Last October I found out I would be moving to Silicon Valley for a contract position at one of the big tech companies. Nearly a year later, I am at the end of my contract and about to head back east to pursue other opportunities. My time out here has left an indelible mark on how I see the world.
What is Silicon Valley?
It is an area of Northern California, south of San Francisco where a lot of the major tech companies are headquartered like Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Ebay and Yahoo just to name a few. It got the name Silicon Valley from all of the silicon chip innovators and manufacturers. I had never been to the West Coast before I landed at SFO last November. My expectations were minimal because my knowledge was limited, for better or worse.
Silicon Valley is arguably one of the most affluent and educated parts of the country. You have top talent from all over the world swarming the area to work for some of the top companies. It’s an intense environment and you have to understand that it is a lifestyle choice to make it out here. That lifestyle will include but is not limited to keeping up with the latest technology in phones, IPO’s, hiring and firing of C-level people, and most importantly, continuing to learn and improve at whatever your position is. Things move fast out here. Really fast. New versions of devices and updates of products are pushed out on weekly and monthly basis. Silicon Valley operates in dog years, not people years. Think of it in terms of your iPhone. How old is your model? Did you buy it two years ago? That means it’s 14 years old in Silicon Valley.
This is where the future is made. I was speaking to an engineer at work and he told me that Silicon Valley is 10-15 years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technological advancements. The problem lies in the time it takes for consumers to adopt these new technologies.
A minority of the world (tech workers) influence and build things used by the majority. Millions and billions of people.
It’s kind of like government. A small majority of people making decisions for the masses but not living anywhere close to the same socio-economic levels of those they are serving. How is this sustainable and why does this always happen? I admit that I have become disconnected at times from the reality of the world outside of the Silicon Valley bubble. I don’t have the answers for this. My observation of this does not come with a solution but just an awareness that we, as a society, have to be mindful of the power plays in all aspects of life. We implement checks and balances in government in order for different branches not to gain too much power. Google has 57,000 employees and they were one of the first web products to reach 1 billion unique visitors– back in 2011! That number has only grown. Facebook has around 10,000 employees and now has over 1.5 billion active users. These numbers are staggering and I feel like it’s hard to grasp the magnitude and power that comes with serving that many people. The volume of people who the tech industry reaches is what makes it one of the most unique and powerful industries to work in.
If you immerse yourself in the tech world enough you will start thinking in tech.
This means that if you do not have exposure to the language and processes of how things are made it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to become part of the conversation of new technology. You can’t sit at the table if you don’t even know what it looks like. We need to decentralize the tech industry and make every school and city a place where technology can be accessed. There are efforts to make coding and other technical skills more of a standard in education but that is not enough. How do we make role models in tech as popular and likeable as Taylor Swift?
I started to learn to code and look at data in a whole new light. I became inspired by my co-workers and the troves of people I met at networking and social events. I heard first hand stories of people my age or even younger, starting their own businesses, creating new apps and being true innovators. It was absolutely inspiring and instilled a sense that making a difference in the future was attainable because I was literally sitting next to people who were actually doing it.
My app ideas before moving to Silicon Valley=0
My app ideas after 6 months= 3
After a few months out here I joined some beta testing groups for apps. It was fun and a great learning experiences to see this part of the process. I eventually started thinking of my own apps for dating, food and art. None of them came to fruition but the take away from that is how my mind was shifted into even thinking something different was possible.
This speaks to the power of exposure. If we want equality in the workplace and the tech industry it starts with exposing the marginalized to the very things that they are not currently engaged with. There are programs out there to reach underprivileged youth, young girls and other people who are not represented in this industry and I believe this is a great start, but more still needs to be done.
Women still have a long way to go for equality
Don’t get me wrong. There has been A LOT of progress in the working world for women’s rights. I have had a wonderful experience as an employee out here but as much as my work experience was positive as a female, I was still exposed to sexism through housing and social situations. Statistically speaking it’s a man’s world. The ratio of men to women out here is 7:3. So for every seven guys out here, there are three women. It’s very apparent when out at bars, or anywhere for that matter.
That being said, people out here (men and women) are some the most educated and wealthy in this country. Many people I’ve met out here have traveled, come from a cultured background, and find themselves on the more progressive side of politics.
EVEN with all of the aforementioned conditioning, there is still sexism. There is still the idea that women are inferior. It may be more subtle, but it is there. This will not change until it stops becoming a man’s world and the statistics change. When there are more women out here, men will feel less inclined to act like it’s a “boy’s club”. When there are more women out here, women’s issues will become more important to the businesses because they will make up a larger portion of the work force and profit.
My time out here has been amazing and I have met some of the brightest and boldest minds. I have become more confident in my abilities to make a difference in the world because I have been surrounded by people who actually are.
The “Perceived Surplus”
The Tinder phenomenon is real. The idea that one can just swipe a photo right or left to move on to the next is very real in Silicon Valley. Tinder is a dating app that is geo-location based. People near you that have the app appear with their photo with minimal information like age, sex and a brief summary. If you swipe their photo the right of your screen, that means you like them. If you swipe their photo left, that means you do not. If the person you swipe right also swipes your photo to the right when they see it, it is a match! You now have the ability to message each other and take things to conversation, or even a date.
That idea of swiping for the next best option has transcended the dating apps and moved into all other aspects of life. Technologies like this have created this false sense of availability and surplus for food, transportation and people because if you are not happy with the option that populates/appears on your phone, there is something just behind it to pop up on your screen that you can choose from. It has created a fear of commitment and exacerbated the very real phenomena of F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out). How can anyone be happy with what they have if they know they haven’t tried all of the other options? Who is supposed to control the threshold for what is enough when there is always another ‘match’ or ‘option’ just beyond the swipe of a finger? This speaks to companies, careers, and every aspect of human interaction. It is exhausting and only getting worse. Commitment has become a word that shall not be said — likened to Voldemort’s name in the Harry Potter series.
This place is stunning.
The beauty of innovation out here is only surpassed by the aesthetic beauty of the bay,
mountains, and pacific ocean. In all of my travels, the bay area is one of the most stunning places I have ever lived. There was never a morning that went by where I was not in awe of the blue skies, silhouette of the mountains, or warmth of the sun.
I am grateful for all that I have learned and will carry it with me as I head back east. It’s not goodbye Silicon Valley, it’s see ya later.