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Is Moving to Silicon Valley Right for You?

So, you have a dream about "doing a startup," and the Valley is calling. Let's look at some pros and cons.
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Back in 1971, journalist Don C. Hoefler was writing a series of articles for the newspaper Electronic News about the area that would become known as 'Silicon Valley." At the time, Hoefler couldn't come up with a title for the articles until entrepreneur Ralph Vaerst suggested the now-iconic phrase. Legend has it that Vaerst had overheard people from the East Coast describe the area that way because it was home to a large number of computer-chip manufacturers--and silicon is needed to make the chips. However, it wasn't until the introduction of the personal computer from IBM, along with other software and hardware products in the early 1980s that the phrase took on a life of its own.

Since then, Silicon Valley has captured not only the minds of entrepreneurs and developers from across the world, but anyone looking to grab a piece of the "magic" that was pouring out of the valley (sometimes that means Hollywood). Because there's a lot going on there, you may be tempted to pack up and relocate to the Bay Area. But before you start searching for a place to live, finding a new job, or throwing your stuff in the car and driving off into the sunset, you should be aware of the pros and cons of living in the Valley.

The Pros

It's where the industry is located. This isn't breaking news. Silicon Valley has been at the epicenter of the tech industry for decades, beginning with Stanford University professor Frederick Terman. The dean of engineering was known for encouraging the faculty and graduates to launch their own companies throughout the 1940s and '50s. In fact, Terman is given credit for ushering in companies like Hewlett-Packard and Varian Associates.

Today, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of companies operating out of Silicon Valley. Included in this list are Fortune 1000 companies like Adobe, Apple, Cisco, eBay, Facebook, Google, Intel, Netflix, Oracle, Pixar, SanDisk, and Yahoo. Without rambling on, there is a great opportunity to find a job there, especially if you are an engineer.

It's easy to network. Because Silicon Valley is a hotbed for the tech industry, startups, entrepreneurs, and VCs, it's incredibly easy to network. Between all of the events, conferences, and meetups related to the industry, you have the chance to meet a lot of peers and/or influential people. It's hard to get those opportunities anywhere else in the world. In other words, you never know who you're going to run into and how that chance meeting could enhance your life.

A sense of community. This may sound crazy, but just because you work for a competitor doesn't mean that you can't sit back and enjoy a beer after work. There's a really cool sense of community in the Valley that just makes life easier, and more enjoyable. There's probably nowhere else where engineers or developers from rival companies can exchange thoughts, ideas, and just hang out together. And who knows? Maybe after a couple of drinks you and someone from another company may decide to launch your own startup together.

By the way, this is an incomplete list. The weather and a huge variety of things to do should also be considered pros for living in the valley.

The Cons

A lot of competition. Despite having plenty of job opportunities, there's also a ton of competition. Besides the tens of thousands of local college graduates each year, there are people from all over the world who have the same idea as you; move to Silicon Valley and make a name for yourself. There may be plenty of companies hiring in the Valley, but they're looking for top notch talent.

Also keep in mind that if you're an entrepreneur moving to the area you're also in competition with many other startups trying to establish themselves. While finding a VC or investor isn't always a huge problem, it's making that person or group of individuals notice your business in the busy crowd that is the tough part.

It's very expensive. If there's one major gripe about Silicon Valley it's how expensive it is. And, that's not hyperbole either. A recent report found the cost of living in Silicon Valley is 87% higher than the U.S. average. A one-bedroom apartment can cost between $1,300 to $3,500. And, if you want to purchase a home, except to drop something in the range of $500,000 to $1,300,000.

While you could find more reasonable rates depending on the neighborhood that you move to or get a roommate, it's still going to cost you a pretty penny. So if you're a recent graduate, someone who's establishing a startup, or someone with financial challenges, you may want to consider moving somewhere a bit more reasonable.

The Valley may not be a cultural fit. Silicon Valley is great. There's a lot going for it. But that doesn't mean that it's right for you. For example, maybe you're just a true Northeastener who loves having all four seasons and the hustle and bustle from Boston down to DC. Perhaps the Valley doesn't gel with your business plan. You might have no problem being an entrepreneur in the fashion industry if you lived in New York City. Or, you might just prefer a smaller and less expensive setting like in Portland, Oregon.

Do you currently, or have you ever, lived in Silicon Valley? What did you like about the Valley? What didn't you like?

IMAGE: Courtesy HBO
Last updated: Jul 18, 2014

JOHN BOITNOTT | Columnist

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, newspaper, radio, and internet companies in California for 20 years.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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