South Bay – Land of Opportunity, Sort Of

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Five days in the South Bay.  I met with more than 10 people: several family members work for large tech companies; friends from high school are start-up folk; friends from undergrad and business school work in companies related to tech but not in a technical capacity.   Several themes kept popping up:

  1. Housing and living costs are very high:  the plethora of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and other startup millionaires as well as investor money from China contribute to a high floor on real estate prices.  A 4BR house in Mountain View — near the headquarters of Google — could run you between $1.8 and $2 million; a 4BR condo might run 20 percent less.  This is not a “mansion” but what most people would consider a middle class home anywhere else. Rents for a 1BR start at around $2,000/month.  Not as expensive as SF or NYC but more than SD or LA.
  2. The entire Bay Area is one of the most optimistic places in the country.  Many people who move to the area are there to get their “lottery ticket” at their start-up or fast-growing company.  Hopefully, after 5 years or so you’ll be able to cash out with more than $5 million.
  3. It’s a work hard environment.  Considering the prospect of overnight-to-five-year riches, people involved in the tech industry seem to work 60+ hours work weeks.  (Not so different from New York.)
  4. Economically, there seems to be a divide between those highly-educated people with technical skills and highly-educated people without technical skills.  If you are not educated, then good luck getting by.
  5. It’s a land of opportunity.  For tech folk, companies don’t care what you look like nor where you went to school so long as you can do the work.
  6. Many people were concerned that this boom could be another bubble.
  7. San Jose is also known as “Man Jose”.  Lots and lots of guys.

Overall, any of the towns – Los Altos, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City – seems very similar to suburban town in the North County of San Diego.  There may be more 99 Ranch Markets but it’s a suburbia that I’m very familiar with.

I’ll admit it.  I did the touristy thing and drove by the Googleplex in Mountain View and Apple HQ in Cupertino.  I wasn’t prepared to pose for photos.

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My main takeaway was that if you are not planning to work in tech or lack a competitive advantage to making money, e.g. cardiologist, I would not move to the Bay Area.  (The big exception is if all your family is there.)  You will be making a salary that would be great in any other part of the country but you’ll still feel poor in the Bay Area.  Nonetheless, I think working in tech in the Bay Area would be good for the experience.

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