The valley of comfort: how life is different in Silicon Valley and the rest of the country
Russian developer Anton Popov who moved to the USA told vc.ru about the American mentality and the gap between the center of the IT industry and the rest of the country.
In October 2015 for work I moved from St. Petersburg to California. The company helped to execute the documents, paid for the flight and reimbursed some of the expenses of the new immigrant. I settled in the USA, learned to appreciate local advantages, deal with inconveniences and wondered if I wanted to stay in this country forever.
Why did i move
I work in EPAM - an IT company that develops custom software products. Moving employees abroad, closer to customers, is a common practice in this industry.
In such companies you can work remotely, but sometimes it is necessary to be present at the customer’s office. For example, some projects can not leave the territory of the client, and in some cases need to work within the customer’s team.
Therefore, many corporate development engineers move to other countries: USA, Poland, UK, Czech Republic. I did the same, but I cannot talk about the customer: I signed a non-disclosure agreement. I can only say that this is a well-known company, one of the largest in Silicon Valley.
How I decided
I have long wanted to live abroad, but for a start I moved from my native Saratov to St. Petersburg. I didn’t have to change my job: I transferred from the Saratov office to the Petersburg office, and some time later I went on a business trip to the USA. At first, I was wary of the States because of the historical confrontation of our countries.
However, it turned out that the Americans are very friendly, and the working conditions in their country are quite comfortable. In the US, work is very important, and it suits me. I liked the fact that here you can achieve a lot and not to rest on the career ceiling. Therefore, after a business trip, I decided to live in the USA for a while.
Visa and other documents
When I was invited to work in the Valley, the documents were ready almost immediately - I really did not have time to pack things. This is how the work in onsight mode (in the territory of the customer - vc.ru). If I had been slow, someone else could have taken a vacancy, but I would like to get exactly to this client.
I arrived in the US on a L1 visa. To get one, you need to work in a company that offers relocation for at least a year. EPAM is headquartered in Pennsylvania, so this option came up better than others.
To get L1, you need to collect an impressive package of documents. The company helped me in this. Usually, if the employee decides to continue working in the United States one year after the move, the employer begins to issue a green card for him.
To America with a cat
I moved to California with my cat. Our travel manager helped me arrange a place for him on the plane and find a hotel where I can live with animals. Basic veterinary certificates were required to leave Russia: a passport, a chip and some documents from the veterinary services.
At the last moment it turned out that one certificate was not enough, and at five in the morning I ran around the airport in search of a veterinarian. Fortunately, everything turned out, the necessary document was drawn up, and my cat and I ended up on the plane.
The maximum weight of animals that you can take with you to the salon is 8 kilograms with the carrying. I have a big cat, so I had to put him on a strict diet so that he fit into these requirements. He bravely endured the flight, and in the United States easily crossed the border: in California, the only rule for bringing in domestic animals is a healthy form.
How I settled in a new place
The company paid me a plane ticket, a hotel for a month and rented a car. Due to jetlag (the discrepancy with the usual rhythm due to the change of time zones - vc.ru) I missed the corporate taxi from the airport and caught the car myself. The counter issued $ 300 for a half-hour trip - this was also reimbursed to me.
The hardest thing was to survive the first few days in a new place. I flew to the US on the weekend and could not start settling before Monday. I had no local phone number, no internet, no credit card. I had no idea how to get to this or that point and where I needed to go in the first place, I could not buy anything, except perhaps for cash.
I didn’t have a Social Security Number (SSN) on hand. In importance, this document in the United States is comparable to a passport in Russia. As soon as the work week began, everything began to get better.
Remove the housing you need in the first month. I began my search almost immediately and found that Americans have a completely different idea of comfort. By area, the studio apartment is like a Russian one-bedroom apartment, and the housing includes a parking, a swimming pool and a gym.
Prices correspond. Finding something close to work for less than $ 2000 per month is almost impossible. The situation is worsening every year due to the large number of immigrants, but the municipal authorities gradually prohibit landlords from raising prices more than inflation requires.
I was looking for an apartment on free ad aggregator sites. Here they replace realtors:
To rent a house, you need to make a deposit, open a bank account (a payroll account will also work) and confirm that you are paying for home insurance. It remains to sign a contract. After three weeks it was all over, and we settled with the cat in the city of Mountain View.
How is life in Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is located between two metropolitan areas: San Francisco and San Jose. Here is everything that a resident of a big city has become accustomed to, but the closeness to nature is preserved: there are parks all around, lots of greenery. In the sleeping areas you can find wild raccoons, squirrels and possums, which are not afraid of people.
Nearby there are beautiful national parks. Of these, I like Yosemite Park and Sequoia National Park the most. Walking among the giant centuries-old trees, you can feel completely tiny. A bit further is the Death Valley - a picturesque lifeless desert, dry and hot.
According to my observations, the population of Silicon Valley is even younger than in other centers of the IT industry in the USA and Europe (at one time I specifically went to compare conditions in different places). Most are not forty years old. Active and ambitious people, who have the time and energy to go to improve their skills and enter the IT elite, are coming here.
There are few families in Silicon Valley because of expensive housing: a homely house far out of town costs at least a million dollars. There is a large Russian-speaking diaspora, many visitors from India and China. The latter are very hardworking and gradually crowd out representatives of other cultures.
Locals are addicted to innovative and modern cars. On the roads you can find self-driving and hybrid cars, electric bikes and skateboards. Even when you call Uber, an electric car may come for you.
Another reality adjoins this: people who are not related to the IT industry have not yet understood how to find a place for themselves in the upcoming technological revolution. The difference is noticeable not only in the level of wealth, but also in the interests.
While geeks are busy with another device, ordinary Americans grill barbecue and chat with friends in the backyard. Unlike IT professionals, many of them cannot afford expensive housing and cars. It is necessary to leave Silicon Valley, it becomes clear that there is this region, and there is the rest of America.
In the Valley love active sports. Many residents ride bicycles, go hiking, climbing, skydiving. Travel is also popular here.
Visitors want to know America better, and at first they romp around the country. On weekends, they can easily jump into the car, go to another state all night, then go back, and on Monday - immediately to work.
When the next states have already been investigated, it is the turn of trips to Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, South America. Typically, IT professionals have money for this, but vacation time may not be enough.
In America, it is not regulated how many days of rest an employer must provide to an employee - you need to agree on this separately. Large IT companies easily make concessions to attract new specialists.
At first, I also traveled around America, traveled to Mexico, traveled to Canada several times, was on the East Coast of America. I'm still going to visit the central part of the United States, where reserves and national parks are located (for example, Yellowstone), but it's hard to get there. You will have to travel by car from the Valley for two days, and fly more than to the East Coast: this is an unpopular route.
Nature in America is diverse. The northern states are very green, with almost Russian landscapes. The south is picturesque in its own way: taking at least deserts with cacti are fantastic views, especially in spring, when everything is blooming.
How to find friends in Silicon Valley
It’s easy to find friends here: almost everything is on social networks, and mostly open and sociable people come here. It is expected that you will greet and smile with everyone, and it is not customary to discuss illnesses and troubles. Here everyone is always "all is well."
Making friends with colleagues is easy. It’s enough to go to the gym together, discuss superficial topics like gadgets, sports or work in the bar - and you are already friends. It seems to me that in America the word friend is closer in meaning to the Russian “friend”.
It is difficult to find a person with whom you can talk heart to heart. Largely because of the strong turnover: people change jobs, not having time to get used to each other properly. For a year, a third of the team can change in a client’s company: developers can easily be lured away by more attractive projects and interesting tasks.
Those who speak the same language, are drawn to each other and often keep themselves apart. I play volleyball with Russian-speaking guys. Sometimes we are joined by people who do not speak Russian. After a while they stop coming to the games.
Maybe they are not comfortable that we involuntarily exchange phrases in Russian on the site. It may be a matter of routine: many employees leave, and for those that remain, interests change.
Americans are open to other cultures and opinions. No matter where you come from, whatever your past, you will be greeted with a smile, will not be asked questions about your accent or make remarks about appearance.
All in this country are immigrants, they are used to everything around. A person of Russian culture can learn from this worldview. While I live here, I became more tolerant of others: when you communicate with people of a different mentality, you begin to adopt their outlook on life.
Work in Silicon Valley
In Silicon Valley is a very comfortable life. Here companies compete for employees, and not vice versa. Employers are trying to attract a person from the market as quickly as possible - best of all right after the university - so that it does not get to competitors. IT companies take care of their employees: flexible hours, free food and gyms in the office. You can not worry about anything and focus on work.
The energy that is spent in big cities to cope with stress can be channeled into development in Silicon Valley. There are many opportunities for this: IT companies often have internal technology conferences and trainings. At the next table in the cafe you can see the person whose books you learned to write code, and discuss something with him.
Here people feel free, everyone does what he wants. Someone goes into the business - and it is considered normal: to start a business, work for yourself, and then return to the company as an employee. Someone travels for months, someone is engaged in creativity.
In America, be sure to have medical insurance. Employers of IT companies pay for it by employers: it is beneficial for them that people rather get better and go to work.
Young professionals love extreme sports, and they have serious injuries. But colleagues say that insurance covers all such cases. Although sometimes it is safer and cheaper to go home, for example, when it comes to teeth.
I myself have been in a local hospital, this is an interesting experience. American doctors care about each patient as if the fate of the entire clinic depends on him. You need to sign a lot of documents, in which case you will not blame the doctors. Nurses are always around. They put you on a wheelchair, even after slight anesthesia, so that you do not accidentally knock on anything.
When you are discharged, it is impossible to leave the clinic until a person comes for you (you cannot call a taxi, you need a close person). No wonder medicine in the States is so expensive.
American doctors leave no choice and impose a maximum level of service, which by the rules can not be refused.
What I did not like in America
There are things in the States that are frankly annoying. For example, public transport. There is practically no one here. Even in large cities, it is poorly developed. From one area of Los Angeles to another, you can take a bus for several hours.
In comparison with Europe, most cities here will not be of interest to tourists. The flat streets of one-story buildings cross each other at right angles, and in the financial center there are usually several skyscrapers.
In my opinion, in America there are only two unique metropolises: New York and San Francisco. Perhaps there are a few more, but for the most part cities are built according to universal American canons. It is enough to visit several of them to imagine what a large part of America looks like.
To my taste, those places where the life and ways of the American past are preserved are much more interesting - there are plenty of them. Not far from Santa Barbara, in the small village of Solvang, it is as if nothing has changed for a hundred years since the time when Danish settlers founded it. Windmills, the Little Mermaid statue (as in Copenhagen), traditional pastries. This island of Denmark among the Californian hills.
Or, for example, the city of Kaliko, abandoned and restored for tourists. In the 19 century silver miners lived here. When it became unprofitable to develop a nearby mine, they departed, and the city became empty. In 1950, Walter Knott bought it - the man who founded America's first theme park. So he did with Calico, creating the atmosphere of a ghost town.
In the US, high taxes. In California, the salary is deducted to 40%. There are taxes on goods that do not even indicate the price tags. Regular tips are at least 10%, and sometimes all 20-30%.
It does not use the metric system of measures. In addition to the United States, this is only in Liberia and Myanmar. I am still not used to measuring the air temperature in Fahrenheit, and the height of a person is in feet and inches. The root of the problem is much deeper than in simple inconvenience: Americans, in principle, have little interest in what is happening in other countries.
They have their own sports championships, chain stores, values and norms. They do not even need to learn another language, because everyone speaks English. They adore their country and are accustomed to thinking that other countries are borrowing something from their culture, and not vice versa. This ignorance surprises me.
Finally, I do not like American food culture. Both at work and in life there are many opportunities to eat healthy food, but most still choose fast food. Free snacks, sweets and fizzy drinks are popular in offices. In the cafe the longest queues line up for hamburgers. At corporate parties a signature dish is another fast food with sweet water.
In California, spicy Mexican and Asian cuisine is popular: they can put pepper in sweet cookies and ice cream. It seems to me strange that people choose high-calorie, fatty and sweet: almost every cafe has vegetarian and vegan dishes, halal and kosher food, organic products without gluten.
Silicon Valley Forever
I hardly stay here for life. One of the reasons is very expensive housing: it is almost impossible to buy a nice house here. Now it is interesting for me to gain experience, but to some extent I still feel like a stranger here: the American mentality is too different from the Russian and even European. I think one day it will be interesting for me to live in Europe. To develop, you need to go out of your comfort zone, and in America it is hard to do.
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