Why Is Silicon Valley Old Guard Struggling to Attract Talent?

March 21, 2014
silicon valley map

Last week’s New York Times Magazine featured a thoughtful article by Yiren Lu examining the ongoing rise of technologies new guard (software apps for consumers) versus the old guard (hardware and B2B enterprise software). Lu’s father was a Bay Area immigrant and engineer who worked for Cisco for most of his career. Lu himself is a grad student and former intern for Uber, an app turned logistics company. Lu asks, “Why do these smart, quantitatively trained engineers, who could help cure cancer or fix healthcare.gov, want to work for a sexting app?” His article explains from a personal level the appeal in today’s market for young tech talent to innovate for “fun” companies who are riding a wave of “democratized technology” through off the shelf solutions and easy to use programming frameworks and interfaces.

This is an interesting study in old versus new, though the newer technologies are still largely dependent upon older, less sexy applications rooted in semiconductors, data storage and networking provide the engine for many of the software as a service products and cool apps to exist. Lu points out that computer science course enrollment is way up which I think has to help the tech sector in general. However, a disproportionate amount of this talent gravitates toward younger tech companies innovating cool web apps. The divide between the older guard (Cisco) and newer technology movement then is one of age, culture and business model.  The Facebooks of the world have a lot of curb appeal to young software developers.

I see this generally as a good problem. Ultimately the demand for goods and services will drive talent and entrepreneurs into the game. The younger tech culture strikes me as being one that at least states a greater level of altruism and a desire to make their communities and lifestyle better through innovation. An extension of this can be seen in many of the work places you see where technology-based incubator and accelerator programs exist. The widgets we make are ones that will help your company make more widgets at less cost and headache or provide some level of relief to consumers and businesses. Therefor the workplace should reflect that ethos. Lu points out that it is easy to see hubris in the nice bennies and often over the top headquarters of some of the newer and aspiring tech giants. But most business owners will tell you a function of the comfort they provide their employees is all about getting more code out of them and facilitating longer hours. Either way, if you can stand the noise, consumers ultimately come out ahead.  The availability of new technology, especially with the advent of mobile devices will continue to provide more choices in the marketplace. And of course, 15 years from now, the new guard will already seem like an antiquated model.