Know thy user, and thy user doesn’t live in Silicon Valley

On a recent road trip through what is called the Greater Los Angeles Area two things immediately stood out. First, the large number of billboards dedicated to promoting movies, TV shows, cable shows, musicians, and awards shows for all of the above. Second, that there are movie theaters everywhere, from strip malls to main streets, from single screen to multiplexes. Well, that’s what it seemed like to an outsider. (In fact, a quick Google map search for “movie theater” in the LA area showed a total of 818 where in the Bay Area the total was only 300!)

Coming home I tried to find signs that we live in the tech capital of the world. It’s easy to find them when you’re looking. Driving down 101 you see everyone who is everyone in tech: Evernote, eBay, Microsoft, Zynga, Salesforce, Yahoo! and many more can all be seen from the highway. The billboard ads are for new apps, established giants and also as pleas to hire software engineers.

When I look at LA as the capital of the entertainment industry, I see a vacuous, vain group, focused on giving itself awards and working hard to maintain a glamorous image. When I look back at the tech industry, I see a world that may be too caught up in it’s own hype. As product managers, we need to stop looking at ourselves and our peers in Silicon Valley as our users. We’re all early adopters, use leading edge hardware, and are power users in whatever we adopt. 

We are not our users.

As a final, anecdotal observation I offer this: here in the Valley I’ve seen hundreds of Tesla Model S cars and other electric cars like the Leaf. I’ve seen car chargers everywhere from malls to employee parking lots to public parking lots. In all of LA, I saw two Teslas and no chargers. See how much faster we adopt new, expensive gadgets?

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