Long days fueled by Red Bull and Pizza. Visions of changing the world (and making a billion or two while you do it). Snowboarding for a rush that’s not all that different from what you feel after marathon coding.
Such is the culture of Silicon Valley, author Dan Lyons wrote last year in the New York Times. He told the story of a Lyft driver who kept picking up fares even as she drove to the hospital, in labor, to give birth. Lyft publicized the story and seemed “genuinely puzzled by the negative reaction” it received. Among those perplexed, Lyons said: The driver herself.
To make it big in Silicon Valley demands 18-hour days, seven-day weeks without vacations, no watching television or even going out on dates, preaches entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, as cited by Lyons: “If you want bling bling, if you want to buy the jets? Work. That’s how you get it.”
While numerous players in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area argue this is just how tech is, many others involved in the broader technology business say the Valley’s culture isn’t universal.
Steve Goodman, CEO of San Francisco-based recruiting-technology firm Restless Bandit, believes that tech workers outside of Silicon Valley are fundamentally different from those inside. Many, he observes, work at non-tech companies such as Coca-Cola, focusing on logistics and other systems that make the business run. “The Silicon Valley stereotype is true, but it’s local,” he said. “The engineer at Coke is part of a broad group with different kinds of interests and backgrounds.”
A senior technology consultant for a global tech brand headquartered in Palo Alto agrees with that idea. “I see being employed in Silicon Valley to be like the Wild West, where anything is possible, even today,” he said. Though they have to be “somewhat pragmatic, since the cost of living is super high,” he thinks many of the region’s workers tend to be brash.
“I knew one guy, who was very arrogant, who threw a chair through a data center window and didn’t get fired,” the consultant said. “Some of these people, possibly many, are light on social skills.” Outside of California, he added, tech pros have to be “more grounded in reality.”
It’s a Tech Center Thing
Others believe the question isn’t so much about Silicon Valley but the growing number of tech centers around the United States. “I see it in New York and in almost any tech center,” said Nick Corcodilos, a former tech recruiter who now runs the popular career website Ask the Headhunter. “Tech pros behave as they do because they make money and are really smart.”
“There are Silicon Valleys all over the country,” added Greg Ambrose, CEO of the tech-recruiting firm Stack Talent in Chicago. They include “companies that are innovating and disrupting industries, centers of innovation and startups.”
What makes Silicon Valley unique, Corcodilos added, isn’t its culture, but its “ethos.” The area’s business scene is relatively young, and financiers have different expectations than do investors on the East Coast. Silicon Valley is the result of a determined effort “to build a vibrant tech scene. It was built by competitive people who didn’t know what they couldn’t do.”
“The Silicon Valley stereotype garners a great deal of media attention in part because it is so different from most people’s work life,” Ambrose said. “And certainly there are elements of truth in the stereotype, because [the valley] really is the global center of technology innovation.”
Only Rock Stars Need Apply?
Some tech pros are concerned that the Silicon Valley stereotype may actually discourage young workers from pursuing tech careers. “It gives kids the idea that all they have to do is go to the Valley and money will fall into their laps,” said the senior consultant. “There are superstars that make lots of money quick, but that’s rare. Working there is hard, hours are very long, prices are very high and there’s a lot of competition.”
Ambrose observed that, although the area draws some of the best tech pros because they want to work with the industry’s giants, “developers across the country are not fundamentally different than those in the Bay Area.” There are exceptions; for example, around San Francisco, “you have a much larger percentage of developers right out of school and with up to eight years of experience.”
“There’s always going to be certain commonalities among people who go into certain career types,” said JD Conway, head of talent acquisition for BambooHR, a workforce-technology platform in Lindon, Utah. “However, one of the things I think is really interesting and exciting is that there’s a pull in the job market.” With demand for tech skills so high, “more and more of the people who don’t fit that stereotype are going into coding campuses and jumping into the world of programming and the tech world in general,” he said. “That’s bringing diversity of thought into the mix and may be one of the reasons the stereotype isn’t going to last.”
Finally, Goodman sees a danger for tech pros who dwell on the Valley’s stereotype. “If you’re using Silicon Valley identifiers—like the hipster and the snowboarder—you’ll get into a false sense of security with your company,” he said. “Developers are more well-rounded then Silicon Valley folklore allows.”
Goodman sees a common thread among tech pros. “It’s the personality of people in STEM fields,” he said. “They’re quantitative, not qualitative.” What sets Valley workers apart is “they’re not the corporate ladder climber. People here like the risk and want to be part of the ecosystem.”
In sum, “Silicon Valley is a different lifestyle,” he said.