The Realities Of Living In Silicon Valley

It’s the amazing sliver of land that extends from San Francisco to South San Jose, nestled in between two big mountain ranges with a big body of water in the middle. Insanely great weather is virtually perennial. Access to the beach, access to the snow, access to the mountains, access to hiking…Silicon Valley is the place to be.

Twenty five years ago life in The Valley was peaceful as I remember the halcyon days of the 80s and 90s. But the landscape is completely unrecognizable from the past as everything is so much more developed now. The bay has undergone a nuclear tech explosion.

But as technology has grown, day to day life has become more unsustainable. I’ve come to the realization that the bay is a tough place to cut it. As much as I love the soil that I grew up on, I had to come up with a list of things that make it harder to thrive in the Valley.

Real Estate

Let’s just mention the obvious here, the big elephant sitting in the middle of the room. This place is punishingly expensive. This is single handedly the biggest drawback about this place. It’s a subject near and dear to any Siliconites heart. We’ve talked about it so much that we just don’t talk about it anymore. It’s trite to even mention it but the problem exists.

The median price for a home in Santa Clara County is slightly over $1M. That means 50% of the houses are even more expensive than that. Mind you, in the Bay Area a house at the $1M mark looks indistinguishable from a glorified hut. A 20% down payment on an entry level single family home in the South Bay would be a staggering $200k. That’s cold cash we are talking about guys. Just the mortgage and property tax alone on the house would be over $5,000/month. That’s just mortgage. Tack on another grand, or two, or three for other expenses.

According to Bankrate, here is what a mortgage looks like on a $1M house with $200K down:

Since many of the younger people and first timers can’t afford to buy here, we resort to renting. And we still blow a big part of our paycheck doing that. A rundown, two bedroom apartment in an average part of San Jose is going to cost you $2,500 per month. Paying top dollar for a dump gets old.

This is what a $1,000,000 “house” in Sunnyvale looks like. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry:

The Population Keeps Growing

I remember watching one of my many childhood videos as my family and uncle took a day trip to Monterey from San Jose. It was a weekend day circa 1985. We filmed the drive down. I think I counted 6 cars in the footage. Do that today and it’s more like sixteen thousand cars.

You will be severely penalized for doing basic daily errands if you do them at the wrong time. Watching movies on a Friday night? Have fun in the nosebleed seats if you don’t come 45 minutes earlier. Do you want to go to the mall at 2pm on a Saturday? Great, 8,000 people also had the same idea. Did you want to grab brunch Saturday morning? Have fun waiting in line for 25 minutes before you get seated. Want to play tennis at the courts at 7pm on Thursday night? So do 200 other people. Get in line. Interested in replenishing your kitchen on a Sunday evening at Costco? There’s a thousand other families who want to do the same thing. You will not escape this if you live in the Bay Area.

Traffic is another obvious issue linked to a bigger population. Usually the South bound highways are worse in the evenings and North bound worse in the mornings. Highways 880, 101, 85, 237 are all bad. 280 is somewhat decent but has started to become a parking lot about 7 years back.

The Employers Are Ridiculously Picky

Insane amounts of talent means that employers are picky. You can get a sense of this by checking how many people already applied for a position on LinkedIn. Any career fair, or corporate open house event is absolutely flooded with people.

You may be the best candidate but if you are not familiar with one software listed on the job description the employer won’t blink an eye before they toss your application in the trash. Being in the Bay Area means that your job is likely highly specialized and the requirements very specific. No corporation or startup needs to interview 30 candidates for a single position. Something seems broken here. Choices spoil people and choices have spoiled employers.

Interviewers will throw out obscure situational questions like what would you do if…such and such. One developer at a premier Bay Area hardware company asked me, “You are trying to figure out the breakdown of how the Marcom team spends their money on advertisements in China. This team is not open to disclosing this type of information to you. How do you get this data? ” My first thought was, how the hell do I know, and how will the answer to this question prove to you that I will do this job well? You can answer this question in so many ways. In another interview I had with a major company, I answered one question incorrectly. That was it. I had to pack my bags and go home. You’re getting the idea of how insane employers are here.

Once in a while employers have the gall to ask candidates to complete a project before being brought on for an onsite. This startup made me do a a tedious project after passing the phone screen. The task was to compile a database of AI employers in Atlanta. For each employer, I had to come up with a person to contact, list their name, and explain why would they would be a good resource to the company. This was essentially me doing free business development work for this company which was guised as an interview. That was the first and last time I ever agreed to do any type of project as part of an interview.

Lack Of Diverse Views

California is a blue state, and most people that are part of city centers are blue and democratic usually. Many people here are liberal, insanely liberal. SF is probably even more liberal than the South Bay. And so people here tend to have very similar beliefs. People here are not necessarily open to diversity of thought.

The Pressure To Perform Is Insane

Everything is a deal, everything is about funding, everything is about disruption, everything is about solving a problem, everything is about venture capital, everything is about seed money, everything is about growth, everything is about development, everything is about product roadmap, everything is about millions and billions, everything is about out bidding people on a house, everything is about stock price and most importantly everything is about yourself.

People are super absorbed in their first world problems. I have $400k in cash savings and I already own a home, should I buy a secondary property or buy stocks? That’s the type of conversations you have here. Whether you are sipping coffee at Starbucks or taking a walk in the park you will invariably hear people talking about their startups and funding or some deal. It all is a bit much sometimes.  

It’s hard to stand out when everyone is so well educated, accomplished and so brilliant. Whether someone is getting a PHD, seeking startup funding, selling their startup or just working at a FAANG, it’s hard to stand out. The bar is high. You are a small fish in a big pond here.

Public Transit Is Not Stellar

Bay Area is not known for its public transportation. That’s just how California is. We use our cars 95% of the time. Caltrain runs from San Francisco to Gilroy and we have BART that goes from Millbrae to SF and branches off to Richmond and Antioch. It is decades old and we are about 20 years behind on schedule. Both Caltrain and BART are connected to SF downtown. You just have to make sure you live close enough to one of these stations if you commute to the city.

Related: 15 interesting facts on the Bay Area.

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