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Google. Facebook. eBay. Silicon Valley and the surrounding area is home to an abundance big name companies as well as hip startups that both new grads and seasoned professionals dream of working at. However, despite the wide range of opportunities, competition is still fierce and even the brightest engineers and programmers must step their game up just to score an interview. For those wanting a taste of Silicon Valley, this guide explores the various career avenues available, highlights top tech employers, and offers firsthand insight from startup and tech recruiting experts to help tech savvy job seekers – as well as those simply interested in the tech world – land a job in the country’s hottest job market.
Careers in Tech
Silicon Valley is the country’s leading technology hub. It offers career opportunities in industries ranging from energy and manufacturing to software development and mobile gaming. Between 2004 and 2014, Silicon Valley has seen a 70.2 percent increase in tech sector employment. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, that growth has had a domino effect, generating approximately 4.3 non-tech jobs for each tech job created. That means employment opportunities exist not only in tech fields — such as computer engineering, network administration, web design programming, and IT support — but also in non-tech fields such as human resources, recruiting, accounting and customer service.
Top Technology Roles
The marketplace for tech talent is competitive and — as Robert Half’s 2016 Technology Salary Guide points out — top tech professionals who aren’t even seeking opportunities are receiving multiple offers. Some of the industries expected to see significant job gains are:
The table below details eight in-demand tech careers that are faring well across industry lines.
What They Do
Two years of postsecondary education
At least one year of related experience and professional certification
Database administrators know database languages and applications (e.g., IBM DB2, Oracle, Microsoft
SQL). They manage company databases, monitor database structure for integrity and perform regular
backups and updates.
Experience with programming languages, especially Java and Python
Data scientists combine mathematical, analytical and programming skills to make strategic business
recommendations. Data scientists process raw data and develop appropriate metrics to identify trends
and opportunities for business growth.
Two to five years of Web-related experience
HTML, LAMP) to write back-end code for a site, product or application. Working with Web-based
applications, they develop business requirements, offer support to Web administrators, integrate
databases and other back-end systems, and test projects prior to going live.
Bachelor’s degree; MBA is recommended
Five or more years of software product management
Product managers blend business and programming acumen to manage the overall development of software
programs. They define product requirements, collaborate with sales and marketing on strategy and
customer analysis, write product briefs, and manage project timelines and deliverables.
Associate degree with technical experience or bachelor’s degree
Two to three years of programming experience
Software developers use programming languages and frameworks (e.g., C#/C++, HTML, Java, Microsoft
.NET) to code and develop computer programs, systems and applications. They are responsible for
debugging and testing programs, updating applications, creating new software prototypes, and
documenting development and testing procedures.
Associate degree with technical experience or bachelor’s degree
Three to five years of experience working with software and hardware, plus relevant certifications
(e.g., Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)
Systems administrators deploy, manage and support an organization’s software and network systems.
They install and update operating systems, configure software and servers, handle system backups,
analyze software issues and resolve any software or networking problems.
Network Security Engineer
Five years of experience working with networking security systems
Network security engineers manage security policies in a computer system’s architecture. In this
role, they install network security systems, analyze network performance, maintain networking
configurations, and plan and execute system upgrades.
Three or more years of experience in website design and production
Web designers use software and programming languages (e.g., PHP, HTML, AJAX) to create Web pages.
They may troubleshoot problems on a page, format Web pages, design artwork or help select visual
storytelling features for a site.
*Median salaries are from Robert Half 2016 Technology Salary Guide and are calculated with local variance for the San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland regions.
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Non-Tech Careers in Silicon Valley
Non-technical workers can pursue a range of careers throughout Silicon Valley. Common employment paths include accounting and finance, public relations marketing, customer service, operations, human resources and content.
“In general, most roles outside of technology are faring well,” remarks Heather Johnston, regional manager of Robert Half Technology. “In Silicon Valley specifically, support roles within technology in all areas — including marketing, finance and accounting, administration and legal — are in demand.”
The table below outlines several non-tech career options in Silicon Valley, including salary, education requirements and job descriptions.
Median Salary (Silicon Valley)
What They Do
Two to three years of technical writing experience
Using document-creation software (e.g., Adobe Acrobat, Word, RoboHelp), technical writers compose
and edit user manuals, outline the operation guidelines for applications, format technical documents
and collaborate with developers to ensure documentation is accurate.
Associate or bachelor’s degree
One to two years of experience
Traffic coordinators oversee the scheduling, processing and delivery of marketing materials and
other projects. They liaise with outside clients and vendors and work with internal departments to
ensure projects are completed on time.
Two to five years in related content development experience
Strategists develop a site’s content strategy based on the company’s goals and objectives, handling
a range of tasks, including content audits and search engine optimization, as well as managing an
editorial calendar, content production and website taxonomies.
Public Relations Manager
Bachelor’s degree; Master’s in public relations or related field recommended
Five years of experience in public relations, event planning and social media
Public relations managers oversee an organization’s public image strategy and coordinate that
strategy across different media channels (e.g., online, television). They identify potential
communication opportunities, establish relationships, manage messaging and coordinate the production
of internal and external communication materials.
Navigating Silicon Valley
Landing a job in the Valley’s increasingly competitive job market is no small task.
“Silicon Valley employers expect driven, passionate and skilled talent,” says Shravan Goli, president of Dice.com. “What sets Silicon Valley apart are ingenuity and an entrepreneurial spirit. There is generally more importance to the skills than the degrees. Therefore, it takes passion, commitment and the right blend of soft and technical skills to earn a spot in Silicon Valley.”
Where to Find Top Jobs
A major question remains: “How can I find a job?” Spending time reviewing postings on a company’s job board could prove fruitless. It’s a well-known secret that most companies do not list all of their openings on their website. Here are a few alternative options to consider.
Although LinkedIn is the most well-known career networking and job listing site, individuals wanting to find the right position in Silicon Valley may want to turn to industry- or tech-specific job boards and sites to locate openings. Below is a list of some career sites for tech professionals.
A question and answer site that allows employers to see a candidate’s expertise.
A go-to for careers in software, security and information technology.
A site that provides tech and non-tech job postings, with information about salaries and employee reviews.
A job board for careers in big data and analytics.
IEEE Job Site
A searchable database of careers in computing and engineering fields.
An IT job board with global job listings.
The popular media company offers am extensive job board with both tech and non-technical positions.
Robert Half International
A specialized option for careers in information technology fields, such as Web development, network security and technical support.
The leading job board for Ruby developers.
A job portal for freelancers looking for contract jobs.
Job fairs are another excellent resource for Silicon Valley job hunters. Sponsored by universities, private and public companies, startups, career placement companies and government organizations, career and job fairs can be found throughout the region.
EventBrite is an excellent place to start when seeking out such events in the Silicon Valley area.
Networking is probably the most important – and successful – job search method in Silicon Valley, yet it is also the most underutilized. Staying connected to the tech community at large is important, even if you’re not looking for a job (you never know when you may be seeking a new opportunity). Here are three ways to network:
Take extended studies classes
Bay Area universities such as UC Berkeley and San Jose State offer extended studies classes in various technology fields. Completing a certificate or continuing education class is a great way to meet other professionals while keeping your skills sharp.
Attend presentations or workshops
Universities and companies may sponsor lecture series, workshops, or presentations, which are also great ways to meet industry people, including leaders. For example, the San Francisco chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery regularly hosts speakers. Organizations offering bootcamps and immersive programs may also offer such opportunities. General Assembly, for example, hosts several individual classes and workshops, from Intro to Photoshop to PR 101 to Big Data.
Go to Startup Weekend
Sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Weekend is an event focused on formal networking, community building, training, business pitching and coding.
Venture Capital Websites
Venture capital is the lifeblood of tech startups, so why not check out what they are backing and the type of talent those companies need? VC websites traditionally have job listings for companies they support. Some example VC groups are:
Employment Career Services
Job seekers can also turn to employment agencies to get help with career planning and job placement. Two of the most well known groups in the Bay Area are Career Action Center and NOVA, both located in Sunnyvale.
University Alumni Associations
Graduates of Bay Area schools can leverage their alumni associations for both networking and job search resources. For non-Bay Area graduates, alumni associations in the region are still a good place to visit for career listings in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs.
The old adage is apt in this situation: “It’s who you know that gets you the job and what you know that helps you keep it.” Your contacts are a great resource. Take time to talk to your peers, former colleagues, vendors and customers. Any of them could connect you to a potential employer and refer you for a position.
Headcounts at major tech companies in the Bay Area have increased over the past five years. The San Francisco Business Times reports that during the past year, approximately 7,000 employees were hired by the 75 largest San Francisco tech companies alone. And data from the state’s Employment Development Department shows 32,000 tech jobs were created across the Bay Area between September 2014 and September 2015. This increase means that technology jobs now account for 38 percent of all careers in the Bay Area, notes SFGate. At the individual company level, Hewlett-Packard is the largest tech company in Silicon Valley, employing more than 300,000 employees. The table below details the 20 largest technology companies in Silicon Valley.
Of the 20 largest public companies in the Bay Area, 60 percent are tech companies. Those 12 companies have a combined market capitalization (indication of total market value) of $2 trillion dollars. In short, they are some of the most valuable companies in the world.
In one word: talent. “Hiring managers need to make the right hire,” remarks tech recruiter Biron Clark. Whether it’s a startup or established Fortune 100 company, hiring managers are looking for intelligent and passionate individuals who will help the company succeed. Clark lists three specific things tech recruiters want to see.
Computer Science Knowledge
Knowledge of the core principles of computer science indicates the candidate has an ability to learn and adapt to new technologies.
Education and Coding Talent
Candidates with an impressive CS education who do well on an interview coding test will get the hiring manager’s attention.
Hiring managers want to see candidates with strong communication skills, as well as an openness to feedback and coaching. According to Clark, this is especially vital for entry-level candidates looking to break into the market.
Regional Manager, Robert Half Technology
Much is made about the demand for tech talent in Silicon Valley, and the Robert Half report mentions that recruiting remains a challenge. In your opinion, is the challenge a problem of supply or quality?
There are a number of qualified technology professionals, who are highly sought-after by a number of organizations—finding the perfect balance of skills, experience and a cultural fit make it more of a supply/demand issue than an issue of a lack of skills. Desktop support, network administration and windows administration are the top three in-demand skills mentioned in the Robert Half survey.
What are specific career tracks? What are the hottest career fields in the Bay Area right now?
As technology is at the forefront of many of the initiatives at organizations within all industries, the growth in demand for support professionals to help implement and maintain these initiatives grow as well. Desktop support and network admins help support new technologies, software and hardware implementations, and the increasing mobility within the workplace. DevOps roles are especially hot right now in the Bay Area, which is a hybrid role of development and operations. Some system administrators can move to these roles once they’ve acquired the skills necessary for the operations aspect.
With the recruiting challenges, what are recruiters/HR/CEOs looking for in their candidates, if it’s not just the latest skills in networking?
Outside of the familiarity and experience with the latest technologies, the most sought-after attribute [is] soft skills and business acumen.
What’s the overall tech market like in the Bay Area and what’s the reality regarding the hiring boom?
A common misconception about the tech industry is that a computer science degree or a bootcamp equate to guaranteed employment and growth, but the hands-on experience and the commitment to constantly learn and keep skills fresh is necessary for longevity in a tech career. The thought that the technical skills alone are sufficient for employers is also flawed — the candidates who want to get into the tech sector must also possess sharp written and verbal communication skills and also the business acumen to make intelligent and valuable recommendations for the organization.
What to Know About Startups
Prospective startup employees must balance the risks and rewards of working at a new company. For example, coming in to an early-stage startup may mean a greater potential for financial and career rewards — but it also carries a great risk of failure. On the other hand, joining later after rounds of funding may allow job seekers to minimize their risk, but also decreases the potential for compensation and economic reward. Startups will always be the roulette of the tech world.
Many have heard or read about the talent wars for engineers in Silicon Valley, where engineers with in-demand skill sets are pulling in multiple $100K offers or even offers surpassing $250K per year. Clark suggests individuals interested in working at a startup take a grounded view of the situation.
“Startups are caught up in the competition with larger firms like Facebook, Google, Twitter and others,” he says. “Early-stage startups often cannot match the cash compensation portion of the job offers that larger firms routinely make to the best engineers. However, they still successfully attract talent by offering equity as a potential upside.”
Benefits and Perks
The arms race for the top tech talent in Silicon Valley has created a sub-economy of perks and benefits throughout the tech industry. These benefits go well past the standard health insurance and 401Ks.
“Because the market is good for tech pros, companies are trying new and unique ways to attract talent,” says Goli. “From attractive compensation packages to unique perks like free laundry service, gym membership or free lunches, companies who offer challenging projects in addition to superior benefits can out-hire their competitors.”
A review of startup websites and job postings revealed some of the following perks for employees:
On-site laundry and gym
Free transportation to-and-from work
Apartment cleaning service
Bike repair shop
“Startup culture” receives plenty of attention because it is usually confused with office atmosphere. In reality, it is the way in which a company defines it goals and helps employees achieve those goals. Culture varies from startup to startup, as each company has its own ways of sharing and instilling its values. Prospective employees should investigate how employees articulate the company’s identity, mission and values.
Working for a startup can be summed up in one word: demanding. Getting a business up and running is hard work. It’s not uncommon for employees at startups to work 60 to 90 hours per week, depending on the specific role or department. Startups, however, tend to offer exciting projects and employees are usually passionate about the work, making the long hours bearable.
Any news search will quickly reveal that housing is expensive in and around Silicon Valley. While success has led to increased salaries, the gap continues to widen between paychecks and affordable housing. According to the 2015 Silicon Valley Index, the median home sales price in 2014 was $757,585, while the average rental rate was $2,333 per month. While the average salary is above $115,000 in the Valley, new startup employees may feel the squeeze when it’s time to pay the rent or mortgage.
Things to Think About
Many people are drawn to work for startups by their desire to help launch the next big thing or even simply because of the perks and benefits. However, according to Forbes it’s estimated that 80 to 90 percent of startups fold, which means it’s important to make an informed decision. As you weigh your options, here are five important factors to consider:
The startup’s culture is perhaps the biggest indicator of whether or not you will love your job. Because startups are known for their long hours and dependency on team collaboration, you should ask yourself, is this a group of people I want to work with? There are various ways to gain insight into the culture. Research the startup online before interviewing. For example, is there positive employee feedback on Glassdoor? When interviewing, watch future coworkers. Does the office have a buzz? Are people mostly quiet? Are they actively collaborating? Are your interviewers excited about the company and their jobs while talking to you?
Job seekers should research and know about the company’s founders. Learn about their professional backgrounds as well as those of the leadership team. What brought them together? Have they worked together before? Startups can fail if founders cannot work together effectively. Find out about the founders’ goals — is it to take the company public? Sell the company? Their backgrounds and goals can impact your decision.
A startup’s cash flow is a direct indicator of stability. Has the startup attracted funding from tier-one venture capital firms? Do they have investments from other sources? Don’t be afraid to ask about where the funding is coming from and how long it is expected to last.
Much is written about astronomical salaries being thrown at engineers and other tech professionals at startups. In reality, most startups pay salaries in line with traditional corporate positions. However, with startups, there is usually the promise of stock options or other potential future compensation. Does the company offer stock options? Other professional perks?
It’s vital to ask about your role within the company. How valuable is your role to the overall company and how is it expected to grow? Who will you be working with and how will you be evaluated? What about training? Getting an idea of what the position will look like in six months or one year can help determine if the startup actually presents an avenue to career success.
The small team and rapid pace of a startup makes it possible to feel the direct impact of your work. Working at a startup is like getting constant shots of instant gratification.
What’s been the biggest challenge working for (and launching a startup)?
There are many challenges. First, most startups have trouble with their team. My co-founders and I got lucky. We have compatible temperaments and work styles. We’re completely comfortable disagreeing with each other. There are never any hard feelings because we know we’re on the same team. Second, you have to work hard a lot with a very small team. For a long time, we’ve had to pull all-nighters to launch new features and updates. Third, you have to make several things happen with limited resources. This means we all need to take on any task, even if it is not our specialty. If something needs to get done that we don’t know how to do, we learn how to do it — and fast.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about starting or joining a startup?
Think about what you really want professionally and personally before joining a startup. I meet a lot of people who want to start their own business because they believe it will be their key to immediate wealth and work-life balance. Once those people actually start their own businesses, they are miserable. Building a startup (or joining one at an early stage) is A LOT of work. It is all-consuming. At the early stages you will have to make sacrifices in your social life.
Your friends/family/significant others will notice your priorities shift and will sometimes voice their concern or disapproval. Even if you put in the time, the odds are against you. Most of the time those shares you worked so hard for will end up being worth nothing. For most people, it makes more sense to take a high-paying job at a larger company and save up before starting or joining an early-stage startup.
What’s the largest misconception about the Bay Area tech scene?
Over 90 percent of startups fail. This statistic is often repeated, but everyone believes they will be the exception — and they continue believing it right up to the moment they run out of money and shut their doors.
Bay Area Culture
Aside from its booming technology industry, the Bay Area is an exciting, diverse and beautiful place to live. The region offers an eclectic and robust arts and culinary scene, one that is sure to please any theatre patron or foodie. The region’s history of counterculture has created a dynamic climate of artistic expression that can be found in museums, local art events, and music festivals. On the food front, San Francisco is home to four restaurants with a 3-star rating from Michelin as well as a host of thriving mom and pop places. With just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, wine lovers can find themselves in the world famous wine country of Napa and Sonoma.
The Bay Area is a beautiful place to live for those who love nature and the outdoors. Panoramas of the Pacific Ocean contrast with the towering redwoods in Muir Woods. For sports fans, the Bay Area is also home to seven major sports teams from MLB, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and MLS. In short, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone in the Bay Area.
Renewable Energy Careers
Silicon Valley may be famous for being a major technology hub, but it is also quickly becoming known for an emerging industry: renewable industry and clean tech. The demand for energy — and the need for greater clean energy solutions — has fostered innovation and investments. Venture capitalists are investing major dollars in capital funding to companies focusing on revolutionizing the energy industry. The National Venture Capital Association reported the energy/industrial sector received $1 billion in venture capital investment during the second quarter of 2015 alone.
Solar — especially solar hardware — has long been the major investment in energy and clean technology. However, innovation in other areas of the market in Silicon Valley has spurred a new group of renewable and clean tech sectors: electrical vehicles, energy efficiency, smart grids, biofuels, high-performance insulation and energy storage. Silicon Valley’s clean tech sector has led to four companies making the Silicon Valley 150, including Tesla Motors in Palo Alto (electric vehicles), SolarCity in San Mateo (solar installer and services), Silver Spring Networks in Redwood City (smart grid technologies) and SunPower in San Jose (solar manufacturing).
Renewable Energy Spotlight
Besides well-known companies such as Tesla and SolarCity, there are several companies working to improve the ways energy is captured, stored, regulated and delivered. Three companies in the Silicon Valley are leading the charge to change the way we use energy:
Green Charge Networks
Founded by Vic Shao, Green Charge Networks is a leader in intelligent energy storage solutions. The company is known for its GreenStation, an energy-saving product that tracks, learns from and adjusts a facility’s energy usage. Using a predictive algorithm, the GreenStation can reduce or increase a building’s power usage as needed. In addition, Green Charge Networks also offers products in energy storage for solar and electric vehicle charging. Launched in 2009, the company recently raised $56 million in venture funding in 2014.
Located in Sunnyvale, Bloom Energy has invented a new fuel cell technology called Bloom Energy Servers. These servers are used on-site to reduce the amount of energy a building uses and can power the needs of an office building with a device the size of a standard parking spot. Customers include Wal-Mart, Bank of America and FedEx. Since 2001, the company has raised more than $1.2 billion in funding.
A Silicon Valley technology company, Ubiquitous Energy invented ClearView Power™ Technology, a transparent film that covers—and generates electricity for—electronic devices such as phones, tablets and digital signs. The technology can also be applied as a coating to windows, seamlessly transforming them into solar panels to offset energy consumption. Founded by an MIT graduate, Miles Barr, the company has raised more than $8 million in funding and has won multiple grants from the National Science Foundation as well as awards, such as the Fraunhofer-Techbridge U-Launch Award.
Renewable Energy Jobs
The dynamic interest and growth in renewable energy and clean tech sectors has created a new crop of renewable energy jobs.
Firmware Engineer (Energy Storage)
Firmware engineers design, implement and test code for energy storage appliances (e.g., batteries). They work with both software and hardware, proposing recommendations on architecture and coordinating with electrical engineers and user interface designers on product specifications.
Recommended Degree: Master of Science in computer science
Software Developer (Electric Vehicles)
Software developers design and write software that operates the applications and systems of electric vehicles. These onboard computers allocate electricity to power the vehicle and recharge the battery.
Recommended Degree: Bachelor of Science in computer science
Computer Engineer (Energy Systems)
Computer engineers design and build the components of energy systems to make them smaller, faster and more efficient. From smart grids to solar cells, they develop applications, technologies and hardware to better harvest, store and use energy.
Recommended Degree: Bachelor of Science in computer engineering
Other Blossoming Tech Hubs
Of course, Silicon Valley is the epicenter of the country’s technology sector. However, for young professionals and entrepreneurs seeking to launch their startups or careers in alternative locations, a host of new technology hotspots have emerged across the US. Each of these tech hubs share common traits — they are home to major universities, have access to a talent pipeline, have satellite offices of major tech companies, have a lower cost-of-living than the Bay Area, and offer a drastically different work-life balance than Silicon Valley.
Home of SxSW, a festival featuring not just music and film, but also interactive media and emerging technologies, Austin is making a name for itself in technology. Fostering a friendly business climate for technology companies is a priority of the local government. The Austin Chamber of Commerce launched Innovate Austin, an economic development initiative aimed at attracting technology- and innovation-based investments and companies to Austin. There are approximately 4,700 high-tech companies in the region, and Austin is home to 46 technology incubators and accelerators. From financial tech to eCommerce, healthcare to cloud computing, the technology sector is thriving in Austin.
The area offers a striking work-life balance, with ample access to outdoor recreation (mountain biking, hiking, fishing, boating, swimming), a nationally recognized music scene, a historic downtown area, and delicious food.
Rackspace (cloud computing)
VMware (cloud computing)
Legal Zoom (online legal technology)
IBM (hardware and software)
Dell (hardware and software)
Oracle (database management)
According to Robert Half Technology, tech salaries in Austin pay 7 percent above the national average.
Bachelor's programs in computer science (CS) cover the theoretical and mathematical underpinnings of computing. Schools offer various degree titles, including bachelor of arts in computer science, bachelor of applied science...