COSM-2021-174A3855-Lynne-Robinson* Large
COSM A Technology Summit

Is It Really the End for Silicon Valley or Just a Reboot?


“Is It the End for Silicon Valley?” was one of the discussions at COSM 2021 (2:00 pm, Wednesday, November 11, 2021).

It featured

  • Babak Parviz, Vice President of Amazon Inc. but best known as the inventor of Google Glass, who served as moderator
  • Lynne Robinson, mayor of the City of Bellevue
  • Walter Myers III, Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft, and
  • Bob Metcalfe, Engineer, Entrepreneur, and Professor of Innovation.

The conversation turned on whether, in the internet age, one needs to work in any specific locality, like Silicon Valley. Some of their comments relating to where people will live in relation to their work and the problems they will face are transcribed below:

Work where you live or live where you work? — How can Silicon Valley keep its people together in the age of the internet?

Babak Parviz

Babak Parviz: We have a title, “Is this is the end of Silicon Valley, as in the space is no longer important. It’s going to be localized and you heard some opinions on the panel that this is going to be a lot more distributed. But we have an actual mayor saying that that’s not the trend she’s observing. People are coming in. New companies are coming into Bellevue to build buildings. New people are coming into the Bellevue area. So how do I reconcile these two points of view? (00:11:44)

Lynne Robinson: So we have got to create more housing… I’ve heard it said that for every high-paid worker, you have four lower paid workers supporting them. So you have all these people in Bellevue who really can’t afford to live here right now, our teachers, our firefighters or police and our support crews. So we’ve got to create that spectrum. And we’re doing that through incentives, we’re doing it through mandates and where we worked really hard. That was my goal for these two years during COVID to get that whole program implemented (00:10:40)

Note: She is referring to the Innovation Triangle of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond which, together, equal Seattle in size.

Walter Myers III: If you look at the difference between what say Lynn is doing versus what we’re doing in California and the California policies are really about very dense, urban cores, such as LA and San Francisco. They’re very much against suburbs and exurbs in California, just from a policy perspective. Now, I think that’s the wrong direction for California, because if you look at California, 5.3% of California land is actually developed. What’s happening is that they try to continue to densify and grow up urban areas, such as LA and San Francisco, but it’s very costly. It’s very expensive to live there. And so you have people commuting in; they tried to do light rail and buses and those types of things.(00:12:30)

Walter Myers III

But the problem with light rail and buses is that your ability to get to a job will depend on your ability to get there. And if you’re on only bus or light rail, that dramatically reduces your opportunity to take more jobs. So cars are just not going to go away. So I think we should be looking more along the lines of things like rural hybrid and remote work because we have the connectivity. If people are, say, working at home or working or working two or three days a week at home, and then in the office a couple of days, then they can live out in the suburbs. And also if you’re living out in the suburbs, particularly lots of people are getting solar now. (00:13:22)

Lynne Robinson: I’m a fan of California, but even my friends and family are leaving there because it’s just not pleasant to be there where they are, and they can’t afford to be where they want to be, what would be pleasant. So I have a bottom line in terms of policy. I say, whatever policy is good for a child is good for a city. So high public safety, a clean, healthy environment, access to parks and green spaces, access to a good public education. Those fundamental things are really attract people and the people that care about those things make good neighbors. So, I think that that, that high quality of life is really in my opinion, what’s what’s necessary. (00:16:20)

Babak Parviz: So a lot of people will be working from home. They’re going to be decentralized. Um, so if this is going to happen are you still going to invest in your downtown and build office towers? And are you going to have offices at all? Or how are you going to think about your downtown area or any downtown event? Any city? (00:16:52)

Lynne Robinson: Yeah, well, I’ve talked to our large employers and I’ve asked them that very question because that is definitely on everybody’s mind. And why is Bellevue’s office real estate so hot right now, if that is indeed the trend? And they tell me time and again, that they are very committed to the amount of space that they said they wanted to have, but how they’re going to use it is going to be very different. So they intend to, value in-person collaboration, relationship building, and team building.

Lynne Robinson

But workers tell them they can’t do really good work in the office. A lot of these offices have open concepts; they get very distracted. And so they’re, re-imagining what the office has to look like in order to encourage these workers to want to be there and do their best work. (00:17:43)

They agree that they’ll probably have split four-day work weeks. And, of course, the best part is the flexibility. If your child is sick, you can still work. For all the parents, that’s always been a real hassle. So the flexibility part is going to be a real positive.

When you get, take your kid to get a fish at the pet store, first thing they ask you is how big is your tank? And When you tell them, they say, I’m sorry, you can only get two fish because that’s, what’s a healthy environment. I think that’s the same for office workers. And I think we’ve changed that calculus. So they know they need to provide more space per office worker. (00:18:28)

Babak Parviz: Yeah. So hybrid is a new thing, I guess. I don’t exactly remember numbers, but maybe less than 5% of, people were working remote before the pandemic. Now, after the pandemic hit, we went to more than 60% has come down. It’s a combination. So it’s a hybrid now. so that’s one trend, but I’d like to ask all of our panel members to talk about the trends that you think are going to be having staying powers.

There’s also a lot of fatigue associated with working remote. So you’re talking about human connections and they’re important. We’ll start with Bob but what are the trends that you see that are happening right now that you think 10, 20 years from now, they’re still going to be around? (00:19:27)

Bob Metcalfe: Not only can you work at home, but you can work from Hawaii or Maine or, Bellevue and places like that. You can go for a month on vacation, but no one knows. You can just keep working right away. And that works. We had an air bnb in Tiburon, California, for a month and, but I was teaching a class in Austin, Texas. (00:20:11)

Bob Metcalfe

Walter Myers III: I agree that we’ll continue to see the trend of people working, working remotely and working hybrid… I think Millennials are going to drive much of this because millennials right now are the largest working group; they’re in their mid-twenties and low thirties.

As the baby boomers get older and get older, they can maybe afford to retire to California, but millennials can’t do that because right now the median price of a home in California is $500,000. It’s much more [in] Silicon Valley or the Bay area, or if you’re in L.A. So… we’ll start to see the Millennials moving more to the Heartland. There’ll be moving more to the Sunbelt, to these cities that are open and accepting of them such as Bellevue that want to provide great opportunities for them. And they want to live in the city. That’s great. They like that as they’re younger, but as they get older and they want families, they want to start building generational wealth. And so they will want to start moving out into the suburbs and join those suburbs where they can have, have a little bit more open space homes that’ll cost less. And they can to drive in and work or work from their home or do some type of some type of hybrid work. (00:22:14):

Lynne Robinson: Yeah. I think that’s really interesting. And I don’t think about the Millennials quite so much because they don’t like to be in Bellevue. They find it too boring. And so what we do have is a mature workforce and I think a Millennial who has a baby becomes a mature workforce, their values change.

And I would say that really the foundation of Bellevue success is our public school system. So, I think that everything you say is very true until you’re looking for the best school for your kid. And that dictates where you go. And I hate to tell you this but half the people who rent in Bellevue cannot really afford to live here. So they’re paying more than 30% of their income toward rent, which is not a good idea. And yet they’re here because of the schools. They want to make that sacrifice for their kids. So the kids have the opportunity to get a great education and get a great job. So that’s been the real driver. That is why as people in Bellevue get jobs, lose jobs, change jobs — they stay here because they want their kids to stay in the schools. (00:22:18) …

silicon valley traffic sign

Bob Metcalfe: Your kid doesn’t have to go to school in Bellevue. You’re going to use the internet and they’re going to take courses. My son and I learned how to program a computer together, he from California, me from Texas and the course was in Boston and we took it. And so now we’re going to break this geographical connection, by the way, in Texas. If you’re in the top 8% of your high school class, you’re automatically admitted to the University of Texas at Austin. So 80% of our students are in the top 8%. There are people who move based on school districts, but they move to bad school districts because they want their kids to get into the University of Texas at Austin. (00:26:05)

Walter Myers III: I tend to agree more with Lynn. I think kids want to be together. I think parents definitely want their kids to be in the best schools. But I I’m going to give a little bit more perspective on California. I mean, California is, in my opinion as a black man, seriously failing black children and children of color. In LA and California at large, 74% of black students are not prepared to go on to college. Any type of post-secondary education, only about 24–25% are actually prepared. But [Governor] Newsom is against charter schools. I’m not saying charter schools are a panacea here, but the thing is… (00:27:08) are we attracting people whose passion really is to teach and inculcate great learning into their students?

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