It's not all nap pods and organic lunches
Silicon Valley i s worshipped by many for being home to some of the l argest technology behemoths i n the world. But the ultra- competitive environment and rapid pace of i nnovation comes at a cost to workers. An anonymous New Zealander shares what i t’s
Silicon Valley. Two words that conjure up a mix of enthusiasm and envy among New Zealanders when I tell them that’s where I have been working and living for the past few years.
For the most part, New Zealanders – particularly those in the business or tech world – seem to have developed an obsession with the place and have a romantic notion about what life is like in San Francisco and the Bay Area. As evidence of this, we need only look at the plethora of technology-focused startup hubs sprouting all over New Zealand, with almost every town and city proclaiming to be – or aiming to be – the next Silicon Valley of something. “Could Christchurch become New Zealand's Silicon Valley?” “Business group sees Nelson's potential to become New Zealand's Silicon Valley” and “Techapuna: New Zealand’s Silicon Valley?” are just some of the stories making headlines here in the last several years.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to see why. The Bay Area attracts some of world’s most talented people and brightest thinkers. Silicon Valley garage startups have morphed into billion-dollar global companies, such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Uber, Netflix and Tesla. Many of these have changed our lives irrevocably. Then there are the endless perks those working in the Valley get to enjoy on a daily basis: trendy headquarters that make the average outdoor kid’s playground look lame, free gourmet cafeterias (organic, grassfed only), massage rooms, nap pods, haircuts and onsite doctors, family wide medical insurance, ‘unlimited’ annual leave. The list goes on.
I know all too well what it’s like to get caught up in the hype around Silicon Valley and the life it promises. For years, I dreamed of living it and working for the next big tech startup that could change the world. No matter how great my life was back home in New Zealand and the work-life balance I enjoyed, something was missing. I really thought that for me to really thrive and be happy and fulfilled in my career and life, Silicon Valley was where I needed to be.
After several years this alluring vision got too much for me to resist, so off I went. With no job lined up, I packed up my belongings, booked an open-ended flight, took the plunge and moved to San Francisco. I soon found out it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
After much networking, endless cover letters and self doubt, I was offered a great role within a transformative startup company, which I still believe will go on to transform the lives of many while saving the planet (cliché, but true).
I met some of the most amazing and inspiring people I have ever encountered, some whom have gone on to become lifelong friends. I was living in some of the hippest parts of the Bay Area and San
There were times where I was utterly miserable, l onely and unhealthy, yearning for home, craving balance, and wondering why the hell I believed i n such a fallacy.
Francisco and drinking Napa Valley wine in the weekends with a handsome American man who stole my heart. I was living the dream, on paper at least.
But here’s the bit people in New Zealand don’t hear when we’re busy romanticising Silicon Valley: it’s a hard slog. There were times when I was utterly miserable, lonely and unhealthy, yearning for home, craving balance, and wondering why the hell I believed in such a fallacy.
To start with, the job market in Silicon Valley is both insanely competitive and relentless – and rightly so. Those putting in a mere few hours work here and there don’t usually go on to start billion dollar companies that transform the world. Finding the right job if you’re not already in the Silicon Valley inner circle can be as hard as finding a house in Auckland for less than $1 million and equally as soul destroying. Then, when you are hired, you’re expected to work – and not the cushy 40-hour working week New Zealand and most of the West has become accustomed to, but morning, day, night, weekends and holidays.
My work day routinely involved waking at the break of dawn to take conference calls in multiple time zones then cracking into the actual working day, only to do it all again in the evening. Making time for workouts, yoga, dinner with friends or even meditation – all essential elements of my mental and physical sanity – was a near impossibility at times.
Silicon Valley doesn’t stop when you’re sleeping, or for the weekends, either. Before you’ve even had a chance to open your eyes in the morning, a barrage of emails and work requests will be in your inbox, which you’re somehow supposed to have responded to in your sleep. I wish I could count the number of times that I didn’t have to work some or all of the weekend, answering emails from clients or the big boss, but I can’t, because there weren’t any.
While intense workloads may seem like a reasonable trade-off if you’re working for a company that has offered you some skin in the game (like shares or equity), or if you’re pulling in a handsome income, it’s not. The reality is a lot people in the Valley (including me) aren’t. We were doing it purely for the sake of living in the Valley.