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Falling in Love with Silicon Valley

Posted: March 12th, 2021

My flight to San Francisco touched down at around 10:30 PM on Jan 3rd, 2019 - this was my first time I had ever been to California. Air Canada had misplaced our planes luggage, so after waiting for a few hours at the airport, we finally arrived at our hotel in Millbrae at around 2am. My dad and I were both exhausted, it was a long flight and the difference in time zones made it feel like it was much later. We both woke up around 7am, and I remember vividly staring out the window, watching the sunrise over the water. I didn't know it at the time, but the warmth, energy, and beauty of that sunrise would foreshadow so much of my experience to come.

I was in California for an internship at Kuna, my first co-op term through the University of Waterloo. I had done internships before, but this one somehow felt different, felt real. Over the course of the next year, I would get the chance to experience some of what Silicon Valley has to offer, and meet people who would change everything for me.

This is the story of how I fell in love with Silicon Valley.

The thing that I noticed during my first week of work was the people - they are different from anyone I had ever met before. I didn't really know anyone, so I spent most of my time with my co-workers at Kuna getting to know them. Each and every one of them had this incredible focus, product obsession, optimism, and the confidence to try and make tomorrow better than today. It is this spirit that in my opinion drives so much of the success of Silicon Valley, this idea that through hard work, a small team of people can make a huge difference in the world as we know it.

Despite the overwhelming concentration of talent at that company, a few still managed to stand out above the rest. One in particular was my boss at the time, he had this aura around him, he shone (and continues to shine) like a bright light. He had gone through YC twice, the second time as the co-founder of Kuna. To be honest, one of the best parts of that internship was being able to learn how he thought through certain problems. He's very down to earth, honest, and most importantly, kind, and I think that's what made him successful as a founder. Generally speaking, he is the bright shiny thing that I point at when asked who I want to be like when I'm older.

Okay, so you met some cool people and you're a huge simp for your ex-boss, is that it?

Haha, no, definitely not. One of the coolest things about the valley is access, anyone can immerse themselves in Silicon Valley culture with one quick easy step, making a Twitter account. There is a tremendous community of builders, makers, and founders on "tech-twitter", and it was through this community that I met a bunch of people that I would now call my best friends. I remember that I had reached out to someone I had met on Twitter, and agreed to have dinner with them in San Francisco after work. I almost cancelled that meeting because I was too nervous, but I'm really glad I didn't. He had an incredible story, and again was someone that I wanted to be like when I was older. He ended up introducing me to Johnny, who eventually invited me to be one of the first ~50 or so members of Gen Z Mafia.

Gen Z Mafia, especially in the early days, was magical. It was this amazing group of people who I could relate to, and who were working together to build products that they thought needed to exist. I think the thing that surprised me the most was how ambitious some of the projects were. There was at least two banks being started at any given time, and countless other projects that would be laughable at best, even if an industry veteran with 30 years of experience were working on them. Yet there was these kids, not so different from me, actually doing this stuff successfully. I think so much of this "movement" was framed really well by the now-famed essay by Marc Andreessen, entitled IT'S TIME TO BUILD. The key idea behind the essay is that it's time for everyone to step up and fix the big problems that we as a society face, and I think a lot of people from the gen-z community, including myself, really resonated with that message. Although the server itself has largely died out, perhaps because of some core problems discussed here, I think the energy and movement that was started by that server will live on in almost every member, especially those present for the early days.

Many smaller groups have come out of that server, and I'm part of one of them - we don't like to talk about this too much, but this group is one of the most tight-knit, supportive, and generally driven groups I've ever seen. Out of the 31 people that are on the server, I think there are like 9 different startups being built who have collectively raised millions of dollars and are working on some really hard problems. We invest in each-other, with our time, money, and experience, and I expect this to pay off exponentially in the next few years. The plan is to travel the world together, and eventually get a house in San Francisco for the group. Being around people like this has made me into I believe a much better person, and as Johnny pointed out a few weeks ago, we've gradually become less and less active on the server because we've naturally become more and more busy. To note, this isn't a bad thing, we've all been pursuing more and more ambitious goals, and if anything, it has made us tighter-knit than ever.

That being said, I do think it is worth mentioning that there are problems with Silicon Valley. There is absolutely way too much money floating around. Sure, this is a great thing since the money will be used to fund the next-generation of ambitious companies, but I'm largely concerned about some of the patterns that have emerged as a result of this access to capital. For instance, so many companies these days, especially in Silicon Valley, tend to have hugely unsustainable business models, and rely on massive rounds to stay afloat. This makes sense for certain, perhaps more capital intensive or hard-tech companies, but it doesn't make sense for a small software startup, aka the canonical Silicon Valley company. It's hard to say no, especially to millions of dollars, but I think the best companies these days are the ones who are able to do this, and figure out how to make their product great without first raising an enormous round.

Another gripe that I have with the valley are the so-called imposters, the individuals talking about building without actually really building anything. These are the people who spend more on company merchandise than research & development, and hire the best frontend engineers to make a beautiful website because their product isn't good enough to stand on its own. I don't mean to put down anyone specifically here, I think overwhelmingly the people in the valley are generally building great things, but there are bad apples, and I very much hope that Silicon Valley as a whole isn't judged because of the actions of these few - they are the minority.

To conclude, the spirit and the energy of Silicon Valley is intoxicating, and I'm extremely grateful to be a part of this fabulous community of builders. I'm really excited to move to California, to not only be part of the gen-z lead movement building the next-generation of technology, but to finally be home.