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Two-wheeled teacher

7,500 miles of riding, wrenching and coding.| Short Read
EnlargeMichigan Engineer Levi Weintraub pauses to enjoy the sunset near Nampula, Mozambique.
IMAGE:  Michigan Engineer Levi Weintraub pauses to enjoy the sunset near Nampula, Mozambique. Photo: Courtesy Corey Jeal

Levi Weintraub (MS BSE ’06) has lived on two wheels for close to two years now, putting his incredibly accomplished tech career on hold for an epic trans-African journey that’s stoking his passion for travel and educating a cohort of aspiring African tech professionals.

Weintraub’s wanderlust first hit him in May of 2016. He was working at Google, where he landed by way of Intel, Apple, Microsoft and Palm. But something about his comfortable Bay-area life just didn’t seem right. He’d always had a passion for two things: teaching and motorcycling. And he decided to combine them on an epic cycling trip that would take him the length of Africa, over 7,500 miles.

This wasn’t his first ride – he’d ridden motorcycles with his dad in his hometown of South Haven, Michigan, and nine years ago, the two rode the length of the Americas, from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. It wasn’t enough.

“As soon as I got to Patagonia, I knew I’d do Africa next,” he said. “I love motorcycling because it forces you to be in the moment. When it’s hot, you’re hot, when it’s cold, you’re cold, when it rains, you get wet. You lean into turns. And you’re wedded to this machine that’s dramatically less reliable than a car. That forces you to learn about it and care for it.”

But ultimately, it was Weintraub’s passion for teaching that pushed him to hit the road. He had earned a reputation as a teacher and consensus builder at Google, and he wanted to apply those skills in Africa, though he wasn’t sure exactly how. He set out from Cape Town, riding north toward Tangier.

It all came together at a hamburger stand in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where Weintraub met a fellow motorcyclist who was trying to build a tech mentoring program. He didn’t hesitate. He spent the next four months teaching coding and entrepreneurship to a group of students fresh out of high school.

As it turned out, he learned as much from the students as they did from him. He learned how to bridge cultural gaps and how to sort out the infinite logistical challenges that come with running a program in Africa. But most of all, he learned about himself.

“Travelling in Africa is a constant lesson that the things we take for granted are actually culturally instilled,” he said. “Our perspectives are shaped on a deep level by where we grew up, and by meeting people with different experiences, you learn about yourself.”

Our perspectives are shaped on a deep level by where we grew up, and by meeting people with different experiences, you learn about yourself.Levi Weintraub

Weintraub isn’t sure when his trip will end, but when it does, he plans to go to graduate school and eventually become a university professor. In the meantime, he’s back on the bike, planning to ride to Tangier and then cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain. Coding and motorcycling might seem like wildly different pursuits, but Weintraub believes that have a lot in common.

“Riding, wrenching and coding are about planning before you act so you don’t get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of,” he explains. “You learn how something works, and once you know, you can go on a really amazing journey. That’s the joy of engineering and the joy of travelling.”

Michigan Engineer Levi Weintraub pauses to enjoy the sunset near Nampula, Mozambique.
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