Up until now I’ve found it hard to articulate exactly what it is that makes Silicon Valley such a different experience to the rest of the world, but after a few weeks of living it, I think I’ve got it now. Let me take you through some of the mad things than happen here that are just considered normal to the locals.
Firstly, the sheer density of tech workers here noticeably affects the culture of the area, particularly in marketing. Driving into SF on the freeway, you can expect to see billboard after billboard advertising tech conferences, services, and products, right alongside ads for Miller light beer. Here, tech companies have brands so respected that wearing a facebook or twitter or dropbox T-shirt around town is nothing, its just… normal. The first time I wore my Nerd Life T-shirt, (you get them free when you sign up to a server monitoring service, honest!) to work, another engineer on the team was wearing the same shirt! Faux pas aside, given that our Engineering team is fewer than 10 people, it serves to demonstrate the culture here.
Although many startups have products based purely in the web, increasingly there seems to be a trend of businesses who’s products bridge the gap between digital and analogue mediums. And since many of those startups are starting here, we tend to be the beta testers for them. And my god, are there some incredible products being trialled here. Probably the most amazing is Lyft, an app that literally lets anyone sign up to be a taxi driver, and let anyone call those taxi drivers from wherever they are. The process is so frictionless you’d think you have your own private driver:
- Open app, immediately on a map with a pin where you are, and a notice of the time it’ll take the nearest taxi to get to you. We’re talking less than 5 minutes if you’re in central SF.
- Press “Request Lyft”, and get presented with a picture of your driver and his car, and his car icon will now appear on your map. All cars have a bright pink moustache on the front to help you look out for them.
- Get in car when you see it arrive!
- Get out at your destination. No payment, it happens automatically through the app.
Its like living in the future, honestly. And it doesn’t end there! Shopping too has been digitised to an even greater extent than in the UK, thanks to Instacart a service that lets you shop at one website for food from 4 separate supermarket chains. Not only that, but delivery time is way faster than the UK, generally 1-2 hours. And unlike in the UK, you’ll be called before delivery begins with notification of substitutions so you can change them before they arrive.
Even dating has been distilled into its purest form, thanks to Tinder. I hear Tinder is picking up in the UK now, so perhaps you’ve heard of it. If not, Tinder would be best described as a “hot or not” app that ends in the two of you being put in contact if you both rate each other as “hot”. The experience is so efficient its unsettling, though of course as with all dating services the gender ratio leans heavily toward men.
And lastly, there’s the work flexibility.
Since the BART (Bay Area underground) was on strike on Friday, commuting would have been a pain in the arse, but fortunately tele-commuting is such a non-issue here that working the occasional day from home is no problem. Two of our engineering team actually tele-commute 95% of the time, as they don’t even live in California!
But here, no one bats an eyelid at any of this. It’s just part of the package. And frankly, I can’t wait for this package to catch on the world over.