Silicon Valley bros and broken culture

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 25, 2017, 12:52 AM | comments: 0

The CEO of Uber is finally out, though as a huge stakeholder and board member, he won't be very far away. If you haven't followed along, this is the guy who went nuts on an Uber driver who complained the company was hostile toward drivers, all while a female engineer described a "strange year" of HR violations and another account puts the executive in an escort bar in South Korea. To say that any of this is not cool is an understatement.

I've worked in technology most of my adult life. My experience ranges from gigantic Microsoft to startups. I've seen success and failure up close. In every situation, the reward has been the chance to work with awesome people. Sure, it pays well, but it's not hard to get excited about building something cool, virtual as it may be, with people who share your passion for changing some part of the world. Those people include men and women, people from everywhere from India to Russia to China to Serbia to South Africa, people gay and straight. The diversity is fantastic.

But the stories out of Silicon Valley like the Uber situation are not uncommon. Tales of misogyny aren't the only recurring theme though. There are also tales of extraordinary burnout caused by unsustainable expectations and impossible work weeks. Investors throw gobs of money at long shots, looking for that one unicorn that will pay off. People shout cheers about innovation and fast failure, but the only thing they're trying to build is an exit and a payout. Seriously, how does a company like Uber lose $800 million in one quarter?

Silicon Valley is not the center of the universe. It's not reality.

Sure, we've seen a few exceptions in the last two decades of extraordinary new companies born in the valley, but Google and Facebook are those unicorns. The popular stat is that 90% of startups fail, and of those, often half of them die because there's no market for what they're selling. Think about the arrogance there: Founders so convinced that they have thought of something so great that people don't even know they need it.

The truth is that the valley culture is broken and full of money. The lack of constraints doesn't force any kind of creativity or establish a solid "why" for any company to exist. More to the point, there are real, sustainable technology companies all over the world that are making the world better, regardless of actual scope. Most of the technology world is not by the bay.

The most unfortunate thing about Uber is that it has an actually great, disruptive idea coming out of San Francisco, and it's largely obscured by all the things wrong with that valley startup culture. It's an (allegedly) $70 billion company, but at what cost? I wonder if things would have turned out differently if it was started and lived somewhere else.


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