Atherton Trains Sign

Silicon Valley

The center of the high-tech industry in Northern California is usually known as the Silicon Valley.
It is in the the region otherwise known as the San Francisco Bay area, the exact limits of the what is considered to be Silicon Valley are somewhat debatable.

For practical purposes anything between San Francisco and San Jose where some high-tech company is operating can be considered to be part of Silicon Valley, especially everything within San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties along El Camino Real and Highway 101.

San Francisco Airport

The San Francisco Airport. One of the airports serving the Silicon Valley area.

Silicon Valley is so famous that it is common to refer to other places with high concentration of high-tech companies as Silicon Valley of the wherever-the-place-is.

This is wrong, simply having a number of high-tech companies in close proximity does not create a Silicon Valley environment. You need a specific environment where talent and innovation can thrive. It takes specific legal as well as cultural foundation to create such an environment.

Silicon Valley is the very definition of the difference between having a job and having a career.

A company that wishes to have a competitive advantage should be willing to pay for quality in order to attract the best talent. This is an important aspect, but it seems that many companies in the USA realize that. For a Silicon Valley style business environment it is equally important that the project has to be interesting enough to attract smart people.

If your employer insist that they own you while you languish in your job it is really bad for you. There really is no evidence to suggest that employers are there for you in your time of need. If times change you can get laid off no matter how much your manager likes you, or the company may simply go out of business.

Yes, sometimes it is beneficial to stick with one employer, it must be nice to cash out on those stock options (I assume so — it has never happened to me) when they mature. Feel rich — at least until you blow all your money in the nearest Ferrari dealership and buying a new house in Atherton.

On the other hand where there is a great deal of mobility and people change jobs frequently, and companies change staff frequently, if your employer goes belly up you can always just start to work for another company the next day.

In such an environment your livelihood (that is your ability to eat on a regular basis and have a roof over your head) is no longer dependent on things beyond your control (such as decisions made by upper management in some big corporation). If they screw up, you can just find another job.

Nor do companies grow complacent while becoming dependent on people who have moved into the building with the furniture and have just never left. Seriously, if you own a high-tech company do you want people working for you who cannot leave because they would never get a job elsewhere? While it certainly ensures employee loyalty, the quality of the work you get out of them may not be that high.

Being able to get a job the next day if you part ways is a lot more reassuring than the false security that your employer will still be there for you, or will even be still in business, when you need it.

At the same time the ability to find talent who is ready to jump into the next project allows companies to react quickly to a changing marketplace.

Redwood City Signage

Around the year 2000 when the dot-com bubble has burst and the stock market has crashed, I was working in Silicon Valley for a start up company that was in a really bad shape. At one point I have put out my resume, just in case the company does not make it. Later on I have started the paperwork to move to Canada.

Even after I have long given up the idea of staying there, recruiters and even potential employers were calling me (sometimes using phone numbers I did not know existed — I wonder how they have even found those) just in case I was interested in some new project. While I have already decided to move, they would have been willing to put in some effort to keep me there.

When I have finally moved to Canada it took me two month just to get a job interview (I did get hired right away after the interview, but it took a long time just to get someone interested). Same resume, same skills, a completely different work environment and culture. (It was in Markham, the city that fancies itself as the “Silicon Valley of the North” — well it does have a high concentration of high-tech companies, but it is nothing like working in the real Silicon Valley.)

There are good a reasons why the Silicon Valley high-tech industry thrives while other places struggle to find the right people.

Just because a place has a few high-tech companies it does not become “Silicon Valley” overnight.

The corner of El Camino Real and Fifth Avenue in Redwood City.

The corner of El Camino Real and Fifth Avenue in Redwood City, really “no man’s land” between the Redwood City and Atherton signs. A long time ago I used to work in the building at the back for a high-tech start up that was renting the building at that time. The grocery store next door used to be a horrible place where you got food poisoning. Today it has the freshest produce, wonderful cuts of meat and it even sells hot Mexican food.

Usually office space is not that easy to find and people run companies in the oddest of locations such as storage lockers and the like. A long time ago I have worked for a company that rented an old building, shown in the picture above. It was an old auction house complete with a bank vault. Long time residents sometimes wondered in and we had a hard time convincing them that no, we don’t buy old jewelry.

Another interesting aspect was that the old building only had about two phone lines connected which was for everything including Internet. In spite of the popular belief it is not any easier to have those connected in the USA than anywhere else. If there are no more wires someone needs to dig up the road and put in new ones. It took months to get more lines. I remember at one time I was routing Internet traffic through a dial up phone line through an old laptop that I have found in someone else’s trash (it is the Silicon Valley, people do throw such things into the garbage when they get a new one).

Interestingly recently the building has been turned into a swim school, I am sure it required extensive interior redecoration.

Various plants around a house in Menlo Park. There are cactus plants, an agave, a willow tree, eucalyptus trees, some sort of pine and even palm trees in the background. All living outdoors in the not too hot and not too cold California weather.

Lots of people living in the Silicon Valley are only dreaming about getting rich. On the other hand if you are actually rich, and perhaps would like to be depressed that your neighbors are even richer than yourself, you can buy a house in Atherton and move there.

Atherton Railways Station.

Atherton Railways Station. Interestingly I used to take the train there going to and from work.

If you are a random person reading this, the chances are your neighbors will have way more money than you do.

The Palo Alto sign at the Menlo Park – Palo Alto border.

If you can tolerate living in a slightly less expensive neighborhood, Menlo Park and Palo Alto are nice, the latter even has a downtown area that sort of looks European and you can even see plenty of people walking around.

Further Readings:

Silicon Valley on Wikipedia.
Redwood City on Wikipedia.
Atherton on Wikipedia.
Menlo Park on Wikipedia.
Palo Alto on Wikipedia.
Last updated: December 11, 2017