Om
November 28, 2016 12:05 PM   Subscribe

 
Valley "founders" have huge, just really really huge empathy for their VC's ROI.
posted by sammyo at 12:20 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Summary: Silicon Valley isn't politically prepared to deal with loss of jobs due to aggressive automation and optimization. One example:
Otto, a Bay Area startup that was recently acquired by Uber, wants to automate trucking—and recently wrapped up a hundred-and-twenty-mile driverless delivery of fifty thousand cans of beer between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. From a technological standpoint it was a jaw-dropping achievement, accompanied by predictions of improved highway safety. From the point of view of a truck driver with a mortgage and a kid in college, it was a devastating “oh, shit” moment. That one technical breakthrough puts nearly two million long-haul trucking jobs at risk. Truck driving is one of the few decent-paying jobs that doesn’t require a college diploma. Eliminating the need for truck drivers doesn’t just affect those millions of drivers; it has a ripple effect on ancillary services like gas stations, motels, and retail outlets; an entire economic ecosystem could break down.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:39 PM on November 28, 2016 [50 favorites]


This article is unusually wandering. What point is it trying to make? Every new advance in technology creates new jobs and displaces others. The ones it displaces are nearly disproportionately middle and lower class workers. This is text book, but what are the solutions?

I think the bigger issue is not that these firms are driven by analytics, that they choose algorithms and data that engages their user base, but the firms themselves are homogeneous. They hire people they know, it creates an increasingly small set of opinions and ways of looking at the world and cloisters people and ideas.

I'm in the tech industry and I suffer the issue all the time. I'd rather pay a friend or colleague I've worked with more, then a random person who looks more qualified on paper. But I'm paying for a known quantity, and at the end of the day I need to deliver. What am I supposed to tell my boss, that I was trying to better humankind by hiring someone that I don't know can deliver? That is a hard sell to make.

Really this article feels like someone went home for the holidays and discovered there is a world outside themselves. I sympathize, I work in tech and mainly do business on the coasts. I'm aware I'm an outlier, when people don't understand why I order from Amazon when I can just go to a grocery store. Or what's Seamless, why do you have everything delivered? Or isn't it scary to use Uber? There's a fundamental divide and I think at this point is is beyond cultural and the way we live our lives.

There's a good book, titled This Discovery of France that talks about the sheer divide between Paris and the large cities to the rural outskirts during the Industrial revolution (it goes beyond that actually). It described how France itself was a country in name only, with the advances of technology and culture often ending surprisingly abruptly at city limits. I feel we are sort of in that zone, and it is masked by the fact that the modern economy and technology can create bubbles. I can have my house wired with Amazon Echo controlling everything, engaging with people on Metafilter, while my neighbor still can't figure out how his car's bluetooth works.

This is a bit rambling, and I suppose I don't have a coherent point, much like the article, but simply blaming crummy news articles on Facebook (which has been around as long as the Internet, and well since the yellow news of the 19th century), is a bit of an easy way out of a lot of complex things going on right now.
posted by geoff. at 12:39 PM on November 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


.What am I supposed to tell my boss, that I was trying to better humankind by hiring someone that I don't know can deliver? That is a hard sell to make.


No, you tell them that you were trying to make sure that your team wasn't made up of a single coherent set of assumptions with a giant blind spot.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2016 [87 favorites]


This is similar to a small tweetstorm I saw earlier today, with this conclusion: If you work in tech and find yourself gutted by this election, you owe it to yourself and the world to think about the impact of your work.

I don't work in tech personally, but a lot of the people with the same job title as mine do. It's been on my mind a lot these days.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 12:53 PM on November 28, 2016 [21 favorites]


Obama recently pointed out Automation as one of the driving forces for societal change in the future. This is no longer a matter of if, but how soon, and how fast can society keep up. The "Become a Coder" or "Become and Entrepreneur/disruptor" mantra that is going on now are non-solutions that are not available to all.
Between the kleptocracy of Wall Street and the Techno-Libertarianism of Silicon Valley, as well as a lot of generally regressive forces, I don't think the solution will come before countless lives are ruined.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:59 PM on November 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


Haircuts aren't going anywhere though, right?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:13 PM on November 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


I can't say for sure whether Silicon Valley's lack of empathy is its own thing, or a symptom of the larger problem of short-term thinking. On the one hand, it's hard to think about the long-term impact of whatever you're trying to accomplish when you need to make a return for your shareholders, whether they are VCs or the general public. It's a financial myopia that prevents tech companies, established and startup alike, from seeing past the end of the next fiscal quarter.

It's not something that's exclusive to tech, mind, but with the dominance of tech in the modern economy, they get all the visibility.

And yes, as lmfsilva points out, "Become a Coder" or "Become and Entrepreneur/disruptor" is not the solution. Bare minimum, the more programmers, the more likely salaries in the field will drop as supply matches, and then exceeds, demand. Likewise, being an entrepreneur is only feasible if you can afford to take a financial hit for however long it takes your startup to ramp up.
posted by SansPoint at 1:14 PM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


Is Hayek still in vogue in Silicon Valley? He was all for various forms of income redistribution via typical welfare state programs. Surely the inefficient way that the government has been redistributing wealth from Silicon Valley to the rest of American society could be disrupted. Maybe an app of some kind could fill this gaping social need? Real-time voting on - and implementation of - tax policy, maybe? Hmm.
posted by clawsoon at 1:15 PM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I find the bipolar descriptors in these discussions kind of difficult to deal with. Like the world only has two kinds of people in it: Code crushing brogrammers in Silicon Valley and Brooklyn and completely non-technical interior-dwelling baby boomers who have no hope of retraining or learning a technical skill (of which there are a wide variety--it's not all about coding). The inverse of the bogosity of "Learn to Code!" is that coding itself is not the only thing that happens in a world reliant on technology.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:16 PM on November 28, 2016 [27 favorites]


Regarding trucking automation, I wonder how feasible it would be to train the potentially displaced truckers to operate and manage the new technology. Truckers endure an entirely undeserved stereotype of being dumb; this isn't true, at all. Ever looked under the hood of a modern semi? It looks like a space ship.

Nobody knows trucking like truckers and trucking companies. God, I hate the phrase "human capital" but that's what they are in this scenario, and to not capitalize on them, to not use them to leap into the automation future, would be absurd. Hell, if they learn it, give 'em a promotion. You can pay for it with all that money you "saved" and you get a strong, loyal workforce dedicated to making it succeed.
posted by sidereal at 1:16 PM on November 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


As Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management told MIT Technology Review, “Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren’t keeping up.” It is, he said, “the great paradox of our era.”
The entire point of automation is to eliminate those pesky, expensive employees. Calling an explicit design goal a "paradox" strikes me as some fairly heavy-duty language abuse.
posted by flabdablet at 1:16 PM on November 28, 2016 [78 favorites]


The New Yorker's pro-capital/anti-labor viewpoint really shines through in this article. It has to meander and hedge so much because it's trying to pretend that culpability for technological job loss lies at the feet of the people who created the technology, not the shareholders/management/consultants (often based in New York) who decided to fire a bunch of people and replace them with machines.
posted by hermanubis at 1:24 PM on November 28, 2016 [23 favorites]


soren_lorenson The inverse of the bogosity of "Learn to Code!" is that coding itself is not the only thing that happens in a world reliant on technology.

This is true. But nobody pushes people to learn any of that stuff as a quick fix to a well-paying job. We'll need designers, technical writers, and other soft skills that don't require touching a single line of code.

But where are the Valley people talking about all the non-developer roles in their businesses? It's all about the myth of the 10x Engineer, and how GitHub is the new resume, and all that bollocks.
posted by SansPoint at 1:25 PM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


and how GitHub is the new resume,

This is worse than you think. By using GitHub as the gateway to access to employment, they have created a new form of unpaid internship - either donate your labor, or you don't get the job.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:34 PM on November 28, 2016 [16 favorites]


I work in a technology industry, live in the midwest, and rely on all kinds of services and gadgets. I'm also the guy yelling at my Echo to turn off my lights, have a running Amazon delivery of cat food so I don't forget to keep it on hand, and order food online for convenience. But I also see the cracks in the system -- the invisibility of the people doing the work and the human cost involved.

For every person picking up that Amazon package off their porch, there's someone out there complaining about UPS not delivering to their building, or delivering a package to 101 40th Street instead of 101 40th Place. For every CEO tweeting from the back of their Uber ride, there's an Uber driver wondering if they're going to get a good review and someone getting harassed on twitter because the service doesn't think moderation or human intervention is worthwhile. Even self-driving trucks are beholden to the ability of road construction crews being paid a living wage and having reasonable work conditions, to say nothing of the people manufacturing the trucks.

I can complain about my internet connection going offline after a storm without wondering about the tree-trimming crews who make sure my cable and power lines are safe, the repair crews who maintain the lines when they're down, and the phone operators who handle calls.

It might be scary to use Uber or call a cab if you're used to driving all the time but the amount of risk and cost you're used to undertaking personally (car maintenance, insurance, wondering about road closures and navigation problems, all those logistics) are always someone's responsibility, whether it's a city crew, a maintenance company, or a single private contractor.

Empathy and the human cost are important, but they're lost in the mechanization not of machines but of the process itself. And there are too many situations where the strain and liability is being pushed to the public sphere (infrastructure) or the individual without the correlated compensation or recognizing that it's not the disappearance of work that's the problem, but the replacement of interesting work with demoralizing work.

Metafilter is, by order of scale, minuscule compared to twitter but if the moderation here was done twitter-style, which as far as I know has been done on a per-tweet basis without recognizing the context and pattern of behavior of users and communities (although this is maybe changing with the ability to flag multiple tweets as a pattern of objectionable behavior) then it'd be a totally different place. And I'd imagine reviewing single tweets, and clicking "OK" or "bad" repeatedly throughout the day is soul-sucking, whereas reading into conversations, possibly interacting with users to determine their intent, and moderating accordingly might be a little less so. But a lot of the former style of work is being done and a lot less of the latter.
posted by mikeh at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2016 [15 favorites]


NoxAeternum This is worse than you think. By using GitHub as the gateway to access to employment, they have created a new form of unpaid internship - either donate your labor, or you don't get the job.

Oh, believe you me, I think it's plenty shitty. Not only since it clearly excludes those without the time and flexibility to do that free work, but because I also did that dance myself.
posted by SansPoint at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Regarding trucking automation, I wonder how feasible it would be to train the potentially displaced truckers to operate and manage the new technology.

Likely not very. There are already tons of younger, probably cheaper people already skilled in that area. And, I seriously doubt the trucking companies are going to pay to re-train their drivers, so it would all be on the drivers, with their first two questions being "Where do I go to get this training?" and "How do I pay for it?" And, then, there's "Will the job be available for me after X-months of training?"

I think we all know the drivers are going to be kicked to the curb once self-driving trucks become the thing. The "retraining" mantra has always been an empty, bogus option. It puts the onus entirely on the unemployed to figure-out what sort of work they might be able to train for in a very uncertain future job market. Plus, they're generally older, so they are already starting behind the curve, and will be pitted against much younger workers with much more training and experience.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2016 [21 favorites]


Thorzdad Plus, they're generally older, so they are already starting behind the curve, and will be pitted against much younger workers with much more training and experience.

And who can be paid less and get fewer benefits, because they're not unionized.
posted by SansPoint at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


But where are the Valley people talking about all the non-developer roles in their businesses? It's all about the myth of the 10x Engineer, and how GitHub is the new resume, and all that bollocks.

For sure. I'm a technical trainer, so I have one of those soft-skills jobs, and in fact my job is helping non-technical (sometimes extremely non-technical, like can't use email non-technical) people deal with the technology that is now becoming standard at the job that many of them have had for 40 years. It's entirely possible for most people to keep up, with support and training. But that means there has to be a cultural will to not refuse to provide people with skill-building opportunities and then discard them when (shock!) they wind up lacking some skills after their industry chugs forward with some new technologies. The trend of companies outsourcing their training and education to *vaguely waves hands* those people somewhere over there at the college or whatever *vague hand-wave* is just as much of a culprit here as SV tech bros.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2016 [19 favorites]


soren_lorensen: Like the job I was at where they paid for a couple company Lynda.com accounts in lieu of actual training.
posted by SansPoint at 1:44 PM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you work in tech and find yourself gutted by this election, you owe it to yourself and the world to think about the impact of your work.

Yup, because developers and other workers in tech (all the people with "soft skills") decided to close factories and ship production overseas, direct the savings from automation into stock prices, stock buy-backs, and dividends instead of training or otherwise mitigating the lost of jobs, and tried to starve the beast (and pretty much succeeded in doing so) through cutting taxes capital gains and other sources of wealth.

Oh, and those who "review...media and technology" have absolutely no need to think about the impact of their work.
posted by MikeKD at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


Just to be clear - this is the dude who ran a website that shut down suddenly without paying its writers for months worth of work and turned into an undead chumbox full of advertorials? Yeah, he's right about the empathy problem.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2016 [22 favorites]


~The trend of companies outsourcing their training and education to *vaguely waves hands* those people somewhere over there at the college or whatever *vague hand-wave* is just as much of a culprit here as SV tech bros.

Companies stopped training workers decades ago. SV is just catching up to that particular wave.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


@oceanjesse: > Haircuts aren't going anywhere though, right?

Hi, let me introduce you to FlowBee™, "the revolutionary home haircutting system." As Seen On TV! Oh, yeah!
posted by mosk at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


to sir with millipedes: In fairness, Om Malik left GigaOm a year before it shut down.
posted by SansPoint at 1:55 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ever looked under the hood of a modern semi? It looks like a space ship.

But your average trucker can't do complex repairs on them - mechanics are something entirely different. And even if they could, managing logistics is very different than driving or mechanics. Being smart doesn't mean you can jump from unrelated field to unrelated field. I'm very good with aspects of computers but it would take me a significant amount of time to become useful in a chemistry lab.

The entire point of automation is to eliminate those pesky, expensive employees.

Not always. Sometimes it's genuinely about expanding what workers can do - some of the best uses of machine learning are very quickly reducing large data sets so that the most important parts that require human discretion can quickly be put in front of a human analyst.

But yes, it largely is about displacing expensive humans with either less expensive ones or machines.

By using GitHub as the gateway to access to employment, they have created a new form of unpaid internship - either donate your labor, or you don't get the job.

It's still very possible to get good jobs without a GitHub profile, but it does enable companies to get a peek at the capabilities of potential employees. I don't have a huge problem with liking employees to have made some open source contributions. Every single person posting here is leveraging thousands of open source projects by doing so.
posted by Candleman at 1:56 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I find the bipolar descriptors in these discussions kind of difficult to deal with. Like the world only has two kinds of people in it: Code crushing brogrammers in Silicon Valley and Brooklyn and completely non-technical interior-dwelling baby boomers who have no hope of retraining or learning a technical skill (of which there are a wide variety--it's not all about coding). The inverse of the bogosity of "Learn to Code!" is that coding itself is not the only thing that happens in a world reliant on technology.

+

This is worse than you think. By using GitHub as the gateway to access to employment, they have created a new form of unpaid internship - either donate your labor, or you don't get the job.

Yea. I have a huge problem with the "Millennial tech people are like THIS/boomers are like THIS" thing because i don't fit into that. And i think this is seriously damaging the industry, the culture therein, and the actual products and services these companies provide because it pushes people out.

It's completely acceptable to have done a bunch of extracurriculars, switched majors, and even dropped out if you have a github full of work to show or some Big Indie Project. This self selects for a certain narrow trough of upper middle class+ kids or people who immediately got contract gigs or something right out of school*.

What it selects away from though is people like me and a lot of my friends. I've been a web developer, gone to music school, was in a network engineering program for a while, have done a ton of scripting/automation and some coding, and assisted with or worked on all kinds of wild systems like industrial automation and card/cash processing... And the majority of web 2.0+ companies looked at my resume, and similar ones of friends, and threw them in the garbage.

You know who did end up hiring me? An old, honestly kind of conservative place that was not tech focused where you work in a cube and have to wear a tie every day.

But weirdly, and i've heard this from some other people at similar places, they actually like hiring people outside of the tech-trough for the tech jobs. They'd rather train them up slowly through the various positions and have a diverse team. Know customer service/helpdesk and some server admin stuff but don't know much code? That's fine, do that for a year and we'll start training you to code and do database engineering.

My coworker used to be a social worker, now he's a database engineer and devops.

This is the least annoying, and most healthy work environment i've ever been in. There's very very little bro-yness and a dramatic decrease in the monoculture.

These companies fuck themselves over by wanting a huge repository of just-for-fun coding and "full stack" developers. It's one thing to specifically want developers with experience in certain fields, but it's getting ridiculous where even when i was trying to get a freaking helpdesk job they basically wanted a devops person with several years of experience in X Y and Z languages.

I'm not saying everything should work the way it does at my job, but there is definitely a reasonable middle ground here that has been destroyed.

*This also applies to "did cool sounding internship at sexy sounding company". Which, coincidentally for friends of mine who also had strange educational/experience backgrounds... Turned out to be kids from relatively wealthy families who could work odd jobs/internships for people ~networked in~ to the industry, and end up with a part time gig at Cool Company for a summer.

Double interestingly, a lot of those people have also dropped out of tech entirely. The first person i was thinking of does audio editing work at a radio station now...

posted by emptythought at 1:59 PM on November 28, 2016 [31 favorites]


The problem isn't that contributing to open source is a factor in considering someone for a job---especially when that person doesn't have a tech background. It's a problem when not having contributed to open source automatically closes the door in their face. There are significant swaths of people who do not have the time to do open source contribution, and most of them are underrepresented in tech already: women and minorities especially.

I know I was able to get on my current career path because I had stuff I could show off. Even when working two jobs and 52 hour weeks out of college. But it wasn't easy, and I still had more flexibility than someone with children, for example.
posted by SansPoint at 2:05 PM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't have a huge problem with liking employees to have made some open source contributions. Every single person posting here is leveraging thousands of open source projects by doing so.

Yeah, if you are going go down the road of "using github profiles for hiring is exploiting workers", then absolutely everyone reading this post is doing so on the backs of literally thousands upon thousands of people.

Or, it could be that you don't know how open-source software works.
posted by sideshow at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Or, it could be that you don't know how open-source software works.

If you voluntarily donate your labor of your own volition, that's one thing. Creating systems to force other people to surrender their own labor is something very different.

Open source has a very large free labor problem, and it will eventually have to deal with it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:15 PM on November 28, 2016 [20 favorites]


Is Hayek still in vogue in Silicon Valley?

Hayek was never in vogue among computer software developers in the SF Bay Area (including SV proper). Almost all of them I know are Democratic Liberals. Thiel and Andreesen and Ellison are rich loud outlier freaks -- although unfortunately you do meet regular people who think that by aping those freaky attitudes, sympathetic magic will propel them up the ladder of entrepreneurial success.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:22 PM on November 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah, if you are going go down the road of "using github profiles for hiring is exploiting workers", then absolutely everyone reading this post is doing so on the backs of literally thousands upon thousands of people.

I have no idea what you mean by this. Everyone reading this post has benefited from the open source software and libraries that power virtually every computer/phone/etc. and significant portions of the telecommunications infrastructure.

The internet as we know it would not have been possible without open source. Looking for people that have contributed to that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Or, it could be that you don't know how open-source software works.

Seeing as I've been using it for nearly longer than you've been alive, I don't think so, but thanks for the snide condescension.

Creating systems to force other people to surrender their own labor is something very different.

I don't deeply care if the people I interview have contributed to open source (it's a minor plus, but a personal decision). I do care about the quality of their code, and having a Github is an easy way to see work (that they claim, obviously it may not actually be their work). Whether it's a public Github or something they e-mail to me or whatever, I don't care, just Github has become an easy way to check out people's interests and purported coding ability.

Open source has a very large free labor problem, and it will eventually have to deal with it.

It has issues, yes. The big projects like Linux aren't running of free labor at this point, but there are many important ones that are suffering from a lack of paid developers. I don't think that people liking to hire people that have demonstrable software development skills is the cause of it though, they go back before Git even existed.
posted by Candleman at 2:41 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Andreesen and Thiel are definitely birds of a feather -- they each made it big off of finding the right technology product for the time, developing it to fill a niche that was either completely new or underserved (a web browser and online payments), cashing out when the time was right, and then hovering around and waiting to jump on the next investment opportunity when they think someone else has found a niche. Thiel's got that big facebook capital now, for however long that lasts.

Ellison is something else entirely, in that his business is completely predicated on large enterprise. If you discount the people relying on the Java stack (who might use the JVM and libraries but pay zero dollars to Oracle), I doubt they have a single business client that has less than a thousand employees. They're completely in the "sell to middle/upper management, be a complete pain to deal with for everyone else" territory. Well, maybe their MySQL investment is paying off to smaller clients, but even then, I would bet the majority of licenses are held or resold by very large hosting providers.

One is predicated on providing products to individuals in the hopes of making money at the aggregate level (and only paying attention to individuals when it threatens the bottom line), and the other is about providing tools to large corporations to make individual contributions irrelevant via the anonymization and aggregation of supply chain issues.
posted by mikeh at 2:43 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Silicon Valley didn't evacuate the empathy from Schumpeter's Gale, or mergers and acquisitions, or venture capital.

His tears for the suffering inflicted by Silicon Valley seem crocodilian when he is a partner in directly funding and profiting from it .
posted by the Real Dan at 2:43 PM on November 28, 2016


Haircuts aren't going anywhere though, right?

Flowbee. It just hasn't caught on as much yet. All you need is a vacuum cleaner.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:49 PM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Back when I was an idealistic teenager, I participated in a lot of anti-logging protests. They'd yell at us because we were going to put them out of work. We yelled back that grapple yarders, feller-bunchers and globalisation had already done the trick. This productivity-up, employment-down pattern has been with us always. And as always, the thing that lacks empathy, by definition, is capitalism. And as always the people that embrace capitalism consider it a feature.

On the free software thing: I write software that I use in my scientific work. It's on GitHub. I don't get paid to write it, but I did get paid to polish some of it up for a partner company, and it does enable the work that I do. A lot of it would have been impossible without the paid/free software that other people have written and placed on GitHub. The blacksmith doesn't forge his hammer for nothing, he builds the cost of the tools into his fee. Most of the people who write useful software on GitHub are pulling in a salary from somewhere, and are only able to do this because of the "free" work that others have done. Some of us are writing tools that will put a lot of people out of work, including ourselves, eventually, and some are writing software that creates new opportunities that would have been impossible without it.
posted by klanawa at 2:59 PM on November 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


At least there's the attempt ot pause and ask, is this techno-utopian progress we are hurtling towards necessarily the best vision of a future for our collective humanity spread out across the entire planet full of diverse peoples and rich variety of life?
posted by infini at 3:01 PM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't think that people liking to hire people that have demonstrable software development skills is the cause of it though, they go back before Git even existed.

Except that there are other ways to determine development skills that are more equitable for the candidate. (One idea that I like is using a small paid freelance project as an audition.) Using GitHub commits as an assessment is not value neutral, despite what you might think.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:02 PM on November 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't know. Silicon Valley tech companies don't pay a living wage to the people who provide all those perks and services to their highly-paid tech employees. Someone is squeezing all that juice and making all that third-wave coffee, and that person isn't earning enough to live on. I don't think that people in Silicon Valley need to come out here to middle America to develop empathy for the people whose lives they're ruining. They can just take a minute to notice all the service workers who facilitate their lifestyles.

So anyway, I don't know that I think this is a special Silicon Valley problem. It's the same problem with the rich getting richer and the middle-class getting screwed that we're seeing everywhere else. And I don't know that it can be fixed by appeals to empathy, because people are remarkably good at not being empathetic when it is in their economic self-interest not to be empathetic.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:09 PM on November 28, 2016 [37 favorites]


Found this: Tech's Invisible Workforce report by Working Partnerships USA. The people getting screwed over in Silicon Valley are overwhelmingly people of color, and they probably didn't vote for Trump because Trump is an overt racist. But you can still have empathy for people even if they're not threatening to vote for unhinged kleptocrats!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:31 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


So was I the only person who saw the phrase "empathy vacuum" and immediately thought of Ricky the Roomba [*tears up a little*]? Yeah, I probably was.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:32 PM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


> (One idea that I like is using a small paid freelance project as an audition.)

From that article:
>The most significant shift we’ve made is requiring every final candidate to work with us for three to eight weeks on a contract basis. Candidates do real tasks alongside the people they would actually be working with if they had the job. They can work at night or on weekends, so they don’t have to leave their current jobs; most spend 10 to 20 hours a week working with Automattic, although that’s flexible
>To keep it simple, we decided to pay a standard $25 an hour

Uhhhh, yeah, no thank you. I'll continue to just upload projects I work on as a regular part of improving my skills over doing extra work for two months at a terrible rate. Now take homes that take ~8 hours are more reasonable, but given the quantity of companies you'll apply to when looking for a job, I don't see how doing that makes sense over just practicing your skill and uploading samples of that practice.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


The most significant shift we’ve made is requiring every final candidate to work with us for three to eight weeks on a contract basis. ... They can work at night or on weekends, so they don’t have to leave their current jobs; most spend 10 to 20 hours a week working with Automattic, although that’s flexible.
Using GitHub commits as an assessment is not value neutral, despite what you might think.

Neither is only accepting applicants willing to work for you part time for three to eight weeks. It requires a similar amount of privilege in the candidates as wanting a Github profile, if not more. That sort of thing absolutely impacts family/personal life as well as one's ability to perform at their existing job, and requiring it selects for people without families and with financial privilege.
To keep it simple, we decided to pay a standard $25 an hour, whether the candidate was hoping to be an engineer or the chief financial officer.
So your value neutral alternative is that people should work well below market rates for 60-80+ hours (and risk their current job)? At least with open source contributions, as ReadEvalPost seems to allude to, your contributions help you with all future job applications.

One specific advantage that looking at open source contributions offers is that I expect most middle to senior level developers to have hit bugs in open source projects that they build things on top of at some point. If they've shown the initiative to report and help fix those bugs, that's a good sign that they'll be positive contributors.

</end-derail (from me)>
posted by Candleman at 3:46 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Silicon Valley isn't the root cause of the empathy gap. It is much more deeply rooted in our economic system. Factory jobs that pay little to the individual workers and reward a few captains of industry. The system of corporate takeovers, mergers and outsourcing. A tax system that subsidized the rich at the expense of everyone else. Silicon Valley is probably the least harmful of the lot.
posted by humanfont at 3:56 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


humanfont With you up to that last bit. Silicon Valley is super powerful, especially since its full of companies that think they're tech when they're actually media, or logistics, or food, or retail. And they use that illusion to defend themselves against the legal and ethical protections that citizens have from companies in those industries.
posted by SansPoint at 4:18 PM on November 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


@klanawa: > This productivity-up, employment-down pattern has been with us always. And as always, the thing that lacks empathy, by definition, is capitalism. And as always the people that embrace capitalism consider it a feature.

This.

They say to "hate the game, not the player," and this is true as far as it goes, but it's also true that there are some spectacularly greedy folks in SV, guys who make Montgomery Burns look like a philanthropist and humanitarian.

More: A relevant local property tax incident involving the gentleman in the above link that affected our kids' high school district a few years ago.

And he's far from the only local billionaire with empathy issues.
posted by mosk at 4:59 PM on November 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't think anybody ever accused the financial industry of having an empathy gap, except maybe in the sense that you can empathize but don't sympathize if your going to be a good salesperson or collector or negotiator. The reason "Silicon Valley" gets flack I would say is that it is so bright and shiny in the culture picture. The incantation "to make the world a better place" might be over ascribed but the notion that the best and brightest are working on the future and potentially getting rich is a seductive cocktail whether true or not. IT masquerades as the opposite of dull and pointless or plebian. The fact is this is America and for every social network fever dream our culture is at the core one of individual ambition and temporarily embarrassed millionaires. With this as a given, (and you may well disagree,) I cannot imagine "Silicon Valley" any different than it is. If anything, the protestations of the need for reform are so counter to the real drivers---- greed and prestige and rising in class, (or at least not falling,) and the desire to be able to do interesting work without being bothered by that work's complications-- that they seem self delusional, in denial of the atavistic nature of the global competisphere. This then is why social balance cannot come out of Silicon Valley anymore than it came out of the Railroads or Steel or Finance or Chemicals in the 19th or 20th centuries.
posted by Pembquist at 5:00 PM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


To quote The Princess Bride:

"We are men of action, lies do not become us"

Each of us in this profession must clearly understand what tools are we building and who those tools serve.

And alas since money talks and bullshit walks, we in tech are paying a ransom to ensure a less awful fate for ourselves by building the tools that are building the houses for our capital masters.

Call it open source or COTS or whatever the fuck you want, we are using any and and all of it to save our own hides in whatever way the VC money instructs us too. To build tools that serve the working classes as opposed to the tools we're building which serve our capital overlords would completely undermine our comfort and safety to a degree very few of us are willing to suffer.

It sucks that don't have any answers to put forward yet. But that said I'm not going to sit here and pretend like we're all (myself included) hapless, righteous warriors in the way of technology because the truth for most of us is that we're mercenaries working for the highest payout.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:17 PM on November 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


"Empathy" is the new "literally."
posted by jpe at 5:29 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would guess that at least part of the problem stems from the nature of problem-solving itself. Let's say you have the goal of making cars safer and traffic less problematic, so you design a self driving car. All your energy is focused on solving that problem. Unless there is some incentive to look at the unintended consequences, e.g.., putting truckers out of business, it may never even show up on your radar.

While the physicists and engineers on the Manhattan project Surely knew of the consequences of their work, I doubt any of them imagined the doomsday scenario of the US and Soviet Union pointing thousands of missiles at each other.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:38 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, not a fan of this. It's an invitation to play a giant and largely unwarranted game of blame-the-nerd, with a smug side helping of I-told-you-so (which I guess is based in fact, didn't check).

Sure, creating technology comes with obligations. But don't forget that what silicon valley (in the broadest sense) creates is fundamentally empowering and democratizing. Anybody can organize and educate themselves in ways that were unthinkable 20 years ago. Automation has always been a problem and a boon at the same time. Blaming google for fake news (assuming no malicious intent) is like blaming AT&T for every lie repeated in every pro-trump phone call. And if you run a tech startup, it's the the rules of the game (which all the temporarily embarrassed millionaires keep voting for), not lack of empathy, that creates the imperative to prioritize investors over employees.

Silicon valley has overwhelmingly voted democratic, and they have also put their money where their mouth is. Plus, they did so against their own interest (no Facebook engineer has to worry about health insurance. No foreign PhD working for google is going to get deported. Etc.)

This article repays fundamental solidarity with an attempt to dehumanize, and to deflect blame.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 5:48 PM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


kleinsteradikaleminderheit: "But don't forget that what silicon valley (in the broadest sense) creates is fundamentally empowering and democratizing."

I'm sure the Amazon warehouse employee racing to get the next item before her countdown timer expires agrees with you -- that tech-driven micromanaging is truly indeed empowering and democratizing.

That is to say, 15 years ago I might have agreed with you that tech and the Internet has been largely a boon for individual empowerment and the rise of a democratic, egalitarian culture. But as it becomes clear that automation and other Silicon Valley-based industries (in the broadest sense) are one of the key drivers of increasing income and wealth inequality, the shine has started to come off that apple.

kleinsteradikaleminderheit: "Plus, they did so against their own interest... No foreign PhD working for google is going to get deported."

Really? Trump has been slippery on this issue (naturally) but he is at the very least not necessarily for increasing or even maintaining the current number of H-1B visas: that's why "Silicon Valley is terrified of Trump," while Clinton was at pains to reassure the tech industry that she would preserve H-1Bs. It's certainly much more likely under a Trump presidency that that foreign PhD is not going to get their visa renewed. In that light, it's very hard for me to see how Silicon Valley voted against their interests in going overwhelmingly for Clinton.
posted by crazy with stars at 6:26 PM on November 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Empathy gap? Corporations are people, my friend.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:49 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Management by stopwatch or timer is actually the oldest form of "scientific" management.
posted by raysmj at 6:59 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is worse than you think. By using GitHub as the gateway to access to employment, they have created a new form of unpaid internship - either donate your labor, or you don't get the job.

On the other hand it's a means of entry to the field/path to advance in the field that simply doesn't exist for other similarly high-skill, well-paying professions. No, it's certainly not a level playing field. Even someone like me - working reasonable hours for a not-primarily-tech company which would never in a million years let me open-source anything I did on their time - is at a disadvantage compared to those whose employers support their Github work. At the same time OSS or indie apps allowed several people I know to switch from completely unrelated work into fancy programming jobs - and unlike my friends who decided to go to, say, law school they did not incur six-figure debt in the process! I don't mean this like "everybody should learn to code" just - for something that is a selective profession the game could be more rigged than this one is. And people have mentioned all that free software does have positive value for the rest of us so you know, mixed bag.

And if you want to talk about the dark side of GitHub as resume I don't think that can be separated from another issue which is the lack of ongoing training for many in the software industry. I mean obviously it's not just about putting buzzwords on paper but about actually keeping up with fast-moving trends. Do people in other professions get paid/get time specifically for continuing education? I hear that used to be a thing - I dunno about these days... (Yeah that's kind of a serious question)
posted by atoxyl at 7:14 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Given the specific example of job-filter-via-Github (Or weekend work project, or takehome project, etc), I think the problem is that while it's entirely understandable that such things would be attractive ways to have *something* additional to filter on (Because tech is allergic to organization and the mythos of "Anyone can do it!" means credentials are distrusted),
requiring out-of-work time investment for job-qualification shouldn't be encouraged.

And really, it's nice to imagine that any given tech job built upon a foundation of open-source and community work would set aside time for fixing up open-source bugs or side projects, but it's also fairly rare from what I've seen.

It's nice if it exists as an alternate path, but any advantage-gaining step tends to quickly become "Yes, and", so "4-year degree or solid OSS work" becomes "4-year degree and OSS work". (with internships tending towards unpaid fitting somewhere in there)
posted by CrystalDave at 7:20 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the Amazon warehouse employee racing to get the next item before her countdown timer expires agrees with you -- that tech-driven micromanaging is truly indeed empowering and democratizing.

100 years ago, someone who was destined, by socio-economic circumstances and the birth lottery, to a life of drudgery (subsistence farming, factory work, etc.) wouldn't have had many ways out of that. No matter how smart or driven or resourceful that person was.

I am not going to pretend that tired Amazon warehouse employees are reaping what they sowed when they chose not to bootstrap, but the fact is that there are more straps (hung from independent objects, capable of taking a person's weight) available now than ever. And that is empowering, for the people with the luck to be able to grab one.

It's a problem that the increased opportunities aren't available to everyone, but pretending that they aren't there, and haven't (in some cases) been created by the same Silicon Valley being blamed for all the problems is obtuse.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:30 PM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Facebook has an "empathy" initiative, but it's more along the lines of keeping old phones and computers around to test on, IIRC.
posted by subdee at 7:58 PM on November 28, 2016


Automation is going to happen, just as water will gravitate down to the cracks. Truckers will eventually be replaced by automated vehicles. I wouldn't call this either good or bad; it's simply how technology is changing commerce. No one sheds a tear for the buggy whip makers of yore.

The question, then, is what do we do about it? The correct (government) response to increased automation is to provide every American citizen a Unconditional Basic Income.
posted by zardoz at 8:04 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


sparklemotion: The operative word there is "luck." We should be working towards a society where luck isn't a major factor in getting a steady, reliable job for people.
posted by SansPoint at 8:05 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


sparklemotion: "100 years ago, someone who was destined, by socio-economic circumstances and the birth lottery, to a life of drudgery (subsistence farming, factory work, etc.) wouldn't have had many ways out of that. No matter how smart or driven or resourceful that person was... the fact is that there are more straps (hung from independent objects, capable of taking a person's weight) available now than ever"

Are you sure about that? I was under the impression that social mobility has been decreasing over the last thirty years, not increasing. It would not shock me if it were higher a century ago -- a time of rapid industrialization, of genuine technological innovation, of massive shocks to the world order in the wake of WWI -- than it is now.

And it seems to me that -- based on actual outcomes anyway -- there are fewer straps now than thirty years ago, not more straps than ever.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:15 PM on November 28, 2016 [17 favorites]


The conversation that nobody is having is the conversation we need to have. We, as a society, have never quite decided on what labor is, what its value is, and how it should be compensated. It's a very basic question that's gone largely neglected, and now it's come back to haunt us.

Companies exist to make money for their shareholders. They are, by their nature, amoral. Technology will be used to increase worker productivity. Because of this, jobs are going away, and they're going to keep going away. There will be fewer and fewer rewarding, well-paying jobs, and we can't all "just learn to code". Things are bad and they are going to get worse.

I would come out in favor of a universal basic income, except I feel like whole swathes of the population would never accept that. People want to work. They want to toil away at something and measure their progress, and when they're done, they want to look back at what they made and say, "Well, look at that, I made a thing! How bout that?"

We, as liberals, are forever asking questions like "Why do rural Kentuckians who rely on Obamacare elect a governor who promises to dismantle it?" You and I don't see any moral failing in accepting government aid, but we can at least recognize why some people don't feel to great about it. We want to feel a sense of accomplishment, have our efforts recognized, and be compensated fairly. That's just a basic human thing.

We need to accept that labor has value separate from its potential to maximize profit for a company or earn money for a worker. It defines us and makes us feel wanted. It makes us feel like we're doing something, that our time on this earth measures more than the space between minutes.

I think the only way out of this is some sort of guaranteed job program. People are encouraged to seek employment through private industry, start companies, raise capital; all the ways we currently eke out a living. But if someone needs a job and can't find one in the private sector, a job should be available to them through the public sector. I don't quite know how this will work. But there should be a variety of jobs available in various sectors utilizing a wide range of skillsets across the geographic entirety of the US. Infrastructure, healthcare, hell, even IT. What was that I read about how the US Navy still uses VAX computers from the 80s? Put some people to work modernizing that shit.

Yes, the government will have to pay for it. Yes, this is income redistribution. No, I have no idea how this will pass Congress. But I'm willing to bet that a Republican in Kentucky who would vote to dismantle Obamacare would probably not turn down a solid government job with benefits.
posted by panama joe at 8:42 PM on November 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


I think the only way out of this is some sort of guaranteed job program.

Frank Underwood's got you, fam.

(House of Cards is supposed to be a dystopia, but it's so much better than the actual future.)
posted by sparklemotion at 9:10 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


So thinking about the type of job changes (in technology, trade, policy, etc.) makes obsolete, a la the truck driver: If you are on the capital side of things and things may change unpredictably, that dislike of "uncertainty" is reflected in the market and economists think it is rational. If you are on the labor side and you express your dislike of uncertainty through voting or joining a labor union--about all you can do--then economists believe that you are irrational and just don't understand progress. Admitting that this may be a very superficial "econ 101" reading of what economists believe, I will still say that there are a whole lot of professors who signal this in all their popular pieces.

So I'm sympathetic with a chunk of the argument.

But Silicon Valley didn't invent outsourcing. Walmart, based in Arkansas, was way ahead of the curve and people were protesting Nike moving plants to Indonesia when innovation still centered around hardware instead of "apps." What he's describing is really the essence of capitalism and competition--heck, in his examples it's not even their own employees they are laying off. But we have Silicon Valley VC writing as if it's all about Silicon Valley, and not even mentioning the massive non-tech forces that are dislocating people, and then saying the issue is that tech is in a bubble. Something about motes and planks comes to mind.

Bonus trivia: The one example I know of where a labor force made obsolete by tech successfully got a "parachute" was the longshoremen. Strong unions negotiated a pension for themselves as the container ship facilities that would put most of them out of jobs were being built. But for some reason wealth gains from rapid changes otherwise don't seem to get distributed fairly to the losers--even though those same economists I talked about above often imply that would be a "fair"--unless the losers have enough clout on their own to demand them.
posted by mark k at 9:47 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Uhhhh, yeah, no thank you. I'll continue to just upload projects I work on as a regular part of improving my skills over doing extra work for two months at a terrible rate. Now take homes that take ~8 hours are more reasonable, but given the quantity of companies you'll apply to when looking for a job, I don't see how doing that makes sense over just practicing your skill and uploading samples of that practice.

I was about to make a comparison to low-pay internships, but no, contract gigs usually pay more than normal salary. So do short term gigs.

The last Amazon internship i saw for example was paying close to fucking $6000 a month. Sure, it was only 3 months, but that operates under the expectation that some people will end up temporarily relocating, having to find a short term lease, etc. That's realistic. "Why don't you work like 50-60 hours a week plus a double commute for less hourly than some seasonal tourist gigs" is just gonzo.

What gets me the most about shit like this is the missing the point involved. "Don't make people do free work" "Ok, we'll just make them do a bunch of work for barely any money!".

This is the same logic that made shit like wash.io collapse.
posted by emptythought at 10:19 PM on November 28, 2016


Haircuts aren't going anywhere though, right?

Just wait for the story when that soylent guy discovers how efficient it is to mask his head and face with a depilatory for fifteen seconds every other evening at bed time.
posted by bukvich at 10:22 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Given the reach and spread of these technologies, these issues become more critical when considered from the lens of the less developed world. Uber could have done so much good but is frittering away the opportunity for positive impact in so many economies through chasing the brass ring demanded by "analysts" and "investors".
posted by infini at 1:41 AM on November 29, 2016


But if someone needs a job and can't find one in the private sector, a job should be available to them through the public sector.

This is a good way to end up with a huge public sector of people with few useful skills. As a bonus, they will probably be voters as well, so they will be easily lured into voting for whatever unrealistic platform you want to run on, as long as you promise they get to keep their job.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:30 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, there are numerous examples of this in places like South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa
posted by infini at 3:27 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem isn't that contributing to open source is a factor in considering someone for a job---especially when that person doesn't have a tech background.

It's not so much that the code is or isn't open source (well, sort of). Most tech-savvy companies are careful about licensing, and very wary of looking at someone's code samples without assurance that the code is not owned by their current or former employer.

At the same time, when you're interviewing someone for a software job, you want to make sure that they can write software. It's a lot like hiring a graphic designer or artist - you want to see a sample of their work product. Hence, the coding questions in the interview, or the checking through their github. No github shouldn't be a deal breaker if the candidate can convince the interviewers in other ways that they can do the job.
posted by theorique at 5:33 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


How much do I love that this article is about the need for people in Silicon Valley to break out of their bubble and pay attention to other people, and most of the comments have been insider debates about how Silicon Valley firms should hire tech talent. Extra bonus points for completely non-self-aware dismissals of $25 an hour as a pittance, because you guys probably don't even realize that that's more than some of us make.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:50 AM on November 29, 2016 [22 favorites]


The two are linked, though. A lot of the hot house environment of SV is driven by the fact that it has a very small hiring pool, which reinforces the existing monoculture. If you want to broaden the perspective of SV, you need to make it more diverse. And to make it more diverse, you need to rethink how it acquires talent.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:03 AM on November 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Bingo. And (some of) the symptoms of the SV Monoculture are:

- Funding companies with Other People's Money, necessitating quick returns for investors rather than sustainable businesses
- Startups that focus on "disrupting" industries to solve first-world problems
- A work culture that demands 70+ hour weeks that can only be pulled off by privileged young men with no commitments besides student loans
- A focus on "culture" in hiring, which means bringing in people similar to those already hired, which were people similar to the founders---essentially privileged white men
posted by SansPoint at 7:17 AM on November 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


But don't forget that what silicon valley (in the broadest sense) creates is fundamentally empowering and democratizing. Anybody can organize and educate themselves in ways that were unthinkable 20 years ago.

The idea that Silicon Valley and what it creates are in any sense "democratizing" has been disputed for at least the past 20 years.
posted by blucevalo at 7:28 AM on November 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


Silicon Valley is one of many swollen financial boils, pregnant with a labor pool borne from a malignant abscess of white male privilege.

To drain and clear these infected economies will most certainly hurt the entire body politic so I don't think it's wise to figuratively heat up a needle and start poking. First we must get the capital engine to understand that it has a disease, then undergo treatment with the patient's understanding of what must be done.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:48 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


requiring out-of-work time investment for job-qualification shouldn't be encouraged

Wait till you hear about the latest one of these out-of-work-time-investment-for-job-qualification scams. They want you to put in, not a few months, but four years or more of demonstration work, at a pace that generally prohibits pursuing other full-time work. And not only don't they pay you a living wage—not only don't they pay you at all—they want you to pay them, on the order of many tens of thousands of dollars! It gets better still—via regulatory capture, they've managed to rig things so that if you are able to borrow those tens of thousands of dollars, unlike every other form of debt, you can never discharge those debts in bankruptcy. Only a minority manages to make it through this economically grueling process, and as you can imagine, that minority is composed almost exclusively of the children of privilege, and is disproportionately white. Yet somehow, employers will claim with a straight face that passage through this regimen indicates, not the financial backing to go without paid work for years, nor the social stability to gamble tens of thousands of dollars on an uncertain payoff in future earnings, but pure merit! The mind boggles.

Whether hiring-by-Github seems exclusionary and narrow or open and accessible really depends on what your benchmark is. Compared to getting hired on at a factory in the heyday of the post-war industrial boom, sure, it sucks in comparison (for the male and able-bodied, anyway). Compared to joining, say, the legal profession, it's an incredibly broad-minded way of hiring that is much more accessible to many categories of candidates. I think one of the issues is that we haven't really figured out yet which of these categories software work will most end up resembling, and many people are presenting it as a suitable replacement for the loss of mass industrial employment when it's not likely that it will ever replace more than a fraction of those jobs.
posted by enn at 8:57 AM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think the only way out of this is some sort of guaranteed job program. People are encouraged to seek employment through private industry, start companies, raise capital; all the ways we currently eke out a living. But if someone needs a job and can't find one in the private sector, a job should be available to them through the public sector. I don't quite know how this will work. But there should be a variety of jobs available in various sectors utilizing a wide range of skillsets across the geographic entirety of the US. Infrastructure, healthcare, hell, even IT. What was that I read about how the US Navy still uses VAX computers from the 80s? Put some people to work modernizing that shit

Yes yes yes. I believe we need a 21st century WPA that will put people in government jobs of all stripes: childcare, construction, tech, arts, environmental preservation. There is no lack of things we need as a society, it's just that those things tend to be underpaid/staffed for various reasons, and they're not terribly profitable for anyone, so under a capitalist society there's no mechanism for funding them. Imagine if the government gave good-paying jobs to people for community services, infrastructure upgrades, and citizen enrichment. We need a New New Deal.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:10 AM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Hmmm. Ok, so I'm a Midwestern, middle-aged, middle-class woman who is learning a bit of CS. I seem to be pretty good at it, and if I were fifteen years younger, I would be considering a tech career. I'm not considering a tech career for any number of reasons, but I feel like I have some sense of what the barriers for people like me would be. And honestly, I don't think that needing a GitHub presence would be an issue. I don't think that needing to do a contract project for $25 an hour (which, like I said, is more than I earn at my job) would be a barrier, and I'm not that fazed by the idea of technical interviews, although they do sound kind of stressful. The main issues for me would be moving to the Bay Area, which is both unappealing and logistically impossible, dealing with a work culture that sounds totally awful, and the fact that nobody would hire me. If I were interested in getting a tech-related job, I actually think I would probably be better off staying in the Midwest and looking for something at a university or non-tech company.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


enn: I think one of the issues is that we haven't really figured out yet which of these categories software work will most end up resembling, and many people are presenting it as a suitable replacement for the loss of mass industrial employment when it's not likely that it will ever replace more than a fraction of those jobs.

I remain convinced that part of the push towards having everyone learn to code is so that there will be an oversupply of programmers that'll drive salaries down. If a company can replace a developer with a six-figure salary with five guys making $20/hr after completing a coding bootcamp, I bet they would.
posted by SansPoint at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


If a company can replace a developer with a six-figure salary with five guys making $20/hr after completing a coding bootcamp, I bet they would.

Of course they would. And just to reiterate: $20/hour is a good deal more than most people make. It is, in fact, about what I make after a Masters degree and ~12 years in my (tech-related) field.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:37 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but $20/hr in 2016 is going to be worth more than $20/hr in 2020. And it certainly doesn't get you very far in the Valley.
posted by SansPoint at 9:42 AM on November 29, 2016


So maybe that's what it will take to make Silicon Valley tech dudes have sympathy for the truck drivers who will be replaced with self-driving vehicles. Just think about how you feel about the prospect of being replaced by some chick in Iowa who graduates from bootcamp and thinks that $20 an hour is really good money. Because I hate to break it to you, but you are not special, and you could be subject to the same forces that are screwing over other skilled workers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:44 AM on November 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: But as long as a coding education looks like a ticket to a well-paid, high-demand job, it's going to be trotted out as the panacea to struggling, low-skill workers. We need to figure out an alternative, and quick.
posted by SansPoint at 9:48 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Every new skill is a ticket to a well-paid, high-demand job, until it isn't.

Coders do seem to have this weird myopia where they think their tech job is the only tech job that exists (and having looked at a bunch of technical documentation and opened a bunch of support tickets in my time, I'm pretty sure there are also entire companies that think this) and that somehow the laws of supply and demand should be suspended for this one very special snowflakey skill.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:55 AM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


soren_lorensen: I'm certain coding will be high-demand for the foreseeable future. What I don't think, and I'm sure we agree upon, is that it won't always be so well-paid. The goal is to make programmers a commodity, in much the same way that factory workers and coal miners were.
posted by SansPoint at 10:06 AM on November 29, 2016


There is not a ton of awareness of labor history or economics in this field and while to me it seems pretty clear that ours is simply a young industry where the standard capitalist process of deskilling has not yet advanced very far, many programmers assume that the current situation (high demand, high autonomy, and high pay) is simply the natural order of things (after all, it is flattering to believe such a thing about your chosen work). Personally I would like to see us begin organizing now, from a position of relative strength—but I don't imagine that it will happen until, as ArbitraryAndCapricious suggests, the process is a bit further along. Or, to bring it back to the original linked article a bit, maybe what we (in the rank and file of the software industry) are lacking is not so much empathy—which implies that the interests of displaced workers are totally alien to ours—as solidarity—the realization that in fact our interests are more aligned than we thought.
posted by enn at 10:10 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


There was a period in which coders were quite concerned about being replaced for cheap - via outsourcing. It turned out that didn't work very well and we've been way too smug about it since.

Also have you noticed how much time we spend automating our own jobs? Of course there's always a complaint that the way we automate stuff often generates more work and stuff to learn - but maybe that's a hidden self-protective strategy...
posted by atoxyl at 10:14 AM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


> Extra bonus points for completely non-self-aware dismissals of $25 an hour as a pittance, because you guys probably don't even realize that that's more than some of us make.
The argument is absolutely not that $25/hour is a pittance, but that it is significantly under the market rate for a software engineer contract position in Silicon Valley. Labor being underpaid is a bad thing, regardless of whether it's a software engineer, artist, or fast food worker.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 11:32 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


The argument is absolutely not that $25/hour is a pittance, but that it is significantly under the market rate for a software engineer contract position in Silicon Valley. Labor being underpaid is a bad thing, regardless of whether it's a software engineer, artist, or fast food worker.
I'm curious about how you think that relates to the point of the linked article.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:25 PM on November 29, 2016


The goal is to make programmers a commodity, in much the same way that factory workers and coal miners were.

To a certain extent, this has already happened to sysadmins and operations staffs. They've mostly been replaced by "DevOps" people (who 90% of the time are coders who do operations poorly), and hardware running "in the cloud" (which is to say "Other People's Computers that we rent at a fairly high price")

There's a lot more nuance to it, certainly, but it wasn't that long ago when having a grey ponytail on staff who kept all the computers running was a requirement. Now, it's fairly unusual for companies without their own infrastructure (which is most of SV).
posted by toxic at 12:27 PM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


To a certain extent, this has already happened to sysadmins and operations staffs. They've mostly been replaced by "DevOps" people (who 90% of the time are coders who do operations poorly), and hardware running "in the cloud" (which is to say "Other People's Computers that we rent at a fairly high price")

Yeah I was gonna mention this example - The Cloud has certainly not been great for sysadmins and DBAs. On the other hand it has been very nice if you're one person or a few and you want to get a major web application running. I think we (as developers) are still in a period where automation improving our productivity has mostly increased demand for our skillset - propped up to an extent by it being fashionable to throw buckets of money at realizing very dumb software ideas, of course. I think in the future automation will absolutely start eating away at the value of at least some other developer specialties - being the person who knows how to make the automation happen will probably remain a fortunate position for quite some time however.
posted by atoxyl at 2:07 PM on November 29, 2016


Automation or just new tools which are not strictly speaking automation. But I'm not even sure where that line is if you're talking about software?
posted by atoxyl at 2:09 PM on November 29, 2016


atoxyl: Periodically, I hear technologists talk about how programming will become obsolete once we get AIs that are smart enough that they can be trained to be any kind of program you need. Essentially, you'll be able to say, "Create an app that lets me interface with this data set in that way," wait a few minutes, and it'll be done.

And if you really think that'll happen, I can get you a really nice deal on a bridge in the Bay Area.
posted by SansPoint at 2:12 PM on November 29, 2016


Essentially, you'll be able to say, "Create an app that lets me interface with this data set in that way," wait a few minutes, and it'll be done.

For various definitions of "essentially" and "say," that's already here (there is a joke in here somewhere about the fate of Yahoo Pipes but it's escaping me).

I'm confident enough in human ingenuity to say that people will always be able to come up with some kind of software that other software can't generate for them, even as more and more software development tasks become automated. Part of the reason why I'm confident about that is because that's pretty much the way it's been since the dawn of computing.

That doesn't mean that software development will always be (or even should be now) a lucrative job. But it's still going to be easier than flipping burgers or pounding rivets or early childhood education, so people will choose it while they can.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:50 PM on November 29, 2016


I wonder how feasible it would be to train the potentially displaced truckers to operate and manage the new technology. Truckers endure an entirely undeserved stereotype of being dumb; this isn't true, at all. Ever looked under the hood of a modern semi? It looks like a space ship.

It's not so much about the feasibility of training people as it is the fact that the whole point was to cut costs be eliminating living breathing people from the equation, with improved safety being a handy side effect that also cuts costs.

It's basically a rule of capitalism that if you invent whiz-bang technology that eliminates jobs in one area, you won't make up the difference (number of jobs lost) elsewhere, or your invention was a pointless failure. Maybe some other sector will step up, but the odds are completely stacked against any single organization eliminating jobs in one place and then replacing them elsewhere.

That's part of why all of the "retraining" mantra is so depressing. Like if you eliminate coal mining there's not going to be magically one job for every displaced coal miner and capitalism isn't going to step in and make sure something is done to ensure those displaced people can keep participating in the system.

Sure, new technology can create demand for a small handful of higher-skilled jobs, but it's inevitable that there will be far fewer jobs to go around, that's just how technology works, and when you combine that with cutthroat capitalism and don't have any sort of stop-gap measures in place enforced by the government, you're hosed.
posted by aydeejones at 3:02 PM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Some people like to say "Marx didn't realize that automation would soon come and devalue labor! That means Marxism is fatally flawed, and he was silly because he didn't foresee the rise of technology!" Sure, but building redistribution into the framework of addressing basic human need sure looks a lot better than what we're about to run into, where people who have been plundering the value of human labor and manipulating wealth creation for decades get to pull up the drawbridges and ladders while most of the people who created that value starve and die.
posted by aydeejones at 3:07 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


posted by toxic at 12:27 PM on November 29

by the way you and I ought to be MeFi nemeses...
posted by atoxyl at 3:24 PM on November 29, 2016


It's basically a rule of capitalism that if you invent whiz-bang technology that eliminates jobs in one area, you won't make up the difference (number of jobs lost) elsewhere, or your invention was a pointless failure.

it's inevitable that there will be far fewer jobs to go around, that's just how technology works

But that's obviously not true, historically? Not that the same technology or same organization has created jobs in another sector, but other technological and societal change has. I mean I'm on the side, in this very thread, arguing against the idea that this is a rule. It's a trend that may end at some point. It's not inconceivable that the point is arriving. But that's pretty clearly not "just how technology works" in the past - am I totally misunderstanding what you're saying?
posted by atoxyl at 3:40 PM on November 29, 2016


atoxyl and aydeejones: Whether you take it as read as technology creates new jobs, there's always a gap, and that gap is dangerous for a lot of people. Instead of just going "Oh, well, the new jobs will come," it's better to find ways to offset all that economic damage, especially since the people who get hurt the most in these cases are often those who have no safety net.
posted by SansPoint at 4:05 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


From Amanda Hess in the New York Times, Is ‘Empathy’ Really What the Nation Needs?:
Sympathy encourages a close affinity with other people: You feel their pain. Empathy suggests something more technical — a dispassionate approach to understanding the emotions of others. And these days, it often seems to mean understanding their pain just enough to get something out of it — to manipulate political, technological and consumerist outcomes in our own favor.... Buzz Andersen — a tech veteran who has worked for Apple, Tumblr and Square — told me that in Silicon Valley, “empathy is basically a more altruistic-sounding way of saying ‘market research.’ ”
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whether you take it as read as technology creates new jobs, there's always a gap, and that gap is dangerous for a lot of people. Instead of just going "Oh, well, the new jobs will come," it's better to find ways to offset all that economic damage, especially since the people who get hurt the most in these cases are often those who have no safety net.

Absolutely - I wasn't arguing with that.
posted by atoxyl at 7:30 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Marx was writing in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, and described Capitalism as a technological change where control of the means of production shifted from land ownership by nobility to technology ownership by industrialists. The problems of industrial automation are not new.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:43 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some people like to say "Marx didn't realize that automation would soon come and devalue labor! That means Marxism is fatally flawed, and he was silly because he didn't foresee the rise of technology!" Sure

Karl has you covered: The Fragment on Machines
The increase of the productive force of labour and the greatest possible negation of necessary labour is the necessary tendency of capital, as we have seen. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery is the realization of this tendency.
posted by meehawl at 3:46 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Silicon Valley to America: "I learned it from watching you!"

Is the concern chiefly that the people Silicon Valley doesn't have empathy for here are fellow Americans?
posted by ODiV at 7:47 AM on December 1, 2016


there's always a gap, and that gap is dangerous for a lot of people

and the point at issue is that given the pace of technological change that IT facilitates, that gap is now both structural and widening.
posted by flabdablet at 7:58 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Buzz Andersen — a tech veteran who has worked for Apple, Tumblr and Square — told me that in Silicon Valley, “empathy is basically a more altruistic-sounding way of saying ‘market research.’ ”
And in a marketplace, you’re not trying to understand other people out of altruism or moral responsibility; you’re doing it out of self-interest. In the days after the election, many commenters chafed at the idea that they ought to perform the work of empathizing with Trump’s supporters. Shouldn’t they — the people who elected him — try a little empathy for the lives that stand to be crushed by his policies? The market’s answer to this question is “no.” There is no movement for right-wing Americans to be more empathetic because they won. The nation has already bought what they were selling. The call for blue-staters to cultivate empathy isn’t about finding instructive truths in others’ worldviews; it’s about understanding their motivations well enough to persuade them to vote differently.
I mean, if in the end it all comes down to votes to win, I don't see what's so bad about that.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:25 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]




I dunno if new technology creates new jobs (in enough volume to replace jobs that are lost). I look at the massive growth in government over the past century, both direct growth (size of bureaucracy) and growth of welfare programs (which allow people who would've otherwise been "surplus" to continue to spend and survive), and I conclude:

New technology creates wealth and destroys jobs. New jobs are created when government spreads the new wealth around.
posted by clawsoon at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2016


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