Get outside the Echo Chamber. Work Abroad. Emigrate.
I have to admit, I’ve been enjoying having old colleagues & professional contacts stop by the Algolia office this past month. I’m proud of the company I work for, and it is still sinking in just how big of an opportunity working for this company and this time is for me. I may be working for a startup in Paris, something I know quite a lot about, but after spending 10 days in our San Francisco HQ, I suddenly understand the full scope of what we’re doing, where we’re heading.
The Paris office is everything I used to talk about on the Rude Baguette. It’s international — one nationality for every 4 employees — which means we don’t just speak English to feel like a global company, we speak English because we hire people in Paris even if they don’t speak French. The culture in the SF & Paris offices are identical (SF wakes up early, but Paris works late — different but equal timezone problems), and arriving in the office feels like arriving in our own little country, where our ambitions, our motivations, our determination to build something great supersedes the ambitions, motivations & determination of the country.
I’ll likely be traveling to the San Francisco office often — several of the people who work in similar positions in similar companies as I do heavily encouraged me to spend as much time as I could there — and while I was out in San Francisco, I had a realization that I am an Emigrant.
September 26th, 2016 — I’m smack in the middle of it: I’m still getting over 9 hours of jet lag, I got a fine on the Muni because I forgot you couldn’t pay by card once you board, and to top it all off, DreamForce is happening basically outside my office. I’ve been working in San Francisco for about 10 days now, after having lived in Paris for the past 6 years. Don’t get me wrong, I still live in Paris — there seems to be this ongoing assumption that I have moved out of Paris — but my new company has offices in Paris & San Francisco, so I’m out here for the first of what will become pretty regular trips home. You could say I’m hedging my bets on what will happen on Election Day.
I grew up in a suburban town in California, which just happened to end up becoming the epicenter of technology. After living 21 years in Menlo Park, I jumped ship and moved to Paris before I started working, because I knew that if, like so many of my friends, I started working in the Silicon Valley, I’d never leave. Like Adam, I left Eden (for an Eve of sorts) and found myself working for a Paris tech startup in 2011, and then stumbling into running the Rude Baguette for the last four years. When that wrapped up earlier this year, I joined Algolia as their Brand Director -if you’re asking yourself “who’s Algolia?” right about now, then I have a lot of work ahead of me. One of the first orders of business was to come out to our San Francisco office. Home.
I look upon this new Silicon Valley (new to me, at least) with fresh eyes, wondering whether I would’ve ever been able to land a Director-level job at a Accel-backed startup if I had taken the first job that came to a fresh UCSD graduate with a dual major in Mathematics & Latin. Probably not.
This week I’ve had meetings with people I’ve been lucky enough to meet because I started a company in Paris whose sole audience was Silicon Valley companies with their eye on the European market. Founders, VPs, just smart people, all of whom were just as happy to catch up with me as I was them — I’m not just a Latin major who likes tech but doesn’t code, I’m a former Founder who’s bankrupted his first company and built a network that 21 year-old me would’ve never thought possible.
Sure, getting back into the swing of San Francisco is tough.
In Paris, we love Uber — Uber was, after all, created because Paris taxi’s are just that awful — whereas in San Francisco, the ride-sharing app you use to call a driver is just as important as whether you support the Raiders or the Niners.
In Paris, speaking English in the office is a great way to filter for internationally-minded companies. In San Francisco, the number of languages you speak in the office is a good indicator of how many markets you’re in.
But one thing you learn in Paris is Grit. I love this word. It’s not Hustle, but if you have Grit, you Hustle. It’s not “getting your hands dirty,” but if you have it, you don’t mind getting dirty. It is the veritable je ne sais quoi, the intangibles that make Paris such a great place.
Had I lived in London, Berlin, Stockholm or Tel Aviv, I might’ve picked up other characteristics — I didn’t, but hundreds of other Americans have, and they carry that experience with them. It makes you stand out — “you don’t dress like an American anymore” one French friend told me this week (she most definitely dresses like a Californian now).
Walking through SoMa or Inner Sunset, I realized that after six years of living abroad, San Francisco, California — the United States altogether — is no longer my home. Years ago on my first visit home I noticed that home was no longer home anymore, and it made me a nomad. Today I realize that this makes me the most valuable thing in the Silicon Valley. I have joined a class of citizen that is responsible for making Silicon Valley what it is, the very people who built up this region — I’m an emigrant.
Emigrants are adventurers — they didn’t come to somewhere, they left somewhere. They packed their bags and changed worlds. They adapted to new surroundings, and built something from nothing. They don’t carry their family’s reputation, they don’t come pre-loaded with cultural advantages, or cultural biases. They build Something from Nothing.