So You Want to Work in Silicon Valley?

We don’t blame you!

Silicon Valley has a colorful history. Home to the biggest tech giants on Earth, it’s a vital source of innovation and boundary-pushing.

Because of this, many tech/product enthusiasts consider it to be the very pinnacle of achievement. If you’ve made it to Silicon Valley, you’ve really made it. The companies that call Silicon Valley home are also crying out for Product Managers, so for many, it’s a no-brainer!

But how difficult is it to get a job in Silicon Valley? Is it as great as it seems?

Well, we’re here to tell you – straight from the horse’s mouth – what it’s like to live and work in Silicon Valley, and how to get here.

San Francisco houses

What exactly is Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley has two meanings.

It’s a geographic area in San Francisco, roughly matching the Santa Clara valley. It includes cities like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Cupertino, and Mountain View.

It’s also a concept. Being a Silicon Valley company means being part of the huge tech industry that erupted in San Francisco in the 1970s. Notable SV companies include Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Netflix, eBay, Tesla, and Adobe.

The stereotype is that Silicon Valley is the place to be if you’re in tech or product.

It’s also a pretty great HBO series.

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What’s it like to live in Silicon Valley?

San Francisco is a fantastic city. There are many reasons why it’s such an insanely popular tourist destination. But naturally, as with any major city, there are pros and cons to living here.

For some people, it’s a paradise they couldn’t bear to leave. And for others…they’re better suited to different places! So before making the move, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons:

The good

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  • Energy: There’s a real buzz here in SV! It’s full of innovative people who came here with big ideas and even bigger dreams. If your goal is to meet like-minded people with a passion for building new things, here they all are!
  • High paying jobs: Everyone knows that San Francisco/SV is just a *little* on the pricey side (more on that later) but generally the paychecks make up for it! The average Product Manager salary here ($156,970) is higher than in most other places in the US.
  • Coffee: Philz. You have to try Philz!
  • Diversity: There’s food for every pallet here – the international food scene has to be tasted to be believed. This is where people from all over the world come to live and work. You’ll meet people from every corner of the globe.
  • Nature: The beauty of being in California is…well, the beauty! In San Francisco alone you have the Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. You’re also well placed to explore the rest of the state, and California has plenty of wonders to offer!

The bad

  • Traffic: While there is public transport, it leaves much to be desired and it’s generally agreed that to live in San Francisco/SV, you need access to a car. Most companies here offer flexible work schedules, which sounds like a dream but is actually just a safety net for being inevitably stuck in traffic. Many of the bigger companies run a shuttle bus service to get you to and from the office, making life easier.
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  • Prices: San Francisco is not a cheap city to live in. According to Business Insider, a one-bedroom apartment costs an average of $3,460 a month, and grocery prices are around 23% higher than the US average. Thanks to the rise of Big Tech and the industry that came with it, San Francisco is under rapid gentrification. Be prepared for your concept of the value of money to change!
  • Echochamber: While there is a lot of diversity, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people with similar educational backgrounds, similar incomes, and similar lifestyles. If you’re only looking at the people around you when imagining your customers, you’ll only be catering to one group of people. You’ll find yourself stuck in an echochamber where you’re only hearing what you want to hear. As long as you’re aware of this and willing to do the right research, it shouldn’t be a big problem.
  • Work/Life balance: The downside to everyone loving their jobs is that they can become married to them. A great Product job at a tech giant takes a lot of dedication, so be prepared to work longer hours and potentially at weekends too.

It’s very difficult to weigh up the good and the bad of living in SV without making sweeping generalizations, so these lists might not align with your experiences. You might find a bargain apartment and work at a company that provides a shuttle to work. You might be working long hours, but the job satisfaction more than makes up for it.

Everyone experiences SV differently. The only way to know what it’s like is to live it for yourself.

Walking in San Francisco

Getting a job…at a small startup

The rules for getting a job at a startup in SV are similar to the rules for any startup job…just with fiercer competition and higher stakes!

Show flexibility and variety

At a small company, things change all the time and they change fast. If you can demonstrate that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do whatever needs doing, companies are much more likely to be interested in you as a team player.

Learn all about startups

Startups face unique challenges compared to other types of companies, and each startup is different. Be sure to do plenty of research into their business model and company culture.

Narrow down your search

There are a lot of companies classified as ‘startups’ out here. You’ll make life a lot easier (and waste less of your time) if you’re able to come up with a list of companies that interest you based on industry/sector. Find something you care about (travel, education, healthcare etc) and identify which companies in SV operate within it.

Network!

It’s true what they say that it’s all about who you know! Because SV is such a popular location, once recruiters put up a job posting they’re usually inundated with resumes! If you can put yourself out there and meet the right people, that human connection will give you a real boost in your job search. We have events for both San Francisco and Silicon Valley that will help you meet new people.

Write your elevator pitch

When you’re out there meeting people, you need to be ready to talk about yourself because no one is going to do it for you! Work out how you’d sum yourself up using the past-present-future formula. For example:

Elevator pitch example

Build your own product

If you don’t have enough experience yet – or you just really want to stand out from the crowd – we always recommend that Product Managers have side projects. When you build something yourself, it shows how passionate you are, whilst demonstrating your skills and entrepreneurial spirit. If your resume looks the same as everyone else’s, having an awesome side project will help get you noticed.

Getting a job at a tech giant

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting a job at the biggest companies in the world! Luckily, the product community loves to share and see others succeed, and top product minds from these companies have shared their insights on how they landed their jobs.

Check out our advice on…

How to Get a Product Management Job at Tesla
How to Get a Product Management Job at YouTube
How to Get a Product Management Job at Netflix
How to Get a Product Management Job at Apple
How to Get a Product Management Job at Airbnb
How to Get a Product Management Job at Amazon
How to Get a Product Management Job at Facebook
How to Get a Product Management Job at Spotify

If you’re just starting out in PM, a job at one of the world-famous tech giants might seem a little far away. However, many of them run APM programs, which are specifically designed to give fresh new talent some experience in PM. Check out Everything You Need to Know about APM Programs

Come and see us!

If you fancy a taste of SV life, it just happens to be our home, and one of our many Global Events locations. Check out our upcoming Product Management talks.

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