Aspirational Living

Silicon Valley’s ‘Hacker Hostels’: America’s Next Top Model, But for Startups?

Anti-status symbols for the new American dream.
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Less catfights, more coding.

In the New York Times today, Brian X. Chen covers the proliferation of “hacker hostels,” in Silicon Valley. These non-descript, sparsely-furnished buildings codify everything that that tech industry likes to valorize about the ascetic life of a young founder. Don’t believe us? The accompanying slideshow actually features an artfully-arranged photograph of Ramen noodle packets . . . on a bunk bed.

At this point, noodle packets and cramped quarters are almost (anti)-status symbols. This is paying your dues before the pampering and perks kick in

These are not so different from crowded apartments that cater to immigrants. But many tenants are here not so much for the cheap rent — $40 a night — as for the camaraderie and idea-swapping.

Cheap is relative. At $40/night (or $1,200/month) that’s more than I’m paying for rent in New York City. But part of the appeal is being surrounded by people all striving to make it in the same industry as you.

Each Chez JJ house has a different vibe. The Mountain View house tends to be oriented toward start-ups, with many of the residents working on new apps or Web sites. They try out their sales talks on one another before pitching investors.

Aside from the coworking and the self-described nerdiness, however, it sounds like a romanticized version of, say, a tiny Manhattan apartment with a rotating stream of models or a seedy Hollywood apartment complex populated by actors hoping for their first big break. Of course, until some producer greenlights “America’s Next Top Coder”–Paul Graham as Tyra Banks?–there’s just as little guarantee of a prize at the end of your stay.

Wasn’t someone just saying something about Silicon Valley success being the new American dream?

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com