Future

A Whirlwind Tour Of Silicon Valley's Most Over-The-Top Headquarters

From Twitter to Dropbox to Airbnb, where office life is the good life.

Google HQ's games room
Google HQ's games room
Marco Bardazzi

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s 7 p.m. in a building near AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants baseball team plays. In a big open space, a gaggle of 20-somethings are lounging on comfortable couches, maneuvering their videogame joysticks in front of a monumental screen on the wall. A little further down, four more people are dancing in sync with the music blasting at full volume.

Meanwhile, around the corner, dozens more are noisily cramming around tables as chefs in white uniforms prepare a variety of dishes for them with the freshest ingredients — at no cost of course. Just a few steps away, at the very same moment, others are typing in code at the latest generation of Apple workstations, designed for both standing and sitting at your keyboard.

These are just scenes of an ordinary day at the offices of the digital revolution in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and New York’s Silicon Alley. In this particular case, we’re at the headquarters of Dropbox, the company that has made it easy to collect and share large files in the cloud. With 200 million users worldwide (4 million of them companies), Dropbox is valued at a cool $8 billion, and could be the newest sensation on the stock market if it goes public.

View from Dropbox HQ. Photo by tattoomon via Instagram

Dropbox gave its employees a turkey carving demo — Photo by glofishh via Instagram

Photo by jarjarfrank via Instagram

Just a few blocks away from the Dropbox office, the same college-like atmosphere (where you get the feeling you can inhale the energy) fills Twitter HQ, after the social media giant"s recent debut on Wall Street estimated its worth at $25 billion.

Twitter HQ. Photo by jennysahm via Instagram

#OfficeEnvy — Photo by fidelikado via Instagram

It's lunchtime at Twitter — Photo by eugeneson via Instagram

Photo by mechanicalboy via Instagram

Looking at the astronomical financials, it’s not surprising that digital companies do everything to pamper and spoil their employees — particularly their precious young engineers. The best places to work in America have become amusement parks, with tons of free food to suit every palate, bars in every corner brimming with booze, and spaces to relax, dream, and have fun so everyone can unload their stress.

Twitter's rooftop garden — Photo by kevry88 via Instagram

The competition among programmers is unfettered, thanks to a shortage of highly trained talent. The high-tech companies have asked the Obama administration to raise the number of H-1B work permits for these super-qualified personnel; currently it stands at 65,000 people per year, but there have been 280,000 requests so far this year.

At Airbnb HQ — Photo by rebeccajsinclair via Instagram

Because of this, the companies that get their hands on the right engineers do everything to convince them to stay: The net entry salary is around $125,000, not to mention the benefits — the best medical insurance, free access to workout gyms, shuttle buses with Wi-Fi on board for the commutes to work, as well as an unlimited range of the latest high-tech gadgets.

Space to work at Mountain View — Photo by carlitamia via Instagram

Game time at Google — Photo by mikedamkas via Instagram

Leading the way was Google, who provided their employees with mini kitchens, as well as maxi restaurants, full of free food. Walk around their Mountain View campus and you’ll see more than just young faces everywhere. Volleyball courts and ping pong tables, organic gardens, seating areas with pianos and colorful bikes everywhere, available to all. There are even washing machines so you can bring your laundry to work.

Google's bikes — Photo by mstachebakeacake via Instagram

At the headquarters of the social networking site, Pinterest, there are board games set up in front of all the sofas. “And, if anyone wants to bring in their dogs to the office, they’re welcome to,” says Barry Schnitt, head of communications for the company.

Photo by tommyboyt1 via Instagram

At Airbnb, the site that rents rooms and flats in 192 countries around the world, the meeting rooms are constructed to recreate some of their most popular apartments on offer: In just a minute you’re catapulted into the warm atmosphere of a living room in Bali, a bright kitchen in Reykjavik, or a loft in Milan.

Photo by brunogalo via Instagram

In Menlo Park, Facebook has its own little autonomous city — ethnic restaurants, mini markets and even repair shops for the ubiquitous bikes. Not too far away, they’re building Facebook 2, which will be even more fantastic.

Photo by mzaferyahsi via Instagram

Flipboard, another company on the rise, has its offices in a strategic spot in downtown Palo Alto, where programmers all enjoy discounts in every store.

Photo by flipboard via Instagram

The atmosphere is a little more sober at Apple in Cupertino, where employees nonetheless also enjoy bountiful benefits and bonuses. But not even in the company founded by Steve Jobs does anyone seem ready to reign in spending.

Photo by chicagopunch via Instagram

Apple is about to start work on building a new headquarters in the shape of a circular spaceship where 14,000 people will work. If you need a rough idea of the size and scale of this, just think that the park on the inside of the ring could fit the entire Pentagon building.

Photo by ssleung via Instagram

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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