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Seattle vs. Valley: Daycare vs. Kindergarten

February 13, 2008

Glenn Kelman at Redfin posted a great article yesterday about working at a technology company in Seattle.  I’ve spent a bit of time in Seattle working at a game company out there, and I remember it fondly.  A great city in so many ways.

He contrasts the Seattle tech culture with that of the Valley’s, and draws the conclusion that

Because if it turns out that Zillow, iLike or Redfin are on to something good, it may be easier to build a long-term business in Seattle. Ten years on at Microsoft, engineers deep in Redmond’s rain forests are still writing the next version of Office. Meanwhile the engineers at Google are, as Zillow’s Rich Barton points out, plotting their next startup on the company dime.

I’m not sure which engineers one would rather have, but it is true that there is a blue-collar dedication in Seattle that you don’t find in the ADD-addled Valley. “You work hard here because it’s gray,” Rich writes. “Then you go hiking or fishing or skiing.”

Then Drew Meyers over at Zillow blog comments that:

I can attest to the fact that we definitely follow the work hard, play hard motto here at Zillow. I’ve heard those in the valley sometimes forget the 2nd half of that motto.

He then asks: “Which environment/culture do you prefer?”

Well, speaking from a tech/data company in New York City, I guess I feel like I’m witnessing a competition between a daycare center and a kindergarten about who’s more hardcore, and who can be more productive.

I think New York firms have the “work hard, then work hard some more” philosophy.  It’s just in the air in this place.  Dominated as we are by investment banking, global finance, and corporate law, it’s just way too easy to get into conversations like this one at the rare cocktail party:

“Man, I pulled an all-nighter on Tuesday to get the XYZ deal done.”

“Yeah?  I had to pull TWO all-nighters in a row to get my deal done.”

“You guys are pussies — I haven’t been home in two weeks working on my gazillion-dollar merger.”

It’s difficult to think that you’re working all that hard when you know that as you’re leaving the office at 8pm, the working day just got going for those Harvard and Wharton MBA’s in the huge skyscraper across the street from you.  You see the dozens of food delivery guys scuttling through their doors carrying dinners for people likely hunched over documents in conference rooms, and you feel vaguely guilty that you only worked twelve hours that day knowing those boys and girls are likely to be greeting the dawn still in their suits.

A lawyer friend of mine told me that he got home once after a particularly brutal week of drafting some ginormous loan agreement and found a strange woman asleep in his bed.  So he woke her up, wondering if his roommate had let a friend sleep in his room or something.  She goes, “I’m your wife, you bastard.”

I happen to be fortunate that OnBoard cares about things like… oh, I don’t know… employee sanity.  But I get these incredulous stares from friends in law or finance when I tell them that no, I don’t routinely work Saturdays and Sundays, and that I do tend to leave the office around 6 or 7.

So which environment/culture do I prefer?

Well, the blue-collar laid-backness of Seattle seems awfully nice.  But then the hyper-connected innovation of Silicon Valley also seems nice.  They both seem so… nice.  And innovative.  And productive for developing technology.

And yes, you may view this entire post as a giant sour grapes “I hate you all” screed motivated by enormous envy. 🙂  One day, maybe, New York will have a tech culture worth talking about at all.

-rsh

Update: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch takes down Glenn.

Update #2: Glenn responds.  I remain envious of both Seattle and Silicon Valley.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2008 12:19 pm

    Nice post Rob.

    In the original ending, I’d suggested working hard and then working hard some more… so we agree.

  2. February 14, 2008 1:38 pm

    Thanks Glenn — actually your post was the truly nice one.

    I’m just jealous of the culture you have over there in Rain City. I do miss it, I admit, from time to time. 🙂

    -rsh

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