Sandro Meier

Software Engineer at Google in Zurich

“Grab the opportunity with both hands and apply. It is a true eye-opening experience that broadens your outlook and draws out your talents”

Growing up in a picturesque Alpine village, my childhood was idyllic. But I knew there was more to explore. One drawback – unlike my impetuous brother, I was the sensible, more pragmatic one who liked to plan ahead. I never understood those students who, in a mad panic, only started revising for exams the week before!

Military service is still compulsory in Switzerland. I had always wanted to expand my horizons and see more of the world, and it certainly brought me out of my shell. I then travelled to the US and Canada and spent a semester at Princeton University on a study exchange during my bachelor’s in computer science.

One day, during my first-year master’s in robotics, I opened a random internal e-mail from the university and read about the IDEA League Challenge Programme. It seemed like a great experience, and I remember thinking: Sandro, what do you have to lose? After all, what’s one evening updating your CV and writing an essay? I did the maths: the more doors you open, the greater the chance of finding luck behind one of them. I felt a sense of pride when I received the green light – I was one of the lucky ones to be selected.

We spent four weekends at four different European universities, each with a different angle to help you develop new skills such as leadership, negotiation techniques and teamwork. We discussed and found solutions to some real-life problems that science and technology face. It was interesting to see the group dynamics evolve – leaders who stepped forward, creative thinkers who provided different perspectives and natural team players. I learned that by working to each other’s strengths, the best solutions can be found. In our spare time, we explored the local surroundings and socialised in the pubs and restaurants. It was great fun.

At Gothenburg, we focused on entrepreneurship, and it ignited a flame. I think a spark had always been there deep down. Before university, for instance, I developed an iOS app to help high school students quickly calculate their average overall grade.

“But it was the IDEA League Challenge that brought the businessperson in me to the forefront. I became more outward looking and confident, a self-driven problem solver, which is vital in my current job at Google”. 

One word to sum up the programme: connection. The whole experience exceeded my expectations, and I never thought I would make friends for life – even the WhatsApp group we set up at the start is still active and we meet up regularly. Our network is valuable now and will no doubt continue to be useful in the years to come.

My advice: grab the opportunity with both hands and apply. It’s a truly eye-opening experience that broadens your outlook and draws out your talents.