Valley of the Dollars
by Brian Dunning
article | del.icio.us
note - Please note the date on this article before reading it;
and keep that context in mind.
The author is also pleased to note that
he is no longer located in Silicon Valley, but has returned
home to the sunny South Coast.
spent most of my life in the "Real
recently relocated to Silicon Valley, I am ceaselessly entranced
quasi-fantasy, psycho dream trance of an alternate reality which
drapes the senses of those who live and work in this most bizarre
and unique of history's Golcondas.
Fueled by an endless supply of venture capital money which is
thrown in the air and squandered as exorbitantly as possible,
Silicon Valley has become a place not too different from the Real
World, just with a couple of extra zeroes tacked on. Where it
gets interesting is trying to spend this money in a grievously
overtaxed infrastructure. Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z3's abound
in a realm of gridlocked one lane streets.
In a land where the Internet is lifeblood, neighborhoods' cable
modems and DSL lines must pass through a single copper wire, laid
in 1890, which is timeshared with nine other communities. Uneducated
entry level employees have salaries which exceed those on Wall
Street, yet they must line up and bid on that rare occasion when
even the raunchiest of bachelor studio apartments comes on the
Depending on what part of the country they're in, good FileMaker
Pro administrators can earn between forty and eighty thousand
dollars a year, with modest benefits. In Silicon Valley, eighty
thousand will not even buy the lowliest of office gophers, unless
fifty thousand shares of stock are included, with four years vesting
and a one year cliff. Simply having opened a FileMaker manual
once puts your starting salary at six figures and brings a benefits
package worth at least a thousand dollars a month, cuts your stock
vesting from four years to three years, and reduces the cliff
from a year to six months.
Elsewhere in the country, FileMaker developers look at words
like "stock" and "vesting" and "cliff" and assume that cowboys,
cattle, and a steep embankment are referenced.
In line at McDonald's, I marvel at the kitchen workers, and wonder
what percentage of McDonald's, Inc. was required to entice each
of them to join, and what sort of corporate housing is provided,
and what limo service delivers them to work each day. In other
towns, those little TV screens show what order is coming up next,
but the Silicon Valley McDonald's screens show the stocks ticking
A Real World FileMaker developer may reasonably expect to be
able to demo his FileMaker solution to clients and receive praise.
In Silicon Valley, a FileMaker solution is received with blank
stares, head scratching, and questions like "What version of Oracle
Let's talk about Oracle for a moment. Real World executives like
Dominique Goupil (president of FileMaker, Inc.) eat Captain Crunch
for breakfast, and scratch their hairy bellies while watching
football and drinking beer for dinner. Silicon Valley executives,
most notably Oracle's Larry Ellison, live in gated forest Woodside
compounds where you have to take a little boat to get to the "main
house," and spend their time suing San Jose airport for special
permission to land their Gulfstreams after hours.
In the Real World, an independent FileMaker developer may rent
an executive suite to use as his office. Not so in Silicon Valley.
With less than one percent vacancy in commercial properties, it's
now standard for property management to receive an equity stake
in the lessor's company. The business plan must be reviewed and
approved, as must the funding source. Bidding starts at five dollars
per square foot (five times the national average), and whoever
offers the most stock and has the best venture capital behind
them gets the space. There is no such thing as an office for an
In the Real World, FileMaker developers show up at the office
in button-up shirts and clean pants. In Silicon Valley, the standard
uniform is a Nautica or Adidas exercise suit, with bold lettering
covering most of the fabric, and the price tag left on; or a backwards
baseball cap with greasy hair poking through, a vast vintage shirt
with one tail hanging out, and baggy jeans with little chains
attached. The latter is already earning a large salary; the former
might not be yet, but is trying to look like he does.
Silicon Valley follows a liberal philosophy on road building,
on the bizarre principle that limiting the number of roads reduces
the number of cars, and thus minimizes traffic. Consequently,
workers here allocate four hours a day for their two mile commute
from Mountain View to Sunnyvale. Similarly, when Silicon Valley
people go to the doctor with blocked arteries, the doctor decides
to remove most of the arteries to reduce the amount of blood which
flows, and thus alleviate the problem.
In the Real World, FileMaker developers build their client's
solution at their home office, then drive out to the client's
office to demo and install it. In Silicon Valley, FileMaker developers
are imported from India (since there is zero unemployment in Silicon
Valley), luxuriated in corporate housing for six weeks and highly
paid, and then returned to India having done no work, since there
really wasn't any work for them to do anyway, and they were only
brought over as a way to spend venture capital dollars and justify
the technology department's budget for that quarter.
By the way, if anyone wants a job in Silicon Valley, we're hiring.