2019 Third Place Writing Winner

Lydia Gerike

Third Place
Indiana University
$5,000 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion

News Story from Interview | Personality/Profile | Spot News

News Story from Interview

Tech investor says China could become leader in quest to control artificial intelligence innovation

Artificial intelligence could be the next major disrupter in the technology world, Kleiner Perkins chairman John Doerr said Monday, and the West and China are in a race to control it.

Doer, a venture capitalist who helped build major companies including Google and Amazon, said China has the opportunity to rise up and become a leader in innovation amidst clashes with education and beliefs surrounding AI in the West.

“I want to assure you there’s are no voluntary or mandatory ethical standards that apply to how the Chinese are going to develop and promulgate and use AI technologies,” Doerr said.

The surveillance and data collecting powers of the Chinese government, Doerr said, could play a role in how intelligence technology is used.

President Trump signed a broad executive order in February calling for U.S. advancements in AI without providing any money for these changes.

China created an AI plan for itself in 2017 with promises from at least two regional governments to invest 100 billion yuan, or about $14.7 billion, according to the think tank Center for a New American Security.

Doerr said AI is the newest tech “tsunami” in a revolutionary cycle that repeats itself about every 13 years.

The first tsunami was personal computers around the late 1970s and early 80s, then the internet browser in 1993. Two simultaneous waves, the smartphone and cloud computing, boomed around 2007. Western companies and their inventors popularized all of these technologies, Doerr said.

One major issue in keeping up with technology is the way the rapid pace of innovation often overwhelms the speed at which most schools are updating curriculum. Doerr said too many schools are failing students in their education.

“They are so far behind grade level that they don’t stand a chance of graduating from high school, getting to college, being equipped to be a well-functioning citizen in a civil democracy,” Doerr said.

For Doerr, individualized education might be a solution. He said he believes in student progress-based technology such as Khan Academy and charter schools competing with traditional public schools.

Although some theories tout publicly funded charter schools as the best way to make education fair and competitive, their outcomes are debated. A 2014 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found California charter schools are not consistent, some overperforming while others underperform.

Above the K-12 education, Doerr believes U.S. higher education needs to provide more opportunities to “staple a green card to the diploma of every AI graduate” to keep international students in the United States.

These solutions could be especially important when machines use artificial general intelligence and programming other machines themselves, which could happen as soon as 2030. This would provide even fewer to the limitations and possibilities of future technology.

“It doesn’t really matter what values the West have if the Chinese have that capability,” Doerr said.

Back to top


John Doerr, venture capitalist, invests big in dreams and technology

John Doerr is proud of his old, banged up iPhone.

It’s dented and scratched, and he doesn’t actually use it to communicate. Instead this iPhone is one of the originals – a relic of his own history as much as it is the world’s.

The importance of this phone is rooted in his link to with Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and a friend. Doerr even chokes up during a meeting Monday when talking about the since-passed technology innovator.

While his relationship with Jobs is undoubtedly special to Doerr, it is at the same time just one small show of his reaching success and the connections he has built over the years.

For decades Doerr has been in the middle of it all, investing in and influencing some of the world’s most successful technology business ventures.
That’s just the type of brilliance John Doerr commands.


Doerr, 67, is the chairman at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and one of the country’s leaders in finding and growing innovative technology.

Forbes places his net worth is $7.1 billion, and he has invested in over 30 companies, according to the Kleiner Perkins website.

Former companies include Uber, Google and Amazon. Current ones are food delivery service DoorDash and team collaboration tool Slack.

To build companies’ success, Doerr uses a management framework called objectives and key results, or OKRs, which focuses on clearly stating what your goal is and creating a benchmark quantity for achieving it.

Doerr says it rewards certain failures by allowing companies to try for seemingly unachievable goals. Even when they don’t get that, they still beat what other companies are doing by a long shot.

“It didn’t work for everybody, but it worked for a lot of them,” Doerr says.

The method was so successful Doerr published a book called “Measure What Matters” to teach other people how achieve their goals in the same way.

Friends and colleagues say Doerr philosophies of success show themselves in his unrelenting optimism and ability to sell others on ideas other people would think are impossible.

Despite the size of the problems Doerr says he wants to tackle, such as improving immigration technology and using green technology to fix climate change, the people say they think he is the one who could do it.

He has more optimism and stronger convictions about the world than anyone else they’ve ever met, many of them say.


Before Doerr was a pushing leadership in his he was the oldest of five children living in St. Louis.

He went to Chaminade College Preparatory School, followed by Rice University for degrees in electrical engineering and Harvard University for a Master of Business Administration before beginning his career at Intel.

As a child, Doerr’s role model was his father, Lou Doerr, who he says pushed education along with Doerr’s mother as a pivotal part of their children’s lives.

Doerr says his father had “big idea optimism” and loved helping others, traits others say they see in Doerr today.

Bing Gordon, an advisor at Kleiner Perkins, says family is important to Doerr.

He’s watched Doerr evolve over the years since they met when he was already being praised at Intel.

“He was mythical to me before I met him,” Gordon says.

Since then, Gordon has watched Doerr climb to success while also learning how to manage his time and enjoy being with his family.

Gordon says Doerr uses OKRs to make sure he is spending enough time out of the office with a set amount of nights at home for dinner.

“You can always work after dinner,” Gordon says.


Despite the unrelenting optimism others see, Doerr hasn’t escaped his career without some controversy.

A lawsuit decided in 2015 by former partner Ellen Pao accused the Kleiner Perkins of discrimination, bringing the company into the public eye.

At a recent press conference at Kleiner Perkins, Doerr says he was fond of Pao but that she was not a successful investor.

He touted a Kleiner Perkins fellowship program, which he says is 50 percent women.

Kleiner Perkins leads the industry at about 30 percent women with its partners Doerr says, which he thinks is still too low.

“Where we are is not acceptable,” he says.

Doerr works with other forms of activism as well, such as immigration reform. He serves on the board of FWD.us, a bipartisan organization trying to help fix the immigration and criminal justice systems.

FWD.us president Todd Schulte says Doerr has helped the organization implement OKRs and achieve policy success through Doerr’s connections.

“He has a focus on things that actually make a difference,” Schulte says.

Schulte says Doerr’s chance on FWD.us could have been a big risk, but it shows how much

“The fact that he’s continued to talk about this issue is a testament to him and not the easy route to go,” Schulte says. “We’re very appreciative of that.”


Ryan Panchadsaram, Doerr’s adviser, said his time with Doerr has been a great experience.

“There’s this genuineness about him that’s really special,” Panchadsaram says.

One cause Panchadsaram appreciates is Doerr’s commitment to green technology. He says Doerr can cross industries to work with advocacy groups and nonprofit and for-profit businesses in a way that helps find better solutions.

Doerr’s investments go back to his optimism and his belief that the world can truly be changed for the better. No matter if he is focusing on his investments or solving the world’s energy solutions.

“There’s this hunger to continue to serve on the bigger things,” Panchadsaram says.


For Gordon, one of the most pivotal moments in his relationship with Doerr came about 20 years ago on safari in Kenya.

On their walk across the landscape, wild animals in the distance, the two broke into a jog and quickly started to race.

Gordon figured he could win – he was playing ice hockey twice a week, and he didn’t know if Doerr was exercising enough to be competitive.

But as they kept running along the dirt road, Doerr pulled out ahead. Gordon says he realized this was just another show of his friend’s dominance.

No matter how hard Gordon tried, Doerr would always be strides ahead.

Back to top

Spot News

‘It gets frustrating’: High rent, child care competing costs for families across income levels

The toddlers running around the playroom Tuesday at Children’s Council of San Francisco are having too much fun to sit still.

They bounce around from colorful, ink-stained tables to tumbling mats on the floor. There are about 30 children, but their energy makes it seem like there are twice as many.

Mia Velez, one of the child care providers, sits on a rainbow rug with a group of about five children, contorting her body to pull her foot toward her ear and use it like a phone.

She’s ordering pizza – do they want carrots on it?

Velez and her husband Owen run a child care service out of their home called OM School, which they started after moving with their two children from New Jersey about three years ago to fill a shortage in the child care industry.

Their six-child business filled up within days, and they had a waiting list of about 50 children after a month, Velez said.

But once here, Children’s Council opened their eyes to a second problem: child care costs are so high, many families can’t afford it.


Children’s Council, a nonprofit organization, works with families in different situations to provide subsidies for San Francisco’s child care.

There are currently 3,725 children waiting for financial assistance, said Clotile House, a child care resource and referral supervisor for Children’s Council.

Certain families are experiencing some form of homelessness, but others are working off low- to mid-range incomes. They might be able to pay for rent at full price but not child care on top of it.

The combined costs of child care and housing in the city are second highest in the nation after San Jose, according to a 2018 analysis of Care.com and census data by HotPads, a real estate search engine owned by Zillow.

The median rent in San Francisco was $3,455 per month, and child care cost an average of $1,955 a month. Nationally, median rent was calculated by the analysis at $1,500 a month, and child care costs an average of $1,385 a month.

Children’s Council helps to provide financial assistance to families wanting to find and place children with a safe, stable child care provider, House said. The cost is subsidized on a sliding scale based on a family’s income and size, and need is reassessed after 24 months.

There are hundreds of licensed in-home and in-center child care provider option for families working with Children’s Council.

The organization can also subsidize an unlicensed provider – a family member or close friend, for example – as long as that provider goes through a background check, House said.

Housing and child care prices are often the biggest stressors for people with children who are too young to be in school, House said.

“If you’re a young parent, you’re grappling with the two,” House said.

Next to a garden of plastic vegetables on the floor near her desk, resource and referral specialist Sadde Orellana works to help families understand the options available to them.

Not having care can be a serious issue for people across different income brackets, Orellana said. If parents don’t have child care, they can’t work. And if they can’t work, they can’t afford to pay the bills.

“It gets frustrating for families because it puts a huge pause on their end to move forward,” Orellana said.

The months of June to August or September are usually considered peak enrollment time when school is out, exacerbating the problem and showing its effects among older children who have fewer resources.

Different families qualify for different vouchers, and sometimes she helps families find other resources outside of Children’s Council. The organization is locally and state-funded, and there are federal programs available to those with the lowest incomes.

“It’s always a question mark: when is it going to happen?” Orellana said.


Some of the Children’s Council employees once benefitted from subsidy services.

About 10 years ago, House needed help affording child care.

As a single mother working on a preschool teacher’s salary, she wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay both for housing and a provider to watch her children. A similar organization serving San Mateo County subsidized the costs.

Because of the help she received from the other organization, House worked her way up to become a preschool director and then an administrator. Her children are now 13 and 15 – and much more independent.

When it was time to change careers, she said she wanted to continue working with families and realized Children’s Council would be a good way for her to do that. Her background in early childhood education taught her the importance of adequate child care can help children succeed.

“I would say I’m paying it forward,” she said.

With bureaucratic issues and limited resources, she also has to deal with knowing she can’t always fill the need right away. House often hears about families’ difficulties and the stressors that come with limited income and trying to raise a child.

“They tell you their story every single day when they walk through these doors,” House said.


Today, two of the six slots at OM School are reserved for families on subsidy.

The Velezes lose out on about $1,200 a month because of it, but the two say it’s worth it to help families in the city’s current child care environment.

Owen Velez said they probably would have had trouble affording the care when their children were young if they didn’t do it themselves. Mia Velez said her family doesn’t have health insurance because it’s another cost they can’t take on.

During his time in San Francisco, Owen Velez has seen how the high price of housing affect families.

Almost everyone is struggling to live, he said, and it’s hurting the ability of city residents to succeed in ways that go beyond just fulfilling their everyday costs.

“They’re working hard to make the landlords’ dreams come true while deferring their own,” Owen Velez said.

Back to top