Silicon Valley is losing its allure in the eyes of today's college graduates, says a veteran analyst
Over the years I have had the privilege of being invited to speak to grad students at many of the leading universities in the U.S. and U.K. As a technology historian and industry analyst who has written much about Silicon Valley and tracked its success and failures since 1981, I am asked to talk to students about the role Silicon Valley has played in the tech revolution and trends that may impact their job futures.
Last week, I was invited to speak to graduate students at a private gathering in one of our southern states. I shared some of the history of Silicon Valley and discussed major trends in AI, VR, AR and automated vehicles. I enjoy talking to students who are close to going into the world and carving careers in many fields.
The last time I did this was with a grad program at a southern California university where students were very interested in Silicon Valley and the potential jobs they could get in the tech hub of the U.S. That was about 18 months ago.
This time, when I spoke to these students about Silicon Valley, their view of our region was very negative. While they had high interest in AI, AR, VR and automated vehicles, they were less interested in working in Silicon Valley.
This surprised me. In all my meeting with students in the past, Silicon Valley was high on their list of places to come and work with companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, HP, Intel, and many other Valley companies that are driving technology forward. Not this time.
Some were blunt in their views. A few students saw Silicon Valley as evil, citing Facebook, Twitter and Google, specifically saying they see them invading people’s privacy and making the world a less-safe place.
One person wondered how I could still support Silicon Valley given its potential for upsetting democracy around the world. Their views were mostly generalizations from what they have read. No doubt, some of them have been impacted by fake news and the positive and negative impacts on their social lives from Facebook and Twitter.
Many had been reading about Silicon Valley’s high housing prices, traffic congestion, and the area’s serious homeless problems. Indeed, the median price of a house in San Jose is about $1.3 million.
The students did ask me about starting salaries with the big tech companies, and I knew that some of them paid just-out-of-college grads really good money, but they still felt it was too expensive to even consider a job in Silicon Valley. Quite a few said their negative view of Silicon Valley is what would drive them to other companies outside of our region.
After I left the event, I wondered if this was perhaps a view specific to the Midwest or Southern states. But I posted the comments from some of the students on my Facebook page and got a lot of feedback that said this rather negative view of Silicon Valley is shared by some students on the East and West Coasts, too.
Given these grad students’ views, we may be starting to see a real problem attracting top talent to Silicon Valley now and in the future. The local newspapers have been doing stories on the high cost of living in the Bay Area and how it has driven many people from our region to other areas of the country with lower housing prices and living costs.
Many companies in our region are leading the charge in AI, AR, VR, automated vehicles, biotechnology, security, and more. Some can't find enough workers to help them expand these programs. Cost of living is one problem, but the negative views some graduates have of Silicon Valley suggests that attracting new young talent to Bay Area companies may be a bigger problem than some have suggested.
I spoke with a HR professional in the Valley who said companies are not having any problem getting interns. However, the person admitted that keeping them, given the cost of living here, is becoming a big issue. When I asked about students’ views of Silicon Valley, this HR pro confirmed that our image has taken a hit and some students have become very picky about where they intern this year.
Without more research, I do not know how pronounced this negative view is throughout the college student population. However, cost of living will be a real problem even if they do want to work at a Silicon Valley company. The combination of these two factors does not bode well for the Valley landing top graduate talent in the short or long term.
-Tim Bajarin is president of Creative Strategies Inc., in San Jose, Calif.