Richard Mandeberg
Dec 19, 2019 · 5 min read

How People Talk About Silicon Valley

Source: Silicon Valley Institute For Regional Studies

We all think of Silicon Valley as a major hub of technological innovation, an economic engine driving large parts of the economy and home to nationally renowned colleges and universities. I presume that many of you will look back on 2019 as being a turbulent year — and Silicon Valley did not get left behind. Kamala Harris was in, then out. Uber was up, then down. And Elon Musk was everywhere. Silicon Valley is many things, but can we identify the major themes or narratives that drive how people outside the Valley talk about it? What ideas and values drive those conversations? With this in mind, the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies and Discourse Data recently partnered together to examine 2019 trends in national online discussions that reference the influential technology region. If Silicon Valley, more than a tech capital, is a mindset or a state of mind with global influence, what are the associated keywords, ideas and conversations people mention when conversing about the region?

As Rachel Massaro, the Institute’s Director of Research points out: “We spend a lot of time at the Institute examining data and trends within the region. As a departure, it’s interesting to look at Silicon Valley from the distant and unique vantage point that this data provides. Looking back at 2019, what did people think when they thought of ‘Silicon Valley’?”

Working with Rachel, Discourse Data used its Narrative Analysis platform to analyze over 600 million Reddit comments made during the first half of 2019. From this we pulled 7,811 conversations by 6,669 individuals (all de-identified and anonymous) that directly involved some aspect of Silicon Valley. Our Narrative Platform builds a map of conversations relating to a topic, discerning separate groups of authors and the words they use as they congregate around specific subtopics. From here, we can discover the themes, ideas and biases that drive these conversations.

In our analysis, the most dominant narratives associated with the term Silicon Valley in 2019, in order of prominence were:

● 50% of conversations mentioned Silicon Valley as a proxy for the polarization of national politics: both left and right.

● 25% discussed the value of a degree from a top university, plus salaries, and engineering jobs for graduates.

● 15% centered on startup culture, with repeated mention of Elon Musk, and Elizabeth Holmes.

To look deeper, we can examine key words, and a few representative comments per subtopic:

#1 Subtopic: As a proxy for polarization in national politics, these keywords were mentioned most frequently:

Here is a sample from the most representative comments:

“PALO ALTO, Calif. ‚ A perfect California day. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze was blowing and, at a Silicon Valley coffee shop, Rep. Ro Khanna was sitting across from one of his many billionaire constituents discussing an uncomfortable subject: the growing unpopularity of billionaires and their giant tech companies.”

“I also feel like the Bernie people are lacking in Yang’s background. Just because he mentions silicon valley doesn’t make him one of them, and I’d prefer someone who is willing to work with silicon valley rather than be adversarial (*cough cough* EU). Technology can be a huge plus if we take advantage of it, especially if we want to compete internationally.”

#2 Subtopic: Discussion about the value of a Silicon Valley university degree, salaries and job opportunities.

Key words by frequency:

A sample of top most representative comments:
“Berkeley grad school doesn’t lose to anyone. Undergrad experience isn’t exactly Stanford. But from a purely utilitarian point of view, in certain fields like CS the connections to industry are the best there are, with Stanford and Berkeley being the best CS schools near silicon valley.”

“Starting salary for CS Berkeley is about 10–15K higher than U of AZ. Sounds like a lot. However it is skewed because the majority of college grads 1st job is in the state they graduate from and CA cost of living compared to AZ.”

#3 Subtopic: Startup culture with mention of current iconic figures.

Key words by frequency:

Selected from most representative comments:

“A silicon valley startup CEO’s main job is raising money, loudly presenting a vision, and being a true believer figurehead. Musk is … creating HODLr (cryptocurrency holder) like public tribalism in his brand. It’s kind of brilliant, but at the same time it’s why so many people despise and root against the company.”

“Silicon Valley Techbros. Like, not even joking, that’s literally who gave her millions of dollars. On top of that, they were happy to give helpful advice — For example, Larry Ellison (who now sits on Tesla’s board) not only gave her shedloads of cash, he also literally advised her to keep going despite everyone calling it impossible, because people also told him in his early years that the things he was doing “Weren’t Feasible” and “Couldn’t be done.””

And lastly — yes, there is a subtopic group about the HBO series Silicon Valley. Down the conversation list at #6 in terms of number of active authors, among the other conversations. As part of this conversation, HBO gets props for good shows among the current group of streaming services. The authors mention that they watch Silicon Valley, VEEP, WestWorld, and Barry, among others.

Here is the original press release from the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies.

For Silicon Valley economic and community health data, visit

For more information about Discourse Data, visit

Word Is

Discover the ideas and values driving online social discourse

Richard Mandeberg

Written by

Partner at discourse data. How do ideas take shape online? We look at the people and conversations that drive a narrative.

Word Is

Word Is

Discover the ideas and values driving online social discourse

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