Crazy rich silicon valley: Who are the tech industry’s future beneficiaries?

Wikimedia/Creative Commons

A hotel inn with free breakfast, perfectly trimmed bushes and a quaint pool for afternoon lounging. The maid comes around daily to make the queen-sized bed. She then restocks the fridge in a fully equipped kitchen with fresh groceries as requested and replaces the bathroom amenities with shampoo, towels and the like. The couch in front of the television serves as a perfect sanctuary to unwind. Am I on vacation? No. I am standing in the middle of the living quarters for an intern. And not just any intern — a software engineering intern at one of the largest tech companies in the world. In a city notorious for skyrocketing prices on real estate, this highly coveted living space costs a whopping $0.

The iconic image of a lowly intern hustling to make ends meet — someone living off of ramen and enduring difficult roommates while struggling to realize their dreams — need not apply to the interns of Silicon Valley. Here, in this tech bubble, the rules break conventional assumptions of normalcy.

Strict corporate schedule in the age of bureaucracy, embodied by the 9-to-5 lifestyle, has been replaced with the laid-back, chill vibes of the tech bro culture. The business professional black and white ensemble, a uniform of conformity, has taken the back seat in favor of casual hoodies and jeans. Rows of cubicles have been retired, their antiquated status emblematic of the bygone era. This is now the era that interlaces work with fun, personal with professional; you can essentially work, play and live within close proximity to the office. They don’t want you to leave and you don’t want to leave. Why would you?

Inside Facebook, one of the best places to work as named by job search site Glassdoor, the workplace “campus” likens itself to an actual college campus. It has mimicked the essentials of college life — work hard and play hard, all within walking distance. Shuttle buses transport workers directly from their homes to the office. Free breakfast and snacks are available to curb employees’ hunger and prevent distraction. A Dave & Buster’s-esque arena of video games and pingpong tables, designed to optimize worker relaxation, can be found scattered around the buildings. There’s an unceasing array of free amenities: gyms for exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle; cafeterias of free, gourmet food for dinner; cafes, ice cream shops and food joints scattered throughout campus for a variety of activities to choose from. When the work’s all done and the night has begun, bars a stone’s throw away are ready to serve. With minimal expenditures and seemingly every need met, what more could anyone ask for? When it comes to utopic workplace communities, Facebook is not the exception, but the rule: Tech giants such as LinkedIn, Google and Amazon have all perfected their own campuses, with many other companies looking to follow suit.

They don’t want you to leave and you don’t want to leave. Why would you?

The undeniable allure of being a software engineer in Silicon Valley has propelled loads of undeclared and unknowing college students to the lecture halls of computer science classes in pursuit of money, prestige and a culture of chill. Silicon Valley tech giants have become the contemporary Wall Street of highly sought-after jobs.

As someone who has strived to go against the grain of popular convention in chasing a brand name and dollar bills, I find myself wavering on the edge between steadfast security and risk-taking adventure in planning for post-grad life. Along with my uncertainty comes the realizations that these tech giants know my generation’s fears, the ones that keep us wide awake at night with cold sweats about the ambiguous future. They exploit our insecurities, the ones that we desperately push to the fringe of our cognitive awareness. They capitalize on our anxieties, the ones we numb with paychecks and perceived prestige. Yet, we still feel it isn’t enough. That flight-or-fight feeling, supposedly fleeting, never leaves, because this rat race isn’t over. Everyone makes six-figure salaries as a young 20-something-year-old, don’t they? A ubiquitous sentiment reactivating insecurities and inadequacy fuels the money-hungry youth.

Among Silicon Valley employees, it has become a normalized conviction that a salary close to six figures is simply not enough. With prices of homes averaging $1.2 million, high income taxes and inflated prices on just about everything, it’s not unreasonable to feel as if a hefty paycheck isn’t enough. Coworkers and friends alike lament the ridiculously high cost of living in the Bay Area. Yet we, the future beneficiaries of these companies, are among the haves, the privileged, the ones with the ability to shape society. What happens to all the normal people?

They capitalize on our anxieties, the ones we numb with paychecks and perceived prestige. … Everyone makes six-figure salaries as a young 20-something-year-old, don’t they?

Living on the edge between SOMA and the Tenderloins, I witness the negative externalities of high tech industry-driven prices manifest themselves onto the streets of San Francisco. Homeless people who can no longer afford this city dot the streets. It’s hard to walk in between these two drastically different worlds — one in which resources seem to be a never-ending flow of abundance and one in which resources are bereft.

It’s a blessing and a danger to be a member of this highly selective circle; within this environment, I have observed people of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, demographics and careers perform similar jobs in the day and hang out with like-minded individuals, subconsciously creating a bubble with no alternatives. All is fine within the bubble, but the bubble is not the world. The world outside is plagued with inequalities. Yet the rich and privileged don’t feel rich and privileged and still claim their seat to normalcy on a crusade for success. The positive externalities of the tech industry in the Bay Area are undeniable. But it is not equitably distributed to all groups, and a specific subcategory reaps the benefits.

Tech firms have recruited the best and the brightest to serve their own company needs, yet there are fundamental societal problems that need solving. As students striving for highly coveted seats within this elite circle, it can be bracing to step outside our own realm of privilege and breathe in the world around our rat race. We need to be unhappy with the status quo for change to ensue.

Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected].