Silicon Valley Culture

Home » Silicon Valley » Silicon Valley Culture

California dreaming

What makes Silicon Valley’s iconic IT companies tick? Research points to the unique culture created and nurtured by these high-tech players.

Home to a who’s who of high-tech powerhouses—including Apple, Cisco Systems, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intuit, Oracle and Yahoo—Silicon Valley in California boasts achievements and influence that extend well beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.

But it’s the people that make the Silicon Valley IT companies tick. And they’re a pretty impressive bunch. Approximately 45 percent of the general Valley population has at least an undergraduate university degree, compared with 28 percent for the United States as a whole. Nearly 20 percent hold a graduate or professional degree. The area’s high-tech companies attract talent from around the world: More than 60 percent of the college graduates working in science and engineering fields in Silicon Valley were born outside of the United States. This diversity has led to a remarkable cross-pollination of ideas.

This story of extraordinary innovation and entrepreneurship has not been lost on other industries and the rest of the world. Almost every region across the globe wants to be “the next Silicon Valley.” And IT executives from every industry want to kindle the same kind of excitement and creativity they see emanating from the Valley.

But can they?

An Accenture study (see Sidebar 1) found that one of the secrets to Silicon Valley’s success has to do with the unique culture created and nurtured by high-tech companies—something that Steven John, strategic chief information officer of software-as-a-service provider Workday, compares to islands with their own species of flora and fauna. “Silicon Valley is like Tasmania or Madagascar,” says John. “It’s developed different life-forms than anywhere else.”

Based on conversations with more than 30 technology executives in the Valley region—including from organizations outside the high-tech industry such as The Clorox Co., Gap and CAMICO Mutual Insurance Co.—we can see companies beginning to emulate the culture that attracts top talent to technology and engineering firms. These perspectives provide insights into how IT departments from other industries and regions could evolve to attract and retain the talent they will need in the future to grow and succeed.

Our research found that Silicon Valley high-tech businesses and their executives are especially adept at managing five apparent contradictions about their people and culture.

Laid back—but ready for action

One thing a visitor to Silicon Valley notices is the stereotypically laid-back California way of life, from the casual attire to the coffee-shop hangouts. Yet that laid-back attitude is just part of the story. Indeed, the behavioral flip side includes a frenetic pace and aggressive deadlines. Product development cycles for many companies typically span just weeks, not months.

But what really drives Silicon Valley companies is an emphasis on getting things done quickly rather than agonizing over every potential flaw. A sign painted on a wall at Facebook summarizes that attitude: “Done is better than perfect.” According to our survey, technology professionals in Silicon Valley are twice as likely as those elsewhere to agree with this approach.

They are also intolerant of corporate bureaucracy or anything else that might slow them down. Almost 60 percent said they believe their company makes decisions faster (and with less restrictive rigor) than other firms. Only a little more than a third of non-Silicon Valley professionals felt that way.

High value is assigned to experimentation and to incremental, iterative progress rather than trying to figure out everything at the outset of a project. A common mantra is “Do it. Try it. Fix it.”

How might other types of companies in other industries develop such a culture? Of course, one can’t create beta automobile airbags or jet engines for release to the general market. But IT executives elsewhere can model a beta attitude when it comes to decision making and product or software development.

In Silicon Valley, quick and agile decision making is prized over slow and methodical consensus building. That’s especially important in an environment where products can become obsolete almost overnight. But it’s also relevant for any industry that finds the revenue-generating window for new products narrowing. It’s important to have a rapid-response, risk-taking culture, supported by methods to speed product development.

For example, take Clorox, based on the east side of San Francisco Bay, in Oakland.

Clorox has been making cleaning products and supplies for 100 years. The company’s IT department is now using a so-called scrum-style model of software development—a form of agile management in which developers sit regularly with business-side colleagues to show how an application is progressing, which can, in turn, increase the likelihood that the finished product will serve business needs. According to Ralph Loura, the CIO of Clorox, “You put up something quick and dirty, learn from it and in the next iteration improve on it.”

Committed—yet independent

Silicon Valley is filled with dedicated professionals. They regularly put in long hours in and outside of the office. Seventy-one percent of survey respondents profess allegiance to their employers, a higher percentage than professionals who work in other regions. Yet their stronger loyalties are more to the work and to their coworkers. Their commitment is really to the larger overall cause of creating the technological future. The name of the company they work for is, in some ways, an ancillary detail.

That’s one reason why people are willing to switch readily from one company to another, especially for an opportunity to work on a fulfilling project with top-notch colleagues. People in Silicon Valley behave more like independent contractors, moving from job to job. The result is a highly mobile talent base in the region, where professionals are significantly more likely than their non-Valley counterparts to receive employment offers from other companies on a regular basis. More than half surveyed said that it would be easy for them to find a new job within two months.

The demand for IT talent
More than half of the Silicon Valley IT professionals surveyed say they regularly receive opportunities to work elsewhere.

Although not every industry would wish that kind of talent turnover upon itself (see Sidebar 2), our research suggests that many companies could see the value in this transfer of people and ideas, even if the model is enacted only internally. In our interviews, for example, we talked to CIOs who structure their organizations to encourage transfers of talent between IT and engineering, freely sharing people and ideas around the company.

In some cases, we’ve found CIOs who also bring a deliberate outside customers’ perspective to their work. Bask Iyer, a technology executive who was formerly at Honeywell International and joined Sunnyvale, California-based Juniper Networks as CIO in 2011, sometimes specifies for engineers which company he might buy from if he became the CIO of a different company the next day. “That’s a real equalizer,” he says.

Iyer sees it as a way to get engineering leadership at his company to escape an internal-only focus and look more objectively at how to make Juniper’s products better.

Competitive—yet cooperative

Although Silicon Valley high-tech firms and their people can be ruthless competitors, there’s also a pervasive attitude of cooperation. Valley employees have a healthy appreciation for the importance of good teamwork. We found that Silicon Valley professionals were more likely than their non-Valley colleagues to choose their jobs based on the people they’d be working with.

Encouraging internal collaboration is good for any company, in any industry. At Gap, for example, CIO Tom Keiser has scrapped fixed offices and high-walled cubicles for his IT department in favor of open space for brainstorming and closer seating for teams. This office design, intended to encourage collaboration and face-to-face communications, is becoming more common in many industries.

Looking to team with people outside one’s own company is also vital. More than twice as many IT professionals in Silicon Valley, compared with their non-Silicon Valley counterparts, report that they actively take part in open-source projects.

Nurturing and participating in peer networks also contributes to the Valley’s cooperative atmosphere. A majority of survey respondents believe that in Silicon Valley more than anywhere else, networking with colleagues inside and outside the organization is essential to their success. Tim Campos, CIO of Facebook, is unequivocal about the importance of having such a network: “It’s the No. 1 requirement,” he says. “I get things done within the company because I know who to go to outside the company.” Not surprisingly, many also rely on their networks rather than headhunters when looking for a new job.

Extracurricular activities

IT professionals in Silicon Valley are more than twice as likely to actively participate in crowdsourcing or open-source projects than their counterparts elsewhere.

These networks constitute such a strong subculture for Valley talent that acceptance and approval of others in a peer network can often matter more than that of a person’s boss or coworkers. For example, more than one-third of the Silicon Valley professionals surveyed stated that they would be willing to help somebody in their peer network even if doing so went against their own company’s interest.

This peer network model is also being pursued by executives outside the high-tech realm. Clorox’s Loura notes that “people in the Valley take a different approach to things,” and cites his opportunities to “tap into that rich source of innovation and startups and find creative solutions. Being right here at the doorstep of most venture capital firms and people trying to solve today’s technology problems is a real advantage.”

For example, Loura used his connections to collaborate with several early-stage startups in the Valley, an approach that he says has helped to address issues that would have been difficult to solve otherwise.

A breakfast with a CIO working for a Silicon Valley tech company helped Loura find an answer to a common problem: coping with frustrated managers whose projects get pushed down the priority list. His Valley peer convinced him to see the situation in a new light—in part, as an issue of open and honest communication. Loura began to use visualization tools to show managers why some projects rose further up the queue. “This way,” he says, “even if they’re not happy about it, they can understand why and be supportive of the decision from a company perspective.”

Pragmatic—yet optimistic

Professionals in Silicon Valley are pragmatic in that they understand that successes are typically built on many failures. They view such failures as part of the process, and as opportunities to learn, grow and improve. Coupled with that pragmatism, however, is an inherent optimism: Most problems can eventually be solved with enough effort and the right approaches and people.

That pragmatic-yet-optimistic characteristic has benefited the region in two important ways. First, it has instilled a strong sense of resilience and reinvention. In Silicon Valley, people fail but pick themselves up, dust themselves off and continue. Second, it has encouraged prudent risk taking. More than half of Silicon Valley high-tech professionals who took the Accenture survey consider their company to be a high risk taker, compared with just a quarter of non-Silicon Valley respondents.

Given the volatility and uncertainty of Silicon Valley’s tech industry, risk taking is a matter of hard-nosed pragmatism. As Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has observed: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

Extrinsically motivated—yet intrinsically fulfilled

In Silicon Valley, people are powerfully motivated by the extrinsic reward of financial remuneration, but they’re also deeply fulfilled by intrinsic rewards. That characteristic was reflected in one of the most interesting results from the Accenture survey. Most of the IT professionals in Silicon Valley said that making a lot of money was very important to them—yet many of them stated that they would work for less, just for the opportunity to work on something that energizes them and helps them grow professionally and, potentially, create more value for their organization.

Does money really talk?
Most of the Silicon Valley IT professionals surveyed say that money is very important to them, yet nearly half would work for less money.

To understand that apparent contradiction, consider that people in Silicon Valley greatly value intellectual stimulation and the challenge of developing innovative ways to solve difficult problems. Nearly half of the Valley professionals in our survey said that for “fun,” they work on tech projects in their free time.

Thus one of the most effective ways that companies, in virtually any industry, can fulfill the intrinsic needs of their employees is by providing challenging and rewarding work. As one tech industry executive sums it up: “The No. 1 task is to be able to say to your people, ‘Folks, I’ve got good work for you to do, something that is purpose-worthy of who you are.’ ”

This sense of valuing the ideas of employees more explicitly is being pursued by CAMICO Mutual Insurance, a liability insurer for CPAs, located in San Mateo, California. Inspired by his Silicon Valley neighbors, the company’s CIO launched a bottom-up innovation program to encourage employees, beginning with his 13-person IT department, to try out new ideas. Several ideas for digitizing paperwork got quickly implemented, saving CAMICO Mutual $300,000 a year, says vice president of IT and eCommerce Jag Randhawa.

The DigiMarCon Difference

Business and marketing professionals have a lot of choice in events to attend.
As the Premier Digital Marketing, Media and Advertising Conference & Exhibition Series worldwide
see why DigiMarCon stands out above the rest in the marketing industry
and why delegates keep returning year after year

Global Event Series

DigiMarCon is the Largest Digital Marketing, Media and Advertising Conference & Exhibition series in the world, with annual events held in all continents (North America, Latin America, Europe, UK, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) in 13 countries (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Singapore, India, United Arab Emirates and South Africa), across 33 cities (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, New Orleans, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, Denver, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Honolulu, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Dubai, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and Sao Paulo). All DigiMarCon Events can be attended in-person or online. Wherever you are located there is a regional DigiMarCon event nearby you can attend.

5-Star Luxury Event Venues

DigiMarCon Conferences are held in top luxury 5-star event venues across the world such as; Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships, Olympic Stadiums, Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre and Wynn, JW Marriott, Marriott Marquis, Hyatt Regency, InterContinental, The Westin, Renaissance, Hilton, Conrad, W, Sheraton, Loews and Sofitel Hotel properties. Discount hotel room rates at each venue hotel means no hassle getting to and from the venue each day.

Extensive & Memorable Networking Experiences

Building relationships matter! At DigiMarCon Conferences we have more networking breaks on our program than others. On average there are 8 Networking breaks at each event giving delegates ample opportunities in a relaxed atmosphere to meet others over the 2-days at the event; from 1-hour round table networking luncheons to 3-hour dinner receptions. These networking breaks are set in picturesque locations to facilitate memorable experiences while fostering new relationships. Such experiences include enjoying cocktails and the Sunset over the Pacific Ocean on a private Ocean Terrace in Santa Monica, to being on the Sydney Olympic Stadium playing arena at night enjoying cocktails under the lights, to dining at the 360 Revolving Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto for a Dinner Reception, enjoying cocktails on a private promenade overlooking Times Square in New York City, or having fun at the Dazzles Night Club onboard the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas for a Farewell Party, etc.

Industry Thought Leaders from Leading Brands

DigiMarCon Keynotes, Panels and Master Classes are facilitated by the foremost thought leaders in the industry, from celebrity social media influencers to CMO’s from the largest Fortune 500 company brands that are disrupting the digital marketing, media and advertising industry, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, Adobe, eBay, Netflix and more. All presentations are pitch-free, and include actionable takeaways, case studies, strategies and tactics, ready to be applied when back in the office.

Premium Comfortable Meeting Spaces

At DigiMarCon Conferences you are never ‘left in the dark’…. literally, in a large room far away from the stage and speakers, crushed in tight theater seating, without even a table, while sitting in the dark. At DigiMarCon all delegates have premium meeting space in luxurious ballroom well-lit spaces, with comfortable seating with table enabling delegates to use their laptop to take notes with ample charging facilities onsite in a comfortable space to learn and thrive. All tables are situated close with direct view of the stage.

Value for Money & Generous Discounts

DigiMarCon Conferences are affordable to attend, from single-day event passes up to two-day VIP options at a fraction of the cost of other industry events. We offer significant discounts for early bird registrations. Additionally, on top of time-limited discount pass rates, because budgets are tight, we want to make sure all groups have a chance to attend DigiMarCon. For government employees, students, academic, startups, non-profit organizations and teams, we offer generous discounts off the prevailing registration price.

Collaborative Learning & Audience Participation

Attend DigiMarCon and you become part of the show! DigiMarCon Conferences tap into the talent of the room, drawing from the knowledge and experience of the professionals in the audience. All DigiMarCon events include regular interactive question and answer sessions with speakers and the audience ideal for collaboration, audience polls, along with ice-breaker and group exercises, steered by charismatic Emcees.

Meet the Speakers in Person

DigiMarCon Conferences put you right up and close with the speakers giving you the opportunity to meet these social media influencers which you follow in person. Speakers are never hidden in private speaker rooms away from the audience, they are in the auditorium sitting right beside you and participating.

Exceptional Customer Service

Attending a conference is a well-researched decision. There are many factors to consider such as location, time, venue, cost, speakers, content, etc. At DigiMarCon our results-obsessed Customer Service team are at your service before, during and after the event to help with your needs. It’s at the core of what we do — it drives our business. Offsite, we are ready to assist you via phone, ticket or chat. Onsite at our Conferences, friendly DigiMarCon staff serve as your hosts. They welcome your input and are happy to assist you.

TECHSPO Technology Expo

At all DigiMarCon Conferences is the co-located exclusive event TECHSPO Technology Expo, which showcases the new generation of technology and innovation, including; AdTech, MarTech, Internet, Mobile and SaaS technologies. Be inspired, amazed and educated on how these evolving technologies will impact your business for the better. Unlimited Access to TECHSPO Technology Expo is included with all DigiMarCon passes.

On Demand Library Access

DigiMarCon All Access & VIP Passes include a 12-month on demand access to hundreds of hours of DigiMarCon speaker keynotes, panels and master class presentations from recent DigiMarCon Conferences, including videos, slide decks and key takeaways, available on demand so you can watch what you want, when you want.

The Largest Digital Marketing, Media & Advertising Community

Attendees of DigiMarcon Conferences gain membership to an exclusive global Digital Marketing, Media and Advertising Community of over 500,000 worldwide subscribers to our award-winning digital marketing blog and over 100,000 members to the International Association of Digital Marketing Professionals (visit This global community comprises of innovators, senior marketers and branders, entrepreneurs, digital executives and professionals, web & mobile strategists, designers and web project managers, business leaders, business developers, agency executives and their teams and anyone else who operates in the digital community who leverage digital, mobile, and social media marketing. We provide updates to the latest whitepapers and industry reports to keep you updated on trends, innovation and best practice digital marketing.

Safe, Clean & Hygienic Event Environment

The events industry has forever changed in a world affected by COVID-19. The health and safety of our guests, staff and community is our highest priority and paramount. The team at DigiMarCon is dedicated to ensuring a great experience at our in-person events, and that includes providing a safe, clean and hygienic environment for our delegates. Some of the key areas we have implemented safe and hygienic measures include;

  • Limiting Venue Capacities to allow for Social Distancing
  • Health and Safety Protocols
  • Safe Food and Beverages and Food-handling
  • Sanitation Stations with Hand Sanitizer and Wet Wipes Dispensers
  • Sanitation and Disinfection of Common and High-Traffic Areas
  • Physical Distancing Measures Between Attendees
  • Social Distancing Room and Seating Configurations
  • Non-Contact Thermal Temperature Scanning

Hybrid Events: Attend In-Person or Online

DigiMarCon has always been industry leaders of the Hybrid Event experience for years (a hybrid event combines a "live" in-person event with a "virtual" online component), no one needs to miss out on attending our events. Each DigiMarCon Conference can be attended in-person (with a Main Conference, All Access or VIP Pass) or online (with a Virtual Pass) giving attendees a choice for the experience they want to have. Attending virtually by viewing a Live Stream or On Demand enables participation by people who might be unable to attend physically due to travel or time zone constraints or through a wish to reduce the carbon footprint of the event. If you would like to meet the speakers, network with fellow marketing professionals at refreshment breaks, luncheons and evening receptions, check out the latest Internet, Mobile, AdTech, MarTech and SaaS technologies providers exhibiting then it is highly recommended to attend DigiMarCon in-person. As the largest Digital Marketing, Media and Advertising Conference series with events in 33 international cities worldwide, across 13 countries, there is bound to be a DigiMarCon Event near you to attend in-person if you can.

High-Profile Audience From Leading Brands

DigiMarCon Conference Series is the annual gathering of the most powerful brands and senior agency executives in your region. The Sharpest Minds And The Most Influential Decision Makers - Together for Two Days.

Who Attends Our Conferences
Brands • Agencies • Solution & Service Providers • Media Owners • Publishers • Entrepreneurs • Start-Ups • Investors • Government • Corporates • Institutes of Higher Learning