Silicon Valley Culture
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
The Silicon Valley has long been hailed as an emblem for its progressive and futuristic tech companies. But how has this area become the hub for innovation and the model that cities like New York, London, Berlin and Hong Kong have tried emulating? With one key ingredient: the culture. As a Silicon Valley native having seen the industry up close (but now being able to notice the differences since I’m in the UK), let me breakdown the 4 elements that define the San Francisco Bay Area:
1. Sharing & Networking
The Bay Area is first and foremost built on working together. People here are always happy to chat and bounce ideas off one another and sometimes even lean on help from their friends working at other companies for help on technical problems. Of course, with all the talent, it is a competitive workplace, but most employees are very open and collaborative and even the tech they build does just that: brings people together. This mentality is reflected in even the simplest decisions where cubicles have been replaced by open floor plan workspaces where people share desks with other people, facilitating co-working.
2. Quick not Perfect
Perhaps the most cornerstone element of Silicon Valley culture is the lack of bureaucracy. People here are motivated by a drive to simply come together and build cool projects, quickly. Tech development is done in what’s called an “Agile” process. There’s loads of gurus that have broken down the merits of this system but the gist is simple: build small things quickly. The philosophy is that it would be better to recognize a need from a customer now, execute a quick solution, test it for feedback, and then continue to improve it rather than spending a year making a perfect solution but the demand from the customer changes. The workflow reflects this as well. As opposed to people planning out projects way in advance, teams usually have a rough map of what they’re getting done but they work in 2 week cycles of development. That way they can be agile and quickly adapt to challenges or pivot their product.
3. Flexible Structure
Another unique element here is that there is pretty a flexible structure within most companies and organizations in the Valley as opposed to the more rigid roles found around the rest of the world. This is partly because companies carry forward the startup mindset where one employee often takes on multiple roles since companies are very small. But even when looking at people’s career trajectories here, nothing is fixed. Some people start off in data analytics and end up in product design. Others begin in software engineering and end up in management. The teams people work on are usually very cross-functional so you are exposed to diverse careers in the industry and people at the executive level have usually worked in nearly every role in some capacity.
4. Laid Back
Besides being flexible, the Bay just tends to be laid back. The average employee wears jeans and a t-shirt to work everyday. On more casual days, replace the jeans with shorts and keep the t-shirt. On more “formal” days, replace the t-shirt with a button down shirt and keep the jeans. Yes, seriously. Wearing a suit or any business wear actually mocked and even frowned down upon and this chill vibe carries into the rest of the office too. Most companies (even the small ones) have free food and snacks, a gym, a massage area, and even nap pods (yes they exist!) I used to go into work with my mom sometimes and her office had a room for table tennis right next to the room where they conducted meetings and booths to play board games by the lunch area.
It’s long been known that once you come to the Valley it’s hard to leave. My own parents planned to move out a long time ago but never did and lots of our friends left and came back because they missed it too much. The culture is addictive in some sense and people here are not only extrinsically but also intrinsically satisfied by what they do. As more and more companies outside of the tech industry begin to adapt these methodologies, it is clear that this blueprint is here to stay.