Most of the employees in the Valley are working in one of the many office buildings. Cubicles are standard although in some of the newer startups, particularly in San Francisco, totally open office layouts are popping up.
Emergency preparedness is part of the routine. It is prudent for offices to have emergency supplies of water and perhaps energy bars stored, as employees may not be able to return home after an earth quake if they live across one of the bridges. The office buildings are supposedly constructed to withstand an earth quake. San Francisco Airport is build on springs and wheels in order to "roll with the punches". In case of emergency - or training for an emergency - the whole building is emptied in no time. You may then appreciate if you always carry an extra umbrella and jacket in your trunk.
There is a general perception among employers that motivated people work because they love it - and that they just can't get enough of it. Supposedly this perception was fostered by the obsession with their work that some Bill Gates-types displayed when the computer industry was still young. This stereotype of socially akward nerds probably only applied to a minority, but their passion for their work was in the early 80's propagated by Tom Peters in "In Search of Excellence" 1, and since then management has almost competed over having the most "motivated" (read: overworked) work force.
On that subject there have been many cases where the rules about overtime payment have been before a judge. With the high salary paid to many of the engineers in the Valley it has been easy to assume, that with salaries at the same level as managers the same rules about overtime also applied. But it is the job description, not the salary, that determines if you are "exempt" from overtime payment.
On Fridays many offices have casual Friday. How it can get more casual is sometimes a miracle; shorts, pyjamas pants, and flip flops are seen about. This is a fine balance as employers at the same time have to assure that nobody feels intimidated, sexually harassed, or discriminated against. Jill in a camisole may seem more charming than Jack in a basket ball shirt.
Ties are not the norm in the Valley, except among lawyers and bankers (and perhaps if you have a meeting with a headhunter). Steve Jobs was famous for his black mock turtleneck sweater and jeans, Mark Zuckerberg for his "hoodie". This is totally different from on the East Coast so be flexible about your wardrobe if you work across the continent.
Websites like Linkedin.com are helpful if you want to contact somebody in the Valley. There are relatively few degrees of separation if you know a few key people. If your country of origin has an Innovation Center or Consulate around here, these people are a good place to start. Regardless if you already have arrived or try to do business in the Valley from abroad, chance is that the people you contact will check if your are "Linked In". Make sure to have calling cards, everybody exchanges them, and connect with the person while you still remember who they were and your connection feels personal. Americans are pretty good at accepting invitations - and markedly better than Danes. I don't know how private your people are in this regard.
As a general rule, assume that you know nothing about people's past and don't "judge the books by the covers". The professor might have arrived as a refugee, the hippie is perhaps a millionaire from his last start up, taking a break from the rat race. Carly Fiorina, former CEO for Hewlett-Packard, was a historian by education, my neighbor likewise - albeit she also has a degree in math and works with IT at Stanford. After six months we learned that the kids' self defense teacher held five World Champignon-ships in kick boxing. The odd fellow you just dismissed might have been the investor you needed - or a Nobel laureate.
Many of us have benefited from the ”pass it on” philosophy that seems to permeate the Valley. If some experienced insider helped you get started or made some contacts for you, reach out to newcomers and new entrepreneurs if you can contribute to their success. It helps making the cake bigger for everybody.