October 25, 2008

Today Marks Ten Years Working In Silicon Valley

On October 25th, 1998, during my senior year at UC Berkeley, I started my first job in Silicon Valley, as an eCommerce Analyst for Internet Valley, a small startup focused on search engine optimization, technology trends and eCommerce. Today marks the tenth anniversary of that first day, making me one of those people who can sit around the table and claim a decade's worth of experience. Though my role has changed quite a bit from the first time I sat down for work in Burlingame, California, growing to take on traditional outbound marketing roles, including public relations and demand generation, the initial journey is worth commemorating.

As my senior year at Berkeley commenced, I knew I would need an off-campus job to help pay for rent and books, having left my position with the school newspaper, where I was Online Editor and a news reporter.

Not entirely sure what I wanted to do, I drafted two versions of my resume - one to be a journalist, and the other, to be a Webmaster. The journalist piece I sent to places like the Mercury News and MacWeek, and the one for being a Webmaster went just about anywhere I thought made sense, provided it was close enough to Berkeley, and offered flexibility that let me finish out my coursework and get the dual degree in Mass Communications and Political Science.

It being 1998, it was no surprise the Webmaster position found the most traction. That Internet Valley took a chance on me, an unproven kid at the age of 21, without a formal degree, helped lay the groundwork for my making a home in Silicon Valley and starting on a track toward a career that later encompassed Marketing. To give you an idea of how things have changed just in the last ten years, here's an excerpt from a note home to my dad, titled, "First day of work":
The company has ordered a Micron PC for me at work, and while it is a Windows 98/NT machine, it has some strong specs, such as: PentiumII 400 MHz processor, 64 MB RAM, 6.4GB of hard disk space, a 32x CD-ROM, and built-in Zip Drive.
That's right. In 1998, 6.4 GB of space and 64 MB of RAM was considered "strong specs".

I had interviewed at Internet Valley on October 13th of 1998, somehow getting from Berkeley to Burlingame without a car, using a combination of public transportation and my own two feet. And interestingly, my initial impressions of the Internet Valley site, and its methodology, provided some interesting hints for the way the future Web would be consumed.

From a previous e-mail, after 2 a.m. on October 14th of 1998:
(My boss) said that when he organized the site, he had done it with the intent of separating from print media, instead focusing on users who do not "read" documents, but "scroll" them. The typical Web site containing basic text was not to be found. The site instead contains words in a variety of colors, font sizes and heavy use of the bold tag. Some might call it ugly. ... He laughed about how he had dropped half of his age in a week if the letters were to be believed. But when scrolling down the site, a user can have their attention caught by the unorthodox methods, and will stop to read. Otherwise the words highlighted will give an idea of what the topic was being covered.
While the site itself was tough to digest, it brings to mind the way many of us consume news now, through a "river of noise", or scanning RSS rather than reading in full.

The stay at Internet Valley was not all that long, as the seed investor would have preferred revenue more quickly, but I managed to stay on with their sister company, 3Cube, reporting to the team's new vice president of Marketing.

Working at 3Cube during the dotcom boom, and eventually, through the bust, set the stage for how I approached business. Whether in operations, engineering or marketing, the team worked late, and was focused on doing what at times seemed to be super-human work, as we could ask a pair of coders to do what had taken a team of dozens at a competitor more time. And at age 22, I was responsible for running the Web site, and much of the copy, including FAQ's for these new products, even as I found myself sitting at the table with people who had been in the software industry since the time I was born.

As a young employee at both companies, and where I work now, I often found myself intimidated by my colleagues' experience and history. When they could talk in decades, I could merely talk in months, or maybe a year or two. With time, this has changed, of course, as I took on more responsibilities, including direct reports, gained experience, and have found myself at a place where many employees are younger than myself.

After the dotcom bust, I worked through the 2001-03 recession, and came out the other end with more knowledge on how to operate when times were lean. It looks like we may have that opportunity again, with the global markets being tossed to and fro. But even as we see our day to day challenges, or try and hit milestones that lie directly ahead, I can do so knowing that, after ten years of trying to make a difference, it's me who has a decade's experience in the Valley, the first of what should be a handful. I can't even imagine trying to work outside of the Valley. It's all I know, and all I want to know. Here's to thirty more years.