Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Silicon Valley Isn't As Big - or as small - As You Might Think

One of the things that usually surprises people when they visit Silicon Valley is just how much is going on here. Pick a spot, start driving, and in about 10 minutes, you can go from one noteworthy company to another -- Google, Yahoo, Apple, Intel, Microsoft, HP all have locations within a short hop from one another. Pick a different industry -- software, computer hardware, semiconductors, biomedical technology, solar power, emerging technologies that you might not have heard about -- and you can find them here. It really creates a strong sense of inherent diversity that ripples through every aspect of life here. Diversity is one of the things that makes this place special -- not just in industry or corporate environment, but in culture, in ethnicity, in fashion, and in values.

The funny thing about the diversity of Silicon Valley is that -- in terms of work, industry, and lifestyle -- it's easy to get so caught up in your little niche that the rest of the world just disappears. If you work in the PC components industry, it can seem downright surprising that the guy sitting next to you on the CalTrain to San Francisco has never heard of the Intel Developer's Forum.

This kind of lifestyle immersion -- particularly if you move from one industry to another -- helps create an illusion of disconnection. Remember that lazy guy that you used to work with two companies ago, the one who was always such an obstacle to getting the things done that you were trying to do? After two job changes and complete industry switches, that might seem like ancient history, but you around here, you never know when you may find yourself face to face with your history.

I was reminded of this recently when a work communication included email from the husband of a woman that I worked with 10 years ago. Or the time, a couple of years ago, when I ran into several people from a previous start-up in the deli across the street from the company that I was working with at that time. Perhaps the strangest was when the woman who used to live in the apartment downstairs joined the start-up that I was working for.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find that the intense immersion in the present always makes these past-encounter experiences feel awkward? After all, weren't you supposed to stay in touch?

Anyway, while it's easy to get caught up in the traffic or the immersion isolation and imagine a world where you can turn the corner and not look back, it's always good to remember that here in Silicon Valley, there aren't that many corners -- or at least there aren't as many corners as you might think.

No comments: