You’re smart.  Perhaps you’ve been working at a prestigious bulge-bracket investment bank or world class consulting firm.  You’ve likely got an MBA from a top school.  You know how to work hard and play even harder.

After watching all the news about newly minted millionaires, you think it’s time to try your hand in technology and head out to California to see if you can find the next Facebook.

If I may, some advice…

Be humble, especially if you are not an engineer.  Like it or not, Silicon Valley is largely run by and for engineers. They are the ones that have created the big companies.   They are rarer than you are, and they cost more than you do.  Ever heard of an acqui-hire for the marketing or finance team?  Didn’t think so.   There’s a startup adage: the only two jobs in a startup are making something and selling it,

Earth and her Moon from 114 million miles into deep space. Quote from CS Lewis:  Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.

Earth and her Moon from 114 million miles into deep space.

so you’d better be very good at one or the other.  You aren’t either?  Ply your trade in a much larger company, and network your way to smaller firms over time .   If you are so lucky enough to land a job in a startup, remember to roll up your sleeves and be ready to do anything required, from hauling trash to ordering lunch during hackathons.

Life is long, and the Valley Is Small.   Silicon Valley(which for the sake of this post includes San Francisco) is a very small place.  You will see the same people again and again, no matter how hard you try to avoid each other.  More to the point, in the age of LinkedIn, few employers bother to call the references you provide.  More likely, they’re going to call their former coworker or classmate at your firm in a “backchannel” reference to find out whether you are honest, know your stuff, and are not an asshole.  So, don’t be an asshole. This book will show how to avoid the trap of being an asshole.  Treat people well and you’ll likely never have to look for work again.

Live Below Your Means.  You may want to start your own company some day.  Leave yourself some wiggle room financially to take that great career making job that may not pay top dollar, but will give you the chance to take major equity or make a name for yourself.  I call it “The Go To Hell Fund.”

Don’t believe everything you read in the press.  More often than not, what you read in the Silicon Valley gossip rags bears no relationship to what’s really going on in the valley.  In some cases those so called journalists actually receive funding from venture capital firms they cover. Be skeptical when joining a new company, and asks lots of questions.  Don’t assume this week’s hot post about a hot company makes you an expert in that firm.

You won’t get rich if you join a company after series B.   By then a seriously hot company like a Facebook or Google basically de-risked and thus devoid of a big return. Does’t mean you shouldn’t join, especially early in your career, but don’t expect to be a millionaire off it for a front line job.  Corollary: don’t do tech for the money. 

More Practical Tips:

  • Move here before finding work if possible so you can network over coffee, but if not, get a 415 or 650 area code via Google Voice and use a friend’s local address.
  • For Pete’s sake, ditch your old flip phone or Blackberry.  It makes you look like you know nothing about technology.
  • Start using apps and websites if you don’t already, and get passionate about technology.   If you can’t name some apps you like and why, it’s hard to convince an interviewer that you actually care about tech.

What advice do you have for new MBAs in Silicon Valley?