silicon valley

Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area: Explaining the Difference to Relocating Assignees  

Global mobility specialists who are relocating assignees to either Silicon Valley and/or the San Francisco Bay Area might have to make the effort to distinguish the two. While these new workers who are foreign nationals would already have done their research after signing their contracts, chances are their understanding of each location would have some overlap. It’s human nature to assume that places that are close to each other would have the same ethnic composition, workplace culture, and attitude toward foreigners. 

Americans and other Westerners, for example, might tend to view Chinese assignees from the Mainland and Hong Kong with similar behavior and mindsets. While there would be a strong resemblance and affinity, e.g. an instinctive respect of government, their divergent histories – one under a Communist regime, and another under a more democratic British influence — would make the Hong Kong assignee perhaps more accepting of Western culture than his Beijing-based colleague. In the same way, foreign nationals tend to lump Americans as an outspoken, fun-loving, candid bunch of people who value freedom above everything else. They may not realize that the conservative American living in the Bible belt may have more traditional values than the New York intellectual.

This perception, even if it’s innocent, would have to be addressed just to manage expectations of the assignees.

The first thing that assignees — and maybe even domestic employees — would have to be set straight on is that Silicon Valley is more of a culture, a mindset, a business zeitgeist. It represents the dynamism and the ongoing spirit of innovation that has given birth to companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, just to name a few. While certain locations have been assigned to its circumference, they cut through boundaries and weave through the various cities of both Northern and Southern California. As this San Francisco resident puts it, Silicon Valley is identified with tech and yet is not limited to its physical boundaries, in the same way that Hollywood represents American entertainment and Wall Street embodies the U.S. financial system. Both Hollywood and Wall Street are set in specific locations, but their influence, power, personnel, and operations extend like tendrils to a lot of global cities.

Now let’s get to the actual parameters and boundaries that distinguish these two. The Bay Area is a term often used to describe the towns and suburbs surrounding San Francisco, which extends all the way to San Jose. It covers Alameda County, the City and County of San Francisco, Contra Costa County, Marin County, Napa County, San Francisco Bay, Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and Sonoma County. So it covers Silicon Valley as well, which is located in the southern tip of the same area, comprising the Alameda Counties, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. Call it a vital dynamic subset within a huge thriving hub. 

Third, another thing important to remember in dealing with assignees is that the East Bay Area is said to be more laid-back than San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Again, one can trace this to the business culture that the latter has created and espoused.

The communities in the East Bay area are very family-friendly and emphasize work-life balance over the 24/7 kind of dedication to work that characterizes the tech geniuses in the Valley. People in the East Bay area do tend to breathe easier.  While they are serious about their work and career advancement, they see it as a means to acquire what they need to enjoy a more balanced life. In contrast, the folks in Silicon Valley folk may look more career-oriented and driven, with creating the next big thing in tech as their lifelong goal.

Third, when it comes to relaxation, people in San Francisco tend to spend weekends in the parks and amusement centers. Sports and other wellness-related activities are one way to bond with their family. Silicon Valley, which houses the biggest and most competitive tech giants in the world, also have their own inner culture, where activities can sometimes happen from day to night. After a hard day’s work, the Valley engineers, scientists, and other pros can take a break in a dozen foodie shows, international film festivals, evening concerts, and tech marathons that power up their inner geek.

One thing that San Francisco and Silicon Valley do share is their love of openness and diversity. Immigrants and relocated assignees feel welcome almost as soon as they start exploring their communities. It is safe to say that every ethnic community — from Asia to Europe to Africa — has ample representation in the markets, restaurants, shopping centers, and business establishments in these areas.

The willingness to welcome people from other cultures has also made the residents in these areas more helpful than most. The rise of the property value in both the Bay Area and Silicon Valley has triggered an increase in the cost of homes and other living areas that are being sold or rented. Establishments like California Corporate Housing act as partners to global mobility specialists, showing flexibility in their arrangements and taking the extra mile to make the assignees feel at home in their new country of employment.