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Is working at a tech company just like the HBO "Silicon Valley" show?

I've always been curious about working at a startup or at a big tech company in silicon valley. I got to watch the HBO show at a friends house the other day and I thought it was ultra funny. Although I did not get some of the jokes. But is that what it is really like? Especially the part where everyone is very competitive and there is easy money for anyone to gain? I was thinking about being an engineer, but I'm not sure I want to work someplace where everyone is always trying to steal from me and ruin my work! But maybe thats not relly what its like?? engineering technology programming tech startups

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Josh’s Answer

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Silicon Valley, the show is very funny and good satire.

As with any television show or movie, the show has taken some kernels of truth and exaggerated them for the purpose of humor and entertainment.

In my experience, inside startup companies, there is more of a ethos of collaboration and teamwork. People are in it together and they're working hard together. Companies are competing with each other and often the competition between companies can be fierce. But theft of ideas, especially within your own company, won't frequently happen. They're making a dramatic show so they take something that happens relatively infrequently to create interesting dramatic television. Think about a show like Law and Order or CSI. Based on that, you might think there was a murder in NYC every other minute! There isn't really (thankfully!)

Is there "easy money"? Almost never. There is never easy money in anything you do. There's the old saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch" and that carries forward to today in whatever you do. The people who make a lot of money tend to do so because they've either worked very hard to create something unique or because they can offer skills that are highly unique and valuable. Hard work in becoming a great engineer (or sales person or doctor or lawyer or whatever) is what will lead to rewards (monetary and otherwise).

Hope this helps,

Thank you Mr. Payne. I get that it's a comedy so they make it extreme. Thanks for letting me know how it feels inside the company though! I'm definitely a hard worker. I just hope I'm smart enough as well :) Jordan L.

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Eric’s Answer

This was meant to be a reply to Bryan but was too long.

(I also haven't seen the show, and while Google is based in Silicon Valley, I also work in the Boston area)

There is a difference between "big tech companies" and "startups." Both exist, and there are similarities, but it's worth noting that you can work at an established tech company, like Google, Amazon, Facebook, or others that are established but not quite so huge, and there will be some of the "culture" (you're usually surrounded by smart people interested in using technology in new and interesting ways), but often with less of the uncertainty that Bryan is talking about. Of course, there's also less chance to "hit the jackpot" by, say, being part of a tiny startup that goes public or gets bought out. Deciding on the level of security versus risk with potential for large rewards is part of choosing what job will be right for you.

Valid point! Bryan Healey

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Mag. (FH) Verena’s Answer

I've watched the show Silicon Valley and I work in Silicon Valley.

I agree with Josh, it's based on titbits of truth which are exaggerated to make it interesting and funny to watch.

The culture of the companies I've worked for in Silicon Valley is based on collaboration and not competition. People are typically hired because they are team players and deeply care for others and/or a cause. I've not come across anyone here who would want to steal from someone and/or sabotage their work. There is no easy money. You will have to work hard and have a good work ethic.

If you want to work as an engineer, I'd say go for it!

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Bryan’s Answer

Upfront disclosure: I have never seen "Silicon Valley" or worked in Silicon Valley. I am an east coast engineer (Boston-Metro). However, I have a good understanding of what the show is about, and I have worked for several technical start-ups of various sizes and shapes, so I think I can offer a little insight...

There are obviously a number of show elements added for dramatic and comedic effect that either don't exist in the real world (or aren't commonplace), or are heavily exaggerated. However, there is some underlying realism surrounding the culture and evolution of the tech industry on showcase in "Silicon Valley." For starters, the tech industry is well known for being extremely competitive; employee turnover is very high, talent poaching is common, and in my experience many engineers fancy themselves code artists and desire attention. Furthermore, there is a shocking amount of money moving around the space, and for the right idea with the right team and execution strategy you could realistically secure a level of financing unheard of in the rest of the world (and for the right business and the right exit strategy, the tech industry is probably one of the few remaining ultra-lucrative venues in the world). Finally, there is an element of chaos in the start-up world, with many companies and people jostling for the spotlight, and there are notable winners and losers.

All that being said, the tech start-up world is also a lot more congenial than it gets credit for. The competitive element mentioned above (and on display in the show) is actually more brotherly than cut-throat on average (although that is overly simplifying things a little). Engineers jostle for attention, but they also support one another, attend meet-ups and events with each other, and the start-up is often very close-knit. Many lifelong friendships are born out of the chaos of the tech world. Also, outright thievery and disloyalty is very uncommon, and such behavior will quickly get around the community and hurt your long-term career. Finally, while money can seem to flow freely at times, the reality for most technical start-ups is bootstrapping: razor-thin budgets, long work hours, and stressful deadlines. Securing capital can be quite tough.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: Technical start-ups are great! Really, they are! They are fun and wild and perfectly chaotic, they often foster an intense sense of community and togetherness, there is tremendous opportunity for long-term gain and prosperity, and employment in technology is remarkably secure. However, this world is not without it's drawbacks, there is a lot of uncertainty, and care should be taken when undertaking any unstable opportunity. The best advice I can give is to get first-hand anecdotes from people who have worked in this space and decide for yourself if that environment sounds right for you.

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Vivian’s Answer

Hi Jordan,

Great question! I saw the whole show and although, I found it hilarious, it was such a bad portrayal of Silicon Valley. First, people in SV are super collaborative and supportive. People I've met are always down to brainstorm and help each other fine tune their ideas and make it successful. Jared (Cofounder of CareerVillage) and I have talked multiple times on how to improve this site for students like you. :) I'm not naive to think there aren't people got there who are manipulative and would want to steal your ideas but overall, people in SV aren't like that.

Also, there are some many smart women entrepreneurs, coders, web developers, engineers and designers here. The show made me upset in the way they showcase the women of SV. It was very sad to see. :(

In the SV, people look for talent above all else. So if you plan to go into the field, that's great. Know that shows like that only show 5% of the truth. If you ever come by Mountain View, I would love to give you a tour of LinkedIn, so you know what's it REALLY like.

Dream big, Vivian

Thank you I will! Jordan L.

That's great Jordan! :) Vivian Urata

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Bader’s Answer

There is some truth of course to what you see in shows about working in silicon valley, sure... but reality is it really varies by company, the organization you're on, the team you're part of, and the function/work you do day to day. Working in tech is all about the technology, how do we solve customer problems via tech, collaborating with teams and folks to achieve results, and it is a small community, so network and know folks in the industry, get mentors, and don't forget to lose sight on what is important to you, regardless where you work.
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William’s Answer

I'm a software engineer at Coursera, a startup company in Silicon Valley. In some ways the show Silicon Valley is a lot like the real Silicon Valley. There is a lot of excitement in the air around ideas, technology, and "making the world a better place" (as they love to quote in the show). That's about where the similarities stop, though. Rather than being highly competitive (among individuals), it's actually a highly collaborative environment. Rather than trying to ruin your work, people will try to improve it with you because everyone at a company is generally working toward the same goals.

So, the show was funny but don't take it as gospel. Silicon Valley is an incredible place for engineers and other people that want to work in tech (only about half of Coursera's employees are engineers).

And I've yet to meet a "brogrammer" in real life.

"And I've yet to meet a "brogrammer" in real life." Good one. :D Vivian Urata

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Julian’s Answer

Hey Jordan,

Working here in the tech side of HBO, I’ll say that everyone here is very collaborative and very (very) friendly. Some of the jokes they tell in SV are and exaggeration of what its like working in tech; especially when they’re collaborating with each other. 

If you enjoy problem solving, science, and math, I feel you would very much enjoy software engineering. Be sure to keep HBO in mind when you start shopping around for jobs!