A trip to Silicon Valley: the center of the high-tech industry

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Last month, I visited as part of the programme Executive Master Class “Creating Business Value with Big Data” at the Vlerick Business School, Silicon Valley, the center of the high-tech industry in California, USA. The expectations for inspiration were high! 

Inspiring company visits

The program existed of a great number of company visits: IBM, Hewlett Packard, Cloudera, Datameer, Netflix and Getblueshift. A balanced mix between large and small, between recently founded start-ups and established companies with a respectable history. The common factor amongst the guest companies were their revolutionary - and often disruptive - technologies. 

Silicon Valley is a magnet for international talent. Also for many Belgians who live and work in the “Valley”. At Netflix and Getblueshift we met some Belgians. They told us about their interesting stories and perspectives – colored by a Belgian down-to-earth and underdog attitude- on the “Silicon Valley culture”. 

Inspiring company cultures

It was very interesting to notice that all visited companies put a lot of effort in preserving and encouraging this innovative “start-up” culture. This is noticeable in many ways: materially by the cozy office designs, sublime catering and fancy dress codes: wearables, trendy glasses and sneakers. But this culture is also expressed by – to Belgian standards- unimaginable terms of employment: no holiday arrangements. Everyone is allowed to take as much holiday as he or she desires, as long as the deliverables are met. It is clear that the companies in Silicon Valley do not want to limit the creativity, flexibility and freedom of their employees in any way.

Furthermore, it was clear that established companies like IBM and Hewlett Packard have to put in more efforts to maintain and even re-encourage this culture. Their richer history, size, more rigid structures and internal procedures most certainly play an important role in this. Contrary, the fast-growing “Netflix-like” companies carry less “history” which makes them more agile and flexible. Hopefully, they can further conserve this innovative culture.

Inspiring changes

After the numerous company visits, I conclude that one thing is certain: the technology will drastically change our way of living and working in the very near future. It is still unclear what will change, but Silicon Valley is at the base of these changes. The region is the heart of disruptive innovation… it feels like it is in the air and that it is being in –and exhaled there. 

Once back in Belgium, the impressions of Silicon Valley continue to energize and inspire. It is certain that the new technologies from Silicon Valley will fundamentally change our way of entrepreneurship, working and living. It is now up to us and our companies to be prepared and to create a culture by which we can contribute to these changes. 

Dennis Houthoofd - April 19th, 2016