Why Silicon Valley isn’t the be-all and end-all of tech

Silicon Valley has long been considered the Mecca of the tech world. The prodigious success of its perennial inhabitants combined with the meteoric rise of its more recent tenants and the popularization of the startup story has created one of the most powerful meta-narratives in the United States. This has, as you might expect, eclipsed the achievements of other smaller, but equally vibrant, tech communities.</p>

The idea that to successfully start a tech company, or even find good work in tech, you have to be in Northern California is patently false. Waterloo students are well aware of the potential of the Canadian tech scene; employers from Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa frequently hire co-op students and full-time staff from UW. The Kitchener-Waterloo area itself is home to numerous successful tech startups — many of which were started by UW grads — as well as the offices of some of the larger companies headquartered in the Valley. 

New York’s startup scene (perhaps unsurprisingly) has recently exploded, with investors in the area becoming increasingly tech-savvy. Austin, Texas has had a vibrant tech community for decades, hosting IBM, Texas Instruments, and a long list of hardware companies. More recently, the city has become known for its enthusiastic and growing startup community. Waterloo students in software have undoubtedly noticed the city’s increasing prominence on JobMine.

Austin and New York are relatively conventional tech alternatives to Silicon Valley, but there is a long list of other cities that are more surprising. Raleigh, North Carolina, host of three major research universities as well as the Research Triangle Park, is frequently mentioned as one of the best cities in the United States. for tech. Kansas City,  Missouri, Dallas, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado are all also considered among the top locations for STEM workers in the States. Washington, D.C. has also sprung up as a hotbed for investment in tech startups, many of which take advantage of the proximity to Capitol Hill.

Stepping outside of North America, there are a number of amazing cities that boast thriving tech communities. In London, there are now more people employed in tech than in finance, and the city pulled in over 1.4 billion in venture capital funding last year. Further east, Berlin is experiencing pretty incredible organic growth in its tech community, fuelled much more by entrepreneurial energy than government aid.

Tel Aviv, in Israel, is second only to Silicon Valley for its startup ecosystem and boasts a culture that’s inclusive, familial, and tight-knit. In Asia, Hong Kong combines ambitious entrepreneurs with well-travelled wealthy tycoons. The market is still underdeveloped and experiencing growing pains, but shows enormous promise.

India is expected to see explosive growth in tech startups with employment in the sector projected to grow nearly 500 percent over the next five years. Tech innovation hubs are springing up all over Africa in places like Botswana, Kenya, and South Africa. There are now 90 across the continent and the list is growing at an incredible rate (almost weekly). 

Waterloo students tend to adopt a Valley-centric philosophy. Landing a co-op job in the Bay Area is by no means a trivial achievement, but there are other equally-awesome places to spend a term. It’s entirely possible that you could find a much more rewarding job in Washington, D.C. than you would in San Francisco, and a term in London or Berlin could have a much more profound effect on your life than four months in Cupertino or Mountain View. If you want to take a more adventurous outlook, finding work at one of Africa’s technology hubs is probably unlikely but certainly not impossible, and depending on your goals could be a fantastic career decision ­­— the market is expected to experience pretty exceptional growth over the next few decades as more of the content goes online.

The locations I’ve mentioned here only scratch the surface. If this is something you’re interested in, do more research! If you are looking for a job I strongly recommend expanding your search outside of the Valley (and don’t feel tied to JobMine). You never know what kind of amazing experience you could end up with.