What Does it Take to Make it in Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley landscape
Silicon Valley landscape

It’s very hard to make it in Silicon Valley. Despite the competition, people flock here from all over the world hoping to cash their chips.

Some make it in Silicon Valley. Others can’t cut it. So, I put it out there on LinkedIn and asked:

What does it take to make it in Silicon Valley?

The winds have changed. Silicon Valley is not what it was ten years ago. It has become the place to be and as a result, it has become very competitive. Between 2014 and 2015, over 90,000 people moved to the Bay Area.

I remember a time less than a decade back when there was nothing at the corner of Highway 237 and North First but a lone palm tree.

Now, there’s a Target and an Irvine-esque mall with eateries frequented by the hardware techies at companies nearby. Driving down North First Street, swanky apartment complexes keep popping up, leading into Samsung’s new headquarters— a futuresque 3D NAND building that dwarfs the nearby Cisco buildings that long held a monopoly over the Tasman- North First corridor.

In 2008, construction halted. The economy tanked. BART was empty and you could drive from Fremont to San Francisco in just over 30 minutes during rush hour.

In 2017, that commute will take you over an hour.

It was easier to make it here ten years ago. You could graduate from college with any degree and come out here, land a job, and eventually climb the ladder to mid-management. But the rules are different now. And the stakes are higher. Mediocrity simply doesn’t cut it in Silicon Valley anymore.

Here’s what some Silicon Valley people had to say to my LinkedIn poll (and my commentary to their advice):

Success = preparedness + opportunityJaved Ali, CXO of Foodie.ai.

I don’t believe in luck. Well, to be fair, I don’t believe in blind luck. In order to get an opportunity, you need to be prepared to avail yourself of that chance. This means that you need to be mentally prepared as well as organizationally prepared. Being prepared means that you have a plan B in case the opportunity isn’t what it’s chalked up to be. It also means that you know what you want and that you recognize the opportunity when it comes your way. So often, I’ve heard people say “I never get a break.” Well the truth is that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Those who have done well in the Valley have recognized the value in even the most menial of tasks. I recently met a sound engineer who came from abroad. He had done shows in large stadiums. Here, however, he was initially taking jobs doing sound for DJ parties. But he looked to every opportunity as a chance to show his value. He never said that the DJ parties were beneath him (after all, he had done jobs at huge stadiums in London). Now, one year since moving here, he’s doing events for major Silicon Valley companies.

Which brings me to the next point:

Balancing of the egoOmar Ansari, Sr Manager eBay

Unless your name is Elon Musk, you really shouldn’t have a big ego in Silicon Valley. Why? Because there will always be someone better than you. This is a place where some of the highest skilled individuals come together. I’ve met mediocre people from small cities who come here thinking they will land great jobs, patting themselves on the back for saying how awesome they are at negotiating/finance/coding/fill-in-the-blank, because they got opportunities in the cities they came from. It’s almost shocking how fast their skill gap shows when they start working in Silicon Valley. And when people of mediocre skill show ego, they are also shown the door shortly after.

Silicon Valley is a place of constant innovation. As a result, you need to stay up to date and constantly innovate yourself to make it here. Someone with a huge ego will be blinded to his or her shortcomings and will not work to improve.

Consistent innovation in your self, team, products and companyFarman Syed, Head of Products, Payments + Commerce, Apple

Things change fast here. What was an awesome idea yesterday is old news today. In Silicon Valley, it’s important to be adaptable and to stay abreast of change. Know what’s going on around you and know what the next best thing is. Constantly update your skills and your knowledge by keeping up to speed with the direction of Silicon Valley. Here, they don’t say “cutting edge.” They say “bleeding edge”.

It’s not always easy to know what’s the next big thing. You need to read, network, and talk to the right people.

Which brings me to the next two points:

Network Steve Tanner, Sr. Writer, Thomson Reuters

Networking isn’t what it used to be. Before, networking meant going to mixers and handing out your card, hoping that you could reach out to the contact and perhaps ask them to slip your resume in to recruiting.

Nobody does that anymore. There’s too much risk in sending someone’s resume in, especially if that someone isn’t qualified for the job.

Nowadays, networking is so that you can help enhance your corporate brand by being around the people who are in your desired line of work. It’s also a chance to learn from those who know more than you and who can help you identify industry trends.

Surround yourself with successFarhan Syed, Head of Sales, Lynda.com (LinkedIn)

This comment, in my opinion, was one of the wisest ones. Surrounding yourself with success means being around people who you can look to for knowledge. It also means that you are that much closer to identifying a mentor or perhaps even being identified by a sponsor. Mentors are those we look to for guidance. Sponsors, however, are some of the most valuable connections to rise the ranks— they are those high ranking individuals who see potential in you and go to bat for you. You can’t have a sponsor unless you are in their line of sight.

Finally, in conclusion, the last point is also the most logical. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk.

ExecutionNatrian Maxwell, Demand Services Director, OpenX

If you really want to make it in Silicon Valley, be ready to show some results. Everyone can talk big, but do you have the energy, the tenacity, and the dedication to follow through on your big idea?

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