Mountain View
Stephen Song

A New Grad’s Thoughts on the Silicon Valley Gold Rush

I’m packing my bags and moving to California this fall. This is how I feel about it.

As someone who’s moving [to the Bay Area] soon, what were your thoughts on the subject matter?

I feel excited, giddy, and conflicted. Excited and giddy like the thousands that set their sights westward during the gold rush. Because maybe if I work hard, and get a little lucky, I’ll strike gold and make a world of difference. Conflicted, because I’ve always felt that there’s an unspoken social pressure to move west and intern or work at a “great tech company”. That somehow it is a measure of my worth, or intellect, or ability to be a great software engineer.

I also wish I can say that I am immune to such pressure, but honestly I am not. When I was studying computer science at Georgia Tech, I could feel this expectation weighing down on me and my peers. I was constantly doubting and critiquing myself and my competency as a software engineer. I remember when so many of my friends scored great internships at great companies and I hadn’t. I felt really happy for them, but I also felt left behind. And to be honest with you, I sometimes still do.

I think there is this contradictory message… on one hand, we’re encouraged to be creative and exceptional and challenged to change the world. But on the other hand, a lot of us feel that we only really have a chance to do that in the Bay Area. And even then, only if we work for a brand-name company like Google, or for the next unicorn startup.

Sometimes this is a conscious thought, but often, I think it’s a subconscious one… a swirly amalgamation of real and perceived expectations mixed in with our own dreams and aspirations. Yet, these are things that I, too, share. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve rejected a financially enticing job offer from Atlanta to pursue my SF dream. Maybe I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but I tell myself that the proof is in the pudding.

When I tell people that I’ve interned at SpaceX, I can sometimes see the gears turning in their heads. I can sense them sizing me up and judging my worth. It makes me feel accomplished when they smile and nod in approval, as if I’ve done something special. And perhaps I have; I worked hard for that internship, dammit. However, I also feel like I’m contributing to the problem by smiling and moving on without acknowledging the identity crisis, the self-loathing, and the many failures along the way. Because it’s simply easier to celebrate the success stories and sweep our failures and misgivings under the table.

With that said, I’m still giddy to start my software engineering career in the “Bae Area”. It’s a magical place bursting at the seams with talent, disruptive ideas, and a great culture to boot. Like many of my peers, I want to make a difference. I fantasize about making the Next Big Thing™ or becoming a pillar in my field. But there’s also a little part of me that’s afraid I’ll lose myself in the process… that I’ll drink all the Kool-Aid or become drowsy and complacent after tasting that proverbial pudding. I suppose time will tell.

Note: This was originally a Facebook message I sent to Stephen Song after reading his article. He encouraged me to share it as a response on Medium, and I caved.