Where Do Silicon Valley’s Tech Workers Really Live?
In the sublime, fog-strewn sunshine of the San Francisco Bay Area lies one of America’s greatest urban developments. San Francisco, with its steep streets lined with flower boxes and pastel Victorians, feels like the promised land in some novel about the riches of the American tech industry. It is a sparkling beacon surrounded by rich, manicured metropolises like Sunnyvale, San Jose and Los Gatos.
But it is also home to one of the country’s greatest juxtapositions — a populace with a wildly high income that is somehow having trouble affording their basic costs of living.
The cost of living is higher in big cities, and most of us know it — but San Francisco sets new records. As of 2016, it was the most expensive city in the United States, with the median cost of a one-bedroom rental at $3,590. This is theoretically balanced out by the fact that the average starting salary is over $100,000, but in practice, there turns out to be plenty of difficulty for those trying to make ends meet.
Can You Find Affordable Housing in Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley has become a fascinating microcosm of financial disparity in America. While C-suite executives can comfortably afford a mortgage and a cushy lifestyle, the average tech employee is stretched thin to survive. To illustrate, consider that in 1989 the richest 1% of San Francisco’s population held over 15% of its total wealth. Now, less than three decades later, it holds over 30%.
Widely circulated stories have recounted a Google employee living in a box truck in the company parking lot, or about multiple people living on top of one another in a tiny apartment and still paying more for rent than most of us.
Let’s examine both sides of the story — and set out to show that it doesn’t have to be this way for those looking to dive into the valley’s lifestyle. There are ways to settle into a high-paying, exciting job in Silicon Valley’s tech industry without surrendering to its vice-like financial grip.
What It’s Like to Work in Silicon Valley
There’s a reason so many people flock to Silicon Valley. It is one of the most exciting places in the world to work. There is an almost unparalleled concentration of Ivy League brain activity — second only to at an actual Ivy League School — as well as cutting-edge innovations, completely dazzling workplaces, and a new outlook on what it means to be part of the American workforce.
But then there is the other side of Silicon Valley, and admittedly, the two can be difficult to reconcile. To help make sense of it all, let’s look at the pros and cons of working there.
Working in Silicon Valley: The Pros
Here are some of the reasons people are so attracted to working in Silicon Valley.
- Cool Office Perks
How does a company entice people to devote unthinkable amounts of effort and brainpower to working for them? Well, Silicon Valley is ahead of the curve on this one. It offers truly unprecedented perks to \ employees.
Let’s start with Google, which dominates the game by allowing employees to bring their dogs to the office, take post-lunch naps in special pods or get free massages for their hard work. The company offers employees a concierge to take care of their errands for them while at work. Its “cafeteria” includes thirty different restaurants offering everything from world cuisines to healthy smoothies.
Then there are places like Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Asana and more. Among the creative perks these companies offer are:
- On-site healthcare
- Wellness clinics
- Unlimited access to free apples — guess who offers that one!
- A $10,000 allowance for decking out your personal workspace however you see fit
These perks, in some way, might serve to alleviate some of those stressors imposed by Silicon Valley’s high cost of living. If you are in the presence of good health care, healthy food and de-stressing activities like yoga and massages, you will want for less than you would at a traditional company.
- Excellent Benefits
Those working at tech companies can also expect more than just bells and whistles, if you can call massages and gourmet Indian cuisine bells and whistles. Tech companies also pour their ample resources into offering some of the best benefits in the history of employment:
- Netflix, for example, offers both new mothers and fathers a year of paid leave to spend with their newborn babies. Many companies supply employees with subsidized gym memberships and outstanding healthcare that may even be accessible at the workplace.
- Adobe helps with legal assistance, tuition fees and more.
- Google has also created a form of in-house life insurance for those with families. In the event of an employee’s death, Google will pay their spouse 50% of their salary for ten years after death. In addition, it offer $1,000 per child, per month. This form of taking care of their employees’ families has built a lot of trust and affection for the company from its employees.
Many tech companies are also sympathetic to commuters who travel from outside of the city to get to work. Companies like Apple and Salesforce reimburse their employees for travel, whether it is by car or by public transit, and many of these same companies offer shuttle buses to ferry their employees to and from work.
To cap it all off, some tech companies are alleviate the high housing costs in Silicon Valley by subsidizing — and in some cases, even building — housing for their employees. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has pledged $30 million to build modular, prefab homes to house around 300 employees. Other companies simply help cover the costs of the area’s exorbitant rent prices.
- Six-Figure Salaries for Entry-Level Employees
As if these perks weren’t enough, most tech companies start employees off with six figures. While some companies aim as high as $250,000 to new hires, a modest starting salary might be just over $100,000.
The reason? It’s all about competition.
Tech companies know their success hinges on young tech workers lending their time, energy and brilliance to the company — often under excruciatingly long hours and strenuous conditions. There is a fixed number of these energetic young applicants each year, and companies fall over themselves trying to convince them to work for one over the other.
A higher salary is wonderful if you can make it last. Given the high cost of living in the valley, this can be difficult. But if you are able to stash away a chunk of your earnings from one of these jobs, an early retirement might be closer than you imagined. Later, we will cover a few strategies to help accomplish this goal.
- A High Demand for STEM Graduates and Employees
Science, technology, engineering and math — those who graduate with these degrees may feel exultation after the rigors of university are over, but they will feel even happier when they realize the plethora of jobs available to them in the world’s technology playground.
Silicon Valley came to prominence through disruptive technology, fostering giants like Apple, Google, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook and more. These companies rely on highly systematized operations, cutting-edge technology, and a special breed of creative freedom, thereby making them reliant on engineers and scientists.
Creative freedom seems to be what makes Silicon Valley excel where others have failed. There have been many attempts at recreating Silicon Valley in other places: take Berlin’s “Silicon Allee” or Dublin’s “Silicon Docks,” for example, neither of which has produced anything close to California’s output. The key is Silicon Valley’s core principle of disrupting and upending institutions — it is not afraid to go to war with convention, and a creative team of STEM employees is exactly what makes that possible.
- Silicon Valley Companies Consistently Win “Best Places to Work” Awards
Silicon Valley’s tech companies continuously top the charts as the best places to work in the United States. Take Google, which has won the number one spot on the Fortune chart for six years in a row. It appears such rankings go far beyond superficial perks like napping pods and free haircuts — what Google, as well as companies like Salesforce and Genentech, offers goes far deeper.
Google, for instance, responds to the data as to why its employees come and go. When it found new mothers were leaving the company at a higher rate than others, it boosted its benefits for them. Google also strives to create a safe and diverse workspace for every one of its employees. It holds town halls hosted by African-American workers, helps and supports its transgender employees, and works to illuminate unconscious biases through workshops that have remarkably high attendance
What It’s Like to Work in Silicon Valley: The Cons
Most of the downsides of working in the valley exist solely because of how fantastically these companies treat and pay their employees. All of that pampering creates a huge supply of workforce that, in turn, crowds out the renters’ market and causes prices to skyrocket. Here are a few of those cons.
- High Cost of Living in the Bay Area
It isn’t just the cost of housing that can be crushing in the Bay Area. Living expenses like food, car ownership, transport, healthcare and taxes are also significantly higher than the national average. Here are some of the costs, by numbers:
- A family of four will spend close to $100,000 a year on necessities
- The median price for a home in the area is more than $840,000, with a mortgage payment of $3,684 per month
- Gas typically costs 37% more in San Francisco than the U.S. average
- Parking can cost $400 per month, as much as monthly rent in many places
- Food, both in restaurants and grocery stores, is expensive, at 23% more than the national average
- Entryway to the top 1% of income in the area starts at over $558,000 per year
This all adds up to a cost of living that is more than 60% higher than the average in the United States. This is why, if you are planning a move to the Bay Area, it is important to secure a good salary and plan ahead for all of your expenses.
- Even Those With a Six-Figure Salary Struggle
Yes, even that unbelievable $110,000 starting salary could leave you pinching pennies to make it through the month.
Those looking for living quarters they deem acceptable may be dumbstruck at the price tag. Families in search of a two-bedroom apartment should expect to spend well above $3,000 per month, and singles looking for their own studio apartment will not spend much less. Co-workers often cram into rooms together, though some desiring their own space may pay $1,400 a month — for a closet.
Buying a house can seem equally grim. The list prices on homes are often above $1 million, and sometimes the unthinkable happens: a house listed at one price will be sold hours later for a much higher price. There is always someone willing to pay more than you, and it is a fact that has driven many a well-paid tech worker to the brink of bankruptcy.
- The Work Can Be Intense
There are many horror stories that come out of Silicon Valley’s worker mill. Long hours, loss of family time, and a high level of stress are more a way of life in Silicon Valley than a byproduct of its innovation. Such sacrifices are even an object of reverence for those espousing the valley’s lifestyle.
Elon Musk, the iconic leader of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, was famously known to sleep in a bean bag by his desk while working 23-hour days at his first startup company. Other CEOs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg put in similarly grueling hours. Instead of serving as a warning, however, this level of zealous commitment has come to set the tone for work ethic in Silicon Valley.
Companies will often not explicitly state that a job entails long work hours. However, there is usually an expectation of long hours that makes itself clear once the job is underway — a 10 to 14-hour day is a typical expectation for Silicon Valley workers. In many cases, those who do not volunteer to take on these hours are seen as unfit for the job and risk being replaced.
In short, expect long hours and stiff competition. There is an overwhelming number of smart people in Silicon Valley, many of them Ivy League graduates with a stunning work ethic. If you are not willing to work overtime, there is always someone else who will be.
- There Is No Guarantee of Success in Tech Startups
Think of Silicon Valley as the gold rush of our age. With the incredible success of companies like Apple, Facebook and Twitter, there have been an uncountable number of startups aspiring to make their fortune in the tech industry. And just as very few actually grew rich in the gold rush, only a comparative handful of tech companies have truly made it in the long run.
A “unicorn” company is a company valued at $1 billion or more. The term connotes the rarity of that event — except that, in the strange case of Silicon Valley, there are a huge number of these unicorns. There were 42 startup unicorns in 2015 alone, though that number has decreased since then.
While this may seem like a good thing, there is actually a good chance of such companies going under even after initial success. Many of these companies are privately owned, which has led to inflated amounts of promotional hype without a corresponding amount of actual business. This often leads to a company’s demise and a large number of laid-off workers. There are also justifiable fears of another tech bubble forming.
Things to Consider Before Moving to Silicon Valley for Work
Are you thinking about coming to California to seek your fortune? Here are some things you will want to ask yourself before you pack up.
- Will a Job Here Be Worth It for You?
Make sure the job being offered is actually rewarding. That means financially, emotionally and mentally — you don’t want to be stuck working long hours for a job you dislike or doesn’t pay your bills.
- What Are Your Long-Term Career and Personal Goals?
What do you want out of your career? What about a potential family? If you are looking to commit yourself to your work and put in long hours to achieve success, then Silicon Valley could be the place for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to start a family soon and/or own a home, then this is categorically a very difficult place to do so.
- Do You Have a Family Who Can Help Cover Living Expenses?
If you are a part of a couple who is good at saving and combining forces to cover your expenses, you will be ahead of the game in terms of the feasibility of living in this area.
- If You Live Alone, Would You Find A Roommate, Or Do You Prefer Living By Yourself?
Having a roommate means a huge cut in your cost of living. If you feel like living by yourself, make sure you know what your expenses will be.
- What Can You Realistically Afford to Spend on Housing?
Take into account your other living expenses and the higher cost of food and services here.
- Do You Have a Car or Would You Use Public Transportation To Commute To Work?
Having a car can be both a blessing and a curse in Silicon Valley. Consider the costs of parking, taxes on your vehicle, and gasoline when deciding whether it’s worth it to bring a car with you.
How to Move to the Bay Area Without Completely Breaking the Bank
Living in the Bay Area is expensive, but there are ways to save money. Consider these tips.
- Explore Work-From-Home Options
Tech companies often have employees working largely from their computers. There is an increasing number of companies that offer remote work, meaning you can work from anywhere in the world and still enjoy the benefits of working for a tech company.
- Live Outside the City and Commute to Work to Save on Housing Costs
There are several cities in the valley whose housing costs are friendlier toward renters. Consider cities like Palo Alto, Cupertino, Hayward, Fremont, Union City, and Los Gatos, where there is both a more reasonable rental rate and decent availability to those looking for housing. Many cities also offer access to BART, which may negate the need for a car commute.
- See If Your Employer Offers Help With Housing
Many Silicon Valley employers provide either housing subsidies or even actual housing units for their employees. Research which companies offer them, and be sure to ask any future employers what they offer.
Where Tech Companies Are Located
Pull out a map and check out the locations of some of the biggest tech giants in Silicon Valley. Many of these companies are located in cities where renting may be more realistic than in San Francisco:
- Google: 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy Mountain View, CA 94043
- Facebook: 1601 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025
- Apple: 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014
- eBay: 2065 Hamilton Ave San Jose, CA 95125
- HP: 3000 Hanover St, Palo Alto, CA 94304
- LinkedIn: 2029 Stierlin Court, Mountain View, CA 94043
- Netflix: 100 Winchester Cir, Los Gatos, CA 95032
- Twitter: 1355 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
- Intel: 2200 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95054
- Adobe: 151 S Almaden Blvd, San Jose, CA 95113
If you work at one of these places and want to save on housing, some of the more affordable options in the area include Union City, Fremont and Hayward.
If You Are Moving to Silicon Valley, Contact Marcotte Properties
Let us make your transition to Silicon Valley an easy one. We specialize in helping new residents find affordable apartments, allowing them to save on their cost-of-living expenses while still enjoying the benefits of working in Silicon Valley.
To figure out the best place for you to live, contact us. Call 800-538-1724 for general inquiries, or fill out our online contact form.