Silicon Valley 101: Understanding the Workforce That Powers the Globe

What is it that makes the Silicon Valley workforce so unique?

First of all, it’s a fairly evolved workforce. People in Silicon Valley need to understand the business model they’re working in, and they have strong opinions about what methods of leadership and management are most effective.

They have to be very deep in their area of technical expertise, but they also need to be interested and involved in the direction of the company as a whole. Even engineers have to be able to make an elevator pitch for the company – they have to understand the value proposition to be able to put their work into context and understand it in relation to the goals of the entire organization.

I think another difference is that people in Silicon Valley are more comfortable with failure. Nobody likes failure, or goes looking for it, but most of these people have worked at a failed startup at one point or another, so they know what it means to take chances, and they know they can survive if things don’t go as planned. They’ve taken risks. They’ve been entrepreneurial as individuals. They’ve failed. And then they’ve picked themselves up, and they’ve rebuilt.

Silicon Valley also has a very transient workforce. People are very well connected and good at networking. They’re in charge of their own careers, and are looking to create their own opportunities.

What this does mean, though, is that they’re not particularly loyal. They haven’t been shown a lot of loyalty, and they know there are better opportunities elsewhere. This doesn’t bode well for companies that are looking to recruit skilled workers for the long term.

What you have, then, is a sort of bidding war of perks in Silicon Valley, as companies compete to attract the best of the best. These perks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some organizations are improving their learning culture, or creating a sense of community inside their company by implementing by-generational mentoring. And it’s not just that the more senior employees are mentoring the younger folks – it’s more flexible and comprehensive than that.

Then there are companies like EMC, a juggernaut IT company,  which are very much about flexibility – whether it’s about hours, or working from home, or tailoring the job to the individual. And, of course, let’s not forget about Google, with its legendary cafeteria.

But perks are not enough. People who work at Google, for instance, have told me that all the free gourmet food in the world would not make them stay if they had a problematic boss. So it all comes back to leadership.