Working in Silicon Valley part 2

Zhang Liang graduated seven years ago and currently is working at Google. Last week, he came back to see me and I asked him to share his working experience with my students. Following was what he said:

“After graduation, I had an offer from Google as my dream had been fulfilled. Working for this famous company is a dream of many Chinese students. Before working, I went back to see my family in Chongqing and was treated like a “Hero.” My parents and grandparents were proud of my achievement and the amount of money that I made in the U.S. which was more than ten times what they made in Chongqing. Making money was the important thing in the mind of most Chinese and having their child achieve a job at top U.S. company with a lot of money was the ultimate dream.”

Image: Internet

“At Google, I had to work hard because my team consisted of graduates from top schools such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and CMU and we always competed to be the best. My manager was an excellent person with many years of experience in both technical and leadership, I considered him as my hero. He worked very hard and was constantly stressed out due to his busy job. One day, to our horror, he had a heart attack and died at home. We did not know what happened to his beautiful house and large bank account because he was single and had no family. This event was a devastating thing to all of us, and I began to think about my life. No matter how much success, how much money or fame anybody has, it is all useless without your health. So my first advice to all of you is you need to take care of your health.”

“Working for the top technology company is NOT like some of you may think. It is a highly competitive environment where you compete with others to get selected into important projects. There are over fifty thousand people working there but only a limited number of important projects and to get selected to these projects is difficult. When get hired, most graduates are assigned to projects, some are not difficult, but this is the time where managers observe and evaluate the skills and ability of new workers. Depending on their evaluation, workers are assigned to challenging projects and their performance there could get them to more challenging and important projects. Everybody compete to work on important projects as it determines how far you can go in your career and how much rewards you can get. If you look at every technology company in Silicon Valley, you will see that they all are operating in the same way. The best rise to the top, working on important projects with a high salary and a big bonus. The average workers stay where they are and even after many years, some are still working on trivial projects, and never get promoted. However, some are happy because they get paid for doing something that they can do but the fact is their career is stagnated.”

“There is a darker side of Silicon Valley that people do not talk about. When workers are no longer productive or their skills are no longer needed, they can get dismissed. One of my friends who has worked there several years is laid off. For someone who already has a family with several children, it is devastated. If he could not find another job, his family is in a serious problem. The fact is Silicon Valley is a very competitive work environment, you must be productive and continuously learning new things else you will be worrying and stress out because you do not know what will happen next. There are divorces and suicides that not many people have heard of as well as people who get into drugs and alcohol. You can make a lot of money there but there is a price that you must pay too. As students, many of you have your own view about career and life and you need to focus on what is important to you. But after I saw what happened to my manager and friends, my view has changed completely. Getting a job is easy, keeping the job is not that easy so you need to understand this and act accordingly. My second advice is to make sure that you develop a lifelong learning attitude NOW, before going to work, else your career may be shorter than you think.”

“I have been lucky enough to learn a lot from Carnegie Mellon. in my first year, I had a career plan where Professor Vu wrote in it: “GET, KEEP and GROW”. What he meant was: Get a job, learn to keep the job and continue to learn more to grow your career. That was the best advice that I had. Since I continue to learn, my career has grown significantly as compared to others. As I reflect on my life, I learn much more about the other aspect of life. After the death of my manager who was my hero, I fell into a depression so I called Professor Vu for advice. I asked: “What is the meaning of life?” He said: “The meaning of life is to give meaning to your life.” That simple advice gave me hope and helped me out of the severe depression. I began to share my knowledge with new graduates and helped them in their career. I have found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences. As a senior engineer, I spend my time to help others to improve their technical skills. What they are taught in school is only the foundation, what they apply at work is the real learning. But only what they learn in their job is the experience that makes them successful. When I started working, I thought that I knew a lot, I was wrong. I learned that my academic knowledge was trivial compared to others who had many years of working experience. However, after many years of working, I learned more about life so my view has changed again.”

“It is easy to think that having a good job is the goal, it is NOT. What happens if you cannot keep it? It is easy to think about having a lot of money is the goal, it is NOT. What happens if you are not healthy? It is easy to think about keeping the job is the goal, it is NOT. What happens if you do not have a meaningful life but just float in a working environment with a lot of worrying and stress? You need to have your health, your career, and a real meaning in life to keep you growing as a person. I was lucky to learn about this so I make myself a goal to help others. Since I spend the time to train newly graduates, I got the recognition from senior managers. They promoted me to the job of my previous manager to manages an important project with a large team. Today I come back to thank Professor Vu and share my working experience with you as I wish that all of you will succeed in your career and your lives.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University