You’ve read about us. You’ve seen stories on the news about us. We travel in packs. And ride company shuttles. And eat free, catered lunches every day and ride company bikes around different “campuses” of our offices.
We are the tech workers here in this California mecca known as the Silicon Valley. And we are EXACTLY as spoiled as you think we are.
I wish I could say we all realize it, and live every day completely grateful for our situation and the abundance of resources and opportunities we have at our fingertips. But the truth is, that’s not really the case. It has become our “normal” and we just want more.
I’m guilty of it myself. When the bar has been raised and you live in the type of world we do, it’s easy to start taking these privileges for granted. Because while free breakfast, lunch and dinner is all well and good, and our in-office masseuse and chiropractor are awfully generous, many of us find it easy to forget that’s not normal. It sounds crazy to even type that sentence, but it’s true. I think it’s even harder for those employees who have just recently entered the workforce.
They are the lucky ones who graduated in the last few years, when we had already started to recover from the recession. While those of us who were already in the workforce felt the full impact of what was happening in 2007-08, they were still in college (or high school for that matter), with a vague understanding of what the changing economy meant to their job prospects and still trying to get every ounce of enjoyment they could out of college. I don’t blame them. College is often a comfortable bubble that exists outside of the “real world” where you can skip the classes you don’t like, stay out all night partying and still feel ready take on the world the next day. So they did, these lucky ones.
And when they graduated, they were able to land jobs at the tech behemoths of the Bay Area: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com and Twitter, among others. Places where “company culture” reigns supreme and employee benefits and satisfaction are serious business. When THAT is your first experience out of college, it’s hard not to come to expect that from all your employers. When you’re 23 and part of your job entails drinking free booze all night while staying at 5-star hotels in San Francisco and getting a private tour of AT&T Park, it’s easy to lose touch with reality.
Hell, it’s easy to lose touch with reality even if that’s NOT your only experience in the professional world. I graduated college in 2006 and started working for a company in Los Angeles that made coffee and tea accessories. Basically, I sold mugs and teapots.
There were 5 of us when I started. I was sales, I was marketing, I was part-time warehouse supervisor, part-time copywriter and catalog editor, and store merchandiser for our biggest customers. It was an amazing growth experience but I worked my ass off and made a grand total of $34,000. Which, when rent for my apartment in LA was $1,300/month, didn’t go very far. But I learned to hustle. And there was no free soda in the break room. No free lunches. No “perks,” just work that needed to get done.
I remember one of my first big business trips out to Chicago – I was so excited. And so green. At 23, I hadn’t done much travelling. My boss booked my travel arrangements. I was flying into Midway because it was cheaper, but the cheapest hotel he could find was next to O’Hare, so that’s what he booked. And there was no money for a rental car, he told me. No, I would just need to figure out public transit, even when it meant a 2 hour train ride and 20 minute walk in the snow to the outskirts of the city to visit a customer.
I remember that trip vividly, schlepping around Chicago in March with my suitcase, asking people for directions and trying to keep a smile on my face and not freak out about all the things I needed to figure out. In hindsight, I realize the company was mismanaged and bleeding money and I was put in some situations I shouldn’t have been, but it is what it is. I’m grateful for those experiences.
I’m not sharing this to show how much harder I had it than the recent grads working at tech companies (well, maybe a little) but rather to point out that those experiences helped shape me. They helped make me stronger. And I AM proud of how I handled those situations, and how I was able to get things done without a smartphone, and without company support. I worked there for almost 4 years, and by the time I quit and moved to the Bay Area, the job market was picking up. And when I landed my first tech sales job, I could see things were going to be different.
And even having had those experiences, it’s easy to be seduced into the world of free food, free booze, and free travel, and forget all about those days. Big name tech companies and start-ups alike are battling it out for talent. Talent that is way beyond my pay grade. I mean, yes, they would like to attract the best sales talent, but who they’re really battling for are the top notch engineers and developers, and once Google set the bar, the rest of the companies who wanted those “A players” needed to step up with those big perks or lose the talent war. And the rest of us get to take advantage.
I remember the first time my boyfriend came to visit my office last year. We had 2 kitchens in the building (all free food), a pinball machine on my floor, and a mini golf course set up around the office (part of a team building activity from the week before). When I got home that day, he told me I was never allowed to complain about work EVER again. And he had a point. While I definitely considered my job to be somewhat stressful at times, it’s all relative. He’s worked in retail, as a logger, and in nonprofit, rebuilding homes in New Orleans. He has always had to buy work supplies out of his own pocket. Seeing that world was like walking into an alternate universe for him.
And it’s a good reminder for those of us lucky enough to live in it that we really should be consciously thankful every day. Because I’ve seen it all too often… people forgetting how ridiculously lucky we are. It happens more often when your friends and social circle all work in tech too. Because you all live in the same world – you become a silo. I’ve seen internal company discussion boards where people COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FREE FOOD THEY’RE BEING SERVED. I’ll give you a minute to process that.
At one of the companies I worked for, once a quarter they would cancel our catered lunch and simply ask that we bring our own or go out to lunch with coworkers. The money that was saved in that ONE DAY across all of our offices was astronomical, and they donated it to the less fortunate. Once a quarter. Four times a year. No big deal, right? Wrong. Without fail, every time that day rolled around, someone would complain about how that impacted their work day, that they couldn’t be productive if they had to go out for lunch, etc. BULLSHIT. Total bullshit. Even if you can make the case there is no convenient food nearby (which you can’t, you entitled, privileged a**hole) then get up 10 minutes early and make a fucking PB&J.
I’m using a harsh example to make a point… most people were not so extreme. And I think most DO try to be appreciative of what we have. But it’s a competitive environment that we’re working in, and we do work hard. So companies keep upping the ante. If it’s not more stock options and work from home flexibility, it’s sailing lessons and free gym memberships. Which is great for those of us already working in this industry, and for those lucky college grads who find a spot on one of those teams right out of school. But the more perks they pile on, the further and further detached from reality we become.
At some point, some of these companies are going to fail. Some of these people will lose their jobs, and may not be able find a new one as bright and shiny as the one they had before. Some of us, like myself, are going to willingly walk away from this world at some point, as painful as it might be to give it up.
And when we come out on the other side, we’re going to have a hell of an adjustment to make. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll get much sympathy when we complain about our sushi withdrawal and how much we miss having a personal “ergonomics expert” to set up our desk area to fit our delicate needs. But that’s a problem for tomorrow. Right now, I need to go play a round of mini golf and grab a free Perrier.