Earlier this week, I was asked by someone visiting the Bay Area how realistic the HBO show Silicon Valley is. Well, I just checked my site analytics and surprisingly, only 10% of my website visitors live in California*, so I’m going to pretend like the rest of you are deeply interested in my opinion because you don’t have a first-hand account. Also, I will completely avoid spoilers.
First, my credentials are that I regularly bike past the building that is used as the exterior shot for Pied Piper’s office (evidence from Google Maps). I also have been known to complain about some of the technical explanations in the show. Hopefully that’s sufficient proof.
So to answer the question, I would break down my answer into 2 primary parts. First, TV is supposed to be exciting and dramatic, so crazy stuff is happening to the Pied Piper team every episode. In reality, a startup doesn’t go through a potentially fatal problem on a weekly basis with hilarious outcomes that are often resolved in minutes. I criticize Silicon Valley for often resolving issues in a way such that no progress was made, but that actually might be accurate to the roller-coaster that startups can be.
A real startup probably has a handful of absurd events through its entire lifetime that are the stories that get passed around. Think of it like Full House or Everyone Loves Raymond: your family hopefully doesn’t have as much drama as they do, and usually problems aren’t resolved so easily. However, you have some funny stories about your siblings over years of growing up together that you bring out appropriately.
Second, the humor in the show comes from the totally absurd but also kind of familiar. I can’t say I have ever exactly encountered as dry as Gilfoyle or a buffoon like Bachman, but I am definitely familiar with the stereotypes they’re pushing. And there are a lot of interactions between engineers and non-engineers that aren’t quite as broken as on the TV show but seem possible. My usual feeling is that most situations haven’t happened to me exactly, but I could absolutely see it happening.
Overall, I would say that Silicon Valley is realistic and well-researched but obviously dramatized to make good television. As a software engineer, it’s nice to have a show ostensibly about me so I can critique the details of it. Now I understand what it’s like for doctors to watch House, police offers to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or zombie apocalypse survivors to watch The Walking Dead.
One more thing I want to address are the sets and offices. I don’t know what general perceptions are, but that’s definitely what SV tech offices looks like. The food trucks, open office layouts, and drink fridges are quite accurate for companies big and small here. I mention this because maybe a year ago, I read The Circle and looked up book reviews afterwards. Most of the critiques were fair, but I was surprised by the number of people who insisted that the descriptions of the office were totally ridiculous. Out of the anything in the book, I thought that the office descriptions were some of the most plausible details.
Hopefully that gives you more context on the show, and I hope you’re enjoying it. If you’re not watching Silicon Valley, I recommend it both because I think it’s worth the time and because it’s a good way to destress after Game of Thrones. And yes, I am assuming that you’re watching Game of Thrones because everyone is watching it.
*fun fact: in the last month, there are only 2 states from which I have 0 visitors: Alaska and South Dakota.