Silicon Valley 101

Here at Tradecraft, we’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of smart, motivated people who are transitioning into startup tech. We’ve learned a lot about how to help these amazing people get up to speed more quickly, and in keeping with the Valley ethos, we’d like to share those learnings beyond the Tradecraft community.

First up is a reading list that we use as pre-work to help our members get into the Silicon Valley mindset.


Intro: History

Understanding the Past — Leslie Berlin’s fantastic piece recounts the history of the Silicon Valley and key elements that have made it an enduring environment of innovation. Key takeaway: the unique blend of technology, culture, and money has made this place what it is.
Why read it? It gives you historical context about the place that you are now looking to build your career in.

Personal History — Tech journalist Kim-Mai Cutler writes about her family’s intersection with the history of Silicon Valley.
Why read it? This is a good article to reinforce your understanding of the historical forces at play in Silicon Valley.

Technology

This might seem controversial to say, but the majority of the Silicon Valley ecosystem today is not really driven by technology. Enabled by it, certainly. But unlike in the early days of the Silicon Valley, fundamental hard science tech breakthroughs are not powering the ascendency of companies like Uber, AirBnb, Facebook, or even arguably Google. There are nonetheless some basic ideas around the role and use of technology that are worth thinking through.

Software is Eating the World —Marc Andreessen’s foundational piece for the modern Silicon Valley economy. Key takeaway: software will disrupt every industry.
Why read this? You are planning to work in tech. You should understand why this is a good career bet.

Thoughtbot Playbook — A 14,000 word playbook of how to run a software company and build web and mobile products.
Why read this? Especially if you are coming from a non-builder background, understanding the basic mechanics of how things are built here is important.

Culture

One of the biggest competitive advantages of the Valley is its culture. People tend to obsess over the optimal way to maximize both individual and collective output by focusing their efforts on the right things.

Playing Startup — Early PayPal employee Lee Hower talks about the work culture of Silicon Valley then-and-now. Key takeaway: you can’t have your cake and eat it too. To succeed here you have to feel mission-driven (even if it is a for-profit company) and make sacrifices to find the success you want.
Why read this? So you make sure that you have a clear idea of what it will take to succeed here.

Freedom & Responsibility — Netflix’s deck describing their culture, which is by-and-large the culture of the Valley. Key takeaway: Be a responsible person who thrives on freedom and is worthy of that freedom.
Why read this? So you can embody these cultural attributes and be culture carriers in your startups.

Rate-of-learning — Kyle Tibbitts looks at how to prioritize early career choices. Key takeaway: rate-of-learning is more important than cash or equity compensation.
Why read this? This is a hot job market so you’ll inevitably face choices about what opportunity is right for you.

Building a Network from Scratch — Danielle Herzberg from HubSpot talks about her approach to building an SF network when she moved here from the East Coast. Key takeaway: Start by asking for intros to Bay Area folks from people who knew you well in whatever city you are coming from.
Why read this? 50%+ of jobs are filled via social recruiting. As in many other markets, it’s not just what you know but who you know.

Paul Graham Subsection

Maker vs. Manager Schedules — PG delineates the differences between makers and managers. Key takeaway: you need big uninterrupted blocks of time to get creative work done.
Why read this? You will need to figure out how to use your time efficiently to maximize your output.

Do Things That Don’t Scale — PG recounts various scenarios where founders manually pushed their way to success. Key takeaway: do things that don’t scale. Then automate once you’ve got the process configured correctly.
Why read this? If you land at a pre-product market fit company, your job will be to help the founders do things that don’t scale.

Startup = Growth — PG reminds the reader that startups are all about growth. Key takeaway: focus on growth and ignore all else.
Why read this? You should get in a growth-focused mindset if you are going to work for a startup.

Money

Startups are aspirational but they are also an asset class. It is thus a worthwhile investment to understand the landscape in which investors allocate capital.

Funding Definitions — Angel investor Jason Calacanis outlines both the historical and current definitions of funding rounds. Key takeaway: as the cost of starting a company has gone down, expectations of how far you should progress before you can raise outside capital have increased. Which makes a ton of sense.
Why read this? So you have a sense of where a company is when they say they are Series X funded.

Why this isn’t a bubble — Angel investor Dave McClure argues that we are not in a bubble b/c assets in the public market are overvalued. Key takeaway: that the speed and breadth of disruption by tech companies should decrease the multiples that public companies enjoy.
Why read this? To reassure yourself that this is an industry worth joining.


This is an evolving list to help transplants to the Silicon Valley tech ecosystem get up and running quickly. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, we’d love your suggestions for additional pieces to add.


If you’re looking to accelerate your transition into tech and build a relevant skill set, network, and set of experiences, drop us a line.

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