Is it your dream to work in tech in Silicon Valley?
For some people, it’s reality. The pinnacle of their achievement, the payoff for their hard work.
Silicon Valley is a tech industry hub, with a huge number of jobs for IT professionals. If you’re looking to make a career in this field, it’s probably on your list because the options are endless, and the salaries are amazing.
But how do you get a job in Silicon Valley? If it’s your ultimate goal, it might be discouraging to think of the competition you’ll face or of the hard work you’re going to have to put into getting there.
But there’s nothing impossible if you’re set on doing it. So how hard is it to get a job there, and what can you expect when you do?
In this article, we’ll cover the:
- Best foundations and steps to get to Silicon Valley, with insider secrets on how to turbo-charge your chances!
- Lifestyle there: the pros and the cons to expect
- Differences between working in startups compared to established tech companies
- Top 5 jobs Silicon Valley employers are hiring for in 2023
Long-term plans are a great step in reaching your career goals. If you’re working on one now to get you to Silicon Valley (or anywhere), or if you haven’t started on a career plan yet, check out our career-counselling service.
We’ve helped thousands of people map out the long-term plans for their careers or with individual steps along the way. Whatever stage you’re at, we can help you with your job search, prep for interviews, negotiate the details of your contracts, and otherwise hit your career targets.
Get in touch with us If you want to do a deep dive on informational interviews, or if you're curious about other ways to better navigate your career path.
First steps to get a job in Silicon Valley
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The best way to land an interview in front of a Silicon Valley recruiter is by getting the right education and building a strong portfolio of accomplishments. But not all education is going to be equal when it comes to catching a recruiter’s interest.
To maximize your chances, consider a university that has direct pipelines to the companies in Silicon Valley.
The top 10 feeder schools to tech firms in the valley in 2023 are:
- Carnegie Mellon University
- University of Southern California
- University of California, Berkeley
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Washington
- University of California, San Diego
- University of Waterloo
- University of California, Los Angeles
- Stanford University
Because of the diversity of jobs that are possible, there is no one specific course that’s going to be best. We talk a bit later about the specific skills you’d need for the top jobs in the valley in 2023.
In general, though, if you’re looking for an IT job, the education you get in university should prep you with:
- Advanced experience and knowledge with algorithm implementation and design
- Ability to debug and solve problems fast
- Efficiency in writing readable, smart code
- Solid grasp coding in languages such as C++ and Java
- Comprehension of databases such as SQL and Redis
- Knowledge to translate project descriptions and tech specification into programming languages, code structure, and suggested architecture
That said, there’s also the route of going for management positions, which will mean you should focus on getting an MBA. Again, though, no one course is going to fit everything, so look closer at your specific interests.
You can see, there isn’t just one path from school into Silicon Valley, and actually, your education isn’t all that matters.
There’s nothing wrong with going the traditional route of getting a great college degree and looking for work if what you're looking for is a traditional job. But working in Silicon Valley is not traditional, and you’ll need more than that to beat the competition and land a great job there.
More and more, the experts are saying tech giants (and the smaller companies they influence) in Silicon Valley are prioritizing a different sort of background for their employees. Real-world experience and success are becoming invaluable additions to what your grades and diploma say about you.
Here are 3 unconventional steps you should consider to impress corporate recruiters and land a Silicon Valley job:
1.) Start hustling in high school
Work experience at a young age can add tremendous value to recruiters down the road because it imparts business smarts. Because the stakes are low for kids or teens, you can start early on a side hustle (like buying and selling collectibles for profit) or build a small business (such as managing a team that does house cleaning or yard maintenance).
Early business experience where you get to learn the dynamics of customer demand, managing cash flow, and smart growth plans can really impress a recruiter down the road. Spend the extra time getting real-world experience when you can instead of only keeping your nose in textbooks and theory.
2.) Build apps
There'll be no shortage of options for you if you develop skills that companies actually need. If you know how to design and build apps, then you're instantly relevant to the recruiters in Silicon Valley.
There's a huge talent gap in this area, and companies are desperate to fill the growing number of vacancies they have. This kind of work requires a deep understanding of a technical subject matter, and you should invest time and energy in it.
The only way you’re going to develop that knowledge is through regular use, so get to it. Even just as a hobby related to the work you’re moving in to, it will help your chances.
As the saying goes:_ if you build it, they will come_. There are tons of lucrative opportunities if you consistently direct efforts in the right direction, so don't talk about your tech skills, prove them in the real world for everyone to see.
3.) Get authoritative certifications.
While your college degree may be an exciting personal accomplishment, college is just one avenue for learning out of many. If you want to work in Silicon Valley, get cutting-edge knowledge, training, and work experience.
Chances are, you won't find these in an academic setting. But there are tons of new, accessible job-training options -from enhanced vocational programs to online education - where you can.
For example, Google recently introduced Google Career Certificates, which are IT training programs that can be completed in six months with no college degree required. Google will consider these certificates in lieu of a degree for entry-level candidates.
There’s also Amazon's AWS re/Start program that certifies students in three intensive months. Graduates obtain technical skills in AWS cloud computing on their way to an IT career.
If you want to impress your potential employer, it's important to show them what you've developed or built as a business venture or technology app. Authoritative certifications help you do this, and they’re increasingly being used in addition to or replacing academic degrees.
Plus, they’re the types of thing you can put on a resume or bring up in an interview that will make you unique a value proposition when the employer is deciding between you and someone else. Consider obtaining these to get your foot in the door.
If you’ve already laid the foundation and think you’re ready to jump right into looking for a job in Silicon Valley, you’re going to want to write a killer resume and cover letters tailored specifically for the roles you’re applying to. We’ve put together great resume, cover letter, and interview advice on tons of specific and general questions you should check out before you send in your applications.
The silicon valley lifestyle
Living and working in Silicon Valley seems like a dream to a lot of people. There are things that make it amazing there that you can’t find anywhere else.
But, too often, people forget to mention any of the downsides. Here’s a balanced view of what it’s really like to live and work in Silicon Valley.
Demand for tech jobs is (really) high
Even with all that happened during the pandemic, including huge layoffs, or maybe because of it, demand for workers is huge in Silicon Valley. Despite the number of people looking for work there, companies still can’t hire enough people fast enough to satisfy their needs.
And even though new workers are entering the job market, companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft—each with tens of thousands of workers— are still increasing wages to prevent resignation in key departments. If you’re looking for a place to find a job, it would be hard to pick somewhere better.
Compensation matches the demand
Because the demand for employees is so high, employers in Silicon Valley have to offer pretty high salaries to compete for staff. With an average starting salary of $111,000 for engineers, wages in the Valley are among the top you’ll find if you know how to negotiate.
It’s no wonder that when you move to Silicon Valley, you’re going to be surrounded by the top talent the world has to offer. With the high expectations of employers and the huge competition in the area, only the best of the best can survive here.
So you can be sure that your coworkers and friends there are going be the best and brightest in their fields. Being part of this community will inspire the best in you, too.
It's easy to network.
Because Silicon Valley is such a mecca for the tech industry, it’s really easy to network. Between all the events, conferences, and meetups related to the industry, you have the chance to meet a lot of peers and/or influential people.
Without overstating it, you never know who you're going to run into and how they might change your life. You’re unlikely to find this much opportunity to network anywhere else in the world.
The weather and the area itself
Depending on your exact location there, residents of Silicon Valley can enjoy an average of 301 days of sunshine per year. You’ll have warm weather and clear skies most days of the year…when you have time to enjoy it.
When you do have the time, you’ll have access to awesome geography, with hills, mountains, forests, National Parks, coastline beaches and cliffs, etc. The Bay Area has a lot to offer for outdoors people.
And the cons...
Cost of living
The cost of living in Silicon Valley is enormous compared to almost anywhere else in the US and even around the world. Have a look at how rent stacks up against some other cities to get an idea:
- London is 16.47% cheaper
- New York 19.89% higher
- Los Angeles is 19.65% cheaper
- Toronto is 52.29% cheaper
- Sydney is 20.65% cheaper
- Paris is 48.41% cheaper
- Dubai is 12.43% cheaper
Likewise, whether you’re going out or eating in, get ready to spend more than you would in most other places. This is how restaurant and food prices compare with other major cities in the world.
- London's restaurants are 8.28% more expensive and groceries are 28.50% cheaper
- New York restaurants are 21.00% more expensive and groceries are 20.69% more expensive
- Los Angeles restaurants are 0.92% cheaper and groceries are 8.95% cheaper
- Toronto's restaurants are 20.09% cheaper and groceries are 23.85% cheaper
- Sydney's restaurants are 9.52% cheaper and groceries are 2.72% cheaper
- Paris' restaurants are 0.67% cheaper and groceries are 7.42% cheaper
- Dubai's restaurants are 22.34% cheaper and groceries are 30.23% cheaper
Very long work hours
Basically, everyone works a lot more than 40 hours a week, and expectations are high. Again, this is a competitive place, so you have to be willing to put in the time to succeed here.
In terms of work expectation, it’s common for people in Silicon Valley to work far beyond forty hours a week, often working somewhere between 10–14-hour days. So even though there is plenty to do in the area, you may not have time to get out much, and even seeing your family is going to be tough sometimes.
Work can be precarious
Even though there’s a huge demand for jobs in Silicon Valley, given the number of start-ups in the area, it should come as no surprise that there are more than a few failures. If the company you’re working for goes belly up, you can’t count on a severance package or that you’ll have anything coming in afterward.
Of course, like we said, there are plenty of jobs, and as long as it’s not your fault, it won't be held against you if the company you work for fails. With the strong networking culture in the area, you should be able to pick up another gig once you’ve got a foot in the door.
Whatever your takeaway is from this list about Silicon Valley, if you’re in the tech field, there’s no place like it. If you want to see how you stack up against the best of the best, you’re going to have to try and make it there.
Big tech or startups? Silicon Valley companies
There are some major differences in what you can expect depending on whether you work at an established giant or a micro-scale start-up. What you’re looking for is going to play a big part in what interests you, but of course, it also depends on who extends a job offer!
If you get an offer from one of the giants Google, Facebook, Apple, Genetech or similar, you should probably accept the offer and forget about going to a startup. Those companies offer the most in terms of salary, stability, advancement opportunity, etc.
On the other hand, if you're in most peoples’ positions, deciding between joining a startup or pushing for a more "stable" job at a larger unknown company, the start-ups offer a few perks of their own:
Startups are sometimes so flush with cash from investors that they aren't hesitant to pay large sums of money to people they think can get the job done. If you can get into a gig with commission or bonuses, the salaries get even crazier.
It’s not that the big companies don’t pay well, but there’s usually more structure to how they start and increase your salary.
You'll be in touch on an almost daily basis with the C-level at the company. They'll know you personally, and you'll get to watch them try to build the company.
There’s no way you’d get this kind of access to upper management at a large company. No matter what you’ve seen in the media, you'll be stuck in a cubicle and no one will know your name.
Most startups are very comfortable to work at. You get to wear jeans and a dress shirt, listen to music on your headphones, and the company usually provides a lunch every day or week. While there are some exceptions, like at the Google or Apple campuses, you won't get this at most established companies.
Startups are very volatile - 99% of them fail. Most of the startups out there have no chance of succeeding, either because of product or management problems, and will be out of business within a year.
But the great thing is that there’s always another startup to jump to if the one you’re at goes bust. Just make sure you save 3 to 6 months of cash for living expenses for the time in between jobs.
With a more established company, you’ll gain a bit more stability. That said, you may not find yourself out of a job every year like a startup, but you’ll still be susceptible to some type of mass layoff at a large company somewhere in the business cycle.
Depending on your interests and risk tolerance, both established and start-up companies offer their own perks. As long as you’re aware of what you can expect, there’s no wrong choice.
Top 5 High-Demand Jobs in Silicon Valley for 2023
The tech industry has seen massive changes since the pandemic started: hiring, downsizing, remote working, Zooming in, career shifts, resignations, worker shortages, and the list goes on. But as a result, companies in Silicon Valley are hiring tons of fresh faces.
We looked to the pros right in the Valley to get the inside scoop on what the top tech jobs Silicon Valley is going to be hiring for in 2023 will be. So if you’re wondering the direction you should be moving in, look no further, we’ve put this list together for you.
We’ve included proven samples resumes for some of these jobs to get you started with yours. But if you’re lucky enough to have already found a job and are wondering about some of the tricky questions you might get asked in an interview, or want some other interview tips, we’ve got you covered there too.
Java developers are involved in the full development cycle of the web applications, software, and programs they create. This is always a high-demand job, and companies are going to be hiring for this role.
Java Developers are responsible for planning, designing, developing, and managing Java-based applications and software. These programmers collaborate with other software engineers to integrate Java into business software, applications, and websites
Cloud Architects are in charge of creating, deploying, and sometimes managing data, applications and plans related to their organization’s cloud computing strategies. Their responsibilities can include monitoring cloud activity, designing and migrating applications, planning courses of action and defining computing loads, among other things
Some of the skills you’d need as a cloud architect skills include experience with programming languages such as Python, Ruby and Elixir, a background in IT engineering, along with great leadership skills.
Product managers identify customer needs and the overarching business objectives a product or feature will target. They define what success will look like for a product, and they rally their team to make that vision a reality.
There’s a lot of variety in this role, from project management to team one-on-ones, so companies will be looking for a range of skills in potential candidates (interviews for this job are notorious!). Consider this role if you have strong analytical skills, management experience, great organization skills, and experience using tools like PivotalTracker or Jira.
Cybersecurity has gotten more important as we increasingly rely on digital tools in our lives and business. A cybersecurity specialist is a tech expert with the training and skills to safeguard an organization's sensitive data and make sure it’s kept secure from internal and external threats, like hacks, information theft, and other unauthorized use.
Because companies risk losing massive amounts of money and equally large publicity problems in the case of data breaches, this role is in high demand. Consider this option if you have problem-solving skills, an understanding of security across various platforms, strong communication skills, and fundamental computer forensics skills.
Data scientists are a new breed of expert who need the curiosity to identify problems, the technical skills to solve complex problems, and the social skills to communicate their findings. Specific tasks include identifying data-analytics problems, identifying and collecting useful data sets and variables, manipulating the data, and communicating findings to stakeholders.
If you’re interested in this role, you’ll need to be familiar with data-mining techniques, and statistical programming languages such as R, Python, and SQL ,and you’ll need strong communications skills. Because this field is growing and the job straddles both the business and IT worlds, it’s highly sought-after and well-paid, and will be for years to come.
- Even with the disruptions over the past few years, Silicon Valley is still a great place to work with tons of opportunity in IT.
- A great education is invaluable in getting to Silicon Valley, but alternatives, like starting a business early and getting specialized certifications, are key too.
- The number of jobs, the wages, networking opportunities, your peers and the weather make working in Silicon Valley a dream come true.
- The cost of living, work hours, and job insecurity are some drawbacks to working there.
- Depending on the level of security, structure, and how laid back you want your workplace to be, you can choose between large established companies or startups.
Finding work somewhere as competitive as Silicon Valley means making the most of every advantage you can. We’ve helped 1000+ people just like you find career success with our career counseling service - take advantage to put yourself ahead of the curve.
Whether you need help in the job search stage, prepping for interviews, or while you’re trying to negotiate the details of the job or compensation, we’ve got experts that are ready to give you advice and help you strategize your next move.
Make one that's truly you.