Accepts and listens to Quora criticism

The dark side of Silicon Valley: Teenager reports what he experienced there every day

Pincasso / ShutterstockThis text by Kalvin Lam, a teenager from Silicon Valley, was written in a forum at Quora. There, users discussed the following question: "What is the dark side of Silicon Valley?"

Silicon Valley is home to the smartest engineers, the coolest new technologies, and the most promising salaries. At the same time you will find the most performance-oriented grammar schools and schools there.

Let's look at the school ratings in America: Unsurprisingly, six of the top 20 schools are in Silicon Valley. Monta Vista (# 15), Mission San Jose (# 18), Lynbrook (# 7), Gunn (# 12), Leland (# 20) and Harker (# 2).

In many of these schools you would be in the underperforming half of the class with an average below 1.7 (3.5 American GPA) (especially in the academic power houses Gunn, Monta Vista and Harker).

In other schools, sport plays a bigger role, but high performance is still expected (Bellamine, Los Gatos, Mitty). Students are generally expected to be talented in many areas.

Justin Sullivan / Getty ImagesThe numbers from these schools are just incredible. Harker has accepted 173 students at the elite Berkeley University in the past three years. In 2015 alone, 43 percent of Harker's applicants were accepted at Berkeley (69 of 162 applicants).

These are impressive numbers for what is supposedly the best university in the world. Mission San Jose had a 29 percent admission rate in Berkeley. Sure, this comparison isn't the best measure of success and performance, but it does show a small part of the big picture.

My school, Evergreen Valley, is in the middle of the field here in Silicon Valley, but it works like a small microcosm of the Palo Alto / Cupertino area. You can tell from our admission rate to the elite universities.

This year 32 of our students are going to Berkeley and four to Stanford. That's great, but at what price?

Underlying all of these excellent numbers and phenomenal extracurricular activity is a culture of chronic overwork and perpetual competition.

Everyone takes part in the competition - who gets the best scholarship? Who gets the fullest schedule? Who can show the best, most prestigious summer camps? Even in school, everyone competes against everyone else - who can work the hardest? Who sleeps the least and still only has ones? Who can do anything? Who can be a member of most clubs?

When I look at it like that, it feels like a race to nowhere. Here are a few features that distinguish Silicon Valley schools from others:

Students fear failure

That sounds paradoxical. I mean, we live in fucking Silicon Valley. Home to entrepreneurship, risk and problem solver.

No, not really - the school works differently. We do what we do best. You play piano? Keep doing. Can you dance? Do that.

Don't try yourselves - don't you know that with university applications it is important that you finish what you started?

Why should you try and fail when you can do what you're talented at and become exceptional at it? Isn't the meaning of life to be accepted at university?

The competition is stiff

We are ambitious, we are talented and we work hard - there is no doubt about that. We start businesses and publish books and are known nationally for our after-school activities as we work on our 1.0 average. But all of this comes at a price.

The majority of society rates us based on our performance metrics here in Silicon Valley. I can't even get the number of times my parents asked me about my grade point average and which university I am going to.

Your perception of me depends solely on my performance. I would like to tell you that these superficialities don't define me - that I am more than school grades.

Impossible deadline overload

There are children here whose schedules are fuller than those of a corporate boss. After school, there are two to three hours of sports.

An instrument must then be practiced for one to two hours. Dinner is then like a little break. An hour of food, an hour of homework, and already to bed at nine o'clock? Not really.

Those who attend five AP courses (university-level school courses that are offered in the USA and Canada for under-challenged students) also have a lot more homework to do. Anyone running clubs with extracurricular activities must prepare for the next meetings.

Where is the time to relax? Time for things that you can just enjoy? We are engrossed in a mindset that happiness and tranquility must be shifted.

Our mentality is, “I work hard now so I can enjoy life later. It's okay if it's not fun now because it will make me all the better later. ”But where does that end? Those who are caught in this vicious circle often have no idea what really matters in life.

The only thing I want to suggest to teenagers in Silicon Valley is that they should enjoy their time. Be ambitious, work hard, be everything you want - but don't forget to pause in between and pay attention to the beautiful things in life. Because what is life without joy?


- Translated by John Stanley Hunter -