Silicon Valley Fundamentals

Silicon Valley is an interesting place to work. Once one of the most fertile valleys for agriculture in the United States, now it is the most fertile valley in the world for creativity, ideas and new innovations–where new technologies are born and where people are constantly reinventing themselves and creating new industries.

The Valley of today is not the same Valley of 1990s, when it included just “the Santa Clara Valley.” With the continued growth and speed of the Internet, the some use the term to refer to all Bay Area tech companies, those in the Santa Clara Valley, and also those on the Peninsula, in San Francisco, and the East Bay.

In 2010, the top 150 companies in Silicon Valley saw their most profitable year in history and, with their combined stock valuations, the largest increase since the Internet boom of 2000. How this has affected the high-tech job market since May 2011 has been short of miraculous, with employers creating thousands of new jobs each month. It’s a prominent sign of hope and of potentially better times for the area’s high-tech workers as we continue to recover from the Great Recession.

As in the rest of the country, the recession hurt many tech professionals here, often forcing them to endure layoffs, drain their savings and retirement funds, confront a severe depreciation and/or loss of their homes and face a continued sluggishness in salaries and compensation. Increases in local and state government taxes haven’t helped. But the high-tech workforce has shown itself to be resilient and resourceful, so it’s no surprise that the recovery continues forward.

More Jobs, More Hires

The greatest indicator of the recovery and the Valley’s return to life is every commuter’s major gripe–the traffic. For example, the distance from Fremont to San Jose is 10 to 15 miles. You know the economy is getting better when it takes an hour or an hour and a half to get to work, instead of 20 minutes.

We’re also starting to see a dramatic spread of entrepreneurship among tech professionals — on a scale never seen before. Many are creating their own small companies. A lot of this has to do with the revolutions in applications for mobile devices, social-networking applications and new cloud-based software technology. These technologies go hand-in-hand with high performance technical computing (HPTC) capabilities that can process “Big Data,” which provides answers to questions decision makers need to have in near real time. All this spells opportunity for the high-tech workforce of Silicon Valley — either as an employee, a contractor, or a new business owner. Many of these entrepreneurs and their employees dream of becoming the next Google or Facebook — and why shouldn’t they?

It follows, then, that tech job market in Silicon Valley is heating up, though wages and compensation remain relatively low compared to 2000. In part, this is because there are so many early-stage startups, wage stagnation among existing employers, and because many companies know they can be choosy in their hiring and stingy in their compensation for new hires. But what will continue to severely affect compensation is the rising cost of health insurance for both employers and employees.

More Competition

Thousands of new jobs are being created each month. Since so many tech professionals have been unemployed for so long, competition for them is keen. Those who’ve kept their skills up-to-date with newer technologies and capabilities are the ones in the highest demand — and the ones who can negotiate higher compensation packages. Those who haven’t kept up their skills should still be able to find employment, but the competition will be greater and their compensation lower.

Will the job market continue to strengthen? A lot depends on the economy and the demand for the goods and services produced either directly or indirectly by Silicon Valley companies.

Speaking with a number of small-business owners over the last three months, I’ve heard cautious speculation that the economy is getting better and will continue to improve. With that feeling, businesses will continue to create new jobs. Today, jobs are being offered for work that’s in demand NOW — not for work companies expect to do in the future. Given this, new employees for companies of all sizes will need to be able to contribute right away. There will be very little ramp-up or acclimation time for any new job. Candidates not only have to be sharp during the hiring process, but also sharp and focused when it comes to their new position.

Whether this new renaissance will continue remains to be seen. Silicon Valley still provides a unique environment for people with creative, imaginative, and innovative ideas. This is an area unlike any other in the U.S., and many other regions around the country and the world keep trying to create similar environments, though only with partial success.