What Keeps You Up At Night?

What keeps you up at night?

This was a question asked in Po Bronson’s new book, “Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley.” Nudist is a wonderfully ecclectic read of a book, full of Silicon Valley culture, societal influences, and stories, all told first-hand by a long-time industry insider. If you read only one book this year, you should read this one. Twice.

As a new media professional, I am well aware of the new economy being ushered in by the Internet and high technology. With Silicon Valley as its breeding grounds, the new media industry is turning the old media conglomerates into silly-putty, flubbering and flustering their way into expensive e-commerces web sites and new media land grabs (paying millions for established new media players).

I hear stories about programmers and developers being offered ludicrous amounts of money, in order to keep them on a project and see it to fruitition. I hear about 23-year old CEOs selling their two-year old Internet companies for millions (or even billions) of dollars. I hear about long-term established players like Microsoft shopping around Silicon Valley for startups that may allow them to extend their monopolies even further. And of course, I hear about how the Internet is going to change the way we live, the way we communicate, and the way we work. For me, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

I’m young, I’m single, and I have a need for achievement that parallels many of the people who have been migrating west to Silicon Valley since 1994. For us, Silicon Valley is a place of fairytale magic that can make all your dreams come true. Gone are the years of climbing the corporate ladder so your ideas, your thoughts, and your vision will be taken seriously. Gone are the years of ass-kissing, the bad Christmas parties, and the house in the suburbs with an SUV in the drive. In place of this, is a new breed of company that welcomes out-of-the-box thinkers, high achievers, and workers willing to burn the midnight oil as long as their ideas are put into motion. It’s no longer about money. It’s no longer about stock options (although, those help). It’s no longer about making the corporate boss happy by showing up for the 9-5 daily grind.

Like other people my age, I am seeking the career choice that will allow me to leave my mark on the world, that will allow me to voice an opinion or an idea and actually have it listened to. I am a dreamer, and I have “big ideas” just like everyone else in the new media industry. It does me no good to slave away in the bowels of an American corporation, doing my part tangled in an amazingly complex system of corporate politics, overpaid consultants, and clueless executives who are still nervously looking behind them because this “Internet thing” snuck up on them and bit them on the ass far too quickly.

If I were looking for a job where all I had to do is show up to work on time every day, get the job done, go home, and collect a paycheck every two weeks, then the typical American corporation would be my dream come true. But, that’s not what I am looking for. I want to work for a company where the management recognizes my talent, my ideas, and my opinions, and acts upon them with true vigor. I want my years of industry experience to be recognized and for my knowledge and work ethic to lead me to the top of a company, not how good I can kiss ass or play the office politics game.

The fact that to get something done in a corporation even requires office politics is a good indicator of how flawed the system is. Ideally, the good ideas should float to the top. Ideally, the pointy-haired bosses should be working in the mail room. Why is it that any jerk with a Harvard M.B.A. who doesn’t understand the Internet economy or the new media culture is listened to by the executive morons, while every cube-farm dweller is hopping up and down and shouting at the top of their lungs that what the Harvard M.B.A. is proposing is going to do more harm to the company than good?

In 1851, John Soule, an Indiana newspaperman wrote these famous words: “Go west, young man.” (This quote is often wrongfully attributed to Horace Greeley, the founder of The New York Tribune, who requested this quote to be on his epitaph. While both men said it, Soule was the first by eight years.) Hundreds and thousands of people took this advice, packed up everything they owned and headed west, to the land of opportunity: California. A hundred and fifty years later, this advice is again being heeded by a new generation of people, this time packing computers and software instead of gunpowder and supplies.

Like our ancestors, we have dreams about what we can accomplish in California. Like our ancestors, there is a mountain of money to be made, and fame to be had. With a little hard work, we too can fulfill our dreams and satisfy our need to achieve. When John Soule wrote “Go west, young man” I had no idea he was speaking to me.

And that, my friends, is what keeps me up at night.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at July 5, 1999 11:59 PM

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