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Student Stories

Senior Spotlight: Landon Brand

Tell me a little bit about your journey to the Academy? What were you looking for in an undergraduate program?

After high school, I wanted to make art and live in a van; I had dreams of a DIY keyboard effects processor business. I also liked coding, so when I saw the Academy on some post on Hacker News, I said “Hey, if I go here, I can do art, music and coding!” So by some miracle I snuck into the Academy.

Describe a passion project you’re currently working on or interested in.

Right now, I spend most of my time on Skipper, a startup that makes a dashboard to show companies how they can improve the wellbeing and productivity of their employees. You can learn more at www.skipper.ai

What inspired the project?

When my smartest, most ambitious friends graduated they all got jobs that seemed great, but in reality kind of sucked. There wasn’t much camaraderie or a feeling of “being on a team” at their companies. Research shows that happier employees who feel comfortable in their teams are significantly more productive, yet even the most successful companies that emphasize company culture still fail to create excellent teams. It was super clear to me that there was a business opportunity here that would both make employees happier and help companies be more successful.

Is there a leader or mentor who inspires you?

Dozens, at least. Elon Musk’s selfless pursuit of humanity’s best interest both saddens and inspires me—it’s hard to believe someone works that hard. Paul Graham’s essays are what got me into startups and I still love reading them. On the more personal side, two of my friends Irfan Faizullabhoy and Calvin LeGassick both had tremendous impact on me. Irfan, a USC alum a year older than me, was actually the one who got everyone together to start Skipper, and was the first person I ever worked with who I felt was actually great at leading teams. Calvin is another USC alum who I met here—I go to him whenever I’m feeling nervous about something for Skipper (or in life) and leave the conversation feeling fantastic. My friends that I’ve met at USC are fantastic, and they inspire me every day.

Is there an inspirational quote you live by?

One that I like is “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

What advice would you give to a freshman?

Find people that inspire you and become their friend. Don’t sweat classes too much — most of what you learn is outside of classes — and never stress. Everything will be great.

Describe one thing most people don’t know about you?

I have three goats and we feed them grass and the vegetable scraps we have left over. Even though they eat rose thorns and wood sometimes, they can’t eat crunchy bread, so we soak any stale slices of bread in water for them so they can chew it.

What the one thing your parents taught you that you’d like to share?

Something I learned from my dad was that impatience rarely gets you anything. It’s worth it to think impatiently, and imagine the ways you could reach your goal more quickly, but acting impatiently usually just makes me feel more frustrated and makes those around me become uncomfortable.

Fun Facts:

What are the essential things you always keep in your backpack?

Definitely my water bottle, laptop, a legal pad, and some pens. Usually a picnic blanket too.

Favorite app or website?

Notion.so! I am so passionate about it—it’s a fantastic way to stay organized that’s freeform enough to be used for any project or idea. It’s also very fun to use. I think the future of software development might look more like making a page in Notion than writing code.

Fav class at USC and why?

“The Human Animal” taught by Craig Stanford. It changed the way I think about my existence and my life, as well as humanity in general. Another good one is CSCI 270—Algorithms with Leonard Adleman. It got me thinking about computer science in a whole new way, and makes me feel like there’s still a long, exciting future for computer programming and software development.

Fav way to de-stress?

Making desserts. It’s very creative and low stress, since if you mess up and make something bad it’s no big deal, you just throw out whatever disaster you made.

Guilty pleasure?

YouTube videos, especially about coffee and food. Sometimes I’ll just watch hours of explanations of different coffee brewing or roasting techniques that I know I’ll never use. It’s just relaxing to watch.

Thank you, Landon!