Four software engineers, dressed in shorts—looking much like the millennials they are—sit around a table in a Silicon Valley conference room. Most of them once worked for the tech giant Apple before joining Upthere, a cloud computing startup. Although the guys appear laid back—they grabbed the first open room they saw—their demeanor becomes serious and focused when the company’s 20-year-old intern, Tom Shen (CS’15), opens his laptop.

Shen earned his seat in this conference room after being selected by the KPCB Fellows Program, which pairs collegiate students with promising startups. He was one of just 52 fellows accepted out of nearly 2,500 applicants nationwide. In trying to match Shen with a startup, KPCB sent his resume to Upthere. It impressed Ed Lau, a software designer with more than 20 years of experience in the field, who has created interfaces for, among others, PayPal and BlackBerry. After a 45-minute Skype interview, Lau decided he wanted Shen for Upthere’s web team.

Once the summer internship began, Shen worked under the guidance of Lau on a search-engine endeavor. The project reminded him why he first tried programming. In high school, he played flash games online; for fun, he would try to come up with the code to recreate pieces of the games. The Upthere search-engine project was somewhat similar—a chance to develop some code that could tie in Web searches with Cloud computing, which is the networking of servers for sharing data-processing tasks, data storage, and other computer services and resources.

The specifics of Upthere’s concept are “top secret,” but the company is promoting it on Twitter as “the future of cloud.” And, in the conference room, Shen is about to find out whether his search-engine prototype, which he’s spent the past four weeks coding, can be part of that future. During his demonstration, the software engineers interrupt occasionally to give him feedback about design choices. The complexity of their remarks makes it clear to Shen that they take his work seriously. After the demonstration and some proverbial pats on the back, he spends the rest of the internship making some tweaks to his project, based on their comments.

When the internship draws to a close, the changes he made must have made sense because Upthere’s CEO clears time on his hectic schedule to meet with Shen and review what the CMU student created before he heads back to school.

—Jule Pattison-Gordon (DC’13)