Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in this entry are my own and are not meant to be offensive.
I think it would be unfair of me to lump Northern and Southern California into one entry. So, keep in mind when I say "California", I am referencing the Bay Area.
This trip came at a time in the summer when I've been thinking deeply about issues related to design and where I see myself. As opposed to recounting every part of my trip, I decided to write about some general thoughts and feelings I had.
Everyone here seems like a workaholic. Staying latest in the office is a point of pride. At the same time, everyone is very relaxed about their work. Everyone seems to be enjoying what they're doing and if they're not, they change jobs. It seems as if the turnover rate for most jobs in the Bay area is about 2 years, if that. But due to the blooming of the tech industry here, there are a plethora of jobs to fill.
With the plethora of jobs come the plethora of people. There are such a large variety of people here (lots of Asians, but also mixes of lots of different ethnicities). In a way it was like New York. I think that's the reason why people love California so much, there is a little bit of each city. I was driving along in San Francisco and my friend and I noticed that the left side looked like Central Park in New York and the right side looked liked the condos in Boston. I also loved hearing all the different languages around me, partially because I went to tourist-y places and (I'd like to believe) because of the residents in that area.
From what I gleaned from talking to some Californians, the Bay area is made up of: "the city" (San Francisco) and "smaller cities" (Palo Alto, San Mateo, etc). These smaller cities are NOT suburbs. They are smaller cities. Each has their own downtown and lifestyle. The Caltrain runs between all of these, creating an efficient public transportation system.
People here seem to be more appearance-conscious. Someone said to me that in California they aren't necessarily trying to dress to a trend, but just dressing up, while in New York everyone dresses to a trend. I don't know if that's true or not, but I can tell that all the judgement that is suspended due to behavior, is put back into the clothes of a person. I think my theory applies in reverse to Texas (people super judgmental about behavior rather than appearance, although I'm sure there are varieties of those).
Glorification of the Unknown
As an innocent little girl from Texas, I was very surprised and delighted to see the accessibility of such "revered" companies in California. Perhaps because California (San Francisco) in particular is so far away from Texas, it is unthinkable to me that I could easily walk into Yelp's headquarters without someone tackling me and leading me off the premises. In Texas, it seems like the most successful companies are the most secretive and the most inaccessible.
The very first event I went to was called "Designers + Geeks: Hardware by Design". While there is a natural separation between hardware and software in manufacturing, the lectures centered around talking about the similarities within the design process for hardware and software (hardware is longer and easier for a designer because you're not under pressure to keep pushing a new/bigger/bolder version). The talk featured 5 (relatively) successful start-up companies that spoke about their design process and their upcoming features. The most distinctive presentation was by Adam, an MIT Engineer and co-founder of Faraday Bikes. He was an ex-designer from IDEO (<3) who not only evaluated IDEO for their approach to the design process (Research, Brainstorm Prototype, Evaluate) but also spoke on how Faraday Bikes had come up with a more realistic one (Concept, Fundraise, Hire, Design, Deliver). He also spoke about how hiring professionals was about picking 2 out of the three qualities: experienced, passionate, and affordable (especially for start-ups). The start-up culture in the Bay area is huge. Huge to the point that it's a little mundane? There's definitely a "start-up mentality" here and the distinction of a "founder" is one of pride. Many of these apps are cool, but they are definitely stuck in the peripherality, catering to specific demographics as a target (the first world). One person in particular at the event was obsessed with finding an app that notified his friends when he was sleeping so they wouldn't disturb him (someone's popular). Let's just say, as a designer, I don't want a hand in that being my first contribution to the world.
Academia vs. Industry
In California/the Bay area, education is severely undervalued. While a lot of very intelligent people live in the Bay area, it seems as if higher education is not valued. In a way, I respect this sentiment because a person does not NEED an education to be successful. However, looking down on those pursuing a Masters or PhD or discouraging those that do doesn't make you cooler either. As a designer, I've run into a lot of professionals that don't have a degree beyond their Bachelors and are super successful. All of these people live in the Bay area. That's an interesting correlation because everywhere (most everywhere minus say New York) it seems as if a higher degree in design. Guess what? I'm from Texas.
Designer vs. Artist
As a designer, I loved the Bay area because there was an actual DESIGN CULTURE here. I was so excited to be part of/immersed in it off the bat. It's also so large that I don't think you could cover it from one corner to the next. There are so many people and so many events going on that it'd be impossible to know everyone and everything (although I'm sure there are some that come close). I loved the fact that the distinction between designer or artist or techy didn't exist. I think in Texas, they are still stuck on that issue. I would love to work here just because of the atmosphere (including the weather). I am a workaholic myself but the work environment is so "chill" that you don't feel it. You get things done as they need to be. I think my creativity could flourish here and changing jobs wouldn't be a problem. Working on something meaningful is where hesitations come to mind. Then again, beggars can't be choosers.
Overall, I really enjoyed the trip and was happy to see friends and family. I loved exploring the city and getting to know a place that I hope to call home sometime in my life.