Understanding the Silicon Valley Resume

by Peg Bogema

Stout recently hired a Silicon Valley software developer. A rock star developer featured in a documentary about one of the seminal moments in the history of the Internet, he found himself struggling to find employment in the Midwest. (Lucky for us.)

The reason? His resume doesn't look at all like the conventional Midwestern software developer resume.

It looks like the resume of a job hopper, i.e. someone who jumps from job to job. Common reasons for job hopping include attempting to move up in salary (the mercenary) or unable to get along with colleagues for any period of time (the curmudgeon) or easily bored (the gadfly).

Need I mention that none of these attributes are viewed positively by a hiring manager?

But the employment situation in Silicon Valley is radically different. So different that if the Midwestern hiring manager doesn't understand it, he or she will pass over resumes from there. And that could very well be a mistake.

Here is some insight from a former Midwesterner, William Aylesworth, who now lives and works in Silicon Valley.

In Silicon Valley engineers are valued above all others.
There is the perceived shortage of engineers.
It is perceived because every company has been told and believes that they must only hire rock star engineers—who naturally are rare and extremely busy.
Companies are extremely picky and do not want to nurture or grow people into better employees. As a software developer in Silicon Valley, you must:

  1. Prove your worth with outside projects.

    This involves demonstrating your skills by showing your work with Stack Overflow, contributing to open source software development, blogging, publishing on Git, submitting apps or writing books.

  2. Work. You can either:
    • Get hired at a big company.
    • Attract venture capital and start your own company.
    • Start or work for a contract company.
    • Get hired at a startup company.
  3. Now you pivot—because the startup fails or because your contract is up or because some big company wants you.

    Leave big company to do other work or start on your own.

    Join big company because they hire you from your contracting assignment.

    Join big company because they bought your startup.

    Go public. Very rare but high profile.

    Leave small to go big to be more stable.

  4. If the company where you work went public or was acquired by a big company:

    Create a venture capital fund to invest in startup companies.

    Go on to your next startup.

    Hang out and find yourself.

    Start a non-profit and save the world.

  5. If you haven't yet gotten rich, you must always do #1 to prove your value to venture capitalists, startups, and big companies so that you can start the cycle again.

Employees do not naturally do #1 with outside projects but Silicon Valley companies expect it. And companies want PROVEN talent based on #1.
NO ONE hires on faith or your resume or your interview. Engineers need portfolios!! And they want you to have worked for a known Silicon Valley big company or startup.
So companies are extremely picky and do not want to nurture or grow people into better employees.

Thus you can see the conundrum. Developers who are not from Silicon Valley do not naturally do #1. Therefore they cannot break into Silicon Valley. And therefore there is a (perceived) shortage of talent in Silicon Valley.

By the same token, when a developer leaves Silicon Valley, their resume presents the unflattering profile of a job hopper to those of us in the Midwest. And that is because the employment life cycle is vastly different.

The moral of the story is this: when you see a Silicon Valley resume, take off your Midwestern perspective while you read it. You may be holding the next rock star in your hands—and just not recognize it.

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