There’s a lot of talk about how the pandemic will end Silicon Valley as we know it: everyone will realize they can flee to a better place with a lower cost of living now that everyone’s seen the wonders of remote work.
This is overblown for many reasons, but primarily because the desire to move is not distributed evenly among different groups of workers.
You can stylize the engineering hierarchy at a typical Silicon Valley company into three tiers:
- At the top of the pyramid are the execs: the successful founders, the directors, and so on. These folks tend to be pretty entrenched in Northern California, both career and life-wise.
- In the middle is, well, “the middle”: the intermediate and senior engineers, the line managers, the people who’ve been working for at least a few years, but haven’t “made it”.
- At the bottom are the new grads and people just starting out their time in the tech industry.
(This is also roughly correlated to age.) Of these three groups, the middle is the group most interested in leaving: unlike the new grads, they’ve gained the experience, gotten older, and often have significant savings, but unlike the top they haven’t quite “won” enough to be able to commit to the Bay Area long-term.
What it means
I’m not completely sure what this means for the future – I don’t think anyone is these days – but there’s a few opportunities I can see for each group.
If you’re interested in starting a distributed company, or are willing to expand your distributed team permanently, there’s going to be extra opportunity to hire and work with experienced folks who’ve made the leap.
The opportunity is clear: keep your tech job and tech pay (or most of it), move to a place where a starter house isn’t over a million dollars, live your life. (There’s some risk here too – you lose some of that direct, in-person, room-where-it-happens interaction with leadership if your company isn’t becoming fully distributed, and if you move to the true middle of nowhere your future job options might be limited.)
Once in-office work returns, there’s going to be a fair bit of reshuffling of people among teams and companies as people adapt to a new normal. Frankly, it’s very possible that there’s some extra room for quick advancement if “the middle” leaves enough of a gap at certain companies (particularly if the company doesn’t adapt a strong distributed culture.) But there are and will continue to be some obstacles – the pandemic has been extra hard on those new to companies or the industry who are trying to learn and ramp up.