I would say more, but I signed an NDA.
April 26, 2016 12:40 AM   Subscribe

Uncanny Valley. "Morale is down.. We are making plenty of money, but the office is teeming with salespeople: well-groomed social animals with good posture and dress shoes, men who chuckle and smooth their hair back when they can’t connect to our VPN. Their corner of the office is loud; their desks are scattered with freebies from other start-ups, stickers and koozies and flash drives. We escape for drinks and fret about our company culture. “Our culture is dying,” we say gravely, apocalyptic prophets all. “What should we do about the culture?”"
posted by PercussivePaul (62 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was well-written and recognizable as something a lot like reality.
posted by brennen at 1:59 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm amped for work now! *fist bump*
posted by ejoey at 2:06 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Very engaging writing. Thoroughly enjoyed that, though I hate SF and tech even more now.
posted by brokkr at 2:24 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I found that really bleak and materialistic.
posted by loquacious at 2:39 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I tell everyone I can’t do it, which is a lesser evil than not wanting to. In this environment, my lack of interest in learning JavaScript feels like a moral failure.
[...]
This is a cozy home for believers in bootstrapping and meritocracy, proponents of shallow libertarianism. I am susceptible to it, too. “He just taught himself to code over the summer,” I hear myself say one afternoon, with the awe of someone relaying a miracle.


This is hitting close to home. Well-written.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:48 AM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


As an utter outsider to the tech field, I thought this was fascinating, and a solid reminder to never, ever enter the tech field.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:57 AM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


This is scarily on the nose for the "start up + 2 years growth" company I just joined (I wonder if there's a term for that-- "second gear start up" maybe?).

There are a few women, but most of the attendees are young men in start-up twinsets: I pass someone wearing a branded hoodie, unzipped to reveal a shirt with the same logo.

twinsets -- perfect.
posted by travertina at 3:57 AM on April 26, 2016 [24 favorites]


My wife and I both work in tech and we get asked why we don't move to Silicon Valley fairly often and this article captures a lot of the reasons why. Also the serious lack of $200k four bedroom houses out there.
posted by octothorpe at 4:49 AM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Buh blah blah blah blah buzzblahword blah blahblahblah....

Christ, I hate autocorrect...
posted by y2karl at 4:52 AM on April 26, 2016


This is a beautifully written dull whine.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 5:04 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


The story I read seems to be different than what others have read but I feel like it really spoke to me: "Error establishing a database connection."
posted by teh_boy at 5:05 AM on April 26, 2016 [52 favorites]


I don't work in Silicon Valley, and I read that article and still found a lot of it resonant. At least it was close enough that my initial feelings were sympathy for the author rather than smugness.
posted by bl1nk at 5:08 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Mirror because it appears to have been Hugged to Death

Only a thin wrapper
posted by Hasteur at 5:33 AM on April 26, 2016


Maybe because I live and work in San Francisco my initial reaction was "Aw, ain't that cute - N+1 just discovered the dot.com world."
posted by twsf at 5:34 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Google cache
posted by Hasteur at 5:37 AM on April 26, 2016


Can confirm. Even weirder to me, though, are the established companies who put on, cargo-cult-like, the trappings and attitudes of a startup. You don't need to work on a hollow-core door set on sawhorses and have a foosball table to be a going concern, not when you've had paying customers for fifteen years.

It's all so strange.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 5:55 AM on April 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


"This rings pretty true for NYC tech as well" is something I would say if I ever worked in a similar company, which you cannot prove I did.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:03 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I thought this was beautifully written and conveys the soul-killing tragedy of all this so well.
posted by latkes at 6:10 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not too far off from the DC start up scene either. More conservative here because the primary customer is usually the government, and they look askew at too much extravagance, but the attitude is the same.
posted by COD at 6:39 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Aw, ain't that cute - N+1 just discovered the dot.com world."

So this has always bugged me, shouldn't that be pronounced 'dot dot com'?
posted by beerperson at 7:00 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Or spelled "dot-com", as it often is.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:03 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


No, it's correctly pronounced "dot-decimal point-com."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:18 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


What is going on with this DNS error? I'm starting to be worried n+1 was taken out like a surgical hit by this start up.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:45 AM on April 26, 2016




Enjoying Anna Wiener's back catalog.
posted by latkes at 7:51 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


They know their site is down.
posted by vacapinta at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2016


"It’s like watching two ATMs in conversation."

I've been to that event.
posted by thatone at 8:36 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


The internet is choked with blindly ambitious and professionally inexperienced men giving each other anecdote-based instruction and bullet-point advice.

This is also nearly every single speaker at any local dev/startup/incubator/TedX conference thing I've been too. My favourite was a Senior UX (4 years out of college) guy who spoke for 20 mins about 'getting shit done' on a panel, crowding out what turned out the older, very unassuming CEO who owned 50% of a 20 year old listed fintech company employing 1,000 people
posted by Damienmce at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


This feels like me writing dispatches from the darkest timeline (where I also finished college and am a better writer).

My actual trajectory seems pretty close, though -- I thought I was having a hard time in tech cuz I sucked at being a techie writery kinda gal.
posted by tilde at 9:25 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


It read like Bright Lights, Big City but with fewer drugs.
posted by gsh at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


The internetThe world is choked with blindly ambitious and professionally inexperienced men giving each other anecdote-based instruction and bullet-point advice.

FTFeveryone. Maybe minus the bullet-points in some fields. I found myself recently unexpectedly distilling 15 years of professional experience trying to project-manage academics* "This," I said to colleagues, "is what happens when these people have no idea what they are doing, know they have no idea what they are doing, but can't admit they have no idea what they are doing." It creates verbal diarrhea, endless wordsmithing of every "and" that maybe should be an "or" no wait it should definitely be "and/or", and a complete, absolute certainty that whatever dribbles out of their mouth is very important, very serious, and absolutely the last word in [whatever]. Until they completely contradict themselves at the next meeting. I've now seen it over and over and over again. It's a defense mechanism deployed by people who consider themselves Very Smart (who may, in fact, be Very Smart) who suddenly find themselves trying to do something that deep down they have an inkling that they may not actually know much about or be very good at.


* This is a uniquely frustrating pastime as you, the de facto project manager--a title that no one in academia would ever deign to give to staff, yet a job that gets done by staff all the time--are dozens of rungs below the people you are tasked with managing, so you have to manage them but also be very conciliatory and nice to them, coddle them, and never ever ever say no to them.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:36 AM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


It holds true for IT in France too.

There aren’t many women at this company, and I have encountered almost all of them, at one point or another, crying in the bathroom. “I just hope this is all worth it,” she spits in my direction. I know what she means — she’s talking about money — but I also know how much equity she has, and I’m confident that even in the best possible scenario, whatever she’s experiencing is definitely not.

Sigh of recognition.
posted by fraula at 10:13 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Interesting that Wiener just wrote a piece on Suck.com, because the tone is reminiscent of late-vintage Suck and especially Carl Steadman's columns for The Industry Standard (full disclosure: I helped edit them for print) which are largely only readable through Archive.org (except this one) and tapped into the absurdity and panic as the bubble deflated.

That's not to say it's derivative: it's a gorgeously-written piece with an bucketful of gems -- "[w]hen tech products are projected into the physical world they become aesthetics unto themselves, as if to insist on their own reality" -- that manages to tap into the unifying spirit of the last bubble while picking out what's different about this one. In particular, it shows how our awareness of that bubble, and of the ongoing position of women in tech, changes our attitude towards the Bay Area scene. As sandettie light vessel automatic rightly says, there's the weird desire to recapitulate the superficies of startup success -- hoodies, office decor, snack selection -- in the hope that you can model yourself to fit through a weirdly-shaped billion-dollar exit door.
posted by holgate at 10:18 AM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I enjoyed this. Captures the uncanny valley-ish-ness of San Francisco these days, how it feels unreal, just a bit off. Or maybe I just have a hard time with change.
posted by Lyme Drop at 10:39 AM on April 26, 2016


Spend *any* time on Mission these days and it will feel more than "a bit off." Go out the door of one of these companies, and the quality of human life plummets.
posted by gusandrews at 10:57 AM on April 26, 2016


Jesus that was depressing. It was well-written but now I feel numb. I couldn't finish.
posted by djeo at 11:13 AM on April 26, 2016




Yeah, I found that really bleak and materialistic

I'm surprised there isn't more sentiment about this. Basically three-quarters of the article is people talking about money without actually talking about their real financial situations.

Honestly, it's not just bleak, it is fucking sickening that this is par for the course in Silicon Valley, but even moreso it is sickening that people somehow think money will solve all their ills.

We are a sick, sick society.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:32 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


The obsession with money she describes is all the more repellent given the rise in poverty, displacement and homelessness that surrounds these folks, right outside the little bubble.

I suppose the poverty in the rest of the Bay Area is the obvious point to make about the tech industry, but what I find really special about this article is that she focuses on how this culture is harming those within it too. It portrays a soul death.
posted by latkes at 11:54 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


*digs hole in the ground, sticks head in, screams*
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


what I find really special about this article is that she focuses on how this culture is harming those within it too.

It's the gut understanding that even inside the bubble a market-rate tech salary isn't enough to pay for somewhere decent in that area to live long-term and still do your tech industry job. You need a cashout, whether it's inherited money or acquisition money or IPO money.

That's terribly blinkered, but it's precarious all the way up... apart for those who already cashed out.
posted by holgate at 1:17 PM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I was gaslighting myself, that I was reading from someone else’s script.

This is it. This is alienation. This is the problem at the heart of the requirement to participate in the labor market and the tragedy of the incentive to be upwardly mobile if you want the apparent rewards of that system.

"Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you're really buying into someone else's system of values, rules and rewards."
posted by wildblueyonder at 1:30 PM on April 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


I was really relieved when I hit the point where she realized she was gaslighting herself. While there definitely were some actual problems in her work environment and the experiences she described (casual female hostility in the workplace, bad interviewers, etc.) the overwhelming feeling I got from the piece is, "You are in the wrong place. You aren't happy here - why are you staying?"

I'm sure there are plenty of folks in similar positions, and it will help them feel less bad to know they're not alone, and for some of them this may be the final kick to help them realize it's okay not to want to be a coder or work in an entrepreneurial environment. That's valuable.

What scares me a bit is how this piece reads to outsiders. I live in the Valley and just left a tech company where I'd worked for six years (it was a startup when I started; it still tries to have a "startup culture" though it's not really fair to call it that anymore). And I can tell you that I have definitely seen the actual problems the piece describes, but that they are not somehow inherent to the tech industry or to this part of California. Those are bad coworkers, bad managers, bad interviewers, bad policies - but those exist everywhere. To paraphrase Sturgeon's law, ninety percent of tech companies may be crap, but ninety percent of all companies are crap!

So, to folks who read this piece and say, "I am definitely staying away from tech and the Valley!" I just want to add this - it may well be the case that you would be happier staying away. And that's totally fine - no industry or location is a fit for everyone. But please recognize that doesn't mean that tech and the Valley are somehow inherently evil or soul-destroying. Please understand that the people who seek out those environments, the people who thrive there, are just different from you and not some kind of monsters.
posted by DoctorProfessor at 2:13 PM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I read the cached version and couldn't locate a byline. Who wrote this? Seriously great writing. OP, thanks for posting!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:30 PM on April 26, 2016


Yeah, I've seen these kind of companies but its not every tech company. Its more likely at a startup, or at least a not-making-boatloads-of-cash company. The more actual customers/money your company has, the less it has to rely on bullshit "culture" and "devotion" and so on and can actually like, pay you well and give good working conditions.

Of course, the real secret is to get a job with one of these companies and then live anywhere but the Bay Area. Avoid the crazy housing prices and the tech monoculture, which are the two things that you can't get away from there regardless of how good your company is.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2016


Even weirder to me, though, are the established companies who put on, cargo-cult-like, the trappings and attitudes of a startup.

It gets sad when it's semi-governmental organisations or big financial institutions attempt to do the same.

Not speaking from personal experience. Uh huh.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Please understand that the people who seek out those environments, the people who thrive there, are just different from you and not some kind of monsters.

Did anyone reaaaally say that? But it is interesting what I do and do not recognize here. Like I think she's totally right about the startup scene being dominated by men and fetishizing engineers, and I'm a male engineer. But I've never even interviewed at a place that quite nails all the startup cliches like this. They presumably exist - just follow the trail of job listings for rock ninjas and you'll find the nest. But it's just - I dunno a lot of my experience is just much quieter, so much more just people doing a technical job.
posted by atoxyl at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Interesting to compare to Ellen Ullman's _Close to the Machine_ -- the bad parts are worse, and the startup stylistics are new. Partly adopted from SF bohemian style that *is* in CttM, though.
posted by clew at 3:38 PM on April 26, 2016


This was a spellbinding piece to me...very beautifully written. My cousin worked in the SF startup scene and I work at a company in LA that deals with startups regularly so I have a window into this world and I'm both fascinated and horrified. She nails the alienation of it all, and that alienation resonates with me in my own technical job. There is just something so empty about modern ambitious career making because how can you POSSIBLY believe "We are CHANGING the WORLD."

Count me as unswayed by the idea that what actually matters in the world would be any different without Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk etc. Wages have been flat since 1970 for the vast majority of people, racism is alive and well, homelessness seems at an all-time high. The list goes on. The guys in top-hats now wear hoodies and they are still intoxicated by their own self-importance.

"Please understand that the people who seek out those environments, the people who thrive there, are just different from you and not some kind of monsters."

No one said that, but to the degree that they have money and influence and ignore the greater problems of society at large in favor of a Libertarian vision of the future where their silly product is some kind of panacea...they might be monsters.

As an aside, to say "Knowing you aren't the kind of person who will THRIVE here is so valuable! Since you don't like it, you should empower yourself to leave" is just so on-the-nose startup. It is a convenient way to hand-wave away real workplace culture concerns while also condescendingly asserting the erroneous idea that everyone just has plenty of options.

"If you don't like it then leave." Is not acceptable advice in an advanced profession in this economy. Contrary to neoliberal bedtime stories - our destinations in life are not simply the result of branching logic choices made along the way but are instead shaped by forces beyond our control. Many of us end up in decent jobs that we hate but nonetheless represent the best of a host of options given our unique situations.

As convenient as it would be to management for the "non-thrivers" (read: normal humans with a range of degree of engagement) to just up and leave, it remains a fact that our jobs are survival. Entrepreneurs created that frame and we who don't like it have every right to stick it out while fighting to change the culture.

I'll be gum in the gears until I find the right fit, or until the day I die.
posted by jnnla at 4:02 PM on April 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


No one said that, but to the degree that they have money and influence and ignore the greater problems of society at large in favor of a Libertarian vision of the future

Some founders are like this, and maybe a minority of employees, but I have met very few libertarians in tech. Its much more liberal than libertarian at the "grunt" level (in a world where "grunt" can mean "regular engineer making crazy high salary", but still).

I think most non-founder types don't believe any of that "change the world" stuff. Some go along with it because they want the job, so not everyone will admit that, but I don't see much of that starry-eyed idealism in the "rank and file". They do it because of some mix of (a) they really like the work [the nuts and bolts of writing code, etc] and (b) the money.

Even in tech, most people are just working because you have to work to have money.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


The thing I find fascinating is that claiming to be changing the world is accepted, even expected in startup culture, whereas people who work directly on trying to change the world in the non-profit sector would never just boldly say so.
posted by ssg at 5:40 PM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think most non-founder types don't believe any of that "change the world" stuff. Some go along with it because they want the job

This, 1000 times.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:37 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


This made me want to cry. I moved to SF to jump onto the early 2000s tech bandwagon, dreaming of excelling in this world. By the time I left in 2014 I felt a lot like the author does, sadder and sadder at every dumb event and rah-rah teambuilding exercise and the obsession with money. It's the loss of a dream and also the realization that the dream came back and fucked you over more and more the closer you got.
posted by bendy at 8:10 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


As someone who is starting a startup, I'm using my experience with some companies in the valley, Seattle, and Portland as my map of what not to do. At the same time I wish I had some kind of radar for those companies, so when I need to I can find a few good people to come work at a company that isn't going to ask them to drink kool aid.
posted by herda05 at 9:58 PM on April 26, 2016


> change the world stuff

Is this something I'd have to work at Helena to appreciate?
posted by ostranenie at 10:44 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


But please recognize that doesn't mean that tech and the Valley are somehow inherently evil or soul-destroying.

"no moreso than the general conditions of labor under late capitalism!" she said brightly.
posted by listen, lady at 12:00 AM on April 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


Well written but such a bleak lens. Looking from far and knowing how working conditions on different fields can be, even if culturally bit off-putting, the life described sounds decent.
posted by Arkki at 1:23 AM on April 27, 2016


I'd love to know what kind of answers that question about explaining the internet to a medieval farmer produces.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:41 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would start with talking about the recent war, how the lord is requiering soldiers, then how the information about it traveled in saddleback between King's, lords down eventually to a peasant's son. Then explaining that the internet is lots of invisble, smart and very fast messenger travelling everywhere. They talk every language, remember everything, are very good with painting and have special taverns where they can always ask questions. And this throng of messengers is used by everyone, for example, to find best deals on goats, asking about how weather will be in coming days, fining help for the harvest, talking to friends who live far, and sending portraits of cats.

How would you go about it?
posted by Arkki at 5:05 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Do you know how God is supposed to be everywhere and sees everything and whispers messages to the worthy? What if God answered everyone's prayers and responded to everyone's questions? What if God listened to everything you said and let you share certain things with anyone who was curious? What if God didn't judge you, but by being the instantaneous messenger, allowed everyone else to judge you? What if God let you talk to other farmers and compare notes on how they raise their crops and get both good and bad advice? What if you could ask God to pay attention to the local mill and tell you if their wheat stores were plentiful and so prices for buying your wheat were low, and that you should wait or go to a farther mill to sell your wheat?

"What if there was a small priesthood that learned how to harness God's perfect memory and could tell you exactly how much the village's wheat sold for in the last ten years and could tell you, based on what the weather would be, how much you should sell your wheat for this year; but in order to have this knowledge, you must tithe."

"What if this God was not a divine creator at all, but a medium created by this priesthood? And what if this priesthood was a servant of the richest and most powerful, but composed of a number of bright and clever serfs who became freedmen by belonging to the priesthood? What if that was used as a way to keep people hopeful because then you'd see stories of serfs liberating themselves by their own toil and that placates you from rebelling against new rent prices on your tenant farm?

"Oh ... well, yes, I can understand why you'd be skeptical about the benefit. But did I say that there were also cute cats?"
posted by bl1nk at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


Of course, there's other things you'd have to explain to a medieval farmer, too, like the fact that there's a world outside the three mile radius he's tramped in his life, that there's this thing called a "clock" and those are now standardized all over that world, that there's writing, at all, and the writing is produced by unholy, miniaturized metal golems...

this is fun, let's do this instead of whatever they're up to in San Francisco
posted by gusandrews at 9:15 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd love to know what kind of answers that question about explaining the internet to a medieval farmer produces.

"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

"With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.

"So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

"And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

"And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth."
posted by um at 10:18 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


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