The insecurity of Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is infatuated with itself in perverse, self-destructive ways. It's time to leave town....

I'm with Dave on this one: I feel bad for Tony and Hal. I can only think they have a good PR firm that gave them access to the New York Times (who wouldn't want that?), only to be completely overrun by unintentional self-mockery.

I'm referring, of course, to the much-discussed and, at least outside the Valley, much ridiculed New York Times article about the struggles of Silicon Valley millionaires. (The excellent Gary Rivlin has touched on this theme before.) As it turns out, it's very hard to live on a million dollars in the bank.

Well, not really. What turns out to be hard is competing with the Jones who have $10 million in the bank. What complete buffoonery. Surely a reality TV show is in the works.

But many such accomplished and ambitious members of the digital elite still do not think of themselves as particularly fortunate, in part because they are surrounded by people with more wealth - often a lot more.

When chief executives are routinely paid tens of millions of dollars a year and a hedge fund manager can collect $1 billion annually, those with a few million dollars often see their accumulated wealth as puny, a reflection of their modest status in the new Gilded Age, when hundreds of thousands of people have accumulated much vaster fortunes....

"Here, the top 1 percent chases the top one-tenth of 1 percent, and the top one-tenth of 1 percent chases the top one-one-hundredth of 1 percent. You try not to get caught up in it but it?s hard not to," [Said one millionaire quoted in the article.]

I have advice for those of you who wring your hands with the pressure of living amongst the wealth(ier) in Silicon Valley:

Leave.

I once lived in the Valley. I remember very clearly when it came time to leave. My wife and I were sure our lives were at an end. Could anything good come out of the un-Valley? We were certain the answer was 'No.'

We were wrong. In fact, it was amazing at how quickly the fog dissipated and we realized that we had been brainwashing ourselves for years to think that it was rational to pay inflated home, gas, food, etc. prices for the privilege of living in Palo Alto. We moved to Utah (!!) and discovered that one could have a very fruitful career with only occasional field trips to the Valley. (We also discovered how great it is to ski twice a week in the best snow on the planet during the winter, and mountain bike throughout the rest of the year, four or five times/week.)

Oddly, the longer I've been away (going on five years now), the fewer the reasons I find to go back. My company sells open-source content management software (rather, support for this software) and, not surprisingly, there are very few paying customers in Silicon Valley. There are lots of Web 2.0 "borrowers" of code, but few paying customers of it.

To find those, you go to the East Coast, Middle America, Europe, or just about anywhere but Silicon Valley. So, our employees live in those areas - where customers are, not vendors. We tend to think customers are a good sanity check, not the latest rumor out of Yahoo!

More oddly still, I've found that there are very few people I'd want to hire in Silicon Valley. There are great engineers in the Valley - no doubt. But it turns out that there are great engineers everywhere, and even better sales and marketing folks elsewhere. We've hired some of the best and brightest from Red Hat, Vignette, Interwoven, Documentum, FileNet, JBoss, and others, and have only twice had to dip into the Silicon Valley market. It turns out that the best people aren't so insecure as to think they have to squeeze into the Valley to thrive. They thrive wherever they happen to live.

We pay generous salaries, and our employees actually get to save (gasp!) their money. Some choose a dual-income lifestyle, but none have to do so. Funny how far a $150K+ salary goes when your home only costs $300K. $300K wouldn't buy you a garage in the Valley.

Tony and Hal: my next-door neighbor's home is going up for sale soon. I'd be happy to show you around. You're talented enough in this "Flat" world that you don't need to anguish over keeping up with the Brins. That's pathetic and immature.

It's also an insecurity that I promise will leave you as you leave the Valley. There is life outside of Silicon Valley. Frankly, it sounds a lot better than the ones you're leading, if the article is even remotely accurate.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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