. In a few years, I got to challenge myself in a few different positions in the company’s operations department. The technology is constantly improving, so learning at Waymo never stops. This is one of the very few places in the world where one can get such experience.

You are a part of LT Big Brother professional mentorship program created for Lithuanians all over the world and you won the Best Mentor award in 2013. What is your advice to young professionals who are starting their career now?

It’s hard to answer this or, actually, any of your other questions without mentioning the times we currently live in: worldwide pandemic, economic turbulence, protests – I know you all know this, you’ve been scrolling through the news between Zoom calls for the last 3 months or so. The way we see things mostly depends on the bubble we live in. For some it’s an amazing growth opportunity. I really liked your post about having options (preferably 3). While for many 2020 has been nothing but a mountain of misery.

I think that talented and proactive students always have good opportunities both abroad and in their home country. And our job, as mentors, is to help them make the right decisions.

First of all, I try to help the person figure out what they really want. Once they understand this, making decisions becomes much simpler. We all have dreams. If a young architect dreams of building a marvellous bridge over a river, he or she will likely have to go to a big city with a wide river which needs a bridge, rather than waiting until a wide river magically appears in their town. When you are trying to fulfill your dream, you must understand that you might need to sacrifice a lot for it, maybe even everything. Then you need to answer yourself if it’s worth it.

If you ever visit Google HQ, a photo with current Android OS statue is a must for everyone

It’s really interesting for me to watch how book recommendations work. And I’m not talking about Amazon recommendation algorithms. For me it works in a bit of a strange way. Some books have to constantly reappear in my info-bubble in order for me to give them a chance. Sometimes it’s a random podcast with the author which you fall in love with and want to read all their books right away. Sometimes it’s a Lithuanian connection. For example, a book “Kai Kaunas buvo Kaunas” (When Kaunas was Kaunas) by Giedrė Milerytė-Japertienė is a must read for me. Guess which city I grew up in? 🙂

I’m a big believer that a book has to hit the right person at the right time, maybe even when they are in the right mood. So if you have been “shopping” for a book to read and looking for a sign – here it is:

The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek

Nine Lies About Work” by Marcus Buckingham

“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

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