Redundancy and fatigue in Silicon Valley

September 4, 2012

Oh, hi. It’s been a while. It should come as no surprise when I say that part of the reason I didn’t really blog while at Twitter was because I got used to making my technical commentary via Tweets. (I’m @neongolden ’round those parts, if you were wondering.)

But now that I’m no longer at Twitter, I find myself once again exploring the brave new world of Silicon Valley, and, well… I have to admit, I’m kind  of disappointed. Let me explain: Silicon Valley is in a boom right now. There are so many jobs! Everyone’s hiring! Everyone’s getting funded! Great ideas are being validated with lots of money and young talent is being put to work! Everyone feels good!  Right?  …Right? Not quite. Here are the patterns I’m seeing, with a dash of friendly (hopefully helpful) critique:

There are tons of jobs… for engineers. When you work for a big tech shop, people like to say that you can go anywhere and do anything afterward. While I think we should all feel that sense of empowerment, regardless of where we’re coming from, I feel it’s my duty to present to the reader the sobering reality: if you want to be something other than an engineer, designer, or product manager, openings are still scant and jobs are hard-won. Get ready to get competitive, especially if you’ve got a kickass resume and know you’re awesome.

Imitation: the sincerest form of flattery. Analytics for Pinterest! Car/ride-sharing! SaaS! Big Data! Crowdsourcing! Crowdfunding! For every great idea I see in a startup, there are ten others just copying existing ideas or trying to solve a problem that is wholly irrelevant to the general population. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above-listed genres can be made useful to large numbers of people, but my point is that there are more immediately relevant problems to be solved that people aren’t using tech to tackle – where is tech in green energy or green business? Where is it in healthcare? Its presence is not renowned in these arenas because everyone went to work at that new ride-sharing startup. Now is a time where seemingly any idea can get funded, yet people still seem too afraid to solve big, world-changing problems. There aren’t enough startups that are even trying to actively make our world a better place. I echo Kara Swisher’s sentiment that too many big minds are chasing small ideas. (Apparently she’s big on health care reform, too.)

Ads: the only way we know how to make money (besides crowdfunding). Of all the innovations in tech, it’s pretty shocking that the revenue model has hardly evolved at all. Say what you will about behavioral targeting and the social graph, the dominant model is still “we have a great product/service that people like. How will it make money? Let’s make it an ad platform!”

But, really? That’s the best we can do? I’ve got to be completely honest here. If a product is awesome, I’ll pay to use an ad-free version. I really relish the services I use that are still ad-free. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to pay attention to one thing at a time: it’s disruptive when an ad interrupts my experience online. (Typically this happens when I’m reading an article or watching media.)  But, ranting aside, making users pay for an ad-free service is about as innovative as monetizing your service by making it into an ad platform.  Sure, there’s always hope for an acquisition, but at that point, your product or service just usually becomes a part of a company that makes its money via an ad platform. Sigh.

Shoutouts to startups that have given me hope in my search:

Rally (the best social fundraising I’ve seen for nonprofits/causes)

Angelist/Jobscore/Jobvite (at least looking for a job is easier than it used to be…) – I’d love to see more services like these geared to people who want to work in other industries. Angel List’s model could work quite well for, say, non-profits.)

Scribd/Storify/Flipboard/Medium (social reading/publishing) – Like I said in an earlier post, the Internet won’t kill literature. It will help it evolve!

…stay tuned! If nothing else, I’ll post more inspirational statrups as I continue my search!


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