Why every student should experience Silicon Valley

Personal thoughts

I don’t know if eight months in the Silicon Valley is enough to make such a statement, but working there since the beginning of this year has definitely been one of my best experiences as a student. Before I get to the point of this piece, let me give you some context.

A year ago, I was a 22-year-old French student studying for a MSc at engineering school MINES ParisTech and eager to discover the corporate world. I thus decided to take a gap year for work placement explored investment banking in London through a first internship in one of the largest European banks. Six months later, I had the opportunity to move to Tesla Motors. To be honest, I accepted this new challenge unaware that I was immersing myself in one of the world’s most interesting ecosystems.

So why do I strongly recommend that every student discover Silicon Valley?

Three main reasons:

  1. The pace of work and innovation that companies here face.

I have never heard of such an ecosystem where startups and established companies need to fight so hard to stay at the cutting edge of innovation. The history of Silicon Valley and the current massive presence of investors makes it “the place to be” both for startups looking to grow and major tech companies, which, if not founded here, at least have an office here. Being in such an ecosystem forces you to keep pace and constantly improve the efficiency of your work.

No one can complain about having the world’s eyes and ears focused on the product and technology you’re developing. It is definitely an incredible source of motivation at all levels of the company.

2. Mutual trust and exposure. By coming to Palo Alto, I not only learned to open myself to a new corporate environment but also had the incredible chance to find people trusting my work. After few exchanges with other companies’ interns, I had the confirmation that it was a feature common to tech companies around here. It implies you get a lot of exposure:

People don’t judge you by your age or experience but by the immediate work you deliver.

I suppose it can mainly be explained by two key factors: the flat organizational structure of the Silicon Valley’s companies – whether large or small – and the youth of the executives.

Corporations invest a lot of effort in maintaining a smooth flow of communications between teams. You should be able to reach out to anybody if this person is the most relevant one to help you achieve your goal. One could call it the “Get it done” culture. Experiencing a job where the organizational structure cannot slow you down has been an amazing feeling.

The phenomenon of young executives is indeed specific to the tech industry, which is “biased toward younger people”. However, this confidence is backed by figures that show that the average age of CEOs of most successful private companies (venture capital-backed private companies worth $1 billion or more) is about 42. By comparison, in 2010 the average age of incoming CEO to an S&P 500 company was 52.9. This difference has a huge impact on the way people treat information coming from a young employee or an intern. While in most other places of the world, your work will be reviewed by several people before ending up in a C-level executive’s office, your manager in Silicon Valley will do it once and then put all his faith in you. Getting this exposure grows your self-confidence and considerably increases the amount of effort you are willing to put in to deliver high-quality work.

And then there’s the satisfaction of experiencing efficient feedback loops, which allow you to constantly improve your methods and have a better understanding of the future requests you will get. People tend to forget the importance of such feedback.

3. Finally, there’s the global culture.

In Silicon Valley, I have had the chance to meet and interact with people from all around the world. Each person comes full of motivation and eager to show their value. Rare are the places where you will find such a great number of qualified people. I am not only talking about tech-oriented jobs but also people coming from pure science or design backgrounds, thanks to the near presence of great universities like Berkeley and Stanford. It allows you to put into perspective your skills but also gives you a better appreciation of your strengths and weaknesses. Leaving your own country, where your skills may be already recognized, and moving to an unfamiliar territory lets you identify aspects of your personality you still need to shape.

These eight months in Silicon Valley have been for me synonymous with consistent progress and improvement.

Hopefully there are other places in the world that meet these three criteria, but all the exchanges I have been involved in lead me to think there are not.

Ultimately, I know working even temporarily in the US is not easy, but I am convinced that the value that comes from work experience in Silicon Valley is worth the effort.


Please feel free to give me your feedbacks about your personal experience on comments or Twitter