Don’t go to the Bay Area

I’d say if you’re considering moving to the bay area now, you are a masochist who loves to bleed a little. If you have a family, you are probably worse than that.

When I first got a job as an engineer with a mobile start-up based in Mountain View in 2017, I didn’t know a single thing about Silicon Valley (for example, I didn’t know that it is the region south of San Francisco all the way to San Jose). I had spent most of my first years in the United State on the east coast, more specifically in New York City. In NYC, I felt united. It is genuinely a place of its own. People like me rush to NYC to invent or reinvent themselves. If you sit down and have a beer with a New Yorker, you’ll probably hear a good story or two. New Yorkers are storied people. And I always felt that I could make it there, and make it anywhere. The latter wasn’t the case, it seems…

I decided to move my family — which at that moment comprised of my barely-one-year-old baby girl — to the bay area because I had spent quite a few years writing programs for free as a maintainer of my own open-source project. I was quite excited, of course, but I would have been as excited about getting a coding job in New York (remember, I didn’t know Silicon Valley). So the main reason for the excitement was the prospect of working as a full-time, paid engineer.

Underdeveloped

We were underwhelmed when we arrived in San Francisco. Of course, why wouldn’t we? We were New Yorkers. I don’t think there’ll ever be any metropolitan city comparable to NYC. But then we started our journey in the Santa Clara region, staying in an Airbnb while looking for our rent without a car (that’s a blessing — we didn’t buy a car until the second year in the bay area, and thus were isolated from the stress of dealing with Californian drivers).

Silicon Valley is nothing short of boring. It’s a half-assed developed stretch of former farmlands sprinkled with small towns like Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Santa Clara, and San Jose, respectively from north to south, connected by a legendary old road called the El Camino, which is lined with aged strip malls and overgrown sidewalks nobody uses. If you drove across the state from the south into San Jose on the highway, you will see the abrupt change of scenery to an overgrown one filled with weeds and other excess plantations that will remind you of AreaX. Because of the temperate climate all year long, those evergreens usually enjoy no seasonal disruptions.

Don’t get me wrong, the climate is great (and that’s the only thing Californians will tell you for a reason why they’re there), and although I miss the spring blossoms and deep red leaves in the fall, there’s nothing wrong with redwood trees everywhere. But as a naive lad coming into Tech Mecca, I was fucking expecting Blade Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles. I mean, where are all the tech integrations with the infrastructure? Maglev train? Smart sentient cities? Robots delivering mails? Ok, there are cars strapped with lidars everywhere to see, but they have nothing to do with the general public, do they? A bit dystopian is Silicon Valley, sure, but not at all high tech. It feels just like New Mexico with Safeways and many more strip malls.

The Silicon Valley I envisioned

Some fingerprints tech industries leave in the area might be donations to some playgrounds, the Salesforce Tower, and lots of scooters. There is certainly a big divide between the general population, local culture, and the tech industry. Most outsiders asked me about being there to reap the opportunity of testing their products with local businesses because everyone supposedly talks about tech. Everyone in tech, I told them.

Rent is a b*****

By now, everyone should be well aware of the notoriety of rent prices in the bay area. They are the highest nationwide, but that’s not even what’s worst. What’s the worst about renting in the bay area is it is the landlords’ market. Because the FAANGs attract tech workers from all over the world with sky-high salaries, these people form a demand for housing that entitles landlords. Good luck being a garage-style startup founder looking for rent these days. They won’t even consider you. It’s really hard to find affordable rent if you aren’t working in tech, and if you are but your salary isn’t super high. And if you find one, chances are your landlord won’t be very perceptive of your opinions or requests. The undertone was always “I could always replace you, tenant.” The Bay area screams co-living and the only way you can do that is on your own.

Sexism at its finest

When the culture you are in manages to be sexist while advertising inclusivity, you know it is having its finest moment as a sexist culture. I’m sure you have seen the statistics of fundraised by female versus male founders and salaries of female versus male tech employees, but I’d like to raise a different view as a father. Let me start by telling you about little conversations we had with moms at a neighborhood playground.

One day, my partner went to pick our child up from school and decided to hit the playground in the area. There were, of course, many moms hanging out with their kids, most of which were foreigners and full-time homemakers. My partner had a few chats, with the conversations mostly involving house chores and what to cook. She then excused herself because she had to head home to tend to her new-founded business. One of the fellow mothers asked, “What’s the rush?” with a snicker.

Another day, I went over to the playground with my kid, and I had a chance to chat with some of the moms there. After a short while, one of them asked, “Don’t you have to get back to work?”

Someone else might brush this off, but if you think about it, it shows a deeply ingrained culture that expects men to work their asses off with the support of their homemaking spouses. This is especially common among foreigners with a family (like me), with the women having to abandon their careers for years to stay at home (a friend was a scientist back home and she had to put it on hold). There are, of course, parents who both work, but that’s only because they are both in the tech field and/or have a support network. Otherwise, they will be looking at the childcare bills that often outweigh the earnings the working women bring home plus the time they have to sacrifice being away from their child.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with women who take pride in making family. In fact, I have total respect for them. It’s the culture that presses all of them to fit in a stereotype that’s blameworthy.

And if you think about it — the future isn’t only up to the technology — it is also up to the next generations of builders and pioneers. Or our kids. Why the fuck aren’t we investing more in these little people by investing in the women who back them and make them less miserable?

Ironically, with this normalization of women, the bay area manages to be the Center of Politically Correction (CPC), known by some as the Woke Movement. When you believe in a single herd mentality and subscribe to it wholesale that you are ready to aggressively drown and “cancel” people with disagreeing opinions, you are swaying from common sense and better off pulling your energy inward.

Mediocre services

This goes without saying but in general services in the bay area just suck. After the expensive meal and heavy tip, you would expect them to try harder at making you feel that your money’s well-spent. No, sire. They don’t care at all because of the same reason rent is a b*****. Plus, Californians are being slow-tortured with high taxes and slow development of all surroundings which begs the question of where the tax money really goes.

Hustle all the way

In the bay area, the undertone has always been to grind and hustle, and that you don’t deserve better until you put in enough work (which is never). On the contrary, you see fancy cars driving on the street, making you occasionally feel like you should overreach a bit for some status. Add in the hustle seasoning, you get folks who can’t afford a Tesla buying one and Ubering it to cover the payout while renting a beat-down one-bedroom apartment because he works a low-income job.

Is it still a great place to found a startup?

It’s true that many, many giant tech companies started out as startups in the bay area, but it is also true that many of the household names were not —

  • Microsoft was founded in Albuquerque, NM
  • Amazon was founded in Bellevue, WA
  • Bytedance was founded in Beijing, China
  • Ring was founded in Santa Monica, CA
  • Canvas was founded in Perth, Australia

Being in the center of action can be a great thing, but can also be demoralizing and distracting. The 97% of startups that don’t take off become a much bigger pool when the number of startups are concentrated in one area. Most of them are distracted by competitors, looking for investors, , and attending seminars instead of staying focused, clocking in the work, and heading home for a nice, deserving rest.

Here’s a thing — I’ve once spotted a new neighborhood food-delivery app nobody knew about on a sticker on a door of a restaurant in Vegas, along with the likes of Doordash and Uber Eats. That indicates the openness for local businesses to try new startup apps. Ironically, I have never seen that in the bay area despite my hope. Restaurants adopted tech because they had to, and they even raise their prices to recoup the loss these apps cut.

Everything has its time

Everything in the universe is born, grows, wears off, and transforms into a new form. Fixating to the ideology of the great Silicon Valley decades ago endangers your venture and the liveliness of your family. It is exciting to see how the idea originated from a certain place and time can galvanize and inspire more interesting better offspring.

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I’m interested in Web3 and machine learning, and helping ambitious people. I like programming in Ocaml and Rust. I angel invest sometimes.