Should You Be In Silicon Valley?

Recently, I returned home from an internship in Silicon Valley. Having spent the vast majority of my life in Raleigh, North Carolina, this was an entirely different experience than anything I had ever been through before, and it really opened my eyes to just how different the Valley is from the rest of the country. There are immense opportunities on the West Coast that don’t exist outside of the infamous technological center of the United States, but there are also many aspects of the area that cause me to question whether or not I would like to live there. As such, I thought I’d share my experience for others who might be in the same boat.

Let’s start with the good: SV is rife with opportunity for technology startups and emerging businesses. An enthusiasm for entrepreneurship seems to have infected the entire populace, with so many new apps and ideas being thrown around that it seems like every engineer is busy working on (or simply thinking of) the next big thing. Feeding into this, investor opportunity is everywhere, with venture capitalists searching for promising new businesses and incubators looking for teams to help churn out revolutionary new ideas.

Weren’t Facebook poke wars irritating enough?!
Admittedly, the ratio of revolutionary technology to trivial mobile/web applications isn’t as high as it could be. But we’ll get to that.

Beyond that, the Valley is an engineer’s paradise if for no other reason than the people who live there. In my experience, most (if not every) engineer who works in the area is truly passionate about what they do, and there are copious opportunities for these people to pursue to technologies or play with new ideas. There seems to be some sort of “hackathon” every week put on by some prominent company, and these events are well attended by like-minded people with broad passions and expertise. These, combined with frequent talks about new technologies/practices from industry leaders, form a networking utopia.

Even for non-engineers, the Valley offers a wide range of cultures, giving all kinds of people a place to thrive. San Francisco in particular offers a broad scope of things to do on the weekends, whether you’re a party animal or simply looking to explore different walks of life.

On top of all that, the whole “always 70 degrees and sunny” thing is pretty nice too. I will say that towards the end of my time there, I did miss being able to sit by an open window or on a screen porch to enjoy a heavy rainstorm.

It threatened to rain once. Everyone freaked out a bit.
It legitimately didn’t rain the entire 10 weeks I was in the area. Great for my walking commutes, but probably bad for the persistent drought.

Now, on to the negatives: Silicon Valley is, without a doubt, a bubble. The best way I’ve heard it described was as an “echo chamber”: once one idea gains traction, everyone and their brother is working on an imitator or the same exact technology, looking to make some money while the trend is around. Many ideas proposed in the Valley really don’t solve a broad problem that people outside the core Valley demographic experience, and simply further the notion that Silicon Valley doesn’t really care about the outside world. And yet, investors pour money into them like there’s no tomorrow. It feeds into a sort of arrogance about the area, where residents believe that those outside of Silicon Valley are beneath them somehow, and that there is little value in doing things outside of the software space.

<lame joke about “liquid assets” goes here>
Essentially, this is the only concept of “making it rain” that exists in the Valley.

Much of the technology that has emerged within the Valley has been hurtful to the community at large. Some startups will make a business out of reserving public goods, such as parking spots and restaurant reservations, and offering them at premiums through their applications. This ends up boxing many people out from these goods and results in empty, unpurchased spots/reservations that hurt the owners of these establishments. This phenomenon has gotten a fair amount of media attention, but so far, there doesn’t seem to have been a huge response to such things.

There’s also the cost of living. Granted, the salaries software engineers make out there tend to make up for the difference fairly well, but those in pretty much any other profession are likely going to find themselves strapped. Apartments in the area are ludicrously expensive, with a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco easily costing several times what it would in Raleigh (as an example). As such, most people living out there have to sacrifice apartment quality if they want to find a reasonably priced place to stay.

Transportation is also a hassle out there. While many companies have shuttles to take their employees to/from work at certain times, people living in unserviced parts of the Valley have to deal with an immense amount of traffic. This is true for any densely populated area, however, and is more of a minor concern. (Plus, the fact that there are intergalactic spaceboats of light and wonder everywhere lends some welcome eye candy to the commute.)

Basically, if you’re in the situation where you’re choosing whether or not to live in the Valley, ask yourself if the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s a fantastic place to be for developing engineers, and there are tons of like-minded people starting careers in the area. Living in Silicon Valley is an experience you aren’t going to find anywhere else in the world: if the area appeals to you, you won’t regret your decision.

Where to go from here? CHAINSAWS ON FIRE.

Making Choices that Scare You

This week, I sat in a panel discussion with 5 recent college graduates, all working at the same company as myself. The topic was career development, and each of them shared their perspectives on the subject, along with the experiences they’d had on their respective paths. Though all of the advice we received was valuable in its own right, one quote in particular stood out:

“Always take the offer that scares you more.”

Part of why this idea struck me is that it’s starkly different from every other piece of advice you normally receive as an impending/recent college graduate. In my experience, most people advise you to figure out a plan, and then to make it happen. This challenge-based mentality suggests a sacrifice of not knowing where you’ll end up, but going along for the ride and learning everything you can along the way.

There are many different rationales for this manner of thinking, but the one the speaker chose was this: if you take a job you aren’t afraid of, you’ll probably do well, but you won’t be challenged or learn very much as a result. If you’re offered a position you feel you aren’t prepared for at all, you’ll likely be surrounded by people much smarter than you, and you will learn and grow immensely throughout the duration of your employment. Every day will bring about new challenges, and by the time you’ve gotten truly comfortable with what you’re doing, you can move on to your next adventure and start the process anew.

Where to go from here? CHAINSAWS ON FIRE.
Disclaimer: Some types of fear are probably healthier than others.

Personally, I believe that this attitude could be applied to any aspect of your life, even outside of any sort of career. Every day, you have the opportunity to grow into a more complete and objectively better person than you were the day before, and you do that by stepping outside your comfort zone. If you don’t push yourself, you don’t evolve, and you fall into a form of personal stagnancy - and once you fall into that state, you lose the game.

This being said, this is the sort of mentality that should be taken with a grain of salt. Just because something scares you doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an opportunity to grow: there are plenty of frightening opportunities out there, but it’s the wrong type of fear. The fear you should embrace is that which you can utilize once you overcome - an obstacle that better equips you to chase your passions and follow your dreams. Taking a position simply because it doesn’t seem to fit you is generally ill-advised, and could result in more confusion than it’s worth.

You know, he probably SAW it coming at some point...
This is not professional development. This is early retirement, at best.

Next time you’re faced with a choice between two paths, think first about what you want to drive towards, and then think about which of the choices you’re most scared of. Chances are, the offer that scares you most will be the one with the highest reward, and you’ll never find yourself wishing you had taken the easier road.

If you're the guy on the left, read below.

What It Means To Have a Plan In Your 20s

Ask anybody in their 20s what their plan for the rest of their life is, and you’ll likely get a wide range of responses. Whether they’re in college, at their first “real” job, taking time for personal development or any other of a plethora of possibilities, you’re likely to get a broad scope of options that ultimately resolve to the same core message:

“I have no [choice adjective] idea.”

There are so many societal pressures on young adults to have their life together and know exactly what they’re doing with their future, yet there are so few people who truly have it figured out. Every now and again, you ask someone this question and they give you a well-thought out layout of their next few jobs and a near-perfect estimation of where their life is going and exactly how they’re going to get there. I tell people my projected career path, and they often make some sarcastic remark about a “man with a plan” or some similar quip.

There’s a secret about trying to predict your future, though: your plan isn’t going to hold up any better than anybody else’s (or lack thereof). No matter how much planning you do, reality is always there to throw you a curveball that puts your meticulous career orchestration to shame. Many people combat this inevitable truth by crafting a branching roadmap of possibilities based on opportunity and projected failures, allowing them to hit the ground running if and when they get knocked down.

I am a leaf in the wind; watch me soar.
If you get the opportunity, though... you reboot Firefly. Roadmaps be damned.

Does this mean you shouldn’t be finding a direction and taking control of your life? Not in the slightest. By all means, find your passion, translate it into a real-world ambition, and from that, derive the drive with which you realize your dreams. If you have the desire to achieve a vision, any curveball life throws you is a new way to manifest that goal.

Passion is the greatest semblance of a plan you can ever have. It’s an ideal that can’t be killed; a motivating force that becomes the reason why you do what you do (and gives you a leg up in communicating your goals). It pushes you to take risks when you become professionally or personally stagnant, and lets you feel that there’s always something more that you can reach for. Few people ever became truly fulfilled by doing exactly what everybody tells them they should be doing - that is, unless your passion happens to be a 9-5 desk job.

If you're the guy on the left, read below.
...Which isn’t actually unheard of. All the more power to you. I’m serious.

However, if what you’ve just read makes you uncomfortable, I invite you to reflect on your true passion. Find something you love to do, and chase it. Capitalize on the vast amount of opportunity in the world, and think outside the box: often, the greatest opportunity to do what you love is found where you least expect it. Pay attention to industries you may not have given a serious thought to before, and think of where you can plug yourself in and create success - both monetarily, and in manifesting your own personal passion.