How to Get Started in the San Francisco Tech Scene

Taken from the bowels of my Formspring page, where you really can ask me anything. [tweetmeme source=”jolieodell” only_single=false]

If you were new in town, weren’t a writer for an important blog or magazine, and wanted to get to really understand the Startup Scene, What places/events would you go?

Oh, that was the case with me in 2008 and 2009, definitely!

The best startup events in my experience for absolute noobs are the SF New Tech monthly showcases and Brian Zisk‘s events (which this year have involved money/startups and music/technology).

Those are good places to get your foot in the door, meet some great people, and hear some really good ideas. And you’ll be playing with friendly people who might be more at your own level, in all likelihood; you won’t necessarily be in over your head.

From there, it all depends on your skill set. If you don’t have one, well, enjoy handing out your business card and never forming any deeper relationships with people. But if you’re an investor, a hacker, or an entrepreneur, make sure you let people know *right away* how you can benefit them, how they can help you, and what you’re trying to get out of Silicon Valley.

People around here don’t have a lot of time to waste on casual conversation or small talk with strangers, but they love making truly valuable connections, both for themselves and for others. Networking and favor-trading are a high art, from what I’ve seen so far.

So, once you go to a couple events and you can establish that you 1) have something of value to contribute to the community and/or 2) have a definite, clear reason for being in Silicon Valley, you’ll likely be invited to more events that are specifically designed for your type of work. You might be invited to a startup founders-only dinner or a hackers-only drinkup. You might get wind of another small mixer or conference coming up, or you might get asked to stop by a coworking space.

Accept all invitations until you have so much work that you don’t have time to. You can meet an incredibly wide variety of people in this way and hopefully become a good connector, yourself.

And finally, use your best judgement socially. Don’t drink too much (or at all) at events. Don’t be too awkward or shy, and don’t be too loud or talk too much about yourself. Don’t flirt or give the appearance of flirting. Don’t make assumptions about who someone is or what he does. And as tempting as it is and as much as others might do it, don’t shit-talk anyone. It’ll always get back around to the subject of your gossip. These last bits have all been learned through my own painful experiences; you can have them gratis.

Go ahead. Ask me anything.

10 thoughts on “How to Get Started in the San Francisco Tech Scene

  1. I’m very new to the San Francisco Tech Scene, but my experience has been nothing but positive. I think people are actually really interested in networking to harness social capital, and also in that special magic that comes when you bring interesting, creative and intelligent people together. I find myself having some of the most interesting conversations with people I am “networking”, although I do think I need to work on making sure that my bubbly nature doesn’t come off as flirtatious…

  2. Agree with @courtenaybird…Startup Digest is a good source of events, but let’s not also discount the power of Plancast and social media tools to help get people connected to find events. Brian Zisk throws some wicked cool parties and conferences and SF New Tech is the premiere place to go to find out what startups are doing. I, for one, have had this same problem when I first moved here 2 years ago and a few months ago, I’ve pieced together a bunch of tech events happening in SF that may be of interest:

    Also, Cassie Phillips has a calendar and weekly email newsletter that also has some new events that you might not find on Startup Digest. Usually those two throw in discount codes and whatnot so it would be advisable to check them out:

    Love the advice…I pretty much took it to heart when I first came here. Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for the shoutout, Ken – and a great post Jolie!

      It’s an incredibly friendly industry for the most part, I’ve found, but you definitely need to be a proactive individual who is ready to get out of their shell. Even if it’s just one person you meet at each event, make it a good one. Talk to them, get to know them, ask if they know anyone there that they think is cool. Each time you go back, you’ll meet a few more; it grows exponentially.

  3. Hey Jolie!

    Somehow, your most-awesome endorsement of SF New Tech slipped right by me! Thank you VERY much. We’re here to serve … and are thrilled to help startups succeed.

    What was once just a little community gathering has turned into a full-fledged driving force for the startup economy here in the Bay Area (and beyond) and we couldn’t pull it off with out the guiding light from angels like you. Thanks again!

    Hope to see you soon. Cheers!


    PS: If you’re at a startup and want to demo at SF New Tech, please tell us all about what you’re working on at

  4. Great article! I couldn’t have read this at a more timely moment. It’s the eve of my first tech event. See ya at Music Tech Summit!

  5. Moved up about a year ago and immediately felt at home learned the ropes quickly and learned more in 6 months before I started a company. Than I had in 2 years of running my own company In San Diego. One thing I learned was to hit up Noisebridge it may be in the mission but the art groups there are completely worth the trip. for people outside the city has a full list of local hackerspaces my favorite being hacker dojo in Mt view I also hear good things from Dr. Jesus about his new hackerspace in Alameda.


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