San Francisco Bay Area professionals in tech company brain-drain

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Aug 14, 2020

via Flickr ©  David Paul Ohmer (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © David Paul Ohmer (CC BY 2.0)

  • Permanent relocation of working professionals has accelerated since the start of lockdown
  • 15 per cent of Bay Area professionals have already left
  • 64 per cent would go - if they could work from home permanently elsewhere
  • 16 per cent say they will never go back to working in an office

"Blind" is an an anonymous and growing collective of verified professionals numbering upwards of 3.6 million members (and thus undeniably statistically significant) Its new survey, "The Permanent Relocation of Working Professionals: Covid-19 Edition, 2020, shows that 15 per cent of Bay Area members have already upped and left over the past few months.

What's more, a massive 64 per cent of them would relocate if given the opportunity to work from home as much as they could. Expectations are that working from home will be the permanent new norm from now on and 16 per cent of of respondents say they will never work in an office again.

So, it's mid-August, holiday time, and in a normal year this would be the height of the annual "Silly Season" when meaningful stories are rare as hen's teeth and we at TelecomTV scrabble about for a few weeks to find articles that if not particularly edifying and educational, are at least entertaining and vaguely amusing enough to keep you with us until until normal service is resumed when the industry gets back to work in September. This is no such year. Things are quieter and more downbeat than usual for an evident exceptional reason and people are making the best of bad times as they struggle to take some sort of a break and look forward to hopefully better times to come. 

My job as a telecoms and technology journalist has, over many years now, generally been a pleasure and a privilege. I have been paid to travel the world, decade after decade, to interview the great and the good (and sometimes the dodgy, crooked and sociopathic if not downright psychopathic) and report on a global industry and technologies that I delight in and that have changed the world for the better several times over the course of my career reporting on them.

In the course of work I have been to the US too many times to remember exactly without sitting down and counting the entry and exit stamps on the thick bundle of passports that take up space in my desk drawer. Suffice it to say I have been there often and very much hope to revisit old haunts, and acquaint myself with new ones, when the world returns to a recognisable normality. 

One journey that sticks most in my mind is the one I took to and through San Francisco to visit the Bay Area for the first time. It wasn't like it is now. For a start outside of the city things were still quite countrified in parts (there were orchards down unmade roads off El Camino Real, Silicon Valley's Main Street and a 1940's ice cream parlour and soda fountain in Mountain View), the cost of living was reasonable and gas, food and lodging were downright cheap compared to today's ludicrously over-inflated prices.

San Francisco was as unique, beautiful and exciting as I hoped and expected it to be and good hotels were affordable, if not exactly bargain-basement. How things have changed - in many cases not for the better. I mean, for Heaven's sake, two of my favourite Union Square institutions have gone. The Gold Dust a classic dive bar, and Lefty O'Doul's, a baseball memorabilia-stuffed combination piano bar, eccentric local boozer and excellent yet inexpensive cafeteria-style-eatery. They were watering holes where I was happy to spend the not-so-occasional evening, but they are no more and I am still bereft. For me the new, transplanted Lefty's in the tourist trap that is Fisherman's Wharf just doesn't cut the mustard, in more ways than one.

The Bay Area: A  victim of its own success

Being hemmed-in on a peninsula, San Francisco had little space to expand into except to the south, in ribbon development down past SFO towards the growing high tech centres of Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and then on to San Jose, to which I definitely do know the way. In those days, San Fran itself had little by way of high tech businesses and developers and other techie types commuted daily down to start-ups that in due course became household names and all-conquering transnational behemoths.

In recent years though. San Francisco has become a high-tech start-up hub in its own right. Among the companies headquartered are Adobe, AirB&B, Nvidia,Twitter, Uber, Yelp and Zoom. Now people commute both out and into the city and the influx of highly-qualified and very well paid workers has resulted in massive rises in the price of buying or renting accommodation, food, drink and the all round cost of living.

Market Street, the five mile-long central thoroughfare that runs from the Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building on the harbour all the way to the Castro District and beyond has become the living embodiment of what's wrong with San Francisco today. From City Hall down to the waterfront it has become the squalid haunt of druggies, aggressive and deranged beggars, the homeless and the seriously mentally ill. It is dirty and can be menacing and potentially dangerous and is increasingly shunned by tourists and locals alike.

Admittedly I haven't been there for a year and more and friends tell me things have improved to some extent in that time, but it's hard to believe it can have changed that much, the problems are just too deep rooted and pervasive.

And now there is some serious empirical evidence to support the anecdotal gossip that Bay Area professionals are deserting in their droves and relocating to cheaper, cleaner, safer and more congenial towns where they can work from home most of the time and venture into cities only occasionally. The trend was already established before the corona virus hit but the pandemic has given it an urgent extra impetus.

Long-established working practices dying as offices close and working from home becomes the norm

The Blind Survey posed the question,"Since working from home began have you relocated out of the Bay Area?" The results are broken down by individual companies and make fascinating reading. For example, among high-tech companies, 17 per cent of professionals from Google have moved out, as have 16 per cent of Facebook and 11 per cent of Apple. At Linkedin, 11 per cent have voted with their feet, as have 14 per cent of Amazon and 24 per cent of Uber. Cisco has lost 21 per cent, Intel 13 per cent and Salesforce 16 per cent. Intuit is down by 13 per cent and PayPal by 17 per cent.

Meanwhile,  Adobe is down 13 per cent, VMWare 16 per cent, Oracle 5 per cent and Lyft 12 per cent. This is a significant and apparently accelerating trend that should be a cause of serious concern to CEOs up and down Silicon Valley as well as in San Francisco itself. When established talent goes, it's all the harder to attract replacements.

In answers to a further question: "If you had a choice to work from home as much as you would like, would you consider relocating?" respondents to the Blind survey indicated that they absolutely would. The majority of professionals employed across 15 major companies out of a list of 16 said they would go elsewhere if they could. Indeed, 70 per cent of professionals employed at Google would go elsewhere to work from home as would 65 per cent of Facebook and 62 per cent of Apple. 62 per cent of Linkedin would up sticks as well as 61 per cent of Amazon and 67 per cent of Cisco.

Elsewhere, 62 per cent of Uber, 60 per cent of Intel and 67 per cent of Adobe would decamp. 58 per cent of Salesforce would go, as would 53 per cent of VMWare and 64 pr cent of Intuit/ payPal would lose 68 per cent of its professionals and Lyft would see 63 per cent marching out of the door. Oracle is the only big Bay Area company where the majority of professionals would say. Even so, 47 per cent indicated they would leave if they could.

As for those prepared to return to work in a physical office building post-pandemic, 15.2 per cent of Google professionals would decline the invitation as would 16.2 per cent at Facebook, a whopping 21.56 per cent at Intel and a significantly sizeable 18.9 per cent at Oracle. However, a mere 7.3 per cent indicated that they would not go to an Amazon office. You can see the survey in greater detail here and the raw data here.  

This is an important and revealing piece of research that shows working practices established over hundreds of years are changing fast and probably irrevocably. Organisations and corporations are going to have to change as well, and quickly, if they want to continue to be competitive and stay in business long-term.

And, finally, as we reported a few days ago, Facebook is burnishing its claims to be a socially-conscious organisation by emphasising that it is playing its part in funding a project to build of hundreds "affordable" houses close by its Menlo Park headquarters and so help alleviate a housing crisis for which it is itself partly  responsible.

These days to buy a home anywhere from San Francisco, down the Valley and out past San Jose is so far beyond the means of ordinary people as to be all but impossible. Silicon Valley is the most expensive place to live in all of the US. The likes of Facebook and Google have made it so and more and more senior professionals are moving out to greener, cleaner, cheaper pastures.

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