Jul 20, 2009

AnnaLee Saxenian Discusses Silicon Valley Layoffs and Mobility

From Wired Magazine

Laid Off? It's Good for You and Good for the Tech Industry

By Paul Boutin

Here in Silicon Valley, the recession has a different face than in Manhattan or Detroit. Our panic is more genteel, softened by balmy California weather, a laid-back attitude, and, OK, the fact that we haven't had a local industry completely implode. Nonetheless, the meltdown is quite real.

Personal bankruptcies and foreclosures are as high here as in the rest of the country, and established companies are cutting way back on hiring. The Valley lost nearly 10,000 tech jobs in the past year, according to the state's Employment Development Department, and the trend is expected to continue. If you work in the Valley today, you're likely as fearful of losing your job as anyone else.

But you need to get over that. In fact, getting fired just might be a good thing.

Here's why: Valley culture has an unwritten rule that if you don't like a job, or if you think your company isn't going anywhere, you leave. Instead of hanging around the office whining, you walk out the door and find something better and cooler to do. Because skilled tech workers are hard to find and interesting companies abound, employees, not employers, call the shots. This was true at Apple in 1984, and it's still true at Facebook today.

Worker mobility gives the tech industry fluidity, velocity, and energy. It creates a culture in which people routinely jump from one job to another, looking to get in on the next must-have product or service.

As it happens, that lack of loyalty has been a key driver of the Valley's rapid innovation over the past three decades. AnnaLee Saxenian, author of Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128, puts it this way: "Job-hopping, rather than climbing the career ladder within a corporation, facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries. When combined with venture capital, it supports unanticipated recombinations of technologies and skill." In other words, we have Twitter today because a bunch of engineers who were trained at other companies quit their jobs and brought their expertise to Evan Williams' side project. It's like biology: In an ecosystem where microbes are promiscuously swapping genes and traits, evolution speeds up.



Last updated: October 4, 2016