Written by Brian Cray on November 10th, 2010
The past 2 months have been more crazy than any other time in my professional web life. Why? I'm surviving Silicon Valley.
Two months ago I joined Topsy, a real-time search engine powered by the social web. We have the largest index of tweets in the world, and turning all of that data into something useful for people is complex. Moreover, real-time and social are synonymous with fast-paced. Put the two together and we're talking really fast-paced.
But that's just how Silicon Valley rolls. The stakes are high as are the demands from the people expected to make things happen. So what does "making things happen" in Silicon Valley mean? Without further ado, here's a high-level view of what's happened during my first two months there.
Two months in Silicon Valley
- Thrown into a highly complex search environment trying to keep up with some of the smartest search engineers in the world
- Released a completely redesigned corporate blog
- Designed a complete product using Django/Python, both of which I've never had past experience
- Built an powerful copy & paste widget (coming soon to publishers near you)
- All while moving from GUI editors with FTP access to VIM over SSH with Git version control
Wow. That's a lot. And I'm just getting warmed up.
I reflect on all of this often. Although I've seen myself as a strong developer having developed many popular web apps, I appreciate the developer I'm becoming … in just two months mind you.
But the real goal of this article is to prepare other smart developers around the world that are considering Silicon Valley for their next employment opportunity.
Tips for preparing to work in Silicon Valley
Treat everyone like they're your boss
Silicon Valley hires people because they're the cream of the crop—the best at what they do. The culture is very egalitarian in that a co-worker's advice is just as valuable as your boss' or their boss' advice when given in the context of their expertise. Unless obviously untrue, never should you doubt or underestimate their knowledge. It may be the best advice you've ever received.
When you're working with someone, think of your role in terms of how to make their jobs easier. If you do that, you'll likely to receive the same treatment back, because everybody respects co-workers who get shit done.
Get shit done
Silicon Valley startups represent a high performance culture. Shareholders, the nature of Silicon Valley, and the economics of technology all make things move fast. The only way to keep up is to simply get 'er done.
Additionally, the level of expertise required to work there means you're highly accountable to your output for two primary reasons. First, everyone is solving their own problems that help the business grow. Your problems are your own to the extent that you're ultimately accountable for solving them. Second, because everyone is a strong performer and the unforgiving nature of startups means the company is running lean. Your role is yours. Do it or say screw it and bounce out of Silicon Valley.
Burst your bubble
Over 50% of the tools I use to get my job done are new to me. I wasn't hired only because I knew the primary tools that were required for the role. I was hired because I had the capacity and the desire to learn and grow professionally and personally.
If you're working in a bubble (mine was LAMP) and thinking about working in Silicon Valley, make sure that you're comfortable with learning new tools even as you're expected to perform with them. Silicon Valley is no place for people unwilling to break their barriers, even drastically.
Surviving Silicon Valley is about capacity to perform. Do you have the capacity to perform?
On a related note, Topsy is a great place to work, and Topsy is always hiring. (And no, Topsy did not ask me write that)