"I'm the token white guy"

Date: Tue Dec 24 2013 Silicon Valley

I work in the Silicon Valley tech industry. I've been here for nearly 15 years, writing software in a series of companies.

Even after all this time there's one thing which continually takes me by surprise. It's the cultural diversity we have here. The diversity isn't just with the people that work in the same building, or on the same campus, as I, but the partner teams we have in several different countries.

The typical workgroup in Silicon Valley is primarily populated with either Chinese or Indian immigrants. The company president for a small startup I worked for ages ago explained it this way .. that there's the Indian network, and the Chinese network, and job openings circulate through those two networks. The result is a company will tend to specialize in either Chinese or Indian immigrants. And, my experience has been that very few native-born Americans work in Silicon Valley.

It's been a real treat being exposed to the different cultures. In the team I currently work with we have people from India, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, France, three who are first generation Chinese-American, etc. There are three who were born in America out of nearly 60 people. However that's not completely fair, because of those 60 people, half work and live either in Bangalore or Beijing.

Still I think about how the society around me was in the mid-West, where I grew up. There the vast majority of the people were born in the U.S., having generally the typical WASP background. The most ethnic diversity I saw there was when an African American was present, well, except many of my compatriots in the University were from foreign lands. Because of a twist of fate, the Computer Science department I worked in had many people from Eastern Europe, primarily Poland, which made for a different ethnic diversity than I see today in Silicon Valley.

The Chinese/Indian slant of ethnic diversity in Silicon Valley has, I think, been a large contributing factor to the Offshoring phenomenon. That phenomenon has caused a large explosion of growth in Bangalore India, other parts of India, and in China. Since the majority of people I work with in Silicon Valley come from those countries, it's probably easier for them to work with compatriots in their home countries.

At the same time there's been rancor over the offshoring phenomenon. A stink was raised last year during the presidential elections, but even though the elections are over the issue still remains with us. The job growth of the tech industry in India and China is booming, while the job growth in Silicon Valley is languishing. It's often the same companies, they're just hiring in India or China rather than hiring in Silicon Valley.

I would like the same flexibility my co-workers have. A few have moved back home to India, and I understand many of the immigrants have a longing to be in their homelands, but are here in the U.S. simply to follow the jobs. I feel the same way, as it seems I'd be more comfortable in the midwest. Well, maybe comfortable isn't the right word, but it would be nice to be near my family and be able to visit them regularly, something that's difficult from where I am now. Physically I'm more comfortable in California, since the weather never gets out of hand like it does in the mid-west.

But I can't have that flexibility, because the type of work I do is only done in Silicon Valley. In other parts of the U.S. the software industry is more focused on boring stuff like inventory control systems. Here in Silicon Valley I get to work on software that's used by people all over the world. The rest of the U.S. just can't compete in terms of the significance of the work. No doubt that's why Silicon Valley has drawn talent from all over the world.