An Interview With Valley Speak Authors Rochelle Kopp and Steve Ganz


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Rochelle Kopp and Steve Ganz are the co-authors of the book Valley Speak: Deciphering the Jargon of Silicon Valley; here is a link to their website:


Q: What inspired you to write Valley Speak?


Rochelle:  It was originally a suggestion from someone I know in the Japanese publishing industry. I had published a general introduction to U.S. business buzzwords for Japanese businesspeople, and he thought that a Silicon Valley-specific version would be helpful for all the Japanese coming to do business here. The publisher of the first book agreed it was a great idea. I asked Steve to work on it with me, and soon into the research we realized that there wasn’t any guide to Silicon Valley jargon in English, so we thought let’s do this book in English too.


Steven: I was happy to work with Rochelle on this project, because I think there’s a real need for this sort of resource.  People have trouble learning the jargon.  Also, although the way people here talk can sometimes be humorous, there’s a lot of value in how things are done in the community here, and I’d like to see more people be part of that.



Q:  With as rapidly as technology changes, isn’t it awfully hard to keep up with valley speak?


Rochelle:  It’s very hard. Steve and I are both news junkies, we do a ton of reading to keep up on what’s going on and new words emerging. Our house has way too many piles of magazines and newspapers laying around.


Steven: What’s hard to keep up with is the technology.  Knowing the language makes following the technology as well as the culture easier.  And not knowing the language makes it harder to grasp the underlying ideas and issues.  So although learning the vocabulary may seem like an imposing task, we think it’s the easiest way to get oriented to what’s going on here.



Q:  You had a successful Kickstarter campaign for this book. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own Kickstarter campaign?


Steven: Don’t underestimate the amount of work required.  It takes a lot of effort to set everything up, and much more effort to promote it.  It would be nice if merely being on their site were sufficient to get the word out, but I don’t think it usually works that way.


Rochelle:  Doing a Kickstarter was a great experience, but it was very time consuming. Be prepared to sink a lot of energy into it. Social media is very important, and looking back on it I would have gotten our social media accounts, especially Twitter, up and running much farther in advance so that we would have had more runway to get the word out about our project.



Q:  What kind of day jobs do you guys have and how does it influence your creative work?


Steven: I’m developing a technology startup called Teamifier that will provide a new way for people to work together in generating ideas.  I do consider that to be creative work—every bit as creative as the book, which is mostly documenting existing language and ideas, although doing so in our own way.


Rochelle: I’m self-employed as a management consultant, working with Japanese companies doing business in the U.S. and American firms doing business in Japan. I speak fluent Japanese and lived and worked in Tokyo for several years. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I do a lot of writing in my work whether it’s reports or emails or books—I’ve done a bunch of books aimed at helping Japanese businesspeople do business in the U.S. This project is fun for me because it’s breaking out of my usual niche to do something that is aimed at a broader audience.



Q:  Why should I want to speak like a Silicon Valley insider?


Rochelle: You would probably only want to speak like one if you were doing business here. But since Valley Speak is creeping into business vocabulary overall, it’s helpful to know for understanding business coverage in the news media and more and more general business conversations.


Steven: There are cliques in any environment, and we all bond through common understanding and experience, so yes, speaking like an insider is most important if you’re working with people here.  But the most fundamental answer is that if you don’t know the language, you don’t get to have a voice in the relevant discussions.



Q:  You each have a very impressive educational background. (Rochelle graduated from The University of Chicago and Steven from Wharton.) What elements do you think are essential for a good business school?


Steven: Business doesn’t change as fast as technology, but it does change, and often because of technology.  For example, crowdfunding wasn’t even part of the curriculum when we were studying business, but with the advent of websites like Kickstarter and Circleup it has become an important element in the set of tools by which startups get funded and its rules are changing quickly now.  The most important things for education to provide are a basis for gathering more information, and a network of people who can help each other as you confront new challenges.  This is true in business and in other fields as well.  Schools are increasingly seeing themselves as providing value to a more diverse group over a longer time frame.  Our book covers some of the recent advances in education, including MOOCs, which allow many more people to benefit from instruction.


Rochelle: Right now there is a lot of soul-searching going on among business schools about that exact question. I got my MBA back in the time of a more “classic” curriculum, and it wasn’t as practical as I had hoped it would be. In response to these concerns, business schools have been experimenting recently with more hands-on, applied classes and other ways to make sure they are relevant. I think an ideal business school curriculum would include good grounding in the concepts of business (like marketing, accounting, financial analysis, etc.), interpersonal skills polishing, and labs for getting real-world experience. But I’m not sure whether one really needs to go to business school today in order to get those — one could probably learn a lot of the same things with a combination of some MOOCs and volunteer work, or doing a startup and going through an accelerator. It depends what your goals are. There are still some jobs that you have to have an MBA for though.



Q:  How realistic is the show Silicon Valley?


Steven: Some of the plot elements have parallels in things that have happened in real life—a VC did actually compare protests against and demonization of the rich in the U.S. to the Nazi persecution of Jews, and an Apple engineer left an iPhone prototype at a bar not far from where we live.  So sometimes, fiction really can’t do any better than fact. Dan Lyons, a Silicon Valley writer, recently wrote a non-fiction book about his experience working at a tech startup, which makes that point quite clearly.


Many of the concepts that are covered in the series are quite realistic.  Of course, the rapidity with which they are experienced on TV surpasses even Silicon Valley’s fast-moving standard.


Rochelle: Indeed, the writers do take a lot of pains to make the story reflect the things that really happen here. But the way the story lines play out is often over-the-top and exaggerated.  I loved Sex and the City, and I think that Silicon Valley has a similar kind of humor—take something realistic and then blow it out of proportion until it’s hilarious, but still has that grain of truth.


What often does seem extremely realistic though are the details. Some of the things that the guys on the show do — like correcting someone’s word usage mid-sentence or being very particular about picking just the right lemon off a tree — are not unusual for detail-oriented, logical programmers and Steve definitely tends to do things like that! Dinesh and Gilfoyle in particular really feel like people I’ve met in real life.


Steven: All of the startups I’ve been involved with have been far more professional than the one portrayed in the show, but they also had older founders.  I’d also say that some of the extreme competitiveness portrayed, although real, is only telling half the story.  Most people here really do want to make the world a better place and often do collaborate openly; I don’t think that aspect gets across in the show (probably because it wouldn’t make for as good entertainment).



Q:  What are some of the biggest mistakes you see newbies make when they first come to Silicon Valley?


Rochelle:  Silicon Valley is filled with fascinating people who have lots of interesting ideas. A newcomer can easily be bedazzled by that. The thing is, a lot of those people who sound so great are just good talkers, and might not have a lot of substance or follow-through behind the shiny exterior. You have to be careful.


Steven: Well, an obvious one is the dress.  It’s very casual here.  Knowing what to wear may be even harder than knowing what to say!


Rochelle: Maybe that will be our next book! Silicon Valley Style (or lack thereof)!


Steven: More generally, there’s a mixing of personal and professional life that may not be obvious to those from outside.  And just because something looks casual, it isn’t necessarily. It’s important for newcomers to keep in mind that meetings in coffee shops can be every bit as important as those in offices.



Q:  What is the oddest thing you have heard anyone say in a meeting?


Steven: As is common in Silicon Valley, we do various forms of work and have done other joint projects together in the past.  In a meeting with a prospective recruiting client, we were once asked how we find candidates—presumably to enable them to go around us and do it themselves!  This was clearly an attempt at the sort of “brain rape” portrayed on the TV show.


Rochelle: Needless to say, we avoided answering that one.


Q:  Please tell me how I can best promote my blog in Valley Speak.


Rochelle & Steven: is where rockstars, ninjas, gurus, and thought leaders share their game-changing artistic ideas and define their personal brands. Eliza’s interview questions are the secret sauce that help the blog reach a huge Total Addressable Market. It’s where you need to go to get the scoop on the latest content that is poised to go viral!

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.


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