Sunday, April 02, 2006

I love the valley

I do. I just flat-out love the silicon valley. Sometimes I forget, like when I'm surrounded by minimally friendly, overly groomed mommies whose kids give mine the "Menlo Park Blank Stare" instead of a friendly "hi" at the park, but since I now go to Palo Alto parks, we don't encounter that any more. Last night, I went to an architecture SIG group meeting to hear our friend Tom Conrad discuss the new architecture of Pandora. It was grand. It was especially grand because I got to hear the first hour's worth of questions, in which everyone asked all sorts of non-architecture questions, and then I went shopping and came back. Perfect for my level of non-technical expertise. The architecture SIG reminded me the clean and pure part of the valley. Smart, classic geeks, who are interested in things, who have passions about things that they're interested in, talking about those interests. The head of the SIG told me that during the last space launch, they had someone from NASA come to the group to talk about the architecture of how they got stuff in space to work. (Um, nontechnical description) It's been a decade since I had the honor and pure, uncomplicated pleasure of working in an engineering department, and frankly, I miss it. I moved from there into marketing bunny territory (well, that's what the marketing departments were called at NeXT) , and I miss it. For over a decade, I felt like an honorary guy. It was typically me and about 20 hardware engineers and boy was it great. Like the time that someone mentioned blowing things up as a child and it turned out that (oddly enough) 22 members of the department were total pyromaniacs when they were younger. (Who knew?) It turned out to be good training for me to eventually become a boy-mom. I'm on the lovely Nexodus email list, which was started with the first major exodus from NeXT (get it?). That was back in the days, of course, when people held "NeXTorcisms" when you left the company, and when we were still proud at having created buzzword bingo at one of the vaunted Santa Cruz offsites. At any rate, someone just posted an old game from NeXT days. I remember this game! AcChen. Heard about it? While I was looking at the game, I checked out the rest of the site and was intrigued by the lego collection page. This, my friends, is what the silicon valley is about. Smart people having fun, being good at stuff. Oh yes, and that new thing - becoming wildly successful. You know, for years and years, though, the valley was here and doing extremely well without the expectation that you'd end up as rich as Croesus. I remember years ago, having someone tell me about what motivates engineers. I think that it's making really cool stuff, being part of an awesome team, and making money. The person telling me this (a manager), told me that if you offer two of the three, you'll get the engineer. Nowadays, when my friends say things like "We make 250K a year and we're just barely getting by" (and they're serious), it takes more money to live in the valley. Actually, it takes insane amounts of money to live in the valley. But deep underneath the exorbitant costs of renting or buying a home, and the $1.00- plus a pound prices for things like cabbage which rip-off places like Whole Foods charge... Deep underneath, in the subterranean rivers of the soul of the silicon valley, fun, creativity, and a real sense of respect and community still thrive. Long may it live. [first written 12/05]

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