My biggest take-aways and realizations from my trip to the Bay Area.
It was 5am on the Wednesday of reading break, and my blaring alarm seemed further than ever. I looked over at my roommate (which wasn’t hard given the tiny bed we were sharing) and we were both thinking the same thing. While our friends were boozing in Mexico, we had the bright idea of ‘discovering the Valley’. There had to be a reason.
In my last post, I mentioned I wanted to go to San Francisco to better understand the work/life culture there and what it took to break into product marketing. Throughout the week, I absorbed countless pieces of advice, insights, and general observations about life in the Valley. Taken with a grain of salt, here are the main things I learned.
1. It's not the company, it's what you do
Walking down Market Street, I saw the offices of Uber, Square, Twitter, and countless other dynamic tech companies. I imagined how incredible it would be to work for any of these companies, regardless of the position. 45 minutes later, after my meeting in that same building, I realized I was a little naive.
Airbnb received over 50,000 applications for just 300 jobs in 2015. It’s no question that Airbnb is a competitive place to work, but once you get there, it’s a different story. What you accomplish is far more important than role description. Marketing means nothing if there aren’t any conversions, as does sales if you aren’t hitting quota.
Engineers breed products, marketers breeds leads, and sales reps breeds deals (revenue). I found there is an emphasis of cohesiveness in the Valley; failing to know how you contribute to the bigger picture makes your job obsolete.
Takeaway: I learned that I need to start focusing more on what the results of the campaigns I run were, instead of what I did to create them. “Increased email conversions by 79%” is a lot more impactful than “Created email campaigns”.
2. There is no 'right' way to build your career
I came into my trip expecting to find the perfect path to breaking into product marketing. After a week, my ‘perfect path’ included ad agency work, group sales for an NHL team, and management consulting. It also included having technical skills in statistics and data science, an education from a top tier school, and a plethora of soft skills that a seasoned CEO wouldn’t have, let alone a new graduate.
Takeaway: I learned there is NOT one right way to build your career. People gravitate to different jobs based on interest and personal fit, and the best thing I could do is optimize for learning. I needed to constantly challenge myself with the roles I took on, and always look where to improve.
3. You need to be the best
I’ve been in group projects where one person isn’t pulling their weight, but the team always manages to make up for it. Engineers in the Valley make upwards of $130,000 USD, which means for tech companies, they literally can’t afford to hire and retain people that don’t perform. Initially this was intimidating, but it also yielded a new realization.
Being in the Valley means you are surrounded by high caliber people. Colleagues that willingly work from 9am to 9pm, and manage their side hustles on the weekend. Old mantras like “leave after your boss does” are replaced by a sense of drive and purpose that your entire environment emanates. If you can keep up.
Takeaway: I learned that there isn’t room for mediocrity in the Valley. I found an area that interested me, now I needed to start honing the skills I had and start developing the skills I didn’t.
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