Why I Moved to Silicon Valley and How Great it was for my Career

In 1984, I resigned from my job as an engineer at the RCA Advanced Technology Lab in New Jersey and headed west to the burgeoning technology center known as Silicon Valley. There were three reasons to make the move and the first was the 50% salary increase that I was offered by Verbatim Corporation to join their research and development team to work on erasable optical recording. The second was that I had just been accepted into graduate school at Stanford University and Verbatim was not only going to pay my tuition, I was allowed to attend classes on company time. Finally, the siren song of rubbing shoulders with people like Steve Jobs who were dedicated to changing the world was irresistible to a 28 year old from a coal mining town called Sturgis, Kentucky (pop. 2,000).

The move to Silicon Valley from a career and educational perspective went according to plan and established a platform of accomplishments to launch a life on. Financially, I enjoyed all of the things that are written about including the successful debut of erasable optical recording at the National Computer Conference in 1985 and helping design the 3.5 inch floppy disk that made the Apple Macintosh possible. In two years in the valley, I earned an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, was featured in multiple publications including the Wall Street Journal, and got another 50% salary increase. Verbatim was also acquired by Kodak that resulted in a retention bonus and accelerated the vesting of stock options sufficient to make a down payment on a home. I also became a father for the first time.

Silicon Valley was not Family Friendly and Housing Prices were Insane

Fatherhood was what made me think about my own childhood and how I would like to see my son grow up. Even though the magic of Silicon Valley had been generous to me, with a down payment in hand, home ownership was out of reach due to the high cost of housing. I could not afford the payments so no bank would approve a loan. With the reality that even on a respectable salary and a fast track career that I could not provide my son with a backyard started eating away at my soul. My 12 mile commute from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale could take up to an hour each way and having to buy movie tickets in advance (there was no internet in 1985) was inconvenient. Then there was the “technology never sleeps” nature of Silicon Valley that I was not aware of until my interests turned to fatherhood. I loved being a father. I still do, and to deliver on that obligation meant I had to leave Silicon Valley.

Moving to Southern California for Affordable Housing?

In 1986, my family and I made the move to Southern California where housing was just affordable enough that we could buy a home with a backyard and a hot tub. A few years later we upgraded to a new house with a pool and a view. A few years later I was even able to leverage my Silicon Valley experience and become and entrepreneur in the data storage industry. Eventually one of my startups was acquired in a way that resulted in a public stock offering that is the dream of all Silicon Valley engineers. The difference was that I was able to enjoy the financial rewards of Silicon Valley without the hassles and excessive costs of living there. Five years later there were three Wallace children and they loved the home and yard that I could afford in Southern California.

I have never regretted going to or leaving Silicon Valley to provide the American dream for my family. Perhaps my career would have been more lucrative in the land of venture capitalists but the one with the most toys doesn’t always have a better life. When I read about the starter homes that are over a million dollars in
Silicon Valley today, I realize that the engineers who are now making upwards of $200,000 still can’t afford a home. When I visit on business, I realize that the traffic is worse, the rents are higher, and the uncleanliness of San Francisco in particular is just not conducive to young professionals to raise a family.

The Technology Entrepreneurship Quest Continues in Greater Palm Springs

Today, I am the CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership that runs the Palm Springs iHub and the soon-to-be-opening Palm Desert Digital iHub. We are all about entrepreneurship. Our region also has affordable housing, easy commutes, and the California lifestyle that has always been a magnet to high performance technology professionals. Several entrepreneurs from the California coast have recognized the advantages of a healthy blend of life and work. They are with us in Greater Palm Springs pursuing their Silicon Valley dreams just as I did as a young engineer.

For those of you who have the parallel dreams of technical entrepreneurship and living the American dream of home ownership and time for a family, please contact CVEP and let us show you how greater Palm Springs can help you achieve your dreams.