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Experience Report: Working in Silicon Valley

Karla Blanke (28) studied Psychology (focus on business and clinical psychology) at the University of Trier. She started her career with Detecon in October 2014 and works as a consultant in the areas of corporate transformation, innovative working concepts (New Work), innovation management and leadership development. Karla had the chance to work 3 months at our San Francisco office and is sharing her experiences here.

What did you do in San Francisco? 

I had the chance to take part in the YCN exchange program at Detecon Inc., our Silicon Valley office, for 3 months. I was actually quite lucky because I could support various projects and in doing so, I gained many experiences. For instance, I prepared and participated in an HR Tech Silicon Valley Innovation Tour we offered to a delegation of Senior Vice Presidents from Deutsche Telekom. The outcome was that I could work on my own project in San Francisco: producing content for the Deutsche Telekom Leadership Academy in Germany. I conducted various video interviews with inspiring people from the Silicon Valley, e.g. I met the CEO of the Plug & Play Tech Center (the World's Biggest Startup Accelerator) and a Manager for Talent Intelligence Analytics at Intel (just to name two). For another project, I calculated a Business Case for the launch of a new product of the T-Labs. This was something quite new for me, but in my opinion, everybody has to be taken out of his or her comfort zone. 

Apart from supporting projects or writing proposals I also had the chance to join various events/conferences like the Corporate Summit of “Orange Fab”, Orange Silicon Valley's startup accelerator, where different startups presented their ideas, e.g. about their Virtual Reality solutions. Overall, it was great to experience the startup spirit of the Silicon Valley and to be part of this innovative community – at least for a limited period. 

How did a typical working day look like? 

I actually did not have a typical working day because it differed most of the time. For my interview project, I traveled to the Valley a couple of times while I also juggled other tasks at our office in Montgomery Street. Therefore, the work in San Francisco was quite different to my work in Germany. Not staying at the client office for at least four days a week but more being all over the place and truly multitasking in an agile and flexible way. Just like a start-up.

What kind of advice can you give the next person coming to San Francisco? 

For me, it was very helpful to speak to colleagues who had been to San Francisco before to learn about all the framework conditions regarding the application for a visa, the office environment, accommodation, the neighborhood etc. Therefore, I would definitely recommend getting in touch with somebody who has been there previously. Moreover, I would try to visit as many “offline events” as possible. Online social networking portals like meetup or Eventbrite offer a huge range of different events, from AR/VR meetings to UX Designer Workshops to Startup pitches, mostly free. It is a great opportunity to do networking and broaden your horizon. In addition, I would recommend reading also about the “dark sides” of Silicon Valley – such as the big social divide, which becomes very obvious in the streets of San Francisco.  

Honestly, what was not so nice? 

As just indicated, although I had informed myself in advance, I was quite shocked by all the homeless people in San Francisco. It really showed what can happen when the gap between rich and poor is constantly widens because of a shrinking middle class. So not everything is great in the wealthy and shining Silicon Valley! Because of the enormous costs of living, some people cannot afford decent housing even though they have two jobs. This made me aware of the fact that our social system in Germany works quite well and that we should appreciate it more. 

What were the highlights of your stay and your key take-away? 

The Innovation Tour was definitely one of my highlights. I could join the group during the whole time and therefore had the chance to meet amazing entrepreneurs and gain an insight into their very impressing businesses. The interviews I conducted in the Valley are now relevant for my current project, so there is still a visible impact. In general, it was a great experience to be part of this Silicon Valley community for three months. Different people have different approaches and different ways of thinking and that leads to this diversified environment where innovation gets boosted. So everybody is open to share knowledge and their ideas but they also allow that others will destroy them (honestly, startup pitches can be quite brutal - not literally of course). However, this is a necessary process to construct innovative ideas in a creative and productive way. In the Valley it is also regarded as normal to fail (especially in comparison to Germany), and people even expect you to tell others about your individual story of failure. Making mistakes is seen as something helpful for your individual development - as long as you reflect the situation, learn from it and try it again, even harder than before. 

Apart from this element of the American Dream, I experienced how people support each other. You can often observe a kind of indirect reciprocity - you do something for somebody else, for example giving honest feedback at startup pitches or bringing people of your network together to share one’s knowledge, but you do not expect it to come back to you directly. You just trust in the system that it will enrich you with new ideas someday. 

Overall, you can learn a lot from the people who live in the Valley, and I would recommend everybody to take the chance to be part of this community - at least for a short time.