The Magic of Silicon Valley

I read TechCrunch, have since I was 12 years old – during middle school I would religiously sit and go through tech blogs for hours every day. The stories were awe-inspiring; people creating amazing things that change the way people interact, people creating something from nothing. For the longest time I’ve known that I’m going to be an entrepreneur—not for the glory or the money, but for the chance to improve how someone goes about their daily life. For the chance to make someone look at their computer and say “where would I be without that.”

Over the last few months, some of the things I’ve been doing (like NowStream from the Disrupt Hackathon back in May, and more recently, some of my work at Google) have been featured on TechCrunch; it’s actually a dream come true. Still, I feel like people treat TechCrunch posts like they’ve started treating funding rounds: a destination instead of a milestone.
I came to the valley as an intern at Google and I lef— well, I don’t think I can ever leave. When I came here I was really nothing more than a tourist who happened to be working at Google. I went to Market Street to ride the cable cars, took photos of the funny looking Google bikes, and dreamed of just passing by the offices of a startup I’d read about (or even cooler, one that I’d used). I learned a lot as I found my way in the Valley, but a couple things stood out from the rest:­­­­­

First and foremost– at any tech event, never interrupt (or hijack the conversation of) a guy who’s talking to a girl. He thinks he has a chance, and he’ll blame you (subconsciously at least) if it doesn’t work out. It doesn’t matter who he is, trust me- nothing good will come of it.

It’s about what you bring to the table. Unlike other places, Silicon Valley is a meritocracy. It seems like everyone who comes to Silicon Valley wants to meet successful entrepreneurs and other tech luminaries, so they go out and “network.” It takes a while for them to realize that networking in the Valley defies the traditional stereotypes of business people in three-piece suits talking about their success – if you ask someone here what their background is, you get answers like “I created this” and “I’ve been working on that (as a side project)…” Going to an Ivy League gives your name a bit of credit, knowing Michael Arrington makes you popular with people who want you to make introductions, and having funding lets you afford expensive bar tabs and Uber rides across the city. Those are all great, but in the end people want to know what you can do. Do something awesome, and soon enough people want to talk to you. (Credit to my dad who tried to teach me this, but it was something I had to experience and learn for myself.)

You’re surrounded by smart people who’ve done amazing things. I met Elias Bizannes (creator of StartupBus) at a party he was hosting back in July. We were having a conversation when someone mentioned, "this kid is interning at Google,” and that’s all it took - Elias went on a rant for half an hour, telling me about how I wasn’t “realizing my potential.” He explained to me what he called the “Everest Syndrome,” where some of the smartest people waste their potential in the middle management of a large corporation, climbing corporate peaks for the elusive goal of getting to the top. I learned a lot in that conversation, and even after that brief conversation he’s given me invaluable advice, and I now look up to him as a mentor. At another event, I met someone who was trying to revolutionize media by creating an online television network with original content and newfangled distribution mechanisms and was invited to his studio in Los Angeles. I would have never met these people had I been set on only meeting the “tech elite,” but in the Valley you’re surrounded by people who have interesting stories of their own - you’re just one “hi” away from finding out more.

I learned more in the last three months than I ever have – Google was a great experience, one that helped me achieve a childhood goal: I woke up every day looking forward to work, because I truly enjoyed what I was doing. Silicon Valley is more than just a place; it’s a lifestyle. I’ve found mentors, met people I couldn’t have dreamed of meeting, and been inspired to do something great in the world. Although I was considering taking time off from school to join/work on a startup, I know Carnegie Mellon has a lot to offer (albeit in its own way). Here’s to hoping that I won’t let my schooling interfere with my education, but that I’ll take advantage of both.


Now read this

Don’t lose sleep over Fidelity’s recent startup write-downs

This article was originally published in VentureBeat. [Disclosure: Sohail Prasad is a prior investor in Zenefits, which is a recipient of a write-down. No non-public information is disclosed in this article, nor are we receiving... Continue →