Relating Silicon Valley to the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor


HBO’s Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is an HBO comedy series that aired from 2014-2019. It follows a group of software engineers as they journey from creating their own apps in a home-based tech incubator in California’s Silicon Valley to creating a new decentralized Internet in their own venture capital-funded tech company.

From the beginning, its creators (Mike Judge and Alec Berg) aimed to make the series an entertaining and accurate depiction of Silicon Valley tech culture, icons and events. And according to those with an intimate knowledge of Silicon Valley, they succeeded tremendously:

Tech content aside, Silicon Valley is arguably one of the best comedy series of all time. The producers and writers clearly strived to make the plot realistic and relatable, and the actors captured tech stereotypes in a way that no other comedy series does.

And while many aspects of Silicon Valley shown in the series are unique to that area of California, there are others that are equally applicable to other areas of the world that harbour a large tech industry, including the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor - the largest tech cluster in North America outside of Silicon Valley:

Toronto-Waterloo Corridor

Most of us who live in the Waterloo region and work in the tech industry have seen the Silicon Valley series. And through countless conversations over the years, we’ve identified many similarities and differences between the tech culture, icons and events shown in the Silicon Valley series and our own Toronto-Waterloo Corridor.

What’s the same between Silicon Valley and the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor?

  • Super expensive real estate
  • Popularity of IoT devices (e.g. smart fridges), Tesla cars, and Apple products
  • Tech personalities and stereotypes:
    • Most relate heavily to various aspects of the three main characters: Richard, Dinesh & Gilfoyle
    • Tenacious problem solving (e.g. the middle-out problem illustrated at the end of Season 1)
    • Disagreements among software engineers regarding the use of tabs vs spaces, and emacs vs vim
    • Tech sales people that just want to sell “a box” to enterprise customers only
    • A strong sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to new things
    • Widespread use of buzz words like SoLoMo (short for social-local-mobile)
    • Idolization of Apple’s cofounders (Jobs & Woz) as they are symbols of success and talent, respectively
  • Processes, technologies and terms:
    • SCRUM (used to organize the software development process)
    • Competitive code sprints (and bragging about having less coding errors)
    • SWOT (used to gain perspective for the purposes of decision making)
    • SLAs (Service Level Agreements)
    • Common programming languages (Java, C, C++, Python)
    • Security (man-in-the-middle attacks, cryptography, SSH, ports, firewalls, etc.)
    • Cloud hosting (including the high AWS/Azure fees joked about in the series)
  • Tech incubators, where everyone is trying to become the next billion dollar company under the guise of “changing the world”
  • Constant pivoting of tech companies to stay relevant in a competitive marketplace
  • Developing apps that leverage virtual reality, machine learning, blockchain or security, because they easily get funding (even though many of them are implemented poorly and eventually turn into vapourware)
  • Functional fixedness and focus group disappointment (new ideas often seem great to tech people, but not the general public)
  • Dogs and free food in the workplace
  • Events and panels surrounding tech ethics (tethics in the series), as well as women and diversity in tech
  • No matter how big you get, you’re easily forgotten once you lose momentum (remember RIM?)

What’s different in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor?

  • More diversity among tech workers (although it is still white male dominated)
  • Less reliance on venture capital and more on government grants
  • No social stigma regarding religion and smoking (although few tech workers smoke)
  • Craft beer and coffee are a core part of tech culture
  • Patent trolls aren’t common (due to the Canadian legal system)
  • Grocery shopping services were rarely used prior to the pandemic
  • Nobody goes on a vision quest in the desert (plus, we have no desert)
  • Tech bloggers have less influence
  • Fewer product launches and events, less showmanship at events in general
  • No congressional hearings regarding technology
  • No events like Burning Man (RussFest in the series)
  • We’re less likely to add a backdoor for the NSA in our software
  • Rich tech leaders (like Gavin in the series) are rarely seen as visionaries, or surrounded by sycophants

If you noted something else from the Silicon Valley series that relates to or differs from the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, send me an email and I’ll add it!