What 5 years of tech work in Silicon Valley has Taught Me

Photo by Martin Shreder on Unsplash

It was a typical arrival to an atypical place. A few exits away from Sand Hill Road, in 2015 I was dropped off by my second cousin to the driveway of a house that would be my temporary lodging. I didn’t bring much — a few clothes, my laptop bag, and dreams of breaking into tech. At the time, Big Tech hadn’t become a four-letter word. There was just the promise of growth and change. The promise of a new beginning.

While the journey is always different from what you expect, the destination is not too far off. Despite several ups and downs, thinking back to the first few moments of arriving here — of walking and Uber-ing everywhere until getting my car, of meeting almost 100 startup founders and investors, and going to events to network — kept me grounded and gave me reassurance that the journey is just beginning.

Even now, after escaping the hellish wildfires and COVID spikes in the Bay Area back to sunny Florida, a part of me looks forward to returning once it safely reopens. Ambition and adventure were what brought me there. Nostalgia is what will bring me back.

Embrace Competition

Santa Clara Valley and the greater SF Bay Area are very competitive. Some of the top graduates from Berkely, Stanford, and other universities look for jobs at top tier tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook. Some of the hungriest startups with experienced teams try to win business from multi-billion dollar behemoths. Each day people move quickly in an environment where you just can’t move fast enough. Yet, people still find time to have fun along the way.

The people who find success in this hyper-competitive environment tend to focus in on a specific niche. Technology touches almost every aspect of the human experience now — from social interactions to health, wealth, and wellness. Find a niche that you can relate to. Then build or sell technology in that niche with a laser-like focus.

It’s ok to be the dumbest person on a team

In such a competitive atmosphere, there are bound to be times when you are the dumbest person in the room or on a team. Rather than feeling insecure about the situation, make the most of it. Become like a sponge and absorb what there is to learn. Then execute on this new knowledge with tenacity and intensity. Silicon Valley is where rusty talent goes through a furnace and becomes tough as steel. To work and grow, you have to be ready to handle the heat.

It doesn’t matter what your credentials are. You may have graduated from an Ivy League or have other accomplishments that look good on paper. Still, there will be people who are better than you. No single person becomes an expert at everything. The highest performing teams are just that — teams. Humility and an open-minded approach to doing what needs to be done will usually go further than being the smartest person in the room.

Pay it Forward

The demonization of technology in the news media might make you think twice, but it was actually in Silicon Valley where I understood the idea of paying it forward. Although it’s a densely populated area, many people there have a sense of belonging and community that is hard to find except in smaller towns. It’s within the ethos of Silicon Valley to not take the opportunities you are given for granted; a common way of showing this appreciation is to try to helpful to anyone whom you could potentially help. Make a new connection for someone, take a bit of time to send that thank-you email, and accept the introduction from a friend you may not have seen in a while. You’ll often hear “The valley is a small place” even if it seems counterintuitive.

Ironically, the influence of technology has become more evident in the last few years — election meddling, harassment under the disguise of “free speech”, accessibility, and other issues that affect a significant percentage of people. I can’t shake the feeling that maybe it’s time for Silicon Valley to start paying it forward to the people who use our technology. It seems counterintuitive, but the world is a small place.

Renaissance Engineer. Entrepreneur. Passionate about technology, education, and the environment.

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