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12 February 2019
Why I Want to Live in Silicon Valley
You remember my blog post about Why I Don’t Want to Live in Silicon Valley, don’t you? Read it first if you haven’t already. The gist of it is that Silicon Valley is a place with a lot of troubles. No one should want to live there, according to that previous post, right? That is what many of my readers concluded, but they were wrong. Despite the problems, the place is definitely unique and there are a lot of reasons why you may want to consider it as a great place to live, for a few years at least, especially if you are in the tech business.
I lived there for about five years and speak from my own experience: it is distasteful, insanely correct, unappetizing, insane, positive, shallow, dangerous, expensive, boring, and conservative. However, aside from that:
It is Rich
The state of California is the biggest generator of GDP in the US, almost 80% larger than second place Texas, mostly thanks to Hollywood and Silicon Valley. California has more billionaires than any country (except the US and China), and half of them live in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.
You can smell money everywhere. Salaries are overblown: you can easily make $150,000 a year (which is around $9K per month, after taxes) being a decent Java developer. Being a part-time software consultant you can charge $200/hour and it won’t really surprise anyone.
When you move there the feelings you get out of a hundred-dollar-bill change: It becomes a smaller value for you, in just a few weeks of staying in the Bay Area. Along with that, your expectations of your own financial results go up and you realize that you either become a millionaire ASAP or your life is wasted. For some this can be depressing, but for others it’s a great push forward. I’ve experienced both.
It is Easy Going
Either it’s a cultural thing for the whole of the US or something specific to the West Coast: They don’t tend to make long-term, tight connections. “Nothing personal, it’s strictly business,” seems to be the motto of most people there. They do business with you, they may invite you to their houses, share a lunch with you, introduce you to the members of their families, and then… forget your name once the business is over. This attitude may look cold and rude to someone with a sensitive soul, but if you are focused on doing business and making money, you will feel way more comfortable than in, say, Russia.
You won’t need to build a sophisticated relationship before someone can do business with you, as is the case, for example, in Europe. In America they are ready to shake hands at the first meeting, but they are also ready to walk out of the deal very quickly when business interests change.
It is Work Focused
Try to visit any Starbucks in the Bay Area, at say 11pm (if it’s open). There will be many people (if not most of them) with laptops. I haven’t seen anything like that in any place in the world and I’ve been in dozens of them. Americans work and they work a lot. How productive they are is a different story—but the smell of work is everywhere.
For me it is very motivating, maybe because I’m a workaholic too. In, for example, Amsterdam, where I lived for a few years, coffee shops are crowded with people who are chilling, talking, drinking, smoking, and enjoying life. When you open your laptop in an honest attempt to work for a few hours you feel that you are an outsider, you are not in the system, you are doing something wrong. Most likely your efforts won’t get you anywhere, since everybody around you is 1) half-drunk and half-high, and, at the same time, 2) seems to be doing fine. In a few days you ask yourself whether you are doing the right thing. Maybe to be successful you should join them and close your laptop.
In Silicon Valley you get the opposite feeling. If you don’t open your laptop you quickly realize that you are an outsider, you are doing something wrong. You are missing your opportunities, you need to catch up immediately, before it’s too late. I even made an Instagram photo to illustrate that. It’s a regular cafe, a regular day, a regular crowd. It’s not a tech co-working space, it’s a place where people are supposed to drink coffee. Have you seen anything similar in any other places in the world? Tell me where.
It is Smart
Maybe “smart” is not the right word here, but I couldn’t find a better one. They are 1) narrow-minded and 2) properly educated—this seems to be the most accurate description of what I felt there. First, they are very tightly locked in their “knowledge frames”—they know what they know and are not interested in hearing about anything else, which might disturb their self-confidence in the body of knowledge they already possess. Anything that even slightly contradicts the concepts they learned in school is a “conspiracy theory” and, if you take it seriously “you are a weird individual and we have to agree to disagree, bye!”
On the other hand, they are properly educated in the areas they need to be in order to do their work. Maybe this is thanks to Stanford, probably the best high school in the world, or maybe it’s just an American thing: stay focused on what you need and renounce everything else as “informational noise.” This is what they seem to be doing: they may not know where Australia is or who exactly Che Guevara was, but they learn what matters for them.
That’s why the first impression is that they are stupid. But later you realize that they simply have a different attitude to information: it’s a tool for them, not a source of fun. What is the source of fun for them? I have no idea.
It is Comfortable
First, of course, is the climate. It’s one of the best in the world. Most of the time it’s warm and sunny. Not in San Francisco, though, where it’s cold and foggy most of the time. I have no idea why people live there.
Second, it’s very spacious. The roads are wide and easy to navigate. The traffic is mild (except a few highways in rush hours). Parking lots are huge and the parking is toll-free (except SF down town). After crowded Europe it feels like paradise: a very relaxed territory of comfort.
Third, the public transport there is pretty good. It’s not perfect, as many point out, but for me it was pretty cool. The train goes every 20-30 minutes and takes you to the city (if you live in the Valley) in less than half an hour. Even though the area is rather large, you can actually ride a bike everywhere, like I did for almost an entire year, thanks to CalTrain.
It is Democratic
They say California is the most democratic state, and it seems to be true. You can feel it in the way people dress, live, and don’t show off, even though some of them are pretty rich. You can easily meet a billionaire in a coffee shop in the morning, and they won’t be accompanied by bodyguards or a cortege of armed vehicles.
On the one hand, it makes you very comfortable if you are a regular nobody making money out of writing Java code. On the other, if you are financially successful, nobody cares and it may hurt. You simply have nothing to spend your wealth on. Even Vegas won’t help.
It is Immigrant-Friendly
Very friendly. No matter where you are from, what the color of your skin is, how old, bald, or ugly you are, you are very welcome! And it doesn’t matter how bad your English is either. The majority of people you deal with are immigrants to some extent. If they are not, their parents are. Very rarely do you meet someone who is an American of the 2nd or 3rd generation, especially in tech.
I’ve met people who have lived there for many years and still barely speak English. Moreover, they don’t even want to learn it. They live and work in local communities, having no problems making enough money and enjoying their lives. I would recommend staying away from those local groups, though.
One of the first questions they ask is “Where are you from?” Just for fun, I asked the same question when I met new people in Ukraine. They always laughed, not understanding what I meant by it.
It is Healthy
They pay a lot of attention to their health. The first indicator of financial success for a person is that they talk a lot about yoga, gluten, probiotics, cycling, and all that. Health is probably the biggest obsession of rich people in Silicon Valley. Most of them don’t smoke (but marijuana is a very popular product there, which some even grow at home).
Sooner or later you catch up, buy an Apple Watch, start counting calories and paying attention to the letter “V” which almost every restaurant attaches to vegetarian dishes in their menus.
You can even find organic underwear there!
It is Motivating
The bottom line is that it’s a territory where you just can’t give up. You see a lot of things going on around you and you want to be part of them. In most cases you can’t, simply because the competition is very tight, but the feeling of “drive” you get from everyone around you is exceptional. I wasn’t able to find anything like that anywhere else.
Thus, if you put two of my articles together, you will realize that the best method is to live in Silicon Valley for some time and then move somewhere else. Then come back again. You can’t stay there for an entire year, but you start missing it very soon if you stay somewhere else for too long. If you can afford to live in different countries, I would recommend trying Silicon Valley for a change. It’s definitely an exceptional experience. Both good and bad.