Why Silicon Valley Isn't Starving for Overseas Talent

Tech entrepreneur and thinker Vivek Wadhwa has written much about how Silicon Valley has lost its luster and is in the midst of a massive reverse brain drain fueled by bad immigration policies and greener pastures in the East.

I've even helped him with some of his research on this topic and assisted in several related articles he's written. Wadhwa, who's good friend of mine, has been saying increasingly loudly that Silicon Valley is losing its best and brightest, and the tech titans of Santa Clara and Cupertino had better wake up, pronto.

I respect Wadhwa and his research. I used to agree with it completely. But now I work at technology's ground zero, in Sunnyvale, the true guts of the hardware belt, and I'm changing my mind. Vivek, you gotta come with me to Falafel Bite in Sunnyvale and see why you're wrong. Or, if you're right, it's going to take a long, long time before what you're saying about Silicon Valley's slide is a serious problem.Talent Feed

Falafel Bite is just what it sounds like -- a small joint serving falafels and other standard Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare. The falafels rock, but the kufta is also quite good and the spicy red sauce can burn holes in your fingers.

Now that I work in Sunnyvale, I eat at Falafel bite once or twice a week. I learned the hard way to call in my order well in advance if I want to avoid the long line between noon and 2pm. And the customers crowding into Falafel Bite, who bring with them a multitude of international accents, may be among the most tech-savvy in the Valley. Within striking distance of the restaurant are dozens of startups, ranging from optical networking companies and clean-chemistry outfits to software and media concerns. The shirts of the crowd bear testament to the techie cred.

Mind you, these are the Stanford or Harvard MBAs, the blue-shirt legions in expansive business development or VP of strategy roles. They're the guts of Silicon Valley, the engineers and down-in-the-trenches marketers who make Real Things. They work for Intel (INTC), AMD (AMD), Apple (AAPL), and many other big names, but you won't see them share a stage with Steve Jobs. And you don't hear much about social media startups in Falafel Bite.

Telling Tongues

But what impresses me the most is the sheer number of different languages spoken at Falafel Bite. When I ate there yesterday, I heard Farsi, Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, German, Swedish, English (of course) and many other tongues of unknown origin. That was actually a relatively sparse crowd since I was eating later during the lunch hour. Equally impressive, you can see at just as many tables people speaking strongly accented English to each other, non-natives who have been drawn together by the excitement and promise of this unique economic nexus.

Snippets of conversations I overhear detail CAD designs for semiconductors, new configurations of DNS software, plans to launch a new green-tech startup, among others. The chats are a crude measurement of Silicon Valley's imported talent. But eating lunch at Falafel Bite, you get a sense that this is a pretty happy crowd. They're animated, energized and ready to go. Their body language says: "I'm a geek, and this is where I belong. Let's build something."

This is an ambience that's impossible to recreate in an "incubator" or a "cluster." The collective startup experience that passes through Falafel Bite on a single day would likely dwarf the entrepreneurial talent of most major cities, save the really big ones like New York, Seattle, Los Angeles or San Diego. And each day, that talent is mixing, matching, talking, eating, sharing, not only at Falafel Bite but at dozens of ethnic restaurants around Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, San Jose, and maybe even as far north as Palo Alto or Redwood City.

I'll have extra sauce with my house falafel grilled eggplant special -- and a double down on Silicon Valley's future, thank you very much.
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