Go West, Young Man!

On a recent trip to California, I was informed multiple times that as of last month, California edged out France to become the fifth largest economy in the world. Last year California’s GDP grew 4.1%, and the list of new company field offices and new start-ups who open their doors throughout the Golden State seems to grow every day.

As early as the gold rushes and cattle drives of the 1840s there has always been either a monetary or cultural euphoria surrounding “The West.” That same excited buzz that drew miners and cowboys still exists today, but in the business world it has been largely distilled to focus on California and the technology boom of the Silicon Valley and the Greater Bay Area. Tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook have put small towns like Menlo Park and Mountain View on the global stage, and millennials are flocking to these campuses in droves. We may have done away with the covered wagons, but the famous trek out to California is still very much alive with freshly trained computer scientists, engineers, consultants (and more than a few aspiring actors) riding caravan style right after graduation. 

The pull out west is not simply a millennial phenomenon, decades-old companies open new offices every year, and more than a few have shifted their headquarters from the east coast to the west. But from the standpoint of the 18-35 generation (25% of California’s population!) the mass movement of top graduates to go out west is worth exploring. In our earlier post “Why Are We Where We Are,” we explored the reasons why millennials selected their first jobs. The most shocking find from our survey in that post was that zero percent of participants considered location as the main factor that led them to select their first job. So assuming that our survey has some merit, millennials are not moving to California solely just to be in California. So if that is the case, what is pulling so many top graduates west?

In order to examine that, let’s first look at some of the tech giants that many college students (and current working man/woman) wish they worked for: Apple, Google, and Facebook. Even without knowing anything about the corporate structure of these companies, you know from just hearing their names that they are a desirable place to work.  Why is that?

An initial thought that always springs to mind is that the big California companies must pay pretty well. Yet, while a cursory search on Glassdoor confirms that these companies offer very competitive salaries, the cost of living in the Bay Area is also remarkably high. Nearly all of the millennials I know who live in and around places like Palo Alto have several roommates and do not always have the same spending power as someone on the east coast. Our survey also revealed that only a quarter of participants were motivated by their salaries in excepting their first job. So if millennials are not being drawn to California simply for its beaches or their starting salaries, perhaps the answer lies more intrinsically within these companies. 

 I would argue that company culture is the most prevalent factor drawing millennials to California. That may seem obvious at first, but let’s stop to consider a few things as to why it should actually matter. In our survey (results below) we intentionally did not give participants the option to select company culture, because we initially considered the term itself to be overarching and something that would mean something different to every individual. Yet, it is also possible that a company’s culture is arguably a collection of each of the categories we offered to participants. Company A might operate at a faster pace because of the industry it’s in, Company B might have a great work-life balance because its salaries are higher, and Company C might be able to offer great benefits because of the state it’s located in.     

None of the categories we offered were overwhelmingly dominant, so what is the common linkage driving millennials to start their careers in the Bay Area? Returning to Apple, Google, and Facebook, even those of us who do not work for these companies know something about their company culture through social lore. “Google has nap pods!” “Netflix has unlimited paternal leave!” “Facebook has the dentist, the doctor, and the barber right downstairs!”

When you consider that the majority of us have heard something about the culture of the California tech giants without most of us setting foot on one of their campuses, that is very impressive. I know what the color of some of Google’s common rooms are, but I have no idea what it’s like to work for the other companies that reside in my own office building. That kind of company awareness is unique, and it makes a sizable impact. 

In college, I honestly didn’t really know what Google did apart from answering literally any question I thought of long enough to type into the search bar. Yet, I thought it would be cool to work there. That is a very powerful lure.  So if culture is really what is pulling so many millennials westward, what exactly does that mean for companies who aren’t out west? There are a multitude of companies on the east coast with great company culture, yet the first place new coders, engineers, and salespeople think/dream of working are almost all on the west coast in some form of capacity. If culture alone is indeed enough to pull the new workforce westward, is it possible that the uniqueness of the tech giant culture will become the norm? Tell us what you think!