What is it like to be Southern in Silicon Valley?
Happy to be a Southern girl rocking the tech scene in San Francisco
Silicon Valley is a magical place. A place that resides in the future; in the heads of brilliant ideators forced to execute products for revenue in the present. The culture and aura of the land between mountains and beside the Bay seems to lure ambitious people with the smarts to back up their dreams.
To a child growing up in the South, in a small Georgia town of 30,000 people; and child of a single mother who worked nights, I had no clue a place such as this existed…except from watching Full House.
Growing up we didn’t have much, but I knew I was smart. I inherited skills to figure out puzzles, even at a young age, with the capability to envision solutions and be what my mother called ‘mechanical.’ No one in our family at that time had ever graduated college or became anything like an ‘engineer.’
Being from a humble beginning with family where no one had a formal four-year education at the time, I didn’t have much in the way of direction once I attained my scholarship and headed toward The University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. However, the experience opened my eyes to the experience of being in a place where the intellectual capital is high, and ambition levels, ideas were surrounding me and I loved that environment.
My interest in the business side of technology developed after college when I was provided the opportunity to work in the field of technology recruiting and human capital consulting. I took the job thinking I would give it a year, but I was hooked. Learning about new technologies that IT organizations were looking to implement to run the overall business more efficiently was exciting.
As I talked to more and more consulting candidates, I realized that although technologies were being implemented in companies all over the globe, much of the thought leadership behind NEW technologies was originating out of Silicon Valley. I wanted to be there.
The steps that followed took a ton of hard work, risk, and faith. But what did I have to lose? I could land back in my hometown where I started if all failed.
Step 1- I quit my job.
I decided to go back to the town and University that I so loved and get my MBA at UGA’s Terry College of Business. In preparation, I took calculus to get my brain back in gear for math related classes. I started editing resumes on the side for income. I spent the next two years working (again) my butt off since many of the math related classes did not come easily for me.
I studied and many of my Atlanta-based friends will tell you it was a blue moon when they saw me. Friendships were lost when I couldn’t attend weddings, etc. There were plenty of sacrifices but my focus came first- when you’re paying for it yourself, and lose out on the salary you would be making, and in student loan debt- you realize quickly that you can’t please everyone and have to prioritize.
During my MBA, due to the network I had built out prior to MBA, I was presented with an opportunity to work for IBM. I knew this would provide me with an excellent opportunity to become familiar with a wide range of technologies leveraged in multiple areas of a business. I chose to spend the summer between my first and second years of my MBA sleeping on a blowup bed in my friend’s basement and fighting Atlanta’s top end perimeter traffic every day.
It paid off in the form of wonderful business relationships gained that provided me with an offer from IBM to move me to the Bay Area in order to work on a highly visible merger.
The magic started there. I have been very fortunate to call San Francisco my home for three years. I work with Gartner now in a global role where I help Silicon Valley C-Levels make decisions with the power of the top technology-related analysts in the world. I study their business and help them select the right technologies to implement, which markets to go after, help them get inside the mind of their buyers. It’s an amazing opportunity and I can verify that this place is truly magical and its sharpest leaders do live in the future.
As for my Southern roots, I carry them with me every day.
You’ll find me on the direct SFO>ATL frequently, as Georgia is home. Athens is now where my mother and my stepfather live. I choose to return and share what I know with UGA students who are pursuing careers in technology.
I fly my mother out often to show her the wonder and mystique of Northern California and repay her a bit for her hard work and support on the journey.
When she visits, my Southern accent seems to come out to match hers, and people we meet always ask, “Where are you from?” They never ask, “Where are y’all from?”
The looks on their faces show the mystique they feel for such a charming area of the Southern world we both call forever home.