I now feel it's largely dominated by arrogance. Everyone wants to "change the world" but what they really want is fame and fortune. A San Francisco startup is hilariously not practical. The article cites working hard and living frugally, but startup culture is the opposite. It's ludicrous extremes like having pingpong tables and games and coffee baristas at work. This is not living "frugally."
Worse though, is the idea that everyone is a temporarily embarrassed Steve Jobs who is good at everything, even the things they are completely ignorant of. The disdain for areas they have no expertise in is astonishing.
Meanwhile, the engine fuelling all this, the VCs, have their own agenda, namely themselves. They feed the culture because it benefits them. Most will fail, most people are not Steve Jobs. But the VCs just need one or two successes to make it worth it. It's in their interest to have every possible upcoming company under their thumb. The VCs message is always clear: you won't make it without them. You won't make it without being in Silicon Valley. It's impossible.
It's all very off putting and not at all like the glittering fake picture that the SV culture likes to paint.
If a pingpong table and games are a major expense in your company, you're already dead. A barista is wasteful, unless he/she is serving coffee to hundreds of employees that would otherwise waste company time by leaving the office for a coffee break.
As an engineer, I avoid companies like the plague that refuse basic niceties in the name of saving money. It's a major indicator that it's going to be a miserable environment and you will have to fight tooth-and-nail for every piece of equipment and (even worse) raises/promotions.
I would disagree with such a sweeping statement. There are lots of bootstrapped companies that can't afford such things, nor do they even have the office space for them. This doesn't mean they're "already dead", it means they're doing things differently in the early days and prioritizing other expenses. Not every startup wants to be a VC-funded enterprise.
An established company, on other other hand...
But Google is not a frugal startup. It's a giant company offering a big complicated benefits package.
 Free ones that is. Not counting big plants with cafes that charge market prices and seem to break even.
I don't think you realize how little these items cost when divided out amongst the number of employees. In particular when you consider the alternative of them leaving the Google campus for a half hour for a coffee break.
If you think catered lunches and the like are purely perks, then you drank the Kool-Aid. There is a reason they don't want you bringing free food/snacks home - it's because when you consume it in the office they are getting a benefit out of it as well.
> and they are the first company I have worked for with either baristas
It's not because Google is that much nicer. It's just because they realized early on the return on investment these things provide. This stuff is pretty much par for the course for newer tech companies in the bay.
There's a catch though: the dinner is served at 18:15
EDIT: Not that I'm saying it's not worth it, just that there are more costs to consider here.
Well, maybe that is not expensive, but it is a big deal, and a company has to back itself to know that it will come out ahead.
A ping-pong table costs $200. (Maybe a really good one is $500.) That's about what your chair costs, assuming your chair doesn't suck. A decent engineer costs at least $150k basic, probably $250k all-in. That works out at an hourly rate of maybe $120? So if you get 15 fifteen engineer-minutes of work per employee through a catered lunch, it's a net cash win.
(Plus the tax treatment is very favorable for that sort of perk.)
There is a ton of excess in Silicon Valley, it's unbelievable, but the office perks are one of the less stupid parts of it.
This is the funniest part of the article:
> San Francisco is 6 hours away from the US East Coast and even further from Europe and Asia. This leaves it a little isolated and less connected to other parts of the world. A noticeable consequence of this is that people seem to be less aware of, interested in and knowledgeable about world affairs.
The proportion of foreign-born people is higher in the San Francisco area than anywhere else in the United States with the possible exception of New York City. The San Francisco area is far more international than the author gives it credit for. By the way, we are closer to Asia both geographically and culturally than the East Coast is.
This article does nothing but repeat stereotypes, and it contains no original ideas.
It makes a lot of sense to me though. America, like Europe, has a huge amount of diversity in things to do and places to go. It would take a lifetime to see everything worth seeing in America and I can see why the effort (and cost) of going to say Europe or Asia wouldn't seem appealing when you can go see something domestically like the Grand Canyon, the museums in DC or any of the numerous different cities/states.
So Americans don't have as much reason to travel I think and given that the American economy is so enormous and the country is physically isolated from the rest of the world, ultimately, the state of the world outside America doesn't impact an American as much as it does a European.
This isn't to say that this is right but I think this at least somewhat provides some reason for the way things are.
This is likely selection bias, at least in part. If you were to live in Europe, the proportion of Europeans you know who speak 3+ languages would go down, the proportion of Americans you know who speak 2+ languages would go up.
BTW - 25% of the Americans I know speak Chinese. Also selection bias: I live in China and have never lived in the US.
I'm not sure if you intended to say Americans are intentionally insular, but if so, that's definitely not the case. It's just a side effect of being able to travel 2000 miles easily without ever leaving the US.
Additionally, in order to travel to another country other than Mexico/Canada, airfare alone for a family of 4 will be like 10% of the average annual household income so it's not really affordable for most Americans.
This is very much specific to what country in Europe you're talking about and what field of work you're in. Over here in the UK, there are a lot fewer people that speak multiple languages than in say the Nordic countries or Germany.
We get far more news about the US than we do about Europe, US movies and TV are mainstream while European movies usually only get niche middle class art house distribution, our singers sing with fake US accents, and it used to be much easier to decorate your living room with photos of Brooklyn Bridge than of European landmarks - until we started putting union jacks on everything.
As far as many English people are concerned the US is full of sexy super heroes, while the EU is full of immigrants, shifty foreigners, bureaucrats, and smelly cheese.
So it actually makes no sense to compare SF to London, because in many ways (excepting the weather, the age of the housing stock, and possibly the social signals used to indicate class) they're more similar than different.
Comparing SF to Berlin, Barcelona, or maybe Lisbon might be more revealing.
I don't even mean that Europeans travel more because they jump a few European borders. Most European people I know have taken a whole year out after university to travel the entire planet, trying to see and experience as much as possible, from far Africa, to Asia and even America. I travel a lot myself and whenever I cross continents I always tend to meet the same people: Europeans (English, Swedish, Germans, French, etc.) and Australians. I rarely meet an American. Mostly I came across Canadians in South and Central America, but that was it.
This is not true of most European people I know. Yes, some people do it, but it's a very small percentage of the population, concentrated among the wealthier part. Even in the UK it's only a small part of the population that does it, never mind in poorer countries like Greece. I do think the majority of Scandinavians I know have done the "gap year" trip, but not the majority of British, Polish, French, Spanish, or Greeks.
My view of what's normal in the UK, though, may be different because I don't live in London.
In London I would put that number closer to 25%, but that says more about the type of people that move to London than it does about Europeans in general.
This month, there are flights to France for £5 each way.
Yes, this entire post is about generalizations. I figured that was sort of implied.
Obviously, we're dealing with stereotypes. If you're this repulsed by it, I'm very interested in knowing how you'd dissect "culture" without resorting to generalizations?
Mods: Is there a way to mute/block users?
Great question. Coming from Mr. "I have no experience with Europeans, London, or San Francisco, but here's my opinion anyway".
To contribute: I've spent a considerable time in London and the original post has left me unconvinced that the author has spent any time in London except as a tourist and living vicariously through other peoples' blog posts.
Unless you combine San Jose and San Francisco into a single metro area (which I wouldn't, and the Census doesn't), then Miami, San Jose, and Los Angeles all have San Francisco beat, by quite a large margin . If you're talking combined statistical areas, I don't know and don't have a source, but would suspect that both the Los Angeles and Miami CSAs beat out San Jose-San Francisco's on this metric.
Or maybe there has been a particular and drastic demographic shift in the Bay Area over the last 4-5 years that I'm not aware of.
Doesn't really change anything. The point is that like most of us Europeans will point out. Americans are rather insular in general. Doesn't matter if you live in SF or not. Americans don't pay much attention to what is going on outside of their bubble. Also they tend to lack curiosity about the world outside.
Even foreign born Americans seem to end up like that. I've met Americans originally born and raised in Sweden but where utterly clueless about what Sweden is like in general or is like today.
At least in northern Europe which I know best, discussing politics and world affairs at the lunch table is rather common. When bought by an American company it was obvious things were different when one of the instruction was "don't talk politics or religion at work!"
Not just London. Take this quote from the original article:
> In San Francisco the predominant ways people make money is through selling or floating their startup - it’s about working hard and living frugally whilst working with your team
For want of a better word, that's BS. Firstly that pre-supposes everyone working in tech in SF is in a position where they'd make money off their startup selling or floating (many startup employees aren't, and even then as a profitable exit is the exception, not the norm.
Secondly, it discounts everyone quietly making significant amounts of money plugging away at a sizable tech company milking the RSUs over time (and that's a lot of people).
I've lived in both cities, my experiences have been completely different.
San Francisco is a city and the "Bay Area" is a region. In London people from both Chiswick and Hackney which are quite far away from each other both say they are from London. Someone from Sonoma and someone from Santa Clara don't say they're from San Francisco.
I thought the whole point of a blog was personal experience? This is what the author saw and therefore, this is what he can express with honesty.
It's easy to feel like it's just a tech bubble -- there's not much interaction outside of it. But if you make an effort to step outside the tech-centric environment, it can be extremely rewarding.
Many companies also encourage navel gazing by providing "free" lunches, team outings, tech-meetups, company happy hours and parties, and other ways of remaining pretty much in the company and tech social scene.
If you're young and somehow didn't buy in to the many enticements to work every waking moment, you might have time to socialize with people outside of tech (if you were interested enough to do so, and actually made an effort to move out of your comfort zone).
If you're older, you are likely to want to spend your few precious hours outside of work with your family, and maybe if you're very lucky, with a few friends, who are probably also in the tech field.
Also, don't forget that many people in tech are famously introverted and socially phobic. Getting them to socialize at all, much less go out of their comfort zone and meet people unlike them is a challenge.
To those who think so, consider this: how many Chinatown natives or longtime residents have you met for so much as an hour (total) of meaningful conversation?
How many Bayview natives?
How many South Bay natives?
The bubble myopia can become one's universe if that person doesn't choose to pop out of the bubble now and then. So to speak.
Can you give an example?
But now, given everything I have read about the Bay these days, I don't think I'd want to live there. Apparently all the artists have left, Burning Man is a corporate event soon to be shut down permanently (given what I've heard about the cops), money, money, money... too much wanna be zillionaires all hoping to best buds with Zuckerberg someday. IT culture is not what is was 'back in the day'. And get off my lawn!
And I have lived in London for seven years, more than I did in SF. I greatly prefer London. Good public transport, it feels like a place you can live, it's a real city, not a bunch of suburbs (but now the rents... well, being used to SF rents when I moved, it was similar).
My take on the article is the guy projects a lot onto the two cities. The tech scene has all these romantic associations with it and good lord, I am getting tired of hearing about them. At the end of the day, it just a job for most people and few startups actually matter (Uber matters because they are screwing up so much). "Changing the world" only equals working on social problems like establishing UBI, not running the world's largest BBS so your grandma can read fake news that is written in Romania or feeding the ADD of adolescents who like to take pictures of their food. As for financial, that will always matter until capitalism crashes.
While I mostly understand the different atmosphere on both places, and even agree with some of the points, I have to say the author had to be pretty immersed in a very particular bubble to have come to this conclusion - which does not seem to fit reality as all.
(1) Yes, NHS has its problems, but US simply does not have anything like it.
I don't know SFO but I suspect the author has a similarly narrow perspective there.
Could you explain that sentence?
This is more startup and corporate hype than reality. Many startups pretend to set out to change the world to get funding, try to motivate their employees, and get good PR. The media is often eager to be fooled and jump on any bandwagon if there's a story in it, but people who've been in the industry a while and aren't wet behind the ears have heard such hype repeatedly, and it gets really old after a while, and is not very convincing.
Most people, whether in SF or anywhere else in the world, work because they get paid. Sure, it's nice to work on what you love, but relatively few people achieve that dream in the long run. Much more common is burnout and disillusionment, not just in tech but in many other careers as well. It often looks rosy and beautiful when you're fresh out of college, but gets less rosy with each passing year, unless you happen to win the startup lottery and have fuck-you money to really work on whatever you want whenver you want, or not, as the mood strikes you. Otherwise, it's mostly work, not play, and certainly not saving the world.
What most startup employees don't understand that even if their start-up wins the lottery, they're not going to have F-U money. That's reserved for co-founders and investors. Maaaaaybbeeee if you're employee 1-20 at the next Facebook or Google you'll end up with a substantial sum. But the rest of the pack? You're .1% (if you're lucky) might next you $500-100k. Not enough to brag about.
If you have .1% and your company sells for $100 million, you don't get .1% of $100M. You get .1% of whatever's left over after the investors have gotten their 2-3x preferences, all debts have been settled etc.
It's sometimes hard to tell which bits are for real, and which bits are the play-acting, but I've long suspected anyway that more people than you'd think are playing startup. Does it matter if it's with somebody else's money rather than their own? I say no... but of course if your story fits the rags-to-riches American Dream then this can help ennoble what would otherwise be a straightforward tale of simple money-grabbing.
* cough *
Uhh not sure what SF you're living in