OWL Magazine Korea

“Silicon Valley: What Makes Innovation Companies Different?”

Most of the companies driving the world today are located in Silicon Valley, which typically refers to the region stretching from San Francisco to San Jose in the western United States.

Although currently surpassed by Microsoft in market capitalization and with Apple, which once held the top spot, now sitting in second place, Silicon Valley hosts a variety of well-known innovative companies. Apart from Apple, Google is also prominent, with various other innovative companies such as Twitter, now known as “X,” Tesla bringing innovation in the electric car sector, Airbnb, Snap, and many more.

“Establishing Silicon Valley as an Icon of Innovation”

Silicon Valley, which has produced a diverse array of globally renowned companies, continues to attract attention from entrepreneurs. This is because it can be considered a hub where various innovations armed with diverse innovations are taking place.

Moreover, for job seekers, Silicon Valley is also an attractive destination. While it may be challenging to enter companies located in Silicon Valley, once inside, employees can enjoy a free atmosphere, various welfare benefits, and, most importantly, substantial rewards.

“Differences in Working Methods: Hierarchy Organization vs. Role Organization”

While not all companies in Silicon Valley adopt a role organization, most do. Conversely, many large companies in South Korea typically adopt a hierarchical structure.

Both methods have their strengths, but the role organization is believed to be more advantageous for quickly creating new and innovative things. Thus, it is thought that most innovations come from companies in Silicon Valley.

Hierarchy organizations, typical in South Korea, involve centralized decision-making processes. Titles like “manager,” “director,” and “CEO” are common, and it’s important for subordinates to follow the plans laid out by superiors.

“Apple’s Hierarchical Organization vs. Google’s Role Organization”

While some cases of hierarchical organizations can be found in Silicon Valley, companies like Apple, currently the second-largest by market capitalization, are considered examples of an ideal hierarchical organization. Under Steve Jobs’ leadership, employees followed his ideas. Google, on the other hand, operates in the opposite manner, allowing employees to freely choose projects they want to participate in, representing a typical role organization.

“Rewards in Silicon Valley”

Compensation in Silicon Valley is exceptional. Upon joining a company in Silicon Valley, a minimum salary of over 100 million won is guaranteed. Additionally, stock options, RSUs, and ESPPs are common forms of rewards, allowing employees to become wealthy as the company grows.

“Evaluation in Silicon Valley: 360-degree Assessment”

These days, the 360-degree assessment method is gradually being adopted in South Korea as well, but in Silicon Valley, it is commonly applied by default. This method allows not only superiors but also subordinates to evaluate individuals. Additionally, there are cases where individuals evaluate themselves. The evaluation method for oneself, as introduced in the book, is summarized as follows:

“Self-Evaluation Method”

  1. What: What have you accomplished?
  2. What are two or three achievements you are most proud of?
  3. How would you rate the past six months in terms of your level? (5-level evaluation)
  4. How did what you did contribute to the team’s success? (5-level evaluation)
  5. How: How did you do it?
  6. What core values of our company did you best embody?
  7. What core values of our company should you embody better?
  8. Growth: How do you plan to grow?
  9. What are your strengths?
  10. If you could choose only one area that you must achieve or grow in the next six months, what would it be?

“Post-Incident Actions: Postmortem”

In companies in Silicon Valley, when incidents occur, they reflect on them and find ways to improve through a method called “postmortem,” which is somewhat similar to an autopsy.

The postmortem follows the principles below:

  1. Invite all stakeholders.
  2. Analyze chronologically.
  3. Review both what went well and what went wrong.
  4. It’s not a blame game.
  5. Derive improvement measures.
  6. Be transparent.

The book also shares Google’s postmortem case, which imagines a scenario where Google search went down due to a newly discovered sonnet by Shakespeare in the time-traveling car Dorian from the movie “Back to the Future.”

You can access Google’s postmortem case here: Google’s Postmortem Case

“Work Processes: Waterfall vs. Agile Approach”

In terms of work processes, they can be broadly categorized into two: the “Waterfall” approach, where tasks are carried out strictly according to instructions, commonly used by large corporations in South Korea, and the “Agile” approach, commonly adopted in Silicon Valley. The Agile approach involves developing software based on the following declaration, iterating based on market and user feedback:

“Agile Manifesto”

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work, we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

“Task Units in Agile”

In the Agile approach, task units are as follows, with no specific deadlines, and progress is based on the team’s pace:

  • Theme: “Restaurant ordering system via tablets and cloud services”
  • Epic: “As a customer, I can handle food-related tasks via the table’s tablet.”
  • Story: “As a customer, I can view the menu to order food.”
  • Task: “Implement the menu screen with food images.”

“Working in the U.S. as a Korean: Visa”

When encountering stories about Silicon Valley, it’s natural to start thinking about working there. However, opportunities to work in Silicon Valley are not so common. Besides the issue of “skills,” for foreigners, resolving visa issues is important yet challenging.

To work in the U.S. as a foreigner, you need a work visa, which is not easy to obtain. The book summarizes this well in its final section. The most straightforward method is to graduate from a U.S. school, find a company that will sponsor your visa, and then apply for permanent residency after employment. This process typically involves “F1 – OPT – H1B – Green Card.”

“F1” is a student visa that allows limited work but provides student status to attend school. “OPT,” obtained after graduation, allows you to work without a visa for one year. If you major in a STEM field, you can extend it twice for up to three years.

If you’re without a job during the OPT period for more than three months, you lose OPT status, and if you work in a field that doesn’t sponsor visas, you must return to your home country after one year.

If you obtain visa sponsorship through OPT, you move on to an “H-1B” visa. Once received, you can work for up to three years and can extend it once more. “H-1B” visas are limited to 85,000 per year. If applications exceed this number, a random lottery is conducted.

However, master’s degree or higher holders have a separate quota of about 20,000 out of the 85,000. If you have a master’s degree, you’re included in the separate quota; otherwise, you participate in the random lottery with the remaining 65,000. If you fail to get an “H-1B” visa during the OPT period and miss the lottery, you must return to your home country.

Of course, there are other ways to obtain a visa, such as through “NIW.” This method is explained in detail in other books, and it’s recommended to refer to the following link: Nam Jung-yong “Ordinary Office Worker, Obtaining U.S. Green Card”

This summarizes a glance at the book “Drawing Silicon Valley.” Since the book provides detailed explanations about the culture and life in Silicon Valley, it would be very helpful if you are considering transferring to a company in Silicon Valley.

However, if you don’t have a U.S. permanent residency or citizenship, you may struggle with visa issues. Still, for those interested in Silicon Valley, it could be very beneficial.

“Sketching Silicon Valley”