#202 Swizec Teller wanted to work on silicon valley blockbusters
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Swizec Teller 0:00
If you want to actually move towards Silicon Valley, I think the best, the best thing is to start working with tier two and tier three companies that you can find locally. Get that experience in high pace, high growth. And whatever you do, make sure you're not getting one year of experience five times try to get actual five years of experience.
Tim Bourguignon 0:26
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host, Tim bourguignon. On this episode 202, I receive Swizz it Taylor, Swift self describes as a geek with a hat, although you cannot see him right now. And he has no hat on. So I'm almost disappointed. But Roy is an entrepreneur who has worked on all aspects of the web stack and wrote the serverless handbook. He has a newsletter called The senior mindset where he aims at helping developers grow. And if you see a parallel with this podcast, that's entirely an accident. Well, maybe not. But we'll see. It's with welcome David Dunning.
Swizec Teller 1:13
Hey, thank you for having me. Oh, it's
Tim Bourguignon 1:16
my pleasure. But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show every month, you are keeping the dev journey lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests, then editing audio tracks, please go to our website, Dev journey dot info, and click on the Support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable dev journey. journey. Thank you. And now back to today's guest. So as you know, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like, and imagine how to shape their own future. So as is usual on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your journey?
Swizec Teller 2:07
To start of my dev journey was quite a while ago. I don't know if I started too early, or I'm getting old. But it's been about 25 years since I started coding. You know how some people some kids get really obsessed with action figures and action heroes and stuff. For me, that was programming. I started when I was like nine years old. I was pretty lucky. We had a class at school that offered like programming as an extracurricular from this thing called the Institute of computer education in Slovenia. And I don't know how I lucked into this, but I literally, we moved to the Capitol. And I went to one of the only elementary schools that offered this class, because the founder of it was literally my next door neighbor. And I was like, by that by then I was already obsessed with computers, because one of my dad's cousins had the only computer have ever seen in person. And I think I crashed his windows 3.15 or six times by just playing with it for like, two hours anytime I went to visit and knows what the hell did you do? My computer doesn't work anymore. I don't know. I was just wait, you have to close applications. I didn't know that. It's actually kind of cool. Right back then you had to really be careful about these things on my iPhone, which now has probably 100 times more processing power than that. It was probably a 286 or a 386 date. I don't remember the last time I close an application unless I restarted my iPhone. Just not a thing anymore. So that's nice. It's nice how far we've come. But yeah, what I was saying. So I started programming, I started with logo then in like, third. No, this was fifth grade, I got into Pascal Turbo Pascal. Probably still one of my favorite IDE of all time, because this was just amazing. You opened this piece of software. And it had a prompt that you could write code in. And then if you went to help, it would teach you how to use Turbo Pascal. And you could do everything on your computer with that. Of course my English was really bad back then. So I was kind of learning English and programming at the same time. So a funny story I like to tell was, is that until I was in my 20s Probably in my 20s I didn't really realize that programming concepts actually have meanings in real life. Like write ln means write line because you're writing out a line. To me that was just oh yeah, that's the thing you call to, to put something on the screen it never like it just never clicked. I was like, sometime in my 20s I remember waking up and like, Oh my God, these things have actual meanings. That's amazing. makes it so much easier. As
Tim Bourguignon 5:02
your second or third language,
Swizec Teller 5:06
English is my second language, you could almost say logo interval, like English is almost like my third language after logo and Turbo Pascal before my second language. But yeah, I still don't know I go back and forth on this, I'm not sure if not realizing those diff, that there's a difference that there's a connection there helped me in programming or made it harder, because on one hand, I had, I think you see this a lot when you talk with people for whom English is a second language, when they think of f in terms of English, or when they think of f in terms of programming. It's like a different concept in their brain. And the programming definition is a lot more precise and a lot more accurate. And there's a lot of this logical fuzziness that you don't get into if English is not your first language because you can just think of it in a completely different way. At least that's something I've noticed. And I've noticed that mostly when I talk with like PMS, they use English and the city I work in in Silicon Valley now. So everything is in English, I probably haven't spoken by. Honestly, I don't even get to speak my native language Slovenian anymore that much because I've lived in San Francisco now for seven years. And my girlfriend is from here. So the only time I speak Slovenian is when I call my mom or my sister back home. So it's kind of sad, actually, I've kind of started losing some of my Slovenia, and sometimes I don't know how to express things. I think you mentioned you're from France, and you've lived in you've been living in Germany, so you probably experienced some of that as well,
Tim Bourguignon 6:48
exactly the same. Fun fact, I started working for a French company last summer. And so I'm doing the way around. Now I'm trying to think back in French. And I struggle every day with Germans expressions, which are very, very practical, but very, very focused, very precise, etc. And trying to see this in French say, oh, no, I don't have the expression now.
Swizec Teller 7:16
Yeah, or I've noticed whenever I try to tell my mom what's happening at work, or like how my life is going, like, I don't know how to say this in Slovenia, and these memories are in English, I have to translate. It's super hard. Sometimes it just doesn't make any sense. But yeah, how did they go from being a nine year old enthusiast in Slovenia, to a software engineer in the Silicon Valley? That's, that's probably the interesting bit here.
Tim Bourguignon 7:46
Let's begin there. Yes. Yeah. So yeah,
Swizec Teller 7:49
I basically sometime in fifth or sixth grade, I was like, this is really cool. I want to spend all my time programming and writing cool stuff. Probably the greatest achievement from that period of my programming career was building what I called an operating system, but was actually just one of those DOS based UIs, that if you've ever seen an old computer based cash register, or something like that back in the 90s, probably, over they had its UI, but it's text read, but it's rendered with text 80 by 25 characters. And you can you can even use the mouse and you can click around. So I built one of those that let me use that instead of Windows 95 on my computer. And it was really cool. I built like a calculator, I built a text editor, I built all of the things that you expect in an operating system. Except it was like 6000. No, it was a many 1000s of lines of code, single file with go to statements, and everything in global scope. And I didn't know right, and I didn't know you have to name variable. So when I ran out of 25 variables A through Z, I started doing a a B A. So I think I basically forced myself to do assembly style programming just in Turbo Pascal. And I remember I had to learn about functions and procedures, because go to only jumps 4096 lines of code. And I started needing jumps that were bigger than that. I couldn't I couldn't even do the there's, this is from before structured programming, if anyone listening to this even knows what structured programming is. For those who don't know, everything you do today is structured programming. But back in the 70s and 80s. That was a huge revolution in how you write code was to do structured programming, which uses functions and procedures, instead of go twos and registers. And this was all with with structured programming. We also got things like relative memory addressing and stuff like that, because way back then, things that we luckily no longer have to think about they would, every instruction would come with an exact memory address. So you'd have to rewrite your entire software to run it on a different computer. Luckily, we don't do that anymore. I almost did that, because I didn't know any better because I was learning how to code from an English help file that was just documentation. This is what this function does. And then I would figure it out on my own from there. Yeah, that was fun. I started learning about functions and procedures because of that. And then I actually went to a coding High School. So in Slovenia, we have this education system where you have like professional high schools, trade schools, and you have gymnasiums. But there's a special kind of gymnasium that's like, this is a normal gymnasium, or like a second, I don't know what, see, this is one of those things that doesn't translate to English. It's very similar to in German, what they just call High School, where you didn't get the baccalaureate, and then you go to university. So we have a special version of that, where it's a gymnasium, and you get a baccalaureate, but you have more classes in your chosen field. So throughout high school, I had like classes on networking classes on SQL classes on C programming, we did more math than is normal, we had like in our for, in senior year with it four or five hours of math, maybe even five or six hours of math per, per week where a normal high school would only do three. But because of that we then didn't have philosophy. And we didn't have a fourth second language and stuff like that. So honestly, if you want to move to the US, getting an education in Europe is I think like a special trick that puts you above and beyond everyone else here. Because high schools in the US are crap. I used to work in edtech. So I know how crap they are. It's really terrible. It's really bad. And like, I've talked to friends who did so from my high school, I then went to a majored in computer science at university, never graduated, spent five or six years doing that didn't graduate because they got too busy working for us clients with my flat company. Actually, when I went to university, that was, they told us, the average time for completion for this major is seven and a half years. Because people just forget to finish. They, they get a job, coding being software engineers, and they just never come back. That's a problem in Europe, especially at least in Slovenia, because being a software engineer is a protected title. So unless you graduate from university, you officially can't call yourself an engineer. I think it's similar in Germany. But the nice thing about that, and I don't think anyone actually does this is that you get a professional title similar to how a doctor in medicine can say doctor so and so you're officially allowed to say engineer, so and so. I can't do that because I didn't graduate. But a lot of my friends who did could put it on their mailbox engineer, so and so nobody does that anymore. And when I came to the US, it stopped mattering. Everyone here is an engineer. Even like honestly, you can. I've heard stories of people being hired straight out of college as a senior software engineer, because there's been a bit of title inflation. But Oh, right. So getting an education in Europe, I think is a hack because I've compared my curriculum at I've compared the curriculum of my CS major with some of my American friends. They have less actual computer science in their computer science majors then I got in high school. Like so many classes, like I have a lot of friends who are graduated in comp sci from a reputable university in the US. Never had a data modeling class never had a sequel class. And like, what did you do like data modeling is the main data modeling is pretty much 90% of software engineering is how you model your data. Because once your data model is correctly defined, everything else is super easy. So much easier to write code against the good data model than against a really bad data model. I feel like I got a bit lost in the story.
Tim Bourguignon 15:25
No worries. So you were telling us about how you you didn't finish your your degree? You forgot to finish it in Elko? Yeah, yeah. And how you at some point moved to us, but I guess there's some freelancing in between. Yes.
Swizec Teller 15:39
Right. So yeah, I went to university because one of my, one of the things growing up was, as soon as I found out that there are computer programmers who do this full time for realsies, for money, actually, I didn't think about money back then, because mom paid for everything. So money is not a thing you think about what you can do this for, people will just let you code all day. And you can make these cool things. That's amazing. So I went, push my schooling in that direction. And then sometime in college, I discovered money. And that that is also a nice thing I actually started working for I think my first paid programming job was an internship when I was 15, or 16 years old, like one of those summer gigs. And I don't know how exactly this happened, but they had me build, like, I was working on a control or observation system for the local Nuclear Power Plant in PHP.
Tim Bourguignon 16:48
Jeremy like this.
Swizec Teller 16:51
But I think it was just like, they wanted to hire interns to do some easy stuff. So they gave me some easy stuff to do. And the company as such, was contracted to build like a, basically like a dashboard for the nuclear power plants, not the not the things that actually control the reactors. But more like, here's the, here's the power output, here's blah, blah, blah, here's some data that we can visualize. And this was built in PHP back then. This was to give you some context on timeline, this was when Java applets were on their way out. And we'll work web programming was on its way in. So I 16, that was probably like 2004 ish, 2003 2004. Early to help me. So very early internet, Java applets, just died. And it was like, Oh, this HTML thing, this makes it so much easier to build UI than if you use literally anything else. And it's fine, because everyone has, has a browser on their computer. This is amazing. And fun fact, if you, you know, those TV, TV set top boxes, and like TV UIs. And stuff that you use on your TV that you complain is super slow. All of that is actually HTML. It's built. It's a web app. And a lot of people don't know that. And I know when I found out what, what that's a web app. Actually, it makes sense. Because TVs come in different sizes. HTML is super flexible. CSS is nice. And you can just, yeah, totally, I would do it in each HTML makes total sense. Anyway, so yeah, I got my first coding jobs in high school, because I want it because one of the things I realized very quickly was that you need to have experience to get a job. And in Slovenia, we have this program where as a student, high school student, or a college student, there is a separate track for getting jobs because they are, quote, unquote, students jobs through the Student Union. That then part of part of the money that you that people generate with that is then used to fund student activities on campuses and stuff. So the student, the student union, in at Slovenian universities, is actually profitable. It's a profitable business and funds all of the students parties and stuff like that from skimming off the top of student labor. And employee users. Employers are super happy because they get cheap labor. I think I was working back then for like, three or four euro per hour. And I was making way more than all of my friends who are like waiting tables and serving coffee. And you get you get to get real world experience your app, you can say, I have actually experienced I've worked I know how these things do, how do these things go? And that then really helps you stand out. I also got really into open source when I was in high school, which looking back was kind of a double edged sword, because on one end, it really drilled into me this idea that software should be free and down with like, five, the demand down, everything should be free open source. You know, Richard Stallman has the best ideas in the world. And then I learned, you know, people actually can pay you millions of dollars for the same stuff. Or you can do it for free and suffer. It's like, you know, money is nice.
Tim Bourguignon 20:22
Like sweet spots, let's say there's a sweet
Swizec Teller 20:23
spot. Yeah, like, there's a really one of the I don't know if it's a tragic story. But an interesting story from an industry from our industry is that, you know, crow, the sort of the, what is a command line utility that everyone uses to test their API's and stuff that is maintained by a single guy who repeatedly runs out of money and goes online asking for donations, because he's like, Yo, I'm about to get evicted, I can't afford rent. Oh, and by the way, all of these multibillion dollar trillion dollar companies are using my software every day to stay alive. And like, you know, if you just ask them for like, a quarter of a quarter of a half of a percent of what they make of your software, you would be rich and rolling in money. And he's like, No, you can do that free open source important. Okay, then Suit yourself, I am going to go where the money is because money is nice, and lets you afford things.
Tim Bourguignon 21:26
At least enough money is nice.
Swizec Teller 21:29
Yeah. You don't have to go and go be crazy with it. But you know, there's like one of the things I learned during my freelancing, the freelancing portion of my career. So in college, I started the startup that crashed and burned. That was when I was like, Oh, my God, Google is amazing. I'm here, rotting away at a web agency. Not a fan of that we're building websites first. That was then like six or seven bucks an hour in college. And I was like, this is kind of boring, I keep doing the same stuff. It's fun that I get to work on my open source project that So wow, I am like all over the place. In high school, I built a, this was a popular thing to do back then I built a, you would call it a CMS, then I called it a website building framework. In PHP, built the whole thing, it was a lot of fun, I learned a lot on the technical side of it, then was able to get a web agency job because of that, they were like, We love that. You can bring your own software, we get to pay you a little less, because you're happy to work on your software. But this is amazing. You get to work on your, you build this thing, it has all of these features. Were tired of WordPress, Oh, you haven't heard of WordPress, that's even better. So but then I started, I was working on that it was cool. And it actually went into production. And that's like one of those lessons learned. Never build your own framework. Mostly never build your own framework unless you have a really good reason. And well, like poor soul who came after me to that web agency and had to maintain all of that after, I hope they migrated off of the framework very quickly, because you know, it's the classical story of talented guy builds an in house framework, everyone else who comes after him suffers because there's no public documentation. There's nobody you can ask for help. It's just that guy and his pet project. And anyone else at the company who knows this, essentially dead technology
Tim Bourguignon 23:31
out right in the field.
Swizec Teller 23:36
So you know, learn my lessons there. Well, yeah. So after that, I started reading about these Silicon Valley companies and how who, you can be a rock star engineer, you don't have to just be some rando somewhere. And I read about it. And it sounded really cool. And I want it to be the next Google or at least the next Microsoft. Around that time was also. So this was in my late teens, I was like 19, at the time, early 20s. And there was this pivotal moment in my life. I worked all summer really hard to then fund a trip to London for two weeks. And this was my first ever solo trip out of the country. first commercial flight. Yeah, I come from the kind of background where at 19 was my first commercial airplane flight that I paid for myself? My mom and sister It was many years later when I don't know what I think I flew them to the US. That was their first big flight. So I went to London and I went to one of their museums. I think it was some sort of Science Museum. And my heroes back when I was a kid were scientists so like James Watt, John list or something list Edison Tesla, people like that were really my heroes growing up, which I realize now is kind of weird. But that's what I that's who I looked up to. If you think of Dexter's Lab, with less, less imagination and less resources, that was me, I was like Dexter in Dexter's Lab, like off poster of Einstein. Amazing. Okay. And by the way, I tried to, I tried to figure out special relativity from Einstein's paper in high school, that does not work. Don't know in middle school, don't try that. It doesn't work. It's way harder than it looks. Yeah, I wasn't really good. So I went to this museum and I started an A, there was a really good exhibit on all of the scientists that changed the world. And I realized, Oh, my God, they weren't just scientists, these people were actually entrepreneurs. The science was just a small part, like James Watt, didn't invent the steam engine, he took a steam engine existed, invented a small part that made it actually useful, and then capitalize on that invention. Thomas Edison didn't, he kind of invented the light bulb, but his actual innovation was the research lab, the commercial research lab, and he had teams of scientists who would just churn out inventions that he would then capitalize on. And his biggest contribution actually wasn't the light bulb. It was the power distribution system and the power plant. That was his actual, he's actually mentioned was bringing the light bulb home, because Tesla and all the others that we now think, oh, Edison stole their invention. What good is a light bulb that works in a lab for five minutes, what Edison did was commercialize it and make it so that it runs in your house, because you have power in your house, and you have a light switch in your house. And like that was the actual innovation. Similar with Steve Jobs, like he didn't invent much himself, he is more like the head of an organization. But the innovation isn't the smartphone, or the apps or all of that it's putting it all together and making it work reliably. So that you can actually use it without thinking about it. That's the, that's the part. So I was like, Oh, this is amazing. I can be like one of those people, I'm going to be an entrepreneur. So I went to be an entrepreneur, I started a company that, honestly, I still think was a really good idea. I just wasn't able to make it work. Um, this was back in like 2010 2011, I realized that you could use computers, something similar to neural networks. And like reinforcement learning. The idea of reinforcement learning is that the computer guesses something and you give it feedback, you say I like this, or I don't like this. And then it learns from that feedback and gives you different suggestions. And I wanted to build essentially an algorithmic news feed that takes your RSS and creates a personalized news feed for every individual that is specifically tailored, because we can understand from your, from your interactions with the web, we can implicitly understand what you do and don't like what you engage with. And this might start sounding very similar, because it's literally what eventually a few years later became the algorithmic newsfeed for Twitter or Facebook, or they all have it now. But back then nobody had this. And it was, it was like, I think there were a lot of people working on it in parallel. I didn't have the insight into the industry, I was in Slovenia, I was like 2021, I had no idea what I was doing. So I didn't know that I was just one of many, we really felt like we were changing the world and like this was going to be amazing. And we were able to scrape together enough money, some investment, some funding from the government, as well, that got us to fly to the US for two years. And that was like my first experience, not for two years, sorry for two weeks. And that was my first experience with Silicon Valley. And we network like crazy. And we were able to the idea was good enough. And we were crazy enough that in those two weeks, we went from meeting a random person from a VC company at a meetup to having a second second meeting with the head of the VC company, who then said, I will lead your round, if you can make it if you can pull everyone else together, which is a major milestone in fundraising. And then we did the stupidest thing ever, which was while we are poor students, we are not used to we're especially coming from former communist countries, former Eastern Europe etc. We had a very, we didn't we had a scarce scarcity mindset, not a abundance mindset. So we came to the end of two weeks, we had this VC saying, Oh yeah, you we will give you money if you get more people involved. And our reaction to that was, well, we can't afford to stay so we're gonna go home because we We have no money and we are poor. So we went home. And surprise, surprise, you can't create at least 10 years ago, 10 years ago, 1010 years ago, you couldn't just pull together a round of Silicon Valley VCs, from a random little country that nobody has heard off. So you know, they start stopped replying to our emails, eventually everything fell apart. And if there's one thing, I would have changed, looking through my, I wouldn't say I have regrets. I made it the best decision that was available to me at the time, based on what I knew. Because like my parents will, I couldn't just be like, Hey, Mom, can you give me $10,000. So I can stay in Silicon Valley for another two months on my tourist visa. So I can talk to all of these VCs. My mom didn't have $10,000 to pull from anywhere. And we had advisors who did have $10,000. And we just, it just didn't click. They were like, hey, you know, you want to stay? Do you want to do this? Do you want to do that? Like, this is amazing. And we're like, No, we don't have money. Like, you know, that's a solvable problem. Right? Now, money is not a solvable problem. Like, you're literally here to solve the money problem. Now, I, I know how it goes, I've been on this earth for 90 need for 20 years, I know exactly how it is, there is always more month at the end of the money and there is no more money and like, and the advisors looking at us like Ah, okay. But you know, as a mentor, he was more of a, they were more of a mentor than like a boss or something, they can't tell us what to do. They can, you can lead the horse to water. But if the horse doesn't want to drink, there's not much you can do about that. And if we wouldn't take their like couple $1,000 We definitely weren't ready to take a few million dollars from VCs and know what to do with them. So everyone involved I made the right decision. In retrospect, it would have been fun to be on that ride. I wasn't. But that really exposed me to the Silicon Valley mind mentality and to thinking that way. So when that startup crashed and burned, I got another startup from Slovenia, I managed to get into YC into Y Combinator next year. And they came in, they gave gave a presentation at Arthur college. And at the end of their presentation, I literally just walked down to the founders and I was like, I want to work for you. Like, I don't care. This is cool. I want to work for you. And they're like, Okay, well, we're looking for like three people to come be interns while we're in Y Combinator this summer. Like, okay, cool. That sounds awesome. And me and a couple of friends went to we lived in Palo Alto. Yeah, we lived in Palo Alto next door to Paul Graham, which was really cool. I got to see him just like, out and about. As part of the deal, we got to go to one Y Combinator dinner, which is normally just the founder only event. And it was really cool. On the dinner that I went to it was the whole Y Combinator batch. This was back when these batches were still pretty small, they could get everyone in the entire batch in a single room having dinner together. This was I think 2013. And I think it's Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb came and gave us like the inside story of how Airbnb started, and how like, everything with the cereal and the whole story, a couple of things that I think I'm still not sure if they are public or not public by now. But basically the inside story of how one of these startups looks in the beginning, it was amazing. A little side note, I almost got the startup kicked out of Y Combinator that was fun.
Tim Bourguignon 33:39
What did you manage?
Swizec Teller 33:42
They gave me a task. They as like, they were working on their main thing. But they were also exploring other other parts. Like other ideas, so one of the kind of a joke project, but a fun project was a, like a platform as a service for mobile apps called Fukishima. And we built a website, and then my job was okay, we're gonna launch this, we haven't actually built anything. Let's just launch it. Let's see what happens. Let's see if there's interest. And as an intern is a clueless intern, I was like, okay, cool. I know how to get things to the front page of Hacker News. Let's do that. And parse also launched, parse was also in the Y Combinator batch. And I saw Oh, parse is launching their platform as a service for mobile for mobile apps. Let's and oh, and they're getting a lot of a lot of press. Let's go on to that. And parse launched on Hacker News. And when when I saw that, I was like, Okay, this is the moment, hit the trigger. And I posted and I and I wrote the title for key men. Platform is a surface for for mobile apps better than parse. And we were jostling for the top position on Hacker News all day. And then Paul Graham are the people from Y Combinator track down the first thoughts on our store and they're like, Wait, this is all coming from next door. Oh my god, this company lives next door, where they're in the same Y Combinator batch as pars are they be like, What is this shit? Are they? Or is this shenanigans? Are they like trying to torpedo a Y Combinator launch? Are they shitting on this company? Like they have inside info. And they actually called me I had to go have a meeting with a Y Combinator partner, and explained No, sorry. Like, I literally have never heard of course, before. I'm just like, I took I took full responsibility for what I did. Because you know, that's what you do. Ownership mentality and all that. Like, I didn't, I didn't think of it that way back then. I didn't think of it as an ownership mentality. I was like, Yeah, I fucked up. I, nobody. It's nobody else's fault. I'm the one who fucked up. And yeah, like I explained, I just clicked on to it for, for like, I didn't realize this was their actual launch date. They were launching their Y Combinator product, I just thought, oh, yeah, this is like a similar company. They're, they're getting hype, I'm just gonna tack onto that hype. So we can get hype as well. So it was fine. Everything worked out. It was great. But yeah, that was Yeah. That was, but that was a fun experience, I got to see the difference between working inside a startup that isn't going anywhere. And working inside a startup that's really hitting it that got into Y Combinator that's launching, that's making money that's like, going really fast. So then from that experience, I rolled that into, I want to work with American companies, because they have much better opportunities there. And in terms of better opportunities, this was very true 10 years ago, but even now, if you look at graphs from 2021, one of the biggest memes was the pandemic killed the San Francisco Bay area, it's done, no more startups go everywhere else, the Bay Area is that the Bay Area last year, I don't remember the exact numbers. But in 2021, there was around $100 billion of startup investment in the Bay Area ecosystem. The next biggest New York had $30 billion dollars, the next biggest after that, London had like 21 billion, and then everyone else kind of after that, so it's like, it's not dead. And it might be slowing down a little bit, but it's still so far ahead of anywhere else in the world. So like, the example I like to use is Hollywood, because I think the Hollywood industry and the Bay Area, sort of startup industry, are very similar. If you think of VCs, as the big studios, CEOs and founders, as the directors, as engineers, etc. As the talent. If you want to make you can make a movie anywhere, absolutely anywhere in the world, you can make a really great movie, you might even win an Oscar, like really good movies come from everywhere. But if you want to make a blockbuster, you have to go to Hollywood, not maybe not physically to Hollywood, but you have to be in the ecosystem, like physically speaking, Shopify, Spotify, all of those things. They're not physically in the Bay Area, but I consider them part of the same ecosystem. It's like, or there's this guy girly, or rash, or something like that. He wrote a really good article on this tier one, tier two and tier three companies. You want to be in a tier three company if you want to work on those Hollywood style blockbusters. And the only difference is just Well, there's a lot of differences. But the main difference that you can, the way you can recognize a tier three company is that they compete for global talent, especially once they get big enough. They only want to talk to your talent. And they treat people as an investment, not as a cost, like an engineer at one of these companies is an investment, not a peon that we give shade to do and we tell them what to do. It's more like you're the engineer, you're the expert, tell us what to do. And if you want to build a company, or if you want to work with companies, where people who know how to take to take to take a business from 10 employees to 50 employees from 50, to 300, from 300 to 1000, from 1000 to 10,000. Those people are a dime a dozen in the Bay Area, maybe not a dime, they're really expensive. But there's a lot of people here who know what that what that process looks like from all aspects of the company, not just from leadership, but also from engineering because the way you approach engineering, when your company is growing on that trajectory is very different than the way you approach engineering at like, I don't know a German bank that's been making the same kinds of beer. Use of dollars for the last 50 years, and we'd rather not touch anything, then go for a trillion dollars. It's a very different approach and a very different mentality. And that's also like, when I was freelancing for American companies, that was the part that was the hardest for me was. And it's also a critique criticism you see from a lot of European engineers, it's like they work with someone from Silicon Valley, or from someone with, with someone from with that mindset. And like, Why is this person getting paid so much? Their code is shit, everything they do is half baked. Like, they don't think like, how is this person doing this? They're like the shit. But the business loves them. They want to give them more responsibility, more money, more everything. But all of their code is crap. Their engineering is just terrible. How is this working? And it's because they are they have that intuitive sense for when to optimize for engineering, perfection, and when to optimize for the business? What is worth making right now versus versus next week? Like one of my favorite things to do, I met a company now that's on a really steep trajectory. One of my favorite things to do is okay, let's get it working. Let's push it out. Let's see what happens. And, yes, let's do some tests. We don't need to have perfect tests, let's write just just enough to be certain. Let's add just enough metrics to be to kind of know what's going on. But the job is duct taping and gluing things together with chewing gum. That is the job like, yes. Like you're worried about tech debt. That is the job. If your startup dies, tech, that is not going to matter. Just use the debt to move fast now, because you will have time and resources later to fix it. If it works out. And if it doesn't work out, work out. Who cares? Like, you're not gonna have to look at that code again. Or, you know, if the feature doesn't work out, like one of the saddest things I see a lot of companies do now, and I've been playing with some angel investing and stuff now, which is a whole nother story. But one of the worst things I see is when people build a really cool product. And it looks amazing. It just hasn't launched and has zero feedback from the market. And it's a great demo. But I can promise you, I can like guarantee that it's not what users want. And that's like the main diff. If I had to boil down the last seven years of Silicon Valley to one thing, it would be that it's the plot. Launch now, fix later, when you know that it's worth fixing.
Tim Bourguignon 42:45
Are you coming back at all? Or are you there to stay in situ? Melina?
Swizec Teller 42:50
That's a good question. I always phrase it as I am going to stay while the staying is good. So I am almost fully there with having a green card now, which is self sponsored. And there's some articles about how that met, I managed to do that. Because we could probably do a whole podcast on how to actually immigrate to the US. So yeah, I'm probably gonna stay for a while, like, it just feels like going back home would be kind of like retiring. You know, it's like, yes, the cost of living is much better, the quality of life is probably better in terms of like enjoying your life. But in terms of career stuff, this is this is the place to be for me at least. Because back home, I was getting kind of lazy, especially when I was freelancing for US companies, which again, built a lot of that those ins and figuring out how to talk and how to how to say the things that look good to Americans, and in this market started getting lazy because it was making just hand like shitloads of money compared to somebody local, like probably 3x What you would make if you're an honestly everyone I know in Slovenia, at least, if not most of Europe, who is really good engineer, ambitious engineer, probably is freelancing slash consulting for American companies, or at least for foreign companies. Because the local companies just don't pay enough. And if you can do that's, that's kind of what has pulled me out of entrepreneurship, honestly, and more towards being an employee at these high pace companies is you get more you get a lot of money, more money than you do with entrepreneurship, especially if the entrepreneurship doesn't work out. You have lower risk, and they pamper you. So it's like, I'm just going to take the money and use the extra that I have leftover to buy assets and like invest in companies rather than try to suffer and build my own. works. Yeah, it's like you have less volatility, you're not going to become a trillionaire probably not even a billionaire. But honestly, even even if I'm a dozen millionaire, I would be totally fine. Probably anywhere in the world, you know, you don't need to be a billionaire. Even if you just have a couple of million dollars, it's fine. So you know,
Tim Bourguignon 45:25
no, just wanted to to twist a little bit with the with the home office or the the the remote work wave that we're seeing. If you're not playing the intrapreneur game anymore, is it so worth it to be in the Silicon Valley, you couldn't do that from at least another hub, maybe maybe not from from a village in Slovenia, or a village in Germany. But if you were in another hub somewhere else that could work out, wouldn't it?
Swizec Teller 45:52
It could work out. I feel like there's a lot more fire under duress in Silicon Valley. The people, the scale of opportunity is just different. Like you can do, you can do this sort of thing from anywhere. But then you have to be at a bigger company, like the company I'm at right now. So the company I'm at right now, I the reason the way I got into this company was working at a startup where a PA my PM, who is a proper Silicon Valley, EIT. She grew up here. She went to Stanford, like, she's like, oh, yeah, you know, the founder of Snapchat, he was my college roommate, or you know, that person. Yeah, you know, came from blah, blah, blah. Those kinds of connections you're not going to get anywhere else. And the way I got into this company that I met right now, we were working together, she really liked me. She moved to a different company she got into she was like, this looks like a promising company, like founded by an ex Googler by an ex. So one of my found my current founders used to work for Google, the other founder used to work for Ray Dalio. And you can see a lot of the Ray Dalio inferences in everything she talks about. Just if you've read his books, you can recognize key phrases from the way she speaks. I don't think she even realizes that it's amazing. But also, my brain works with cross referencing a lot. So maybe that's just me. But anyway, this friend of mine, quit big went to this company, she got into this company, because she was she went to I think Stanford or something with one of the founders, her husband went to Princeton or something with the other founder. And they were just friends. And then she pulled me in because we were friends. And I joined this company, when we were around 50 employees right after their Series A. And this was June 2020, we are now at almost 400 employees, less than two years later, and we've gone from like a $10 million series, a $200 million, Series B. So those are the kinds of opportunities that just don't exist in Europe. And it goes back to what I said about Hollywood, even if business opportunities like this existed in Europe, you don't have the talent who knows how to pull this off? If you're a founder, and you have and you're like, I am on a trajectory to go from $10 million to $100 million in a year and a half. Good luck finding people who know how that works at all levels of the organization. Like where are you going to find engineers in, in Europe who have experienced with anything even close to that? Or, or engineering managers or HR people or salespeople or marketing people? Like it's all very different. There's just the ecosystem is there is here. And I always wanted to these were the kinds of companies I wanted to work on. So that's what I always tell people I this is what I optimized for on purpose, rather than for chilling on a beach somewhere, making 100k living in Thailand. Yeah, it's a nice life. It's just not the life I want. Maybe maybe when I'm older when it's time to retire, go easy. But I feel like in my late 20s And I'm now in my mid 30s. Jesus, I'm in my mid 30s Now's the time to push I'll have time to chill later. Okay, as long as you don't push too much so you don't enjoy life, but that's a different thing.
Tim Bourguignon 49:41
Amen. to that. We have we have a piece of advice for people not coming from the Silicon Valley. And considering this move, what would you tell them to make their life easier or this process of be looking toward the Silicon Valley and then moving toward the Silicon Valley? Easier?
Swizec Teller 50:00
Yeah, if you want to actually move towards Silicon Valley, I think the best, the best thing is to start working with tier two and tier three companies that you can find locally. Get that experience in high pace, high growth. And whatever you do, make sure you're not getting one year of experience five times, try to get actual five years of experience. As soon as you feel like you're doing the same shit over and over. Just switch jobs go to different companies either start something of your own starting starting your own is a great way to learn the very early stages and to see into how your how the people who are hiring you think about these things, and then sell yourself based on that. Nobody cares what technology you're using, maybe a little. But what you do with that technology is what matters. And that's what people, at least people in Silicon Valley or people who are Silicon Valley minded, that's what they're looking for is someone who can come in and push the business to the next level, rather than being a code monkey who can take orders and execute
Tim Bourguignon 51:10
what you do with that technology, which is what matters. This. This is really quotable. That's cool. It really makes sense. Thank you very much. There's been it's been, it's been already 15 minutes. So really cool. Going Places, some some examples of what you did some mistakes. Schools. Thank you very much for this. Very interesting, have you. Where would be the best place for the listeners to reach out to you ask you more questions, especially about how to read a green card. You seem to have some some stuff to say about this, or something else entirely.
Swizec Teller 51:43
Yeah, you can find me on Twitter at wizards. I have a blog on services.com. And if you're interested more in specifically mindset stuff, I have senior mindset.com, which is now an ebook, as well as a mailing list where it's basically lessons learned from the last seven years in Silicon Valley. And the biggest mindset shifts that helped me go from code monkey to an algo on vendor calls in India introduce me as he's the tech lead for this entire initiative, which is really cool. To kind of blows my mind.
Tim Bourguignon 52:16
Okay, so we'll add some, some some links in the show notes. So you don't have to search. You can reach out directly. And any if you're wondering, what describes in the background, are this Are your parents isn't this he started in your shirt literally in your shirts when we started talking, and at some point decided we're not interesting enough and went away. So Swiss, thank you very, very much. It's been a blast. And, and I hope people reach out and I get to learn from your thoughts.
Swizec Teller 52:46
Thanks for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 52:48
It was it was my pleasure. And this has been another episode of Deborah's journey and with each other next week, but thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you liked the show, please share rate and review. It helps more listeners discover those stories. You can find the links to all the platforms to show appears on our website, Dev journey dot info, slash subscribe. Creating the show every week takes a lot of time, energy, and, of course money. Would you please help me continue bringing out those inspiring stories every week by pledging a small monthly donation, you'll find our patreon link at Dev journey dot info slash donate. And finally, don't hesitate to reach out and tell me how this week story is shaping your future. You can find me on Twitter at @timothep ti m o t h e p or per email info at Dev journey dot info. Talk to you soon.