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March 2000

Valley of the Dollars
by Brian Dunning

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Author's 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.

Having spent most of my life in the "Real World" and recently relocated to Silicon Valley, I am ceaselessly entranced by the acid trip, 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 market.

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 by.

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 is that?"

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 independent developer.

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.

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye