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silicon here and there
by Jill Terry

"When you buy a new car in Italy, people come out of their houses to see it"

Computers, technology, the Internet... Isn't the San Francisco Bay Area where it all happens?

Although this is the center of the universe from a technology perspective, most of us tend to forget computer companies exist worldwide. And Gabriele Sartori, a native Piedmontese, has not only worked with several of them, but he's operated his own computer business, as well.

After his childhood in Trivero (in the Biella province), and initial work activities in his hometown he went to work for a division of Olivetti in Taiwan. When Gabriele returned to Italy from Taiwan he opened his own company . Eventually, Gabriele returned to working full time at Olivetti as Director of Research & Development for the desktop PC-where he created Envision, a computer precursor of Web TV. That is what finally led to his migration to Silicon Valley, where he has served as Vice President of Opti, Director of Strategic and Technical Marketing for Quantum, and is currently the Director of Strategic Marketing for AMD (that's Advanced Micro Devices, for those of you who don't get around to reading PC World or Wired).

"money didn't come your way until you not only worked for it, but put in a bit of time" wondered: Are there any differences between working in the computer industry abroad (specifically in Italy) and Silicon Valley? Yes, there are a few, according to Gabriele. He is most struck by the differences in professionalism. As Research and Development Director for Olivetti in Italy during the early 1990's, he became accustomed to an environment with "a very serious corporate culture." People wore suits to work and there was a general understanding that money didn't come your way until you not only worked for it, but put in a bit of time. Today, Silicon Valley millionaires are so commonplace, they're barely newsworthy. And many of them don't own a suit!

"There's a lot of 'cowboy style' here," he continues. Cowboy style? That would be the swagger and over-confidence many of us, regardless of industry, have come to take for granted here on the American "prairie."

"My style is quieter. I would rather be liked and respected for my behavior and actions. I don't know if that's Italy's influence on me or something unique to my personality."

Though there's little difference between the work ethics of Silicon Valley and the major cities of Italy, he can't help but be aware of the uncertainty inherent in the many start-up businesses here. Job uncertainty was never much of an issue in his Italian working life. (Of course, recent changes at Olivetti in Italy may have rendered that security as tenuous as the merger-ravaged landscape here in America.)

"Italians... value friendship and interpersonal relations above anything"
What about cultural differences? Gabriele considers himself a "citizen of the world" yet identifies some clear similarities as well as differences between Italian and Bay Area lifestyles. "The Italians, and the Taiwanese, value friendship and interpersonal relations above anything." Except family, perhaps? Relations among people here in the United States seem much less personal.

"If I ask how you are," he explains, "I really want to know. Americans ask but don't really care. I think they are too busy!" He gets homesick thinking about the hours spent "just sitting around and talking with friends. I know it doesn't sound like much to Americans, but for me, the absence of that time is a painful adjustment."

Yet, it's that same distancing aspect of American life that also holds enormous appeal for Gabriele. "When you buy a new car in Italy, people come out of their houses to come see it. You may hate to buy anything because you know everybody is watching, ready to comment on how much you spent, what your financial status must be; everything that's none of their business! But here, you can buy whatever you want, and nobody pays much attention. They give you your privacy."

" taking a month off during the hottest time of the year is good for the soul"
The two countries seem to have divergent definitions on the term "enjoying life," Gabriele explains. "In America, you definitely make more money, but you don't get enough time off to enjoy it. Two or three weeks is not enough. In Italy, everything shuts down in August. Sure, it's terrible economically, but taking a month off during the hottest time of the year is good for the soul. This practice is dying somewhat as Italy becomes more of a service than an industrial society, but the Italians have become accustomed to a good amount of time away from work."

He prefers Italian schools to those his children attend in California, citing a disappointing lack in the overall quality of education here. And he wishes there wasn't so much emphasis on speed limits on our roads.

"Yes, I have a different driving style," he chuckles. "But despite all the fast movement on Italian roads, we don't have a high rate of mortal accidents. I think all the attention Americans pay to their speed limit prevents them from good driving habits"

see also
Piedmont - Piemonte
Silicon Here and There
King of Wine
Wine Glossary
Overall, Gabriele is comfortable and happy in the Bay Area. "Italians and their culture are welcome here. More so than in other countries, where discrimination is often very obvious. I am amazed at the variety of ethnic food that's available here, and I think it's indicative of a certain tolerance and acceptance of many cultures. Once you embrace a country's food, you're that much closer to accepting it's people!"

About the Author...
A San Francisco resident for sixteen years, writer Jill Terry (nee Conti) was born in Providence, Rhode Island to first generation Italian parents. Although she was educated in the finer points of gnocchi and heavy Italian pastry, she was far more immersed in American culture than Italian. She's built Italy up in her mind as such a phantasmagorical place than she has traveled everywhere around it without ever landing smack dab in it, for fear that Italy's reality will shatter her happy illusions. She hopes her involvement with not only will bring her closer to setting foot on Italian soil but put her in touch with Italians and Italian culture that she missed while watching Gilligan's Island as a child."


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