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Culture

A Yankee view of Silicon Valley, Q4 2005

As a tech industry veteran, I make the coast-to-coast trip from Boston to the Silicon Valley about 6 times each year. Usually these trips are "flat out" with meetings scheduled around the clock but my most recent trip was a bit less hectic and gave me time to actually experience the Valley Vibe. Here are a few of my observations.

First off, flying American Airlines these days has become as painful as waiting on line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Inefficient processes, beat-up old planes, and surly employees. I'd call it the "subway of the sky" but that would be an insult to great transit systems like they have in New York and Boston.

There is a refreshing optimism in the Valley these days. Don't get me wrong, it ain't 1999, but Valley folks are jazzed about Google's incredible rise, Apple's killer comeback and all of the acquisition activity. In Boston, we'd be belly aching about Sun and HP's woes by telling old DEC stories. The Valley has more of a "glass half full" mentality.

Since I paid attention this trip, I realized for the first time that the Valley has its own mini autumn. Yup, a handful of leaves were actually on the ground and the ones in the trees were on their way. That said, I have more leaves in my yard then there are from San Jose to Redwood City. My garage is filled with blowers, rakes, and lawn tractors and much to my wife's chagrin; I've probably put in 20 hours dealing with my leaves and anticipate 20 more. You guys in the Valley may have Earthquakes, but at least you don't have to spend a union work week each year raking leaves.

I've often talked about a transition in the security industry. Business executives now realize that security is now a business service, so they are thinking more strategically, and looking to partner with enterprise-class vendors. In the Valley, Cisco, McAfee, and Symantec definitely get it and are working to capitalize on this trend. Check Point Software seems to be making the right moves but since they rarely talk to me, it's hard to really judge.

Word on the street is that the employees are psyched about the recent re-org at Cisco. Maybe John Chambers is doing the Bill Gates e-mail manifesto thing, but Cisco folks seem to be more focused, innovative, and entrepreneurial while maintaining a sense of humility. Cisco also still has enough industry panache to attract a bunch of super smart application folks to drive its Application Oriented Networking (AON) initiative. In a Valley full of risk takers, Cisco is still scene as a good place to be --a very impressive metric for the company.

One other quick note on Cisco. I visit a lot of companies and one of the things I always take note of is the waiting area of the lobby. Often times, the lobby is a mess filled with old magazines and company press clippings from 5 years ago. To me, this is a subtle hint that the company might not have its act together. Not Cisco. Its lobby is absolutely impeccable: clean, organized, new magazines, etc. Cisco certainly gets the old "first impression" adage.

The primary purpose of my trip was an analyst event hosted by Symantec CTO Mark Bregman. Mark is an ex-IBMer whom I've known professionally for years and he is tasked with building the Symantec equivalent of IBM's famous Watson Labs research team. I'm on double secret probation so I can't write about specifics but suffice it to say that is some really cool code being written. The bears on Wall Street have been down of Symantec since the merger but if some of these concepts reach the market, CEO John Thompson will likely utter the words, "I told you so" frequently in lower Manhattan.

Finally, I happen to spot Juniper CEO Scott Kriens while having dinner at Zucca in downtown Mt. View. Scott may be the most down-to-earth CEO in the industry. In a Valley full of egos and slick looking guys with the management acumen of David Brent (BBC America's The Office), Scott stands out. Arguably one of the most powerful dudes in the Valley, Scott looks like he'd be more comfortable in the upper deck at Shea Stadium than at some tech industry soiree.

Thanks to my peers in the Valley for their hospitality. Come visit us around May. We'll be out of winter funk by then and ready to treat you to a "Lawbstah" and visit to "Fenway Pahk."