4 Lessons After 11 Years in Silicon Valley
Opportunity, success, reputation, and relationships in tech
Silicon Valley is a magical place with some strange norms—perhaps because companies, careers, and fortunes rise and fall with such astounding speed. Here are a few of the quirky, brutal, and hopefully useful lessons I learned during my 11 years living and working in the technology industry’s epicenter.
1. There’s opportunity in what others undervalue
There’s a rigid hierarchy of functions in Silicon Valley. At the top of the pyramid sit the entrepreneurs, the engineers, the venture capitalists. The closer you are to building or funding, the more respect you get—which probably makes sense. But when I began my career in tech, I wasn’t prepared for how little respect is left over for other functions: recruiting, HR, marketing, communications, etc. There’s an assumption that truly great products market themselves or that truly great companies are magnets for top talent. To work in these superfluous fields is either a sign that your company must compensate for its lack of greatness or that you’re but an intermediary for the inevitable.
Of course, not everyone thinks like this. And that’s where the upside to this warped view comes in. At the company level, it’s quite clear you’ll need to out-innovate your competitors by building a better product. But what about the less obvious vectors for competition? With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see where investments in culture have paid off exceptionally well (and where the lack thereof has halted otherwise unstoppable companies). In nascent industries—especially highly regulated ones—educating customers and stakeholders about your product and market may be as core to survival as the product itself.
This opportunity for differentiation also exists at the individual level. It used to bother me that people made certain assumptions about me based on my profession. I craved validation from my peers and resented the stereotypes that came along with PR. But the longer I’ve been in this field, the more respect I have for how nuanced, impactful, and essential our work is, and consequently, I’m bothered less by other people’s projections. An unfortunate consequence of the hierarchy of…