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Oli Littlejohn
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Oli Littlejohn
March 13, 2024
March 13, 2024

Reflections from Techscaler Silicon Valley

VP of R+D, Oli Littlejohn, shares musings on his week in San Francisco with Scottish tech founders

I just spent a week in San Francisco alongside a group of Scottish tech founders. CodeBase has been regular visitors for many years, as it’s part of our core values to be outward looking - and if you’re building a tech ecosystem, where better to look outwardly to?

This time we were there with a group of Scottish founders as part of the Techscaler San Francisco pop up - I thought I’d share a few of my own learnings from the trip.

San Francisco is coming back to life

San Francisco as a city suffered greatly during Covid. It became one of the main examples of what the world looks like when knowledge workers are given the option to work from home (or anywhere). People fled the city in droves for more affordable places where their quality of life was significantly improved. Downtown San Francisco, which is home to the headquarters of most of the apps on your home screen, was a bit of a ghost town.

But change is in the air. The streets look busy. I met so many people who had moved there - or moved back there - in the last year. In fact, many people I met were counting how long they’d been back in the city in weeks or months. But they were convinced they’re there to stay. It felt like two things were bringing people back:

  1. A concerted effort by local tech companies to make it an exciting place to be. Every night, various offices would open their doors for public meetups where you could come to learn and meet people. And these meetups had big names speaking at them - CEOs or founders of some of the most successful companies in tech. Very senior people (celebrity techies!) were making the time to support their local ecosystem. It got me thinking about how happy I am to live in a city where it’s easy to meet and connect with likeminded people. This stuff doesn’t just happen - it takes an ecosystem that is aligned and working together.
  2. AI.

AI is the thing

I know AI hype is everywhere, but holy moly is it on another level there. The thing that got me was the sheer volume of events - there were multiple choices of where to get your free meetup dinner every day. AI hackathons, AI for product, AI for marketers, GenAI showcases. Products built with AI. AI platforms. You name it, you can find your niche. So many conversations about what you can (or should) build with AI, the regulatory landscape, and ethical considerations. People talking with real nuance about it, but with that Silicon Valley enthusiasm running through the whole thing.

I don’t think I spoke to a single startup who wasn’t baking AI into their product. Every pitch I saw had a reference to how AI was going to support what they’re doing. The thinking there is that in the coming year people will likely stop saying their startup uses AI - it will just be assumed. It would be like saying you’re using software to build your product.

I don’t see that many community led AI events in Scotland - I spent a bit of time scanning through event listings back home to see if it was something I’d missed. I found a few AI meetups / conferences, but a lot of the time they were being put on by larger organisations. These are great, but what I’d love to see more of is activity that bubbles up from the community itself. If there’s anything I can personally do to help out here, just get in touch. I’m not an expert on AI, but I can organise a meetup, no bother.

Up until now, I’ve not really been on the AI hype train. I might be now, I’m not sure. I do use a couple of AI tools on a daily basis now, and they’ve become pivotal to a couple of my workflows. It was amazing how seamlessly they became part of my life. I think it’s hard not to see a sea change coming at this point.

Also, driverless cars being a totally normal thing in your daily life is 🤯

Ecosystem builders are doing God’s work

Touching down in a new city / country is really hard. If you’ve got a limited network, it can take months or years to find the people who share your interests, people you can truly connect with. And it normally takes a bit of a scattershot to find people to hang out with - in the run up to my trip I was putting out feelers on the various online communities that I’m part of to find people in the centre of the venn diagram of my interests.

What speeds this up greatly are the people who put in the hard work to make it easier to connect. As you can imagine, San Francisco is blessed with a surfeit of newsletters, meetups, and Discords that help bring people together. Subscribing to / checking these out in advance made everything to much easier to click into place when I got there.

So big shout out to all the people who make it easier to be new to the tech scene here in Scotland. The newsletter writers, the meetup organisers, the connectors - you know who you are. Everything we can do to reduce the barrier to entering the world of tech here in Scotland is incredibly valuable.

Mindset

This is my third trip to San Francisco, and each time I’ve found it really hard to come away without having my brain slightly rewired to greater ambition and action. When you’re surrounded by people who want to have a huge impact on the world, it’s hard for that not to infect you a little bit. I personally find the naked capitalism a bit grating, and the work life balance is generally pretty appalling. I spoke to a few people who quit their startups to stop working 60 - 70 hour weeks, and joined a scaleup so they only have to work 50 hour weeks.

I know this isn’t what I want in my life at this time. I’ve done it before, and I’m not ruling it out for the future. But I think it’s cool to see people who are really passionately pursuing their dreams - even if their dream is building enterprise SaaS software.

We need to normalise these trips for founders and for ecosystem builders. We need everyone to look beyond Scotland and understand our strengths and weaknesses. The more we can look at how other places do it and understand how that dovetails with what we do, the better. So hopefully we’ll be back to San Francisco soon.

If you'd like to learn more about our Techscaler Silicon Valley hub, become a Techscaler member and join our innovative and supportive community.

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