The immaturity of silicon valley

December 14, 2014 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Sooo.. I read (for the first time) today some details of all of the sexual harassment cases that zillow are fighting. Reading about them makes me sigh quite heavily, because stuff like this is just *more evidence* that silicon valley is a VERY immature place.

Some background: I’m British and 45 years old. I’ve visited San Fransisco three times, that’s the extent to which I know the place personally, so these are the views of an older, foreign outsider.

I remember back when Bill Gates was ‘the new rich dude’ and computer people were suddenly becoming very wealthy and successful. I was really incredibly positive about the whole thing. As a scruffy long haired and occasionally bearded geek, I loved the idea that no longer could I be automatically sneered at in posh hotels or restaurants on the assumption I must be some homeless loser. For all anyone knew, that scruffy guy sat there in the corner was a dotcom billionaire. Plus the idea that I could have memorized the script to star wars, enjoy computer programming, and NOT be regarded as a ‘dork’ was awesome. It was time for the geek to inherit the earth.
And there is no doubt that we did. Us geeks with our understanding of C++ suddenly became very cool,. very famous, and very, very well paid. Maybe less so now, but even so, computer programmers do ok in the UK…

jobs

And of course those of us who have a LOT of experience, and start our own software business can do much, much, much better than that. Excellent! we win! we have replaced the city-types and the arrogant smooth-talking idiots in suits and a new world order is here…
Except the new wave of highly skilled computer-geek intelligentsia seem to be perpetually behaving like they are still in kindergarten. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be associated with the ‘silicon valley dotcom success story’ type.

Exhibit A: Stupid office accessories.

When you are 15 years old, or even a drunk twenty something, an office filled with slides and bumper cars sounds awesome. But beyond a certain age, or level of maturity, it just seems kinda dumb. Do you really want to negotiate million dollar deals while sat in a bumper car? Do you genuinely think it makes you more creative? Was creativity not invented until people designed slides and bean bags? To me, an office filled with bean bags and ‘zany’ things is a lot like someone who wears over-sized brightly colored glasses and a loud bow-tie everywhere. In other words, its a desperate attempt to compensate for the fact that you know you don’t have any creativity, and convey a tragic, almost pleading message to the outside world that convinces us otherwise.

Google-office-007

Exhibit B: A complete lack of awareness of the real world.

There is life outside silicon valley. There are countries whose main problems are a lack of clean drinking water and a lack of energy or food. Silicon valley focuses purely on people whose main problem is that they think their smartphone isn’t bendy enough, or that a 2048 resolution for their TV isn’t good enough. Social problems are largely ignored, especially if the start-ups actually contribute to them. Ifd there is a massive property price problem and inequality being caused by the tech workers, no problem! just bus your workers past the poor people so they don’t get in the way!

google-bus-640-craig-frost-twitter_large_verge_medium_landscape

Exhibit C: Short-term thinking.

Some Silicon valley types are awesome at this. It seems like Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk really get it. Most don’t. Especially the desperate young twenty-somethings who want to become a billionaire NOW, RIGHT NOW, and it really doesn’t matter what happens the day after they ‘cash-out’. Everyone is obsessed with an exit-plan, not a plan to grow something you are proud of, make people happy and create something worthwhile. Just big piles of cash and an exit plan. Many of them even intend to sell their company long before it’s made any profit. As an environmentalist, I’m really sick of business people with short term thinking. Many silicon valley types just want to be rich. They don’t care how, or why. The product is irrelevant to them.

Exhibit D: Laddish, ostentatious behavior.

When people spend an insane amount on a wedding, trash part of the environment in the process, then make amends by just throwing a pile of cash at it afterwards to ‘fix the damage’, I am strongly reminded of the attitude of the upper class UK ‘bullingdon club’ (see below) who would trash expensive restaurants then throw money in the faces of the owners. In short, there is nothing wrong with being rich, but when you literally throw that money at people with indifference after you behave outrageously, and think that makes it ok, then people are perfectly justified in calling you a spoiled brat. The differences between some of the silicon valley set and the wold-of-wall-street set is paper thin. That goes especially for people who hire escorts to mingle at office parties.

bullingdon

Exhibit E: Regulation is so last-century.

I’ve been in Uber cars, thanks to smart friends with smartphones. (I don’t ever really use a phone) I like the ‘idea’ of Uber. I think it could work well. Not having to pay the driver is cool. Knowing when they will show up is cool. Bringing the free market to the closed-in monopolies of city cab firms is awesome. But guess what? Cab drivers need regulation. You need to know that driver is paying tax, you need to know that driver isn’t someone with a history of violent assaults. You need to know that vehicle is safe to drive, and taxed. These regulations exist for a reason. The same applies to regulations about renting out a house or flat/apartment. There are regulations on fire escapes and insurance and safety for a reason. The reason given by the owners of Uber and AirBnB for ignoring all the regulation seems to be ‘errrr….internet dude!’. Sorry that just doesn’t cut it with me, and I’m hardly a flag waving communist.

Exhibit F: Taxes.

As I just said, I’m hardly a marx-quoting leftie, but taxes are the price we pay to live in a fair, safe society. Tax rates in Italy might be nuts, but not in the US or UK. Don’t be dicks, you have stockpiles of cash. Paying your fair share of tax is what makes you a pillar of society, rather than a cancer upon it. Don’t be dicks about tax. And yup, Positech pays all the tax it should, as a normal company registered in the UK, and paying UK corp tax levels on every penny it earns. It’s really not that difficult to do the right thing.

google

So anyway…my basic theme, is internet billionaires, we thought you could be so much better than this. You are making geeks look bad. Get your shit together. Act like grown ups, not frat-boys.

 

 

 

 

16 Responses to “The immaturity of silicon valley”

  1. Brett says:

    There are very few tech/gaming websites that represent this point of view.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with Exhibit A. I want to go to work, not daycare.

  3. Manjit Bedi says:

    Nice write up!

  4. Xietanu says:

    Google (and others’) weird accessories and perks are not simply frivolous. There is a (slightly insidious) thought process behind it.

    The idea is that if you have a free canteen and fun areas and etc., people are less likely to go home. There’s less reason to. People spend more time at their place of work, with the people they work with, and will inevitably end up discussing work stuff. It’s a relatively cheap way to effectively get your employees to work overtime without them resenting it.

    • AndrewR says:

      All true. Also, replacing employees who leave is expensive, really expensive. Not only do you have to (possibly) pay a recruiter a cut, you also have to wear the cost of the new person coming up to speed.

  5. didier says:

    By looking at many front pages, sillicon valley is the paradise on earth. Every city wants to become the “next” sillicon valley or the sillicon valley of {{country_name}}. Consequently, we need to look carefully at what make sillicon valley and what results of it. We do not want to get imposed a model that we do not know what it is.

    I would like to read a book well written on the subject. A book that would look at the social consequences of a massive IT hub in a city and the scalability of the model. Indeed, I believe the fundamental question of “new technologies” is why it is so concentrated geographically, linguistically and sociologically.

  6. J.B. says:

    > If there is a massive property price problem and inequality being caused by the tech workers, no problem!

    The Bay Area hasn’t built significant new housing stock in the last 30 or 40 years. (http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/14/sf-housing/) Political consensus is very, very hard, due to the nine separate counties (and numberless cities) that surround the San Francisco / San Pablo Bay. And despite rocketing property prices, NIMBYism hasn’t stopped a whit – see San Francisco’s Prop B (June 2014), voted in by less than 10% of the population, which requires waterfront development to go through a citywide vote (and thereby increases both cost and risk of new development). California Prop 13, passed in 1978, discourages homeowners from moving even when property values rise, which further reduces the availability of housing stock.

    > I’ve visited San Francisco three times, that’s the extent to which I know the place personally

    I am not surprised :) It’s very frustrating when tech workers get blamed for a problem that the Bay Area created for itself, over decades of law and policy. And I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t help – it only serves to alienate the newcomers and create an atmosphere of us vs. them.

  7. ac says:

    I have my doubts whether there’s any industry which doesn’t have its share of greedy people at or floating to the top. They might not even have to be at the top – just poorly thought out ideas from consultants trying to effect quick changes to justify their fees could be behind things like implementattion stock price driven incentives, which then trickles down to further optimization – driven by the measures used.

    Such further optimization could be at the extreme be a road to things like Enron and much of financial creativity lately where every part of the money making scheme (aka margin) gets optimized without realizing that it “takes two to dance”: the long term/subtler side effects of these optimizations are hard to model because the counterparties/trade partners (down the line) do not necessarily realize the effects of those optimizations on their business immediately – perhaps the optimizations are effecting the end user instead and the realization taking place is to eg. buy used old clothes rather than new because due to small optimizations all over the value chain, the overall quality of the new products have declined across the line and the customer cannot sustain replacing their shoes every two weeks. (recently I went to a store looking for shoes – they all gave a feeling of being made to last weeks and there was large disclaimers and instructions and so forth next to them)

    Of course such ideas may not be solely from consultants, they could be coming from top or even through new hires:

    As something develops from few peoples research idea / hobby to a full industry, education establishments see opportunity for new courses and such and literally sell students that through their courses you can get such and such careers paying historically such and such. As this word goes out then inevitably there’s people signing up and getting through over the years that have a goal of processing to high paying positions quickly and that could be through doing or delegating various optimizations that in the end are the demise of the company.

    I also have begun to suspect that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with various ideals such as not having corruption or not needing to make up lies. (I suspect more people accept lying if not doing to would be result in a “lose situation” than there are people willing to lie with purpose to get ahead)

    I recently came across a comment with idea that hadn’t really occurred to me (perpaps due to not ever working in a corp) – that (some) corporations might actually try to weed out honest candidates out in the interview process. (I had previously realized they would want some kind of leverage for later to keep you in at low pay but I hadn’t really put 1+1 together that a CV lacking in things provably wrong would be a reason for no-hire). If there’s increased competition for jobs, then it would also make sense from corp.legal-pov that employees were willing to bs when necessary to protect the mgmt/corp itself and bs in the CV could actually look like necessity from this POV if there was no time to interview every candidate.

    Of course what this means is that there may be a large segment of people not willing to bs and thus as big corps are buying smaller companies up, many opportunities to these people go away. Also this means that big corps staff may have started with some honest people when they were still small but ultimately ends up being full of backstabbing liars all looking for quick personal gains. This leads to more time spent in all sorts things other than making products for which there are buyers. And to keep things going and to prevent competition, there’s M&A.

  8. ac says:

    s/implementattion/implementation of/

  9. ac says:

    s/doing to would be result in/doing so would result in/

  10. ac says:

    Taxes:

    I think taxes and voting would be a lot more ‘palatable’ if people felt being more involved in a material way. The current voting system I am most familiar with is geared toward keeping the minorities happy. I can’t say for sure if they are but there’s a bunch of evidence that suggests so. If I were rich or in some sort of minority, perhaps I’d be happy with such system that caters to minorities and ensuring status quo can’t be changed.

    From the pov that small amounts of people would move to live in another country, that actually seems like very sensible system. However atleast in my country, a couple % minority has managed to make learning their language a requirement to advancing in the school system and for public jobs. And while the various local parties change, this minority is always in the government essentially holding the real power. And this isn’t any local minority – it’s minority of the past conquerers. For a perfectionist like me, how things sound (look, taste etc) is very important. And their language sounds absolutely horrible as matter of personal taste (take a stereotypical gay guy Hollywood-imitation and that’s how their language sounds to my ears all the time – I don’t mind gays, I do mind learning to talk like that because of my perfectionist sensibilities). I have since learned that even though the Swedish all sound like fags no matter how macho they try to be, they do seem to be genetically superior and commercially more productive. Or atleast this is the image ones gets from the local media. I think this has created some sort of nation-wide inferiority-complex that perhaps is now slowly unwinding as people figured things out. However the system is such that even if majority would want to put end to this mandatory Swedish, it’s simply not possible.

    And that goes straight into why voting is pointless, atleast if you’re in the majority.
    And that goes straight into “no taxation without representation”.

    While the Swiss voting system isn’t close to my ideals, I suspect if we had it here, the majority could actually change things. However it’s now interesting to watch whether the Swiss system actually works – they did vote themselves out of the EU this year in a move that if proceeds as portrayed in the media, could result in rather interesting situation in the EU.

  11. Sam Sander says:

    Hi! Just recently found this site. Me and my cats read it all the time

  12. ac says:

    Here’s a paper documenting what one could call “academic immaturity”.

    “The situation is akin to that of scientists lecturing birds on how to fly, and taking credit for their subsequent performance –except that here it would be lecturing them the wrong way.”

    This pretty much explains why all those financial blow ups happened – the companies hire kids who got bad education that wasn’t based on how things really work but was based on models with all sorts of insane assumptions. Having studied trading for couple years while ignoring all the education about it, this just pretty much confirms my observations and empirical test results. Nice to see some academic papers catching up to reality for a change…

    I don’t think this issue is unique to trading. Like I referred in prior post, when companies hire kids that are eager to optimize things in the company and show nice models and predictions, they probably ignored a whole lot of the real world – the long term but obvious in retrospect, reactions happening in the entire value chain (in worst case, when the end user realizes all the products suck, the entire chain risks collapse because of inventories of crappy product – only those with most efficient logistic and minimal stock survive but the result is all the local shops are out of inventory and when I need something I end up ordering abroad).

  13. Leo says:

    Cliff, you’re operating off the idea that human beings are “Free” rather then driven by the laws of nature. Human beings are largely driven by unconscious biological processes they haven no awareness of. Check out this experiment with attention and another about conformity:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQmdoK_ZfY

    Mass conformity:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyDDyT1lDhA

  14. johnny says:

    Zillow and Gates are in Seattle. Very different from the SV crowd

  15. Steven says:

    Cliff, have ever thought of accepting bit coin or other digital currency as payment for your goods? I’m thinking about exhibit F there and if the uk government doesn’t tax digital currencies and the vat rates hold up, you might be able to take advantage of a potential opportunity for growth.