Over the past decade I’ve been fortunate to following the comings and goings of some of Silicon Valley’s greatest leaders. I arrived here in 2002, when the party was over and the clean-up crew was still hard at work. It was a quiet, somber place. Now it is booming again, and feels wildly disconnected from the rest of the country’s current struggles.
Entrepreneurs are raising more money than they need because it’s so easy, as angel investors are in abundance. Multi-million dollar homes on postage stamp size lots are selling for over asking prices, sometimes in all-cash deals. And the Porsche Cayenne qualifies as a family-friendly car.
But those are just the more obvious signs of how the Valley is unique at this moment in time. What I’ve noticed lately is a new, more subtle phenomenon in techland that will re-shape something larger than itself. People here view their work and their careers differently than most.
Recently I overheard a 20-something woman talking about her week. She was sipping a latte talking on her iPhone while browsing something with her iPad. After some idle chatter about weekend plans she said: “I’m spending two days a week on my startup then doing consulting projects on the side. If the startup doesn’t take off I’ll go work at Facebook. I totally know tons of people there and could get in. Have you looked at our Web site yet? I want to know what you think of it.”
She could have been over-confident about the Facebook job, of course. But what stands out to me is her labor flexibility mindset. It is striking in an era of national creeping unemployment. Just a few years out of college (I’m guessing here) she is an entrepreneur and a self-employed consultant firstly, and has a back up plan to work at one of the hottest companies in tech. (Yes, even after the botched IPO, Facebook qualifies as “hot”.) She’s also completely unabashed about tapping friends for work favors.
The way she views her workday and career isn’t unique in Silicon Valley. Most people I meet here who have achieved some degree of success view their careers very fluidly and act like entrepreneurs. Some of them are in the classical sense: they start companies. But many aren’t. These are consultants, partners at firms (venture, P.R., marketing), journalists or staffers and executives trying to rise the ranks of companies big and small.
From my observations, these are the keys to succeeding in this new way:
1. Think of yourself as as entrepreneur, even if you aren’t
This aphorism changes a lot things. It implies a deep responsibility: if you fail, it’s up to you (not your company) to rebuild. Look beyond your direct reports and immediate resources for inspiration. Learn how to use Twitter and LinkedIn to keep tabs on your industry by finding the expert voices you can learn from. Where it makes sense, start a dialogue with those experts.
This new mindset is affirming, too. You aren’t stuck in a job. You are your own free agent.
2. Brand yourself accordingly
Being an entrepreneur instead of an employee means you need to brand yourself differently, or at least more directly. Instead of a LinkedIn profile that details your “where I have worked” resume, focus on accomplishments. Your identity should be about what you’ve done, not what title you’ve been given, or which companies you’ve worked for. Broadcast your actions.