About here: A German in Silicon Valley (1)

My name is Fabian and I am a graduate student from Germany. Technically, I am enrolled in the International Information Systems masters program at the FAU in Southern Germany for the summer term. Actually, I took a semester off for working in Silicon Valley in the summer of 2017.
I would like to share my impressions and experiences with prospective Valley interns, students interested in working here & simply all people being interested in just another Silicon Valley report (not a big group of folks, I guess). 

What do I want to tell you?

A few years ago I read a Spiegel (offline) article about the notorious place of Silicon Valley with clear messages:

Loose money.
Crazy pioneers.
Silicon Valley eats the world (economy).

In my opinion, the obvious menacing undertone of this message can be ascribed to a (now apparently stereotypic) German attitude: angst.

But wait! I am pretty sure you just wanted to quit this page since this does sound like another
“Man, Germany simply does not understand startups/entrepreneurship/[INSERT-TERMS-THAT-THE-BUSINESS-UNDERGRADUATES-FROM-YOUR-UNIVERSITY-ARE-USING-RECENTLY]”
Let me tell you: It’s not.

Instead of doing that, I will try to tell you about the (working) life in the bay area from a subjective (obviously) but rational perspective of a young student.
Since this place (spoiler alert) actually can be a pretty cool place to live & work (terms and conditions may apply, please continue reading), I will also try to give information about the possibilities to come here for an internship or even a full time employment.

Who am I?

I am 23 years old and I recently graduated from FAU with a B.Sc. in Information Systems, now pursuing my masters degree in the same with focus on Digitalization & Software Product Management. “Information Systems” means I can be considered something in between a business and a computer science student. Since I only worked in Software Development so far, I would consider myself as 75% tech nerd and 25% wanna-be-businessman.

About here: the Company

It’s my 11th week in Sunnyvale (the “ugly” brother of Palo Alto, Mountain View and Cupertino), where I am interning as a Software Engineer at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America (yes, that’s the full name) or just MBRDNA.

Even though Sunnyvale is little known compared to the other famous places around it, there are quite a lot big companies located there. LinkedIn, Mozilla and some Apple facilities are just a few bike minutes from my apartment, not considering countless smaller businesses in some shared office spaces. Regardless of countless, mostly latin working class people (cleaners, Uber drivers, etc.), there are basically three types of people that coin the whole Silicon Valley scenery:
Designers, Techies and Business People.
Almost everyone you see here is below the age of 40 and probably makes around 120-140K USD per year (Sounds like a lot of money? Wait for  the post about the Cost of Living). Everyone you come across in the streets, you can be sure to spot a badge somewhere on that person. Gentrification seems to have killed something like a “professional diversity”, since everyone is somehow working in tech companies here.

Mercedes R&D Headquarter in Sunnyvale

Even though MBRDNA is a rather small company with approx. 300 employees in Sunnyvale (06/2017), the campus is quite nice. There are free drinks and free snacks, as well as very cheap lunch. Even if this can be considered the bottom line for Google, Facebook & Co., I think it is quite noticeable to be offered those benefits in a rather small company. Obviously, MBRDNA cannot hide its German roots, which leads to a high amount of German employees. Nevertheless, the primary language spoken here is English.

Since I am working in R&D, I cannot disclose exact information about my field of work. Basically, I work as a Software Engineer, mainly with technologies like C++ and different JavaScript Frameworks. Besides coding, there are also some (interaction) design aspects which I am responsible for, which was a completely new topic to me. But I will describe things like working culture, working times, etc. in later posts.

About here: Internships

Interning in the bay area is pretty different from interning in Germany. It is not considered to be a job “trial”, but can rather be considered a probation time before starting as a full time employee (FTE). It is common to intern right after graduation, whereas in Germany interns are mostly active students. Therefore you can see a lot of masters and even Ph.D. students interning at big companies. I live with a Ph.D. student from ETH Zurich, a Machine Learning/AI crack also working at MBRDNA – It’s crazy how many (really) smart people you meet around here.

Me when I read the title of my roommate’s master thesis:


Since everyone already heard about the crazy salaries for interns in the Valley, interning seems to be a quite rewarding activity. And even though most of the professionals here complain about the extremely high cost of basically everything, an intern salary can actually buy you a pretty decent lifestyle here (especially considering that small companies like MBRDNA pay significantly less than the big players, I can only imagine what Facebook interns are doing on their weekends).

Probably sums up the lifestyle of some Facebook interns:


When it comes to working effort, interns usually get the same amount of work load that FTEs is given. It is expected to have a certain level of qualification in what you are doing, so all interns (at least I know) already bring quite significant work experience in their particular field. Since in many cases your work results are actually relevant for your supervisors/the company, they are expected to have professional quality. Even though this sounds like a lot of work and even more pressure, I think that the general working atmosphere automatically pushes you to work harder and more rigorous than you usually do (=> if everyone around you is working hard to achieve their goals, you will certainly follow them).


Up Next

That’s it for the moment, I will try to update this blog on a weekly basis. Next time I want to write a little bit about weekend activities, try to describe the working culture and go into details about the cost of living.

Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed it!

[read part 2]


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