The failure of Silicon Valley.

Working for Yahoo! in Burbank, one of the first things that happened to me was the suggestion that I should be transfered to another team–and moved to Silicon Valley. There appears to be an overall theme here at Yahoo! which is not just a problem with Y!, but with other Silicon Valley-based software companies as well: and that is that as the Mecca of high-tech, all really good engineers should eventually move up to Silicon Valley to better serve their corporate masters.

I think this is a cultural assumption which is both incorrect and dangerous.

Sure, it would be very easy for me to land a job and advance very quickly within the hierarchy of any Silicon Valley company if I were not based in Los Angeles. I have no doubt as to my own programming abilities or architectural or (*shudder*) management abilities. And I know that there are so many opportunities up in San Jose which do not exist in Glendale.

Yet–I think this assumption is an extremely dangerous one for companies such as Yahoo! or Google to pursue.

First, a quick background about Yahoo!. Search marketing for Yahoo! was originally invented by a company called Overlook (formerly Goto.com), which was founded and built in Southern California prior to its acquisition by Yahoo! several years ago. Search marketing is essentially those little ads you see on Yahoo!’s search results page or Google’s search results page–and it is the primary cash cow for both companies. (A smaller cash cow is “Content Match”, the little box to the left or right of articles on places such as CNN which provide ads that appear related to the content of the article. But Search Marketing is the big cash cow, accounting for tens of billions of dollars overall.)

There is something deeply ironic to me that despite the huge brains in Silicon Valley, effective monitization of internet ads was done–in Los Angeles. (Google’s Ad Sense product was not built in-house but was also acquired.) Yet–and here’s the meat of my rant–even though the technology was invented down south, the prevailing attitude of the Silicon Valley crowd is that people in Silicon Valley are intrinsically more intelligent–perhaps around 30 IQ points–than their Lala land counterparts. And, of course, if you are bright, you clearly should move up to the City By The Bay where you can then help with the Internet Revolution.

This is a failure for several reasons.

First, one of the reasons why I personally dislike Silicon Valley is that it’s all tech, all the time. You go to some little cafe and the people in the next booth are talking about MySQL. The billboards and the office buildings all sport .COM names or tech company products. And while this is not in and of itself a problem, it does create a culture where distinctly “techy” and user-unfriendly products is considered normal, and where an average IQ in the 130’s is considered average.

Meaning products produced in such an in-bred setting are going to lean towards being overly “techy” and hard to use by your average non-tech-head consumer, unless you have someone like a Steve Jobs running rough-shod over the tech instincts of the developers there.

Second, by encouraging everyone to move to Silicon Valley, which has become one of the most expensive places in the world to live, you encourage people into a “must become millionare so I can buy a house” attitude which, while it may be a powerful incentive to create, becomes a destructive force at a company such as Yahoo! if, after working like crazy, rolls out a new product only to watch the stock price drop.

Silicon Valley has become its own black hole–sucking engineers into its environment, while creating an environment where it is assumed everyone is a tech-head, and where adding 20 extra buttons to a cell phone is seen as a way to create flexability and choice, rather than as a bewildering set of options that make the phone less valuable to its owners.

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