Jessica Greenwalt is the founder of Pixelkeet and co-founder of CrowdMed, an online platform that uses crowdsourcing to solve difficult medical cases.
Shravan Goli is an Internet and media expert, who, before his current role with Dice, was responsible for carrying out the growth strategies for Dice International, ClearanceJobs and Slashdot Media.
Heather Johnston is the regional manager for Robert Half Technology and The Creative Group for the Silicon Valley and San Francisco market in Northern California.
Biron Clark wears several hats. He is a technical recruiter specializing in software technology startups, as well as a career advice blogger and founder of CareerSidekick.com.
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.
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.
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.
|Occupation||Median Salary*||Minimum Education||Recommended Experience||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.|
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.
Non-technical workers can also 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.
|Occupation||Median Salary (Silicon Valley)||Minimum Education||Recommended Experience||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.|
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 Goli. “What sets Silicon Valley apart are ingenuity and an entrepreneurial spirit. There is generally more importance to the skills than the degrees,” he continues. “Therefore, it takes passion, commitment and the right blend of soft and technical skills to earn a spot in Silicon Valley.”
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
|20||Advanced Micro Devices||9,700|
Source: SV150, 2015
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.
|Rank||Company||Market Cap (in billions)|
|Rank||Company||Market Cap (in billions)|
Source: SFGate, 2015
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.
Knowledge of the core principles of computer science indicates the candidate has an ability to learn and adapt to new technologies.
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.
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.
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.
Outside of the familiarity and experience with the latest technologies, the most sought-after attribute [is] soft skills and business acumen.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
“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.
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.
If something needs to get done that we don’t know how to do, we learn how to do it—and fast. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
The dynamic interest and growth in renewable energy and clean tech sectors has created a new crop of renewable energy jobs.
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.
Master of Science in computer science
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.
Bachelor of Science in computer science
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.
Bachelor of Science in computer engineering
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.
According to Robert Half Technology, tech salaries in Austin pay 7 percent above the national average.
|Job||Austin Low||Austin High|
|Network Security Engineer||$117,968||$163,443|
Raleigh has cultivated a tech community over the past twenty years, starting with developing homegrown talent through its group of cutting-edge research institutions—Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina—and a strong presence of multinational corporations such as Cisco and IBM. Information Week rated Raleigh #1 in its list of “Hot Cities for Information Technology Pros” in 2015, and for good reason. The city, along with Wake County Economic Development, is investing in technology, especially in data science and clean technology. In turn, technology-based job growth in Raleigh increased by more than 62% between 2004 and 2014, according to Praxis Strategy Group.
Cost of living remains below the national average and residents can take advantage of the city’s vibrant music scene, farmers markets, cultural attractions and craft breweries. It’s just a short drive to either the beach or the mountains, and the region is known for its excellent hiking and interlinking trails system.
According to Robert Half Technology, tech salaries in Raleigh pay 4 percent higher than the national average.
|Job||Raleigh Low||Raleigh High|
|Network Security Engineer||$114,660||$158,860|
Information technology is big business in Washington, with a payroll exceeding $21 billion. Anchored by Amazon and Microsoft, Seattle is becoming known as a Northwest tech sector hub. But beneath those technology giants exists a dynamic startup community and—according to NerdWallet—the density of tech startups in the area is more than twice the national average. Attracted to the region’s cost-of-living and tech friendly climate, companies such as Dropbox, HP and Alibaba have all set up shop in the city recently.
According to Robert Half Technology, tech salaries in Seattle pay 19 percent more than the national average.
|Job||Seattle Low||Seattle High|
|Network Security Engineer||$131,087||$181,620|
Utah has fostered a bustling technology sector of entrepreneurs and startups. The Brookings Institution named Provo and Salt Lake City as two of the country’s leading creators of high-tech jobs. NerdWallet named Provo #7 and Salt Lake City #16 on its 2015 list of the 10 Most Innovative Tech Hubs in America—based on venture capital funding, number of startups and total tech patents issued. They are home to growing tech sectors of software, networking, bio tech and energy. Tech companies are attracted to the region’s local talent, higher education system (state universities and BYU) and low commercial rent prices.
Both cities have affordable housing markets and short commutes. The median house price is only $225,000 in Salt Lake City and $216,000 in Provo.
According to Robert Half Technology, tech salaries in Salt Lake City pay 1 percent more than the national average. Data not available for Provo.
|Job||Salt Lake City Low||Salt Lake City High|
|Network Security Engineer||$111,353||$154,278|
Like their Utah counterparts, Boulder (#2) and Fort Collins (#6) were ranked on NerdWallet’s 2015 list of America’s Most Innovative Tech Hubs. Fort Collins has one of the country’s highest density of startups and continues to produce local talent through Colorado State University. Startups in Boulder, meanwhile, have been raking in the cash. A collection of tech incubators and accelerators, including TechStarts, are fostering an atmosphere of entrepreneurship. For example, in 2014, 53 tech companies in Boulder raised a combined $320 million in funding.
Boulder and Fort Collins both offer access to outdoor recreation (skiing, hiking, boating) and an affordable housing market for tech professionals.
According to Robert Half Technology, tech salaries pay 95 percent of the national average in Fort Collins and 16 percent more than the national average in Boulder.
|Job||Fort Collins Low||Fort Collins High||Boulder Low||Boulder High|
|Network Security Engineer||$104,738||$145,113||$128,221||$177,648|