All: if you comment in this thread, make sure your comment is thoughtful and edit out any flamey or trollish bits before hitting the button. The same goes for any thread, of course:
has there been any factory floor, farm, private or government office where things have been different? Except may be for a situation like a tenured professor at Stanford. Or a 4 star general who after having been a cog for like 30 years finally gets to be the one burning and replacing the cogs at his will/choice.
If anything, i think tech is among the most progressive places, if only for the fact that one can easily switch jobs instead of suffering for years for example under harassing boss like it was before and still is in the other industries where job market is worse. With employees having such freedom, the tech companies and management are forced to treat the employees better than at the other industries. I wonder how many of the people complaining about toxic tech culture did actually work at non-tech places.
I live in a 2nd tier city (not NY, SF, LA, etc) and these depictions of the "tech industry" are unfamiliar to me. Sure, there's the odd asshole, but those are everywhere. I feel like people around SV and other high competition big cities are generalizing about the industry in a way that doesn't reflect my day to day life.
Also, stories on tech (maybe because of the above?) are trendier. No one cares if a factory or finance firm have toxic cultures (because we all expect them to?).
No, a very few Silicon Valley businesses pose themselves as new and its leaders talk about "making the world/people better". These aren't representative of the whole worldwide IT sector, which is no more "feminist" than the coal industry.
> Also, stories on tech (maybe because of the above?) are trendier. No one cares if a factory or finance firm have toxic cultures (because we all expect them to?).
Many of the people here are too young to remember how Wall street used to be seen as a "left wing" sector in the 90's the same way "big tech" is now. Ironically shun by leftist activists today as the "personification of the devil".
Wall St finance used to be called the "new money" sector as opposition to the "old money" which was the core of the republican elite. And the same way, some financial companies and CEO claimed to be something new and make the world better. So the irony of your statement...
First thing I thought also. The problem is we have a society where people are dependent on their jobs to keep from being homeless and to maintain their lives. If people had an option to walkaway, the amount of toxic workplaces in any occupation would drop drastically. Any place where people are forced to submit just to keep their lifestyle is an opportunity for someone above them to take advantage.
If anything, then the concern would be "out of the frying pan and into the fire", i.e., leaving tech because of real problems in the industry, but then finding it just as bad or worse in other fields.
Does anyone know of anecdotes where someone says "I left tech because of discrimination, but it was way worse in this other industry, so I returned?"
And yes - I agree that parts of the tech industry are quite progressive. It sounds like (not just from this article) that other parts are quite not.
Office Space ?
Hard to believe that movie is almost two decades old now.
Funky anecdote coming up.
We went to see Office Space when it was in the cinemas, after having heard a number of good things about it. There were 8 of us. 7, myself included, kept bursting into laughter throughout the film. The last one didn't really register.
When we walked out, the silent one quipped: "I don't get how that was supposed to be funny. I see that same stuff at work every day."
And yeah, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. And it’s an awesome movie
Yes. It's the 1930's anymore. Especially in the last 20 years even grubby industries have come around to treating their labor with dignity. At least in part because of legal liability.
As in: what every corporation is, by law, required to do. If it doesn't, lawsuits follow.
I have one main gripe, though: The scope limitation to tech.
> "Toxic tech cultures are those that demean and devalue you as holistic, multifaceted human beings. Toxic tech cultures are those that prioritize profits and growth over human and societal well being. Toxic tech cultures are those that treat you as replaceable cogs within a system of constant churn and burnout.
This is __not__ a tech specific problem. This is a systemic aspect of labor in an overly-capitalist society. Not bashing capitalism, either. But, spare me the 'woe is me, tech bros are out to get us'. Sure, some are. But these problems exist in every industry; the service industry, Hollywood and film, architecture and construction, finance, etc.
As I said, I think the rest of the article was well written and on-topic. That, though, is trying to paint rice grains with a broom.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in academic security conferences, I have to wonder what you are comparing them to. The only field with a worse female participation rate in my experience is networking (e.g. SIGCOMM). Check out this picture from EuroCrypt in 97 and count the ratio of women to men. It looks like under 1 in 10 which is worse than general CS enrollment numbers: http://www.crypto-uni.lu/jscoron/misc/euro_97.jpg
Anyway, back to the main point.
>CS is almost uniquely imbalanced.
I agree. However, a 1/4 female/male ratio coming out of CS programs is going to be reflected in the industry and attempting to bring the balance on the industry side to 50/50 is folly while the enrollment balance stays the same.
Clearly something is discouraging women from enrolling at the college level, but I can't fathom how 50/50 quotas are supposed to help solve that problem. Implementing things like Google's "extra interview retries" for minorities just seems to cause division and make it worse for minorities because some people assume they are there for the wrong reason.
Are you aware of programs focusing on getting more women enrolled at the high-school and college level? It seems like it would be significantly more productive as a community to put a significant focus there in terms of resources (money, advocacy, etc).
I know almost nobody that has a problem with improving enrollment numbers of women in CS (equality of opportunity). However, there is a significant chunk of people that have problems with the "white males are over-represented and we need to give everyone else an advantage" approach (equality of outcomes).
What am I missing here? Why are so many resources being poured into something as fundamentally flawed as trying to get equal representation with a supply that doesn't have equal representation?
Have you ever been in a 100-level CS course? Granted, it's been a while for me, but they're generally full of 18-year-olds who lack a certain amount of social grace. IME, most people are pretty okay, but there was a notable minority of people you just don't want to spend time with: annoying, obnoxious kids who feel the constant need to correct everyone around them (including the instructors) to demonstrate how frickin' smart they are, and who don't realize they're also surrounded by other smart people who aren't as annoying and obnoxious. And, IME, many of these people actively make young women uncomfortable with their advances and behavior.
There are still lots of liberal arts schools that are very much gender-segregated (Wellesley, Smith); I can't think of any "women's" tech schools. I wonder what the CS classes and enrollment is like at places that are more-or-less women-only.
Of course it also starts before college enrollment. AP computer science courses in high school have about the same gender ratio (19%).  Those would probably contain the same minority you mentioned, a few years younger.
I don't know what was going on at EuroCrypt in 1997, but I've been to workshops within the last 5 years, and the number of women involved was startling. Which, of course, squares with the statistics for gender parity in CS (bad) vs. mathematics (better).
It is also not necessarily the case that picking 50:50 out of a 75:25 distribution will lead to a competence imbalance. Even if the skill distribution is the same for both populations, maybe only certain baselines matter for doing good work, and maybe any skill gaps could be corrected via on-the-job training. Maybe having that kind of diversity is worth the extra effort for the company.
For web developers, it's 34%, which is roughly the same as dentists.
Computer "science" is kinda BS as a field.
All of that is stuff that I think is highly tilted towards a certain profile of devs, and going to be hostile towards anyone who didn't follow the typical CS undergrad route. And that undergrad route is very unbalanced, as is the profile of e.g. established tech managers.
If you're not willing to do much more training than most big companies, I don't see good steps to fix it outside of fixing the high school and college pipelines.
Having gone through one of these processes (not with Google, but another big 4 company), I'm quite sure this happens. The CS fundamentals might be easy to test for, but they've had very little impact on real world problems I needed to solve in my career. For someone who's a bit farther away from college and doesn't come from a rote memorization culture (which IMHO is inherently bad for problem solving), this serves as a screening mechanism without actually testing for what's useful on the job.
I've been quite successful at interviews where they ask me to solve a little take-home project. In that case the rote memorizers who get through the Google process usually don't shine, because they're not able to put these things together properly. Recent CS grads still do well on those if they're competent.
Is it possible that a "concerted effort to recruit and retain women" perhaps does more harm than good? Med schools in this country are now very nearly 50/50 and law schools are very slightly over 50% female. Did medicine and law achieve this by the same type of concerted effort we've seen in tech? I honestly don't know the answer to that but I think it's an interesting question.
I do feel though that we treat females who are doctors as simply doctors (and likewise for lawyers), not female doctors whereas in tech we have a habit of treating them like female developers instead of developers (and I'm referring to when that's done with the best intentions such as female-only hackathons, bootcamps, and meetups).
Female-only hackathons are what's wrong though. It implies that women cannot compete at the adult table, which is untrue, but if you treat people separately this is what registers in the collective subconscious. Similar to affirmative action making a lot of people think less of academic achievements depending on race, because it was handed to someone. This becomes a problem for those who don't need AA to be competitive, but have to face the stereotypes of the group they're in. Something like affirmative action should be about poverty, not race, because poverty is the underlying reason why people start at a disadvantage. Similarly with hackathons (I'll admit, I'm a guy who never went to one) the problem isn't that women can't compete, but that they're not attracted to these events for some reason. This has more to do with social dynamics. If you're male and a lot of males are going they will advertise it to their friends. So what we need would be more advertisement of these events geared toward women, with no effect on who gets selected.
(We're reading a blog post written by a woman kernel developer, for what it's worth).
Even worse than forfeiting competition, and particularly sad if women themselves think so.
The traditional job of women in the household was care taking and value transference, meaning the husband brought the money and the woman distribute it and used it. That's why it was only natural for women to work in care taking jobs like medicine, teachers, social worker and such. Jobs like law or banking are value transference, they move money from one person to another without creating any real physical value. Tech generates value so it is subtly but determinately different from what women used to do before going into the work force, it was always the men domain, at least conceptually.
Medicine and Law are very certificate oriented jobs, they are safe jobs. The moment you got the certificate and got into the system you can practice and the experience you accumulate usually path your way to a better position.
Tech is something that is valued by your results and innovation, you can be a programmer without any certificate, you must learn new things endlessly and your experience amount to almost nothing when your specific knowledge become obsolete.
Women are not innovators in any fields, even in art and music, they hardly create new companies in any field. Law and Medicine doesn't require you to create anything new, you just slot in to the system, the tech world is all about innovation and new value creation.
In the western world women have options and they can do whatever they want. If they are smart and has good intuition, they would rather be lawyers or doctors, if they are not smart they would rather be a teacher and have a stable job for life with benefits.
In non western countries like India, Russia or even Israel you will find more women in tech roles because there are not too many other options to earn decently and government jobs like teaching don't pay much. If you give women the options they will go after their hurt, which is not in tech.
Women are attracted to doctors and lawyers and want to be in this environment. That's why you had countless of shows about law and medicine featuring the George Clooneys of the world. Compare it to the IT Crowd and you got a very solid reason why those jobs attracted women in the first place. Women want to be around the highly valued guys of their high school and the same go for society in general. An average white woman will never date an Indian software engineer, that's the sad reality. Women started to look at the tech world only after its status was elevated a bit, they will still rather have a doctor husband over some geeky tech guy, all else being equal.
Bottom line, tech people are not different to any other industry in the way they treat women or minorities or any other group in society. If anything bankers, lawyers, movie producers and to less extent doctors are much more status and class oriented. They invented sniffing coke from strippers butt cracks long before Mark Zuckerberg got his first kiss from his average looking wife. Still a woman will rather work in those environments than in tech from the reasons mentioned above and it is not going to change.
Further, for more "general care" men basically have no option but to have a female nurse, since 90% of nurses are female. On the off-chance that a male nurse needs to do something like insert a catheter for a female patient, they will almost always ask if the patient would prefer a female nurse. This option of a same gendered caregiver is not offered to male patients.
When a woman goes to a gynecologist to talk about potentially embarrassing issues related to her reproductive system, basically everyone she sees is going to be a woman, including the front staff. Compare that to a man's experience going to a Urologist. Sure, most urologists are men, but the man will still have to tell the front staff person or nurse, who is almost certainly female, that he has ED, or some other problem.
I'm not sure if I wasn't very clear by what I meant by that in my original comment or if I just failed to understand your response - while I don't dispute the accuracy of anything you said following this line I don't quite understand how any of it is relevant (at least not regarding what I was trying to say).
When I said "we treat females who are doctors as simply doctors (and likewise for lawyers), not female doctors" I mean:
* I've often heard people being discussed as e.g. "a female dev" but don't often (never that I recall) hear anyone say "female doctor" (I'm referring to casual conversation, not discussions about who's gonna work the catheter on a patient)
* We have female-only hackathons, bootcamps, and meetups, etc, do similar things exist in the medical field and if such things do exist are they as common? Are there many medical conferences open only to female doctors?
* There are often articles/lists of prominent/powerful/etc "women in tech". Are similar such articles published in the same quantity for medicine? A quick google yields almost entirely historical results, where's the list of "30 Inspirational Women to Watch in Medicine in 2018"?
* Is it a common practice for hospitals to make reports publicly available that detail what percentage of their doctors are female and how they plan to increase that number?
* Do hospitals generally do anything to recruit (and/or retain) female doctors specifically or are their recruiting and retention efforts just focused on doctors?
You don't have to specify the gender in most cases. It's assumed that nurses are women. You'd only ever specify the gender for men, so you'd say "male nurse" but never "female nurse." I generally don't hear people say anything about their GP, but I've definitely heard women qualify the gender of their male gynecologist. I've never heard of a woman specifically call out the gender of a female gynecologist though.
>* We have female-only hackathons, bootcamps, and meetups, etc, do similar things exist in the medical field and if such things do exist are they as common? Are there many medical conferences open only to female doctors?
Depending on what you mean by conferences, yes. Here's the official list, provided by the Bar itself, of women's legal associations: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/women/resources/directory.... Though admittedly, I have no ability to provide a sense of scale in comparison to the IT field.
>There are often articles/lists of prominent/powerful/etc "women in tech". Are similar such articles published in the same quantity for medicine? A quick google yields almost entirely historical results, where's the list of "30 Inspirational Women to Watch in Medicine in 2018"?
Medicine moves much slower than tech, so it will never lend itself to having a list of top movers and shakers in a particular year, regardless of gender. And it particularly won't be the case because medical breakthroughs aren't in the public sphere the way FB or Tesla is. However, there are definitely awards/medals/prizes that are gendered. A quick google search will find many examples, though you'd likely never hear of them outside the industry.
>Is it a common practice for hospitals to make reports publicly available that detail what percentage of their doctors are female and how they plan to increase that number?
No, not publicly, because openly favoring women or other minorities could open them up to lawsuits.
>Do hospitals generally do anything to recruit (and/or retain) female doctors specifically or are their recruiting and retention efforts just focused on doctors?
Yes, but again not publicly. It's worth mentioning that part of the infamous DaMore memo was pointing out the potential illegality of Google's hiring practices. There's an open secret among HR pros that race and gender-conscious hiring practices are the rule rather than the exception. Since the 1971 Griggs ruling you basically have to have a prejudicial hiring practice in favor of minorities. But speaking openly about it will put you at risk of reverse discrimination lawsuits.
I don’t think I could get a job at Google, for example; I would not pass their intensive multi-week screening process. I wouldn’t even try.
Oh man!! OMG, you just reminded me of something. During the last dot com bubble I was entering college. I was planning on going into the field so I job shadowed a woman at one of the biggest companies in the world at the time. Her title was "e-business" or something like that. It was "e-[something]" like that and the prefix "e" was super popular at the time. Yeah, it was cool at the time...
The entire time I was job shadowing her (which I admit, was only about 4 hours, they gave us presentations and stuff too) she couldn't answer me the question of what she actually does. What her job was. She was kinda like "oh yeah, I work on this program" and showed it to me. I ask "so you built this? Neat!" and she'd answer "oh no, that's not me, that's the guys upstairs did." The entire time she danced around the question of what her job actually is other than "using a computer."
Looking back, holy shit, that was a big sign we we're in a bubble and that bubble was so close to bursting!! I mean, wow, it was like "we are branching into e-business, look at us [smoke and mirrors]"
It was just a really, really bizarre experience at the time - "Job shadow someone who can't tell you what their job is." I'm sure she got laid off 6-12 months later.
She eventually took me to meet the guys upstairs who build the stuff, I wish I got to job shadow them instead. They were polite, humble, friendly, and down to earth. Oh yeah, and they knew what their job was!
Anyway, I feel we're getting the same way here again - a ton of "staff" in the "tech/web business" who are totally superfluous. That's what it seems like to me anyways.
To be clear, I'm not trying to dis women in tech, after all, I am one myself. I'm not saying all women in tech so no work - I'm saying bubbles bring in a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Sweden has a complete record for what every citizen here work, their education and their gender. The data is gathered as part of tax collection and as a matter of policy they also make this information public so anyone can see what the gender distribution is for any industry or profession. 70%/30% distribution is extremely average, and the wast majority of the working population (equal amount women and men) work in such professions.
If you want the most uniquely imbalanced fields, look at the professions and industries that has over 99% of a single gender. From a few years back, that covers around 5 different professions. If the the professions from the CS field is stuck in the 1960, what should we call the psychology profession with 90% women and 10% men? Nearer the 99% bracket we have professions such as mechanics, midwifes and tile installers. If we again take a look around 90% we see professions such as veterinarians, dentists, construction worker, kindergarten teachers, secretary, truck driver, and the list just goes on and on if we were to list every profession with worse gender distribution that those from CS.
93% of the working population work in a industry that the government classified as having imbalanced gender distribution, ie professions that has above 60% of a single gender. 93% is a very huge number and without a question the norm. A fair distribution is the exception, one which hopefully will grow but where the trend has been in the opposite direction since 1960~1970 and just hopefully have now reached the peak.
The only uniqueness about CS+Mathematics as academic fields is that they have more men and women rather than the opposite.
Note also that you've unsubtly moved the goalposts. I'm comparing STEM fields, you're comparing all occupations (and: in Sweden, but that's less important to my point). I mean, whatever, make whatever argument you'd like, but modulate your stridency. With some satisfaction, I'll also observe that you're only able to marshal evidence (unsuccessfully, I think?) for _one_ level, not "so many".
Among the professions in general, you said, the difference is supposed to be stark. This is false since there is no general difference between the average profession and CS. Second thing is that we're stuck in the 1960. This is also false since all professions has on average a worse gender segregation in 2018 than in 1960, which includes the STEM fields. The third would be the conclusion that toxic culture causing segregated work environment is a tech-specific problem. Every report (including government issued ones) that I have read describe similar problems in profession with similar or greater gender imbalance than CS. The service industry especially has many horror stories being printed in news with rather regular intervals.
Looking at the gender distribution of the movies that a sample of 10000 women and 10000 men has seen, you get very different numbers.
Every study however that I have seen has only looked at the highest gross films, be that the top 5 or top 100. Of those only a few will specifically target a female audience like the 2008 Sex and the City that only had women in star roles.
Here is the IMBD ratings: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1000774/ratings
It should not be hard to find a matching movie with the genders reversed where all the star roles are men, the target audience are male, and the ratings flipped.
The article actually cites other potential issues such as the quality of the job itself, but traditional gender roles is a big part of it:
> "It seems like an easy fix. Traditionally male factory work is drying up. The fastest-growing jobs in the American economy are those that are often held by women. Why not get men to do them?
> The problem is that notions of masculinity die hard, in women as well as men. It’s not just that men consider some of the jobs that will be most in demand — in health care, education and administration — to be unmanly or demeaning, or worry that they require emotional skills they don’t have. So do some of their wives, prospective employers and women in these same professions."
> “Marriages have more problems when the man is unemployed than the woman,” Professor Sharone said. “What does it mean for a man to take a low-paying job that’s typically associated with women? What kind of price will they pay with their friends, their lives, their wives, compared to unemployment?”
> That may be, he said, because other sociologists have found that while work is important to both men’s and women’s identities, there remains a difference. “Work is at the core of what it means to be a man, in a way that work is not at the core of femininity,” he said.
So at the moment society is trying to figure out if it is OK with nursing being a "woman's" profession.
The main reason for the lack of men in nursing is because it's viewed by most men as not being a masculine profession, not because of discrimination.
Yes. They do.
Source: Was a male nursing student, changed degrees because every lecturer, student and nurse was clearly biased against men being nurses. This happened to multiple men in my year.
sounds like you equate the toxic environment definition as given by the article with the issue of low representation of women. Well, do you really think that the environment isnt' toxic (as defined by the article) in the industries where women are over-represented? I mean do you really think that the employees aren't treated like replaceable cogs or companies don't pursue profit and growth as the first and foremost priority in hospitality or in the clothing sewing industry ?
Focusing on tech is fine, but claiming there's a unique problem of demoralization, underappreciation, shit management etc. to only "marginalized people" is what makes this article highly questionable.
All that "toxicity" applies just as well to white males in tech.
Well, it isn’t. You can’t take a problem that is universal to all workers in all industries as evidence that one demographic in one industry is discriminated against.
And, it is easy to generalise: Workers on one side, bosses on the other.
I agree. I've been working in Silicon Valley for a few years now, and it honestly feels like a page out of Animal Farm. The Orwellian mismatch between rhetoric and action feels like cult-like propaganda to me.
I don't know how veterans of the Valley can keep this up.
Of course, marketing sometimes goes a bit over the board, and each release of version 8.4 is the best thing that happened to humanity since v8.3 was released and before it's time to release v8.5. But that's kind of expected, nobody I know takes it as a literal truth.
And of course there are mission statements that talk about improving human condition and expanding horizons and saving the world. Sometimes it happens, at least to a measure, sometimes it doesn't, but that's not usually what you're thinking the whole day about, and even not something you think about every week or every month.
And of course (almost) each startup CEO thinks his (or her) startup is going to change the world, or at least some part of it. That's how you should think if you're getting into a startup, otherwise it's not worth the trouble, the stress and the extremely high chance of failure. Of course the CEO believes she (or he) found some special thing nobody thought of before and some unique vision nobody had before - otherwise how the startup could take off the ground at all?
And really, describing giving up free gym, yoga class and cafeteria as "something horrible happening to you"... I can't even find adequate words to describe how wrong this is.
I worked for a non tech Fortune 500 company. It was fairly cult like. It didn't really bother me because my father and ex were both career military, so I considered the cult like elements evidence of how unimportant the work was. The military isn't cult like. You take things seriously because lives are on the line and national security is on the line. Having been around the military helped inoculate me against the cult like elements of corporate culture.
I had some sympathy for why it was that way. Building a very successful company is kind of like magic. We don't really know how it works, yet it is life giving. These people had well paid jobs because... Magic. And working there meant that when I made small talk while ordering food or getting a haircut, people oohed and aahed that I worked there at all. Not everyone could get in.
But my work as a military wife, without even being in the army, had been more important. For me, it was a step down in intensity. It was just a job. Meanwhile, coworkers often felt working there was the biggest thing that ever happened to them.
* break you down in boot camp to build you up in their image, with their values (esp Marines)
* force you to accept teachings that are demonstrably false (source: friend went to nuclear engineering school, nearly got kicked out for pointing out flaws in how they taught nuclear theory).
* control where you live, where you sleep, what you eat
* indoctrinate you (onboarding at my base was literally called "indoc[trination]")
* bestow status for pleasing the leaders of the cult (the career game)
Personally, I think the indoc makes service members believe lives and national security are on the line. Anymore, I believe the biggest threat to our country (and thus the lives of those who protect it) is ourselves.
I don't disagree this can be effective, but strongly believe the military is a cult.
It seems to me hippies who see the biggest threats as internal are always a product of a secure environment. I suspect such attitudes don't thrive in places with war on the ground. America has never had a major invasion in terms of amount of land invaded. We seem particularly prone to this idea that war happens elsewhere and is not a real and serious threat.
Regardless, my comment wasn't intended to be judgemental, I apologize if it came off that way. I just wanted to point out the similarities between effective cult leadership and military indoctrination, but should have been more clear that I was speaking more academically.
Just because you don't personally experience it doesn't mean that it's not happening. If there is data to show that people are being marginalized in the bay area, then odds are it's happening even if you haven't seen it yourself.
I've been in SV for 15 years, and one (out of four) companies has been incredibly cult-like. The exec team, and CEO in particular, often espoused how we were going to change the world of $INDUSTRY forever. Any talk of existential problems was met with accusations of disloyalty. People who were even thinking about leaving or interviewing elsewhere were viewed as disloyal and got "the talk" from the CEO or CTO.
Over two decades, and the cult-like trappings are reinforced by the media to be sure. Maybe even originate there.
You're focusing on one small part of the article though. How do you feel about suggestions that you stay healthy, have friends that are not wrapped up in tech, have a life outside of The Company, etc.?
I think there was a lot to agree with.
> And of course (almost) each startup CEO thinks his (or her) startup is going to change the world, or at least some part of it. That's how you should think if you're getting into a startup, otherwise it's not worth the trouble, the stress and the extremely high chance of failure.
I don't think this should be an "of course". This article highlights toxic tech culture, namely a culture found in tech that is toxic. Marketing is not specific to tech, nor are small businesses. Why does Uber tell me they're going to "make transportation as freely available as running water" but not Loreal's new shampoo? Why does the small chain of bike repair shops in my area, also taking the stress and high risk of starting their own business, not exhort about how their bike repair shop will change the world of bikes forever?
This overboard marketing and out-of-touch mission statements are much more commonly found in tech than in elsewhere. This article discusses a culture formed by overboard marketing and out-of-touch mission statements and labels it as toxic. Moreover, there's an argument to be made about a field that oft labels itself as "meritocratic" relies on these hyperbolic forms of marketing and mission statements to do business, rather than a more traditional, "stodgy" business.
> Why does the small chain of bike repair shops in my area, also taking the stress and high risk of starting their own business, not exhort about how their bike repair shop will change the world of bikes forever?
Maybe if they did, they'd be a large national chain of bike repair shops now? ;) Maybe not, who knows. The point is there's nothing inherently bad in wanting to change the world of bikes forever. And one day somebody might just do that.
> Moreover, there's an argument to be made that a field that oft labels itself as "meritocratic" relies on these hyperbolic forms of marketing and mission statements to do business, rather than a more traditional, "stodgy" business.
You can't really rely on mission statements and marketing to do business. At least not in any long term. And SV companies surely provide ample evidence that marketing is not the only thing they do. Surely, some companies are just hype, and those get up, stay up for a short while, and go down to the ash heap of history, never to be spoken about again (would anybody know what Juicero was in 5 years? maybe some ubergeeks would). But claiming it's a defining property of significant part of SV companies to be overblown marketing only is just false.
I didn't claim this. However, there's no correlation between sexist marketing and sexist work culture. On top of this, writing off bad behavior as "normal imperfect human behavior" is just an excuse to break rules. Two wrongs don't make a right.
> Maybe if they did, they'd be a large national chain of bike repair shops now?
Are you implying that the hyperbolic marketing of startups is a feature and not a bug? If so, then we're probably not going to see eye-to-eye in this discussion. I do not think that hyperbolic marketing is a necessary condition to success.
> The point is there's nothing inherently bad in wanting to change the world of bikes forever.
Indeed, but there's a cognitive dissonance when 500 startup founders believe they are all changing the world. If 500 intelligent, aware people are all convinced that they are going to change the world then, well I'm interested in whatever kool-aid they're drinking and how. Moreover, you seem to be implying that founders actually believe their mission statements. I'm going to rebut and say no, most founders use the mission statement as another form of marketing.
> And SV companies surely provide ample evidence that marketing is not the only thing they do.
But there are SV companies which provide ample evidence that marketing is all the do. Juicero, Yo, etc.
> Surely, some companies are just hype, and those get up, stay up for a short while, and go down to the ash heap of history, never to be spoken about again (would anybody know what Juicero was in 5 years? maybe some ubergeeks would)
While this is a slightly different issue than the one discussed in the article, I'd like to reply to this. Behind each of these pure hype Silicon Valley companies are VCs who actually invested in them, who wrote them checks of $10,000+ that believed in the hype and marketing potential of these startups. This is a very unique aspect of tech culture, and not at all a good one in my opinion.
Which rules? There are no rules saying "you can't do marketing" or "you can't claim to change the world".
> Are you implying that the hyperbolic marketing of startups is a feature and not a bug?
I am implying it's a natural consequence of a startup being oriented on doing something new, never done before, and natural consequence of somebody being about to undertake a high-risk/high-reward activity. That requires certain mindset. Wanting to change the world highly correlates with such a mindset. Wanting to improve the cost of fidgelating type A sprockets by 0.1% does not. Of course, if humans were perfect robots, they'd always be exactly as much excited as it takes to be able to do a startup, and not one exciton over that. Imperfect humans frequently get more excited than that.
> there's a cognitive dissonance when 500 startup founders believe they are all changing the world
There's million of traders believing they can make a profit (which is arithmetically impossible) and millions of people believing they all can win a lottery (which is even more impossible since lottery is a negative-sum game). Of course, vast majority of these people are wrong. And 499 of the 500 startup founders will be wrong too. So what? Why is it "toxic"? What's your problem with them believing it? People hold much more dangerous and useless false beliefs every day than belief that you can have positive impact on the world.
> But there are SV companies which provide ample evidence that marketing is all the do. Juicero, Yo, etc.
Didn't I just admit there are some companies that are just hype in the very next phrase, and explained why this admission does not disprove my point?
> This is a very unique aspect of tech culture, and not at all a good one in my opinion.
High risk investment is in no way unique to SV. There are lots of people that invest in all kinds of crazy stuff, from hipster juicers to high-stake poker games. They can afford it, and they are the lifeblood of innovation and invention. All power to them. I literally can't think of anything bad coming from a billionaire spending some promilles of his outsized bank account on some weird innovative project, that may or may not change the world. Some of those would be stupid, so what. You can't make innovation without doing a couple of stupid tries on the way.
It was unclear to me whether you were suggesting sexism was under the domain of "normal imperfect human behavior" or not. If you weren't, then I apologize, I misread.
> I am implying it's a natural consequence of a startup being oriented on doing something new, never done before, and natural consequence of somebody being about to undertake a high-risk/high-reward activity.
I agree with this premise, but I'm going to argue that the vast majority of startup founders are not interested in actually changing the word and are using hyperbolic rhetoric to both appeal to a cultural standard in the industry and to convince their employees to work harder for less compensation and more uncertainty. If I take a glance at AngelList, the vast majority of startups are trying to fix small problems in niche fields. Admirable attempts no doubt, but changing the world they are not.
> So what? Why is it "toxic"? What's your problem with them believing it? People hold much more dangerous and useless false beliefs every day than belief that you can have positive impact on the world.
Because these people make it harder for qualified people with less rhetoric to gain funding. Because these people employ others who are convinced by their rhetoric. Gambling laws and Ponzi Scheme laws exist to stop greedy actors from exploiting human failings. My argument here is that joining a startup is akin to gambling, and giving them a free pass is akin to taking an amoral stance on gambling.
> Didn't I just admit there are some companies that are just hype in the very next phrase, and explained why this admission does not disprove my point?
Yeah apologies I wasn't super cogent here.
> There are lots of people that invest in all kinds of crazy stuff, from hipster juicers to high-stake poker games.
Again, there's regulation around high stake poker games and other such gambling because it's widely recognized that high risk gambling can be exploitative and ruinous. I don't see any such urge in tech.
I have no idea. How would you know? And then, who cares - if they do change the world, it doesn't matter if they really really wanted it or jus kinda, and if they don't, truly nobody cares.
> If I take a glance at AngelList, the vast majority of startups are trying to fix small problems in niche fields.
Vast majority of startups also don't make claims about changing the world. In fact, we, on average, know absolutely nothing about vast majority of startups, because there's just too many of them. Everybody knows about Juicero, because that's in the press, but nobody knows about 10000 non-Juiceros. If you want to discuss the hyped ones - then let's not lose the focus.
> Because these people make it harder for qualified people with less rhetoric to gain funding.
If people with funding make decision on whether somebody uses rhetoric or not, only, then the rhetoric is not a problem. But frankly, I don't believe it. People who professionally invest money are not stupider than you or me, if you can see it, they can see it. So I don't think "we're too honest with our rhetoric and too beautiful for this cruel world" is a real industry-wise problem. Lack of communicative or marketing skills to clearly explain the idea behind the startup may very well be, but that's a different one.
> Again, there's regulation around high stake poker games
Wait, so the whole problem is that there's no Big Dude from Big Government overseeing it and protecting poor investors from themselves? The the whole thing is even less substance than I expected. I think exploitation of angel investor billionaires by overhyped startups is not the problem we should be too worried about, and probably not in the first 1000 of the problems that our society faces.
Could I ask you (and hopefully, others) for a few examples of SV startups that
have, in your opinion, changed the world?
I would like to impose some criteria however - and I don't know if you'll
agree with them. I'll number them for easy reference but you don't have to
respond with a respectively numbered list. You might contest my criteria, of course.
1. The change brought on must contribute to the wellbeing of a wider
community, i.e., not just to the bottom line of the company. This is probably
an obvious requirement.
2. The change must be a clear net benefit to the community. For instance, if
a firm is selling millions of a device that "make the world a better place"
but these millions of devices end up as unrecyclable garbage soon after,
that's not an obvious net benefit- it's doing some good here, some harm
there and it's hard to tell which is bigger. I think we should be able to
agree on this being a reasonable requirement, too.
3. The change must not fulfill a need that didn't exist beforehand. For
instance, insurance is not strictly needed until one is offered the
opportunity to buy some, at which point there is a (conditional) benefit that
was never expected before it.
4. The change must not fulfill a need that was adequately satisfied
beforehand. For instance -this might be controversial- a smartphone fulfills
the need of "communication" but people could communicate just fine without
smartphones. Uber fulfills the need of transportation, but people had
transportation long before Uber; etc.
I'm asking you specifically because you seem to believe that SV firms really
want to change the world. I agree with Karrot_Kream that it's just marketing.
So I am interested to hear why you think this.
1. What you mean by "wellbeing"? A company - outside of government investment, like defense company - can only exist if people pay for their product. If they voluntarily pay for it, doesn't it mean they want it? Or are you allowed to argue that they may want it, but you think they shouldn't so it doesn't qualify as wellbeing? If so, you basically define what "wellbeing" is and I can't hope to guess what it is.
2. Again, what is "net benefit" - how you count it? I know one way, see above. You probably know about it too, and yet added two separate special requirements - so you probably have something else in mind. Again, it would be hard for me to see what.
3. Why not? I didn't have an urge to learn Spanish until I learned about Duolingo and an urge to learn about variety of subjects until I read Coursera catalog. It just didn't come to my attention it's possible for me to do it that easily. Now I can. We can go further - before air travel existed, I'd probably never thought I want to visit another continent. Now I know I do. Does it mean air travel didn't change the world? Of course it did.
4. What is "adequately"? Obviously, if people are paying money for the new provider, they find something in it that wasn't covered by the old provider. Again, you can claim people "don't need it" - like, they don't need smartphones, just sending ravens to each other and occasionally having a maester write a long letter is perfectly fine, but who decides that? You do. And I can't hope to match your criteria here. Of course, people lived lives in 600 BC, and by all indications were not hellishly unhappy, at least most of them, so should we claim all that happened since was unnecessary and didn't really change the world? Makes no sense to me.
> examples of SV startups that have, in your opinion, changed the world?
OK, here are some examples that made the world be different for me. Note I don't consider how good the change was and how good are the companies at day-to-day operations, only whether they did something that changed something in a big way. And I only consider relatively new companies, e.g. IBM won't qualify even if they invent time travel. Also, I do not discuss Google, because a) obvious, b) not a startup for a while.
Twitter. I mean, US president is using it and everybody in the world is jumping around it. You may not like it, but you have to admit this is happening. It's a different world now.
Square. The enablement of small businesses driven by it is phenomenal. And it certainly changes my patterns of behavior - I no longer need to run around looking for ATM (or, in many cases, just not patronize that particular business because it's too much trouble).
Yelp. Completely changed how people choose where to eat and who to hire and so on.
Uber. Changed the world for me - now in any city on the planet that has Uber I can be sure I can get whereever I want. Bus broke down? Train has 2 hour delay? Car in the shop and I need to go somewhere right now? I know what to do. Yes, taxis existed before - and my experience with them sucked (once I was stranded in the middle of pretty large US city and was told by dispatcher no cabs are available in the next hour or so. I had to call the only person I knew in the whole city - which was barely an acquaintance - and beg him to take me to the hotel. Very unpleasant).
Facebook. It is criticized a lot, and deservedly. But I now am talking to people that I literally haven't seen for decades. Yes, it's not "real" talking like sitting in the same room etc. This would probably never happen - we are too far from each other, and too busy, and too... well, a lot of things, but at least we're not 100% disconnected as it would be before.
Automattic. This is the company behind WordPress, which made publishing accessible to common people. Now everybody can do what in the past only major newspapers and writers could do.
Coursera (also Udemy) - not unique, but hugely game-changing thing, you can now get an several degrees worth of education completely free, not leaving your home and needing nothing but an internet connection. Of course, yes, getting a formal degree in a college has its benefits, but now it's not the only way.
BitTorrent (along with predecessors, copycats, etc.). This can be arguable whether it's good or bad, but the way that content is consumed online has been changed forever when peer-sharing networks appeared.
Netflix, as a complement to the above. Changed how people consume entertainment, and more. I mean, netflix and chill, right?
Mozilla - without it existing, Internet probably would be owned by Microsoft now, and Chrome would have much chance to happen either because everybody would think there's no chance to beating Microsoft there.
Apple, of course, may not qualify as a startup, but deserves a honorable mention by making the concept of smartphone finally work. One can argue that'd happen even without them, but somebody would have done it, and mobile computing has changed the world, and Apple took a huge part in it.
Wikipedia (not your regular "startup", but can be seen as part of SV) - need I explain anything here?
Of course, the geographic criterion here - only SV ones - is kinda limiting and arbitrary, but I guess it's a decent sample anyway. And probably missed a lot of viable candidates, it's just a list that I could make without starting a doctoral thesis on it.
Apologies- I was looking for the word "benefit". I'm not a native English
speaker and sometimes I get word-blocks like that, where I just can't find the
exact word I want.
The questions you ask though, work with both "wellbeing" and "benefit". If I
understand the first one correctly, you're basically asking: if people are buying a
product, who am I to arbitrarily decide that it's not beneficial to them?
Well, of course there is no completely objective way to determine what is
"beneficial" to people. However, individuals and societies make decisions like that all
the time, because decisions have to be made about what's good and what's bad
for people and for members of the society. If there's no way to objectively rule what's good
or bad, then we just use our morals and our cultural bias and wing it- and
hope that our subjective decision is ultimately close to the goal of making
things better for most, rather than worst.
Here's an example: opiate use. Opiates are addictive and damaging to the
social life and the health of addicts. Most nations basically ban them except
for medical use. We could argue that, if people wish to pay for opiates and
are happy with their use, then who are we to say that they are harmful, or in
any case not beneficial to them? Well, it's not a cut-and-dry thing but, most
communities seem to have -subjectively- decided that opiates are harmful and
therefore should be controlled. You're not likely to see a startup disrupting
the opiates market to make the world a better place becoming very popular, any
The alternative to attempting to use one's moral compass to decide what's
beneficial and what's harmful, is basically to wash one's hands of the whole
question, hiding behind the impossibility of absolute moral evaluations. Which
may be rational- but not reasonable, or responsible.
How do you count the "net benefit" I'm describing. In this case, because we're
talking about technology, there are some objective rules, namely the
contribution of the technology to environmental damage. For instance, cars
take you places, but they also contribute to climate change and general
atmospheric pollution. In fact, here, the need for mechanised transportation
is the intangible value and the environmental damage is the measurable one.
Why shouldn't the change fulfill a need that didn't exist beforehand? Because
then the change is hard to measure. Air travel changed the world, sure, but at
the beginning the difference to speeds with then-fastest modes of transport
was probably small. We can look at air travel today and say "it changed the
world" but about 200 years have gone by since air travel became a possibility and the
world has changed anyway. It's hard to tell exactly how much it changed
because of air travel and how much it would have changed without it.
What is meant by "adequately"? This again is about looking at changes that are
easy to measure (and to agree on). You mention people changing providers. For
me this is a very difficult change to evaluate (and many of the people who
change providers probably do so on spurious grounds, like advertisment, anyway). We
had telephones before we were able to carry them around in our pockets and the
same goes for computers who can also make phone calls. Why is it so important
that I can now carry a small phone - computer in my pocket? How has that
benefited me, and does the magnitude of the benefit justify the economics of
making those devices?
So basically what I was driving at is that it's not enough to describe a
startup as "changing the world"- because you can change the world by tiny
degrees, without really benefiting anyone and even cause some harm in the
process. Just speaking of "change" is not enough to justify such investment
in tech, let alone the self-aggrandising marketing of startups in the Valley. It has to be a big change and it has to be the good kind of change, or they have to tone down their advertisement (or look a bit silly).
The point of the discussion I guess is to what extent "changing the world" is marketing and to what extent it is a reasonable claim to make.
Of the examples you give of startups (etc) that changed the world, I would
agree with two: Wikipedia and Coursera. The rest, to my mind at least, are
companies that primarily benefited themselves and the change they brought to
the world was not really necessary. I hope my criteria -and my clarifications
to them, in this comment- are sufficient to explain why I think so.
Thank you for taking the time to reply in such detail.
I would rephrase this to "tech is not exempt from the bad aspects mentioned in the article."
> So is the message of the article "bad things in tech were bad and that's why I left"? OK, it's nice to know, not exactly anything new but everybody has the right for one's own biography. Is there any insight there beyond that? One that pertains specifically to tech world?
If my house and my neighbors house are on fire, should I still not get out of the house?
Startups do often seem to have an unusual percentage of people drinking their own marketing kool-aid.
If you want to avoid it, I'd suggest working at a startup in an unsexy-to-tech-people industry like marketing or advertising. But then you may have other issues, in terms of how you feel about your work.
may be not having such a vision is a reason why they aren't going to change the word of bikes forever. In the beginning was the Word ...
If you pushed a bug to prod, knocked out all of Australia, then went home and aren't answering your phone because it's after hours and you're not on call, I'm not going to be happy with you. (Not that we would normally push to prod right before going home, but to illustrate the point...)
If you work 9-5, M-F, never cause any fires, and hit your milestones, then I'm perfectly satisfied with that.
That's just me, though; I intentionally maintain a relatively balanced workplace. Other companies and managers will have different styles. That being said, don't underestimate the importance of likeability ; you'll be fighting against human nature and unconscious biases if you do. How that manifests (general friendliness, going to after-hours social events, helping others with tough tasks, etc) will vary by person and team.
Drinking the cool-aid is generally enforced.
I remember working with some Swedes, who brought with them the (to engineers and fellow europeans) refreshing northern honesty/cynicism. Well...suddenly, after a trip to South East Asia to talk to our outsourcers (who were, er, "less than 100% effective") he suddenly started gushing in the typical corporate speak about how amazing and wonderful everything was. All the engineers wondered what had happened to him.
Two weeks later he was promoted to director.
They fire the employee.
I'm not a manager, but I know someone at a startup who, completely within their rights, complained to state regulators when the company's payroll became erratic. Next thing you know, she was out the door.
(In the state in question, filing a formal complaint requires the complainant to give their real name and address, etc... and the employer gets a copy of the form with the letter of inquiry from the state.)
> The Orwellian mismatch between rhetoric and action feels like cult-like propaganda to me.
Can you list out a few of these actions?
Facebook thought it was a better use of its resources to build a Snapchat clone named Slingshot. Google decided it was a better use of its resources to build a social network named Google+.
Animal Farm: "Four legs good, two legs bad"
Google: "Don't be evil"
Animal Farm: "Four legs good, two legs better"
Google: "You can make money without doing evil" 
In the old days, this was called Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.
Also XMPP sucked when it came to mobile devices - maybe the right answer was to have a RFC for an improvement to the standard rather than create environments outside of it, but I can see a reasonable argument for biasing towards development speed.
Google kept XMPP support the longest - I think they closed it when everyone else was closed and the others were using Google's remaining XMPP support to farm over Google users while not allowing Google access to do the same. It's a problem with incentives - there was a time when cross service compatibility was important.
The willingness to take tons of shit from above, and the ability to rationalize the waste of talent seems to be what you’d expect from a glorified casino for billionaires. Variable-Ratio reward training will fuck you up.
Edit: I would guess that fear plays a role too. I recall a poster here saying they wished they could change their circumstances, but they look at the guy delivering their pizza and feel terrified that could be them.
Edit: Or a mod can just minimize this, but sadly it changes nothing, least of the the reality of your situation.
Literally 99% of white, male, nerds don't fit this description. Every day in Silicon Valley people show favoritism to individuals that, for purely economic reasons, got into Stanford or Harvard.
Investors that went to Stanford invest in founders that went to Stanford because their own investors (LPs) that also went to Stanford will favor them.
This is literally racist because it's a bias against socioeconomically disadvantaged people, of which people of color are disproportionately represented. And yet, this bias is openly accepted in Silicon Valley and even celebrated!
Looking at most investor bio pages, you would think the 99% would have almost nothing to contribute: https://www.ycombinator.com/people/
The 99% need to start a social movement in Silicon Valley to reform it into the semi-utopian meritocracy we all wish it was. We should demand an end to socioeconomic discrimination, which will enable people of all walks of life to lift themselves out of the shadows, turning Silicon Valley into the cross section of society it rightfully ought to be.
We should be calling for investors, universities, and companies in Silicon Valley to move to blind admissions and interview processes, and an end to all forms of "culture" testing.
We should call for #EqualOpportunity.
Poor people, regardless of color, have a remarkably similar experience (with education, the police, the criminal justice system), while yes, people of color are more likely to be poor - the harder we focus on race, the harder it is to fix the underlying issue, a lack of educational, and economic mobility for the poor.
Most racism (heck, most "-isms" in general), are born from a lack of familiarity with people who come from a different life background or culture than they do - if we both encourage opportunity for the poor, and encourage mixing of socioeconomic strata, the problem will melt away over 40-50 years.
The racism that will remain after solving poverty, will be of a very different nature I believe than that which exists now.
It's dangerous to fall for the trap that you can adjust for outcomes - but we can do a far better job of adjusting for inputs - or ensuring the poor have equal access to education, and economic opportunity.
That's not true. Google "red-lining." Black people face considerable housing discrimination that white people simply do not. Studies have also shown that people of color face longer prison sentences for the same crimes. It is false to say that all poor people have the same experiences.
Yep. And yet the same effect exists for men (vs. women) and is about six times as strong. Yet our society is "obviously" sexist against women.
'After controlling for the arrest offense, criminal history, and other prior characteristics, "men receive 63% longer sentences on average than women do," and "[w]omen are…twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted." This gender gap is about six times as large as the racial disparity that Prof. Starr found in another recent paper.'
In other words, would you agree that a poor white person has a much harder life than a rich black person?
Having much experience with both demographics, it's clear to me that this is the case, which is why I also wish the conversation were focused more on poverty than race.
You are absolutely right that black folks face longer jail terms than white folks for the same crime - but we still need to fix poverty - we can work on this on its own, or after - removing poverty will greatly reduce the amount of crime anyhow, most of which is driven by a need to survive and lack of opportunity.
Saying "just start a company" is burying your head in the sand and ignoring the problem since many can't just start a company if it requires capital investment.
Yeah, I was going to say that, in my experience, Stanford/Harvard graduate types are probably disproportionately favored in SV.
Can you elaborate on this? I assume Stanford and Harvard had higher admissions requirements (grades, test scores) than my state university? Or is the comparison relative to other elite educational institutions?
However, they also practice affirmative action, which means some VCs who have a bias towards these institutions may consider minorities who they never otherwise would.
So it's not nearly as unfair as staunch is describing.
For instance, if 5% of people in category A leave each year, and 30% of people in category B leave each year, and 10% of each of them cite sexual harassment as the reason to leave, I would say that we have a much bigger problem with sexual harassment against category B. (And, at the same time, I would also say that anyone saying that category A doesn't face this problem at all / it's not worth addressing / whatever is wrong!)
This article was more about the effect of teacher bias in education, however I think there is a study showing bias having a cognitive effect on how students perform.
"The impact of unconscious teacher bias is long understood and well-documented. This new research confirms decades of work done by Myra and David Sadker and Karen R. Zittleman. Through thousands of hours of classroom observations, the Sadkers and Zittleman identified specific ways in which implicit and stereotypical ideas about gender govern classroom dynamics. They, as others have, found that teachers spend up to two thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls but allow boys to talk over them. Teachers also tend to acknowledge girls but praise and encourage boys. They spend more time prompting boys to seek deeper answers while rewarding girls for being quiet. Boys are also more frequently called to the front of the class for demonstrations. When teachers ask questions, they direct their gaze towards boys more often, especially when the questions are open-ended. Biases such as these are at the root of why the United States has one of the world’s largest gender gaps in math and science performance. Until they view their videotaped interactions, teachers believe they are being balanced in their exchanges.
The two reports released last week were focused on girls. However, the same biases have been implicated in teachers unconsciously undermining boys’ interest in the arts and language, enabling harmful gender gaps in self-regulation, and tacitly accepting certain male students’ propensity to believe that studying is “for girls” – all factors that contribute to boys’ lower academic performance."
Personally, I've found that self-limiting beliefs have held me back in a number of areas — especially around confidence. Breaking past those has been very important in my life.
• Avoid the "cult-like" trappings.
• Avoid "genius worship" and call bullshit on the "reality distortion field".
• Get a life (that is, a life outside of work – build stuff in your garage, hike, play in a band, paint, whatever).
• Stay healthy. You're valuable to the corporation, they will allow for you to take exercise breaks, go home when you're exhausted, use your vacation time.
It probably isn't exclusive to the tech industry — I suspect the same is true on Wall Street. Perhaps it is the Temple of Modern Corporate Culture that we should shun.
And good advice is still good advice for the non-marginalized.
I notice a trend in being demeaning towards people not wanting to do anything besides computing/tech. Why is that acceptable? Is my life worse because I don't do "hiking" or some other stuff? I like spending my free time coding, and I hate hearing I should do "something better with my life".
Is this just my limited perspective or has the narrative really shifted?
If you never get burned out or otherwise disillusioned with "tech", more power to you.
I suspect most of us eventually find we need something more in our lives though — I was addressing those people (and I suspect the article was as well).
If any non-zero subset of reasonable people are so offended by a behavior that they'd leave the industry because of it, we have to cut it out.
So don't ask "would this bother me?" Ask "would it bother someone?" And since you can't predict this from inside your head, you have to rely on firsthand accounts of people being bothered. This seems like a good overview of such accounts.
That's a very high demand. People can leave the industry for a very wide variety of reasons, often mutually contradictory - some want to work as much as possible, provided it translates to $$$$, some are ok with earning less provided they can pursue side interests or family life, some want to make worldwide impact and break paradigms and change the world, some want quiet, predictable and organized workplace, some want high-risk/high-reward environment, some want benefits of predictable income and steady promotion... It is literally impossible to make an industry in which there would be nothing that would cause anybody to leave. Tech industry not special - some people may try it and find it's not what they'd like to do anymore and leave.
Surely, if some things bother people and we could reasonably fix them without bothering even more people in the process, then there's no reason not to do it - it'd be a positive-sum action that would make the world better.
But pre-committing to a goal that no non-zero subset of reasonable people ever wanted to leave tech does not seem like a smart thing to do, because it's impossible.
At a very small startup, people are going to expect to have to work hard. While I disagree that this absolutely necessitates a lack of work/life balance, let's say for a moment it does. Sure, you're probably only going to be attracting people who are interested in working as much as possible, in a high risk/reward scenario. In some cases that's also going to be selecting for single people who have no children.
And that's fine, for the most part. What's not fine is engaging in exclusionary behavior related to diversity of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. E.g. it's not fine to have a bunch of white employees who make racist jokes at work, or a bunch of men who talk at work about their sexual exploits, or a bunch of straight people who marginalize homosexual candidates during interviews.
My initial reaction to the parent's assertion of "any non-zero subset of reasonable people are so offended by a behavior that they'd leave the industry because of it" was also negative, because it sounds super absolutist, and PC (in all the actual negative ways "PC" has been used), and an indictment of being your genuine self. But really it's just about keeping stuff out of the workplace that has nothing to do with work. If work is about building products and figuring out how to sell them, and you focus on that, it eliminates a lot of problems. That doesn't stop you from being friends with people at work, but it does mean you might want to keep certain conversations away from the workplace, and instead have them on your own time. It really isn't that hard, as long as you're committed to examining your unconscious biases and eliminating behaviors that stem from them, at least in the workplace.
Right. And fixing what you described is a good thing. But - if you think there would be no reasonable people disliking tech and leaving it - that's not going to happen. As for "offended", this word is used now pretty much in any context - one seems something he doesn't like, he's "offended". Maybe once it had some special meaning, like being sexually harassed at work, or being fired or disregarded at work for having skin of wrong color... But now people are "offended" by Shakespeare, by algebra, by clapping hands, by Christmas, by marble statues, by Thomas the Tank Engine, by burritos and by hoop earrings (all real examples, I can find links) this no longer has any distinctive meaning that can be singled out. So we can just accept some people would dislike some stuff and leave, and that's fine. Not everybody in the world should work in tech. We should strive to provide environment free of obviously bad behavior - like harassment or racism - and then if other stuff that happens in tech does not work for everybody, it's fine.
> it's just about keeping stuff out of the workplace that has nothing to do with work.
That'd be nice but I'm afraid that ship has sailed - tech is getting politicized, and if you believe what you hear about companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter, you can replace "getting" with "has been". It's not a good thing, but it's a thing. That's not the reason to dig deeper and make the situation even worse, though, by undertaking unachievable PC-driven goals.
It doesn't matter if that is impossible because it's also not what was proposed. The proposal was to stop reasonable people leaving because the are OFFENDED by a particular BEHAVIOR.
This isn't to say that some solutions offered to reach that goal won't offend even more reasonable people for different reasons. But even that doesn't mean that this isn't the goal we should be aiming towards.
I used to think like this. After years and years of refining my own behavior, a non-work, non-"tech" friend let it slip that my fiends though I had turned into a non-confrontational, lawyer-sounding, people-pleaser. He wasn't wrong, I had gotten in the habit of always walking on eggshells, navigating every conversation like a minefield and letting myself be treated like a doormat. I did. After all, if I hadn't, I'd be one of those "bros" that only people who have never met a bro say are filling up the engineering departments.
The very next day I got chided about not being empathetic enough or whatever the buzzword was at the time. Maybe I could have kept up the facade if I was simply guilty by association. But it was specifically my behavior that was "toxic." That was it. And I'm out. I'm done.
The never-docile-enough nature of "tech" is what's toxic. I hadn't been able to feel comfortable in my own skin for years out of fear of being off-putting to anyone else. The people who's behavior is worth changing aren't listening anyway, so I'm done letting it be my fault, and I'm never over-correcting to make up for it again.
edit: Want to complain about something in "tech"? Why don't you (not you, specifically, parent poster) start with the ethics of your employer's products/practices.
The two are somewhat correlated; kind people are often nice. But it's easy enough to be nice without being kind at all, and sometimes being kind requires being visibly not nice. As an example, if you see a coworker being abused, confronting the abuser is a kind thing to do, but you probably can't be nice doing it.
As someone who has worked through a lot of social anxiety, I definitely encourage you to throw off the yoke of your fears about not being nice enough. But that doesn't entitle you to be unkind.
Possibly. However, when it comes to companies what they claim is that they want "kind" when what they actually demand is "nice".
If you're saying that some people with power use that to demand conformance to social codes, sure, I agree. But I disagree that always prevents us being kind.
The idea that tech employees are docile compared to the accounts receivable group at a major US insurance company seems pretty hard to support with evidence.
Reading posts here often feels like I'm in bizzaro world where I've never actually worked in "tech". Yes, my current job is more laid back when I'm not on site at a multinational client's office, but it's not that much. It's still a desk job in software. The scale I use to judge workplaces extends into back into my time in restaurants, retail, admin, music, and mechanics' shops. Now, if you want to talk culture, I could tell some stories about those places (and pardon that expression, I could obviously never tell those stories here).
but, worked with, not at, but generally about equal in raw numbers - it really depends where the docility comes out - in fortune 500's being weird in general is strongly discouraged, but the penalties for stepping out of line are small usually, the big benefit is, cultural norms are clearly established, and generally followed - in a SV company, being weird is strongly encouraged, cultural values are somewhat more nebulous, and the penalties for stepping out of line are often much more harsh.
To explain further - in F500 Culture, only a narrow band of self expression is possible - but what is and isnt is clearly defined - in SV Culture, a much wider band is acceptable - but the unacceptable is much less clearly defined.
So maybe step 0 is: find people who know about them, before you can do the talking and reading. The New Yorker is my general go-to for measured introductions to new domains: the authors biases are fairly simple to spot when relevant (leftish-intellectual-in-US-terms) and the level of detail is usually high.
Sadly, I don't have a ton more at hand, other than one rule that I'd highly recommend to use as a filter: if you get the feeling the person is trying to make you angry, find something else. Polemics are rarely the best way to be introduced to a topic.
But if nobody likes you and wants to hang out with you, you have a problem. And if the people who like what you're doing are people that you yourself don't really like, you're probably not being true to yourself. You want to be in a situation where there's a core group of people you like and respect who also like and respect you. If you've got that, who cares what other people think?
I meant more like, Uber is one particular example (of which there are many) of tech companies or startups where the behavior of their employees is clearly not "docile."
I suppose you could use, perhaps, Google or Github (I'm making some assumptions about what you mean so forgive me) as examples of "docile" tech employees.
This shifts from the pseudo-objective, nebulous standard of "reasonable" to a much more clearer standard of what you personally want to support and what you personally don't. For instance, there are people I would easily call "reasonable" who hold religious views that I myself have held in the past but which I now believe are incompatible with the society I want to see. I don't want to work with these people. I am not actively opposed to working with them - I suspect I'm coworkers with lots of such people right now - but I have no particular desire to help those people make money. If they want to start their own business with like-minded folks, great; I support their freedom to do so.
However, I do want to work with good engineers of various demographics underrepresented in my industry, because I want to work with the best engineers my company can hire (a secondary goal to "I want society to work in certain ways," so the desires in the previous paragraph would override this desire, but hopefully that happens rarely). If someone from one of those groups says, this behavior bothers me so much that I'll leave over it, then yes, absolutely, I'm going to trust them and what they say they care about.
(And if you say "Actually, I don't particularly want to work with people of this demographic?" That's fine, in the sense that it's a free country. But you would fall into the group of people that I no longer want to work with because I think that politically/financially empowering you would not build the society I want to see; I would much rather compete with you.)
Isn't the problem here that there is really no global (or even industry-wide) consensus on what's reasonable and what's not?
What feels perfectly reasonable to one may look absolutely and intolerably insane to someone else. And vice versa.
So there's no fixed rule, just a dialectic where people who are offended by things speak up, and people who run organizations listen and ban things that offend the most people. The process is always frustratingly slow, but it seems to be mostly moving in the right direction.
I think this linked post is pretty good, specifically with this bit showing a nuance that is lacking in more mainstream-media regurgitations of "tech is bad, news at 11":
"We say “toxic tech culture” because we want to distinguish between leaving tech entirely, and leaving areas of tech which are abusive and harmful."
I do understand the sort of "righteousness fatigue" that makes people tired of hearing about how they, their coworkers, their employer, their friends, are so terrible. Lose too much nuance and the reaction gets defensive, which from a purely practical point of view is a problem (this might get labeled as a "privileged" thing to be concerned with, but it's tough to reconcile wanting change but not being concerned with accomplishing it). I think a lot of the mainstream coverage of this is starting to poison the well, and then you end up with "sure, it's not your responsibility as non-white-male to fix the behavior of assholes, but it's not my responsibility to fix that asshole either."
Which leaves me back where I started. If my company seems pretty good in this respect - the ratio isn't great, a factor of our incoming applications/recruiting, but retention is high among the relevant employees, and no complaints have been raised (at least at my level of visibility). We try to broaden our candidate pool, and have widened it a LOT in the last five years, and are definitely hiring more candidates who do great despite not being run through the 5-algorithms-on-a-whiteboard gauntlet, but that doesn't translate directly into women and minorities...
So other than continuing to work at attracting a broaer pool of candidates... What else should we do? Even if only from the "name and shame" perspective of "god, it's annoying seeing the gender ratio published"?
Asking seems like a good first step, since another pervasive issue in tech is too many people who try to solve problems without ever thinking of talking to someone about it. :)
But why don't those same people build companies that don't have this behavior and out-compete the companies that do?
It's not enough to eliminate the behavior, you have to eliminate the incentive.
To that end, founding a "service" to help me be diverse doesn't convince me. Founding a company doing something and blowing your competitors out of the water because your diverse employee base simply outperforms them convinces me.
If I ran a company and I was losing good people because of a toxic culture, I wouldn't say "Oh well, I guess those people I lost will start their own companies and out-compete me, and everyone will be happy." I'd want to fix my toxic culture and keep the people and win.
I used to think (terribly naively) that a company having a particular type as a founder would ensure that all such people would feel welcome there. But I have seen that not be the case.
Sure, but that doesn't convince. Anyone who has ever been in a big company has lots of stories of HR "initiatives" that have been utter garbage. http://dilbert.com/strip/1995-06-07
The path that these women pursued can be countered with "They were actually those icky, squishy HR types to begin with and our failure was in not detecting that. We need to change our hiring procedures to make sure that we don't make this kind of mistake hiring for a "hard" tech position again."
> I used to think (terribly naively) that a company having a particular type as a founder would ensure that all such people would feel welcome there. But I have seen that not be the case.
And that's the crux. Why should that be the case? Apparently that founder believed that their behavior was going to be more successful.
Until someone takes a "diversity" touchstone, founds a company, and blows people's doors off, most offenders will never take these kinds of "squishy" things seriously.
And, if the "diversity" advocates can't do this, well, that's data, too ...
I'm actually in the camp that they probably can't.
Practically all of the biggest successes in any industry which has a schedule component have stories of the carnage of divorces, health problems and relationship damage left in the wake. Probably the only counterexample of a continuous, plodding, sustainable success is the space shuttle software.
Consequently, the diversity advocates need to change the narrative and start focusing on changing the conversation as to what constitutes success in broader society.
a) People will not want to acknowledge just how oppressive, racist, and sexist, our society has been in the past and the demonstrable ways in which we are still dealing with the aftereffects of that.
b) People will not want to acknowledge that there is systemic sexism and racism, with extremely negative and unjust consequences for those discriminated against, within our society, and that consequentially ....
c) People will not want to acknowledge that there is systemic sexism & racism within business, including tech, with negative and unjust consequences for those discriminated against, particularly, and relevant to this article, women.
Think that it wasn't until 1919 that women got the right to vote; it wasn't that long ago. It's logical to extrapolate from the sexism of the past that there is sexism (not as pernicious but still here in a big way) in the present.
People have jobs because they have to work, not because they would like to do it. If they leave the industry, it's because they don't find jobs in the industry worthy enough to endure. I'm sure more would stay for better rewards.
The reality is more that they are moderately to highly offended by a series of behaviors. It's usually not one single thing that someone runs into and says "that's it, I'm out", it's a long list of often smaller things that ultimately adds up to an intolerable experience.
> People have jobs because they have to work, not because they would like to do it.
Why can't we have both? Given that most of us spend the majority of our waking hours for the majority of our lives working, wouldn't we prefer to actually like what we're doing? Perhaps we'll never get there, but moving in that direction seems like a worthwhile goal.
(Note, however, that the contrapositive is "if you're doing something important, you'll make someone angry", not "if you're making people angry, you're doing something important"!)
But reasonable people were offended by Brandon Eich donating to an anti-gay marriage proposition, and other reasonable people were offended that he got ousted from Mozilla.
Some people are offended by Damore and been quite vicious towards him, others are saying he's right about things (including you pretty much can't be a conservative in Silicon Valley).
Isn't reality more complex than this idea? Its easy enough to say "don't comment on a coworkers physical appearance" or something equally stupid, but "any non-zero subset" offended by any particular behavior doesn't seem reasonable.
Maybe it isn't, but it's a pretty good yardstick to hold things up to. If you can actually say that no reasonable person would be offended by something you want to say, then say it. If you're not sure, or maybe can think of a few people who might be offended, then you can make a choice. If you still decide to say it, and then someone comes to you and says they were offended, you'll probably want to apologize. Or not; that's also up to you.
At the end of the day it's about recognizing that the things you say and do can affect people in different ways, and being thoughtful about that.
One easy rule is that if someone says "Only talk to me about work." then the other person has to respect it. No forcing of social acceptance , no shaming the other to believe what you believe, just focus on what you were hired for. This is a standard taught to many managers to keep the company out of harassment issues , its very robotic unemotional but its clear and will allow different groups to work together as long as this rule is enforced.
Basically we should not have to worry about a toxic culture because you should not be forced into one when you work. You should just be able to work and separate yourself from your task in any emotional way.
[California dev, 8 years, have held manager position]
Please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and do a better job of following them.
Where I work, even though there are some titles that have the word "manager" in, the organization refers to anyone that have people report to them as "people leaders".
They are responsible for the well being of the those that report to them. If you take away the part where you are responsible for your people, what is left?
Even if you take the most clinical and robotic view of the role, you still have to effectively allocate your resources. This means balancing strengths and weaknesses, allocating team members to places they are more interested in to improve performance. All this boils down to getting to know your people and making sure they are happy...
> You should just be able to work and separate yourself from your task in any emotional way.
This is also a crazy statement coming from someone who has people report to them. People don't turn off their emotions just because they are getting paid to perform a task !??!
Isn't that what we expect professionals to do? I mean yeah professionals still have feelings and emotions but they learn to detach them from their job. Like how we expect police officers to conduct themselves... Like trained professionals.
And police offers have to deal with stuff like PTSD and emotional trauma from their job, because of how intense it is. To a lesser degree than that, our (less intense) jobs have an unavoidable emotional impact on us.
For me the following hits home for me recently
>One easy rule is that if someone says "Only talk to me about work." then the other person has to respect it. No forcing of social acceptance , no shaming the other to believe what you believe, just focus on what you were hired for.
I don't think of my company or coworkers as family. I have my life outside of the office and prefer to keep it personal and private for the most part. Likewise, I not that interested in talking about what happened in everyone's 16 hours out of the office. I am interested in discussing the problems we are facing at work and getting work done, which ironically can involve this very topic and conversation we are having right now. I want to put 8 honest hours in, not 6 honest and 2 talking about outside matters, not 8 honest and 2 talking about outside matters. What sucks is culturally I seem to be a misfit because others apparently think I am anti social. But I don't believe I am. I don't come in in the morning and say hello because I don't believe my arrival is so important that I should interrupt people that I assume are hard at work focusing and concentrating. If you're at your desk, YOU need to say hello to me as I walk in so I know I'm not interrupting you. But also not get mad if I all I say is hi and blow off any small talk. On my commute in I am thinking about what I want to accomplish within the first hour of work so I'm already focusing on doing that. Want to chit chat? Catch me at lunch.
That seems rather ridiculous.
Or how about, I'm trying to learn rust and it's pretty neat but also pretty hard. I don't use rust at work. Is that work related enough since it's tech?
If I walk up to a coworker and say "You idiot, this damn bug is ridiculous" am I not responsible for them getting upset at that?
I can't make a fucking comment without you up my fucking ass about it. I was illustrating the point that I think the standard proposed is not a good hard rule.
The moderation here has become truly ridiculous.
If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email email@example.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.
It's taken 8 years to realise it, but now I realise the tech startup culture is absolutely horrible and -- as they article says -- full of narcissists. If you don't realise how bad the culture is, I'd recommend introspecting a bit (wish I did this sooner).
My partner left finance to work in medicine. She makes a lot less money and likes it a lot better. I dunno where you live, but becoming a physician assistant can be a pretty good gig: much less school, pretty good salaries, pretty defined hours, very little debt.
Personally, I worked at a series of toxic startups and needed two years away to not loath programming. I regret nothing about leaving tech the first time, and after returning, my biggest regret is waiting so long to start my own company. Closely followed by tolerating so many shitty bosses. It helped me to have friends that did things besides work; workaholics are very common in sfbay. Dunno if that helps, but good luck.
In fact, reading the essay from beginning to end, it's difficult to pinpoint a specific complaint; the cult mentality, the intentionally-skewed work-life balance, the flare-ups of self-awareness amidst lingering self-doubt identified as warning signs and symptoms are the tradeoffs of a lifestyle that everyone in tech self-selects. What, then, is the abuse here, the toxicity, when participation in this environment is a labor transaction?
There are numerous instances of awful, toxic behavior that has occurred in the field of tech, and exacerbated by this environment that could have been called out position this essay against behaviors that are abhorrent and should never be tolerated. But conjecturing an equivalence between a driven, but self-selecting labor environment and the plight of marginalized groups is a stretch, but the writing suggests that that link is self-evident to their target audience. If that's true, the conversation has already lost its nuance, and can't be refuted without collateral damage, making it a rhetorical trap.
With that said, I thought that the article's title was kind of ironic because in my opinion, the intersectional identity politics espoused by the authors is itself one of the most toxic aspects of contemporary tech culture. It's the part of working at a mature venture-funded startup in SV that I miss the least, by far.
B) Would you be willing to clarify what was toxic about your experience with SV startups as you described?
C) Realistically, without denying the problems which probably do exist with "intersectionaly identity politics", etc, it seems pretty clear (as in there are studies, etc) that sexual harassment is one of the most toxic aspects, not only of tech, but of contemporary business and American life. Discrimination based on the color of one's skin is up there as well. So it does seem a bit disingenuous to point out the flaws in ways in which people are trying to ameliorate these problems without acknowledging the problems themselves, and/or to imply that said flaws are more pervasive than the damaging behaviors which they are a response to.
Should it not be to judge people by the output of their work relative to their working conditions?
I'm much more interested in hiring someone who operated 5 servers in a culture of manual configuration over ssh by introducing automation than someone who operated 500 servers by following existing procedures and using Ansible playbooks that they didn't contribute any improvements to, even though the second person produced quite a bit more output.
(If by "output" you mean to count in this way, then sure, but a lot of people don't—for instance, lots of people want to see GitHub activity without asking whether the previous employer had onerous IP rules, or the candidate has a family they're busy with on evenings and weekends, or whatever.)
If you keep firing people for poor performance who are not performing because of poor working conditions, then eventually you won't be able to retain anyone and the problem takes care of itself.
Meanwhile those folks have likely moved onto better jobs.
No we shouldn’t look at that. I only care how you can produce in the role you occupy.
To clarify by “output” I mean work output, not public display output.
Aren't you agreeing then? After all, you are looking at output given the role they occupy right?
> As soon as you bring identity politics into to equation, you’ve lost because many people will (rightly) take attacks on white people and men as racist and sexist respectively.
So, it's pretty much been like this but times a thousand for women and people whose skin is not pinkish white.
Of course some people of color are racist towards white people, and of course some women are sexist towards men. However to acknowledge this without acknowledging the vast amounts of institutionalized and socialized sexism/racism in American culture (which doesn't just come out in tech - look at the racist/sexist behavior of the current President) is a bit ludicrous.
It's like talking about optimizing performance in one small domain while ignoring the major bottleneck!
I wasn't trying to suggest there that anyone needed a handout.
However, yeah, I do think affirmative action has its place, and also that it can be challenging to implement well. Same with diversity programs in the workplace. Personally I don't think it makes sense to characterize these program as a handout, since it's a particular policy meant to try and make up for concrete, specific injustices which have long-term effects. For affirmative action, redlining of black people in Chicago is a great example - easy to Google.
I am genuinely curious - do you think it makes sense to extrapolate from your own individual experience to all other nonwhite people, or to women?
I suppose if we wanted to try to get an aggregate sense of what people believe, we could look at polls or voting patterns of women and various peoples of color.
And, without attempting to knock or take away from your talent, it's my own belief that _nobody_ succeeds on talent alone, that we all have people in our lives (teachers, mentors, coworkers, family, etc) who help(ed) us succeed or become our best. And, correspondingly, that we have an obligation to help others as best we can.
Lastly, if my comment offended you, I have to imagine that you can understand how and why James Damor's memo (poor science and all) - I noticed you mentioned him several times in the thread - was quite offensive to a large number of people and provoked such a negative response, since it mimiced a lot of the historical rhetoric around attempting to use a misconceived scientific basis for racial/gender inferiority as a justification for discrimination, oppression and dehumanization.
I'm speaking of my own personal experience but you seem to be speaking for all of these other groups (nonwhite people and women). There's no way we're going to agree on things like affirmative action and diversity programs but I hope you can at least understand how some people may see that as condescending and racist/sexist in its own right.
From a managerial perspective I'd love to hire more people from underrepresented groups because it would mean a bigger pool to hire from, so I'm all for recruiting efforts, outreach/education programs, etc, but at the end of the day the yes/no on the candidates coming through the door is in my hands, and even if I wanted to abuse that, I can't hire people who aren't even applying. :|
In what manner is that twitter link "off-topic" in the context of this article?
Has the twitter link ever been discussed here rather than killed?
I, for one, found it quite surprising. Based on news coverage and personal interactions with Googlers, I had no idea people were writing such things without reprimand from HR. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this link is the most substantive and thought-provoking comment in the entire thread.
I was responding to the question:
> Could you elaborate on the form of the attacks on white people and men you're seeing in SV companies?
What could I have done to answer that without posting some evidence?
I can see why, before reading that, you might think this was a double standard, but it isn't. The reason is that adamsea hasn't been using HN primarily for political battle (though I grant you his account history is close to that, and a different moderator might have called it differently). The key word here is 'primarily', which is the test we use, as explained in that comment I just linked to. I didn't reply to you on the basis of one isolated comment but rather on your use of HN overall, which is what we care about.
It's false, of course, that you're "only allowed to discuss one side of this topic without getting kicked off HN". If that were true, we wouldn't have flamewars, and boy do we have flamewars.
If I commented more on “regular” posts, would I still be able to chime in here? It’s important to me that this point of view gets representation. I try to keep it very civil and can continue to refine that.
No, I wouldn't say the current submission's topic has been done to death at all, though I grant you that it touches on topics that have. But it's the other parts that led us to try turning off flags on the story. I would not call the experiment successful.
Part of the art of substantive discussion, which is always in peril on the internet, is (1) to stay in the places that aren't already scorched earth and (2) not scorch them. There is constant temptation to do otherwise, and we all need the discipline to resist it. Flamewar topics are black holes that suck in everything that comes their way, so resistance isn't easy, but it's needed.
The screenshot in that twitter link is woefully free of context. There are several contexts I could imagine where it would be harmless (e.g. discussion of ways to get a more diverse representation in a discussion already centered around that), several other where it would be very bad (e.g. direct unsolicited managerial behavior advice). To me it sounds more like the former from the limited context and tone. I'd be more likely to take offense at the implication that as a non-Googler I'm cheesy and unimportant than the "white" part.
The people I know at Google claim it isn't accurate to say there's a culture of harassment or discrimination or anything. So... in absence of video recordings, etc, from either side, I believe the people I know personally.
For instance, under "Anti-Caucasian Postings," there's a screenshot of an employee sharing (on internal G+) a link to Tim Chevalier's blog post "Refusing to Empathize with Elliot Rodger: Taking Male Entitlement Seriously." This tells me two things: first, the people who prepared this complaint were so scattershot in their attempt that they stuck something with "male" under "Anti-Caucasian Postings." (The employee's commentary on the link is "The doc considered formally as abuse springing from an entitled worldview. Excellent essay." - so nothing anti-Caucasian there, either. The post itself, which is on the public internet, does mention race a few times, but focuses on gender.) Second, it tells me that the people preparing the complaint think that a white man's link to a white man's essay expressing opposition to the manifestos of mass murderer Elliot Rodger, mass murderer Marc Lépine, and James Damore is somehow either anti-Caucasian or anti-male (giving them the benefit of the doubt that they miscategorized it).
Now, you may certainly argue that it's distasteful, unprofessional, unacceptable, and perhaps even unconscionable to have your coworkers compare you to two mass murderers simply for having written an article that (in their view) makes similar points. I'd certainly agree that there were and still are attacks on James Damore as an individual at Google. But that is in no way anti-white or anti-male, unless you think that the content of those manifestos, and (in two cases) their direct connection to mass murder, is somehow intrinsic to whiteness or maleness - which seems both wrong and a huge attack on white men, more than anything alleged in the complaint.
Plenty of other posts are similarly not attacks on whiteness or maleness, many of which are miscategorized - other "anti-Caucasian postings" include someone writing that "the creator of Dilbert is ... a paranoid sexist dickbag", a link to an HBR article entitled "Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?", a truly awful-quality meme conveying "0 days since last ... white male says diversity isn't important," etc.
Finally, remember that this is a lawsuit by one side, which has a story to tell. We don't know that we're not seeing a cherry-picked picture. Maybe these sorts of low-quality memes and overly-political posts on corporate channels affect everyone. It's certainly the case that shortly after Damore's suit, a story came out about an employee with rather diametrically opposed opinions being pushed out by management: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15JokX8thp1TxG_I9aodYUxDw...
Google seems to be infested by wingnuttery on both sides - nearly every example there is an example of left or right crazies.
But they do seem to show a pattern of left leaning wingnuts being more accepted than right leaning.
Get any group of 72,000 people together and have them say what they actually believe and you'll find a lot of wingnuttery. Just look at the comment section of any blog, news story, YouTube video, or Internet forum.
The alternative viewpoint is that humanity actually holds far more diversity of thought and ideology than you had ever conceptualized before, and that this is a peek into the minds of many, many of your fellow human beings. It's glorious (and somewhat miraculous that we haven't killed each other yet, knock on wood...)
Damore was fired though.
We can't exclude politics altogether, nor would we want to. But we can't let it take over the site either, and it's like fire: it consumes everything it touches. This is a conundrum. Our way out of the conundrum is the 'primarily' test:
We ban accounts that use Hacker News primarily for political or ideological battle, regardless of which politics they favor. https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html
We noticed that the most damage comes from users who don't care about much except their politics, while users who are interested in plenty of different things and occasionally post on politics tend to be benign. The first group is abusing the site while the second is using it as intended. That turned out to be a clear line that we can rely on as a standard for moderation.
We try to warn people first, especially when they've been on the site for a while, but if the pattern persists we do ban them. So would you please reread the site guidelines and use HN in the spirit of curiosity, not battle, from now on?
"X is worse at Y" is not at all the same thing as "X, on average, will choose to do Y at a smaller rate."
Also, I find the notion that people who choose to not work in tech or work smaller hours are somehow inferior quite demeaning. My brother wasn't very interested in tech, so he went into a different field. Am I (who did go into tech) a superior person to my brother due to our choice of work? Similarly, would I be a lesser person if I worked 30-35 hours instead of my usual 40-45?
The result of that might be an action C, where you lower the standards required to hire people who are in one group to get the numbers more even - otherwise A will cause there to be not enough people of your usually quality for the numbers you want in B.
And that was what he alleged: that the women hired didn't have as high a bar to pass.
And that's where, if you're a woman in the same job as him, you take offense, because the implications of his argument are inescapable: a lot of those women are inferior.
So if you're a Google higher-up who doesn't believe that their diversity/outreach programs are a lowered standards (say, you think they're a different approach to compensate for preparation differences in readiness for certain interviews), then you pretty much have to get rid of the guy who insists on shouting from the rooftops that a bunch of his coworkers aren't as good as he is.
Damore sealed his own fate because he either (a) didn't think through this all, sabotaging his own credibility in the process, or (b) evil-genius arranged it to give himself a platform for a lawsuit and a bunch of conservative media fawning.
> "Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for 'diversity' candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.
In other words the bar was only lowered in the sense that diverse candidates didn't need to be as lucky as non diverse ones, with nothing to do with skill or ability. Many media outlets omitted the italicized part, so this misconception is common.
Also you're omitting the most plausible explanation in your last paragraph: the negative and often exaggerated media coverage on the memo. Remember the memo was circulated for a month without repression. This indicates that it was the media coverage, not the memo itself, that caused Damore's firing.
Here's why I think he's full of shit on that one. Reducing the false negative rate without lowering the bar is an unambiguous positive. He's asking me to believe that Google invented a better interviewing process that will save them tons of time and money in recruiting, and chose not to use it widely.
I simply can't believe it. Not with the salaries they and their competitors are paying. If they had a magic bullet to get more just-as-qualified candidates through the pipeline, they'd use it everywhere.
And in a world that loves to write articles about interviewing / click on those articles as much as this one, I think we'd have heard about it by now.
(Yes, the media coverage contributed to everyone else thinking he was judging them, but so did the text itself. But, in turn, you (and he) are missing the most likely explanation for why Google says they want a diverse workforce: not to discriminate against men, but to look good in the media without intention of actually making major changes to follow through, as their actual recruiting policies appear to be stuck in the same place they've been for years, based on the recruiters I've talked to there. Lotta algorithm questions, lots of years-of-experience and existing-knowledge-of-language-details crap. All stuff that's gonna favor a certain typical profile at the screening stage. PR BS is PR BS, in other words.)
* Applications of diverse candidates are accepted from non-traditional backgrounds. In this context, "non-tradition" means majoring in a non-tech field or attended a coding boot camp of some sorts (this applies for non-experienced candidates. For experienced candidates it doesn't matter what their educational background is).
* For diverse candidates, they get two tries at passing the phone screen.
* That said, all candidates go through the same on-site interview loop. The on-site is where the actual evaluation of skills and decision making process is made. This process is not made with any bearing on the candidate's diversity status.
This is a clear example of lowering the false negative rate without lowering the quality of accepted diverse candidates. The false negative rate is lowered by having a more lenient selecting in the first stages. However it's worth noting that these only determine if the candidate move on to the stage where the actual evaluation of skill occurs. The phone screens and resume reviews aren't reliable enough signals for us to make decisions so we only use them to determine the set of candidates that move on the to last stage. Some would point out that this increases the number of false positives for diversity candidates, but that's simply by increasing the total number of diverse candidates. It does not affect the false positive rate. And
The reason why we don't do this for all candidates is because of cost. There's a substantial cost to having full time engineers doing interviews. We already spend ~6 hours a week doing interviews and writing feedback. We couldn't deal with the increased load if we used the first and second points on all candidates. Second, we also want to have larger share of diverse employees in tech positions. Even if people think it's just for better public perception, that's still a tangible and significant benefit.
For what it's worth I think it's perfectly fine way of improving the chances of diverse candidates getting offers. That said, saying that this system is discriminating by decreasing the false negative rate for diverse candidates is an unambiguously true statement and I would object to any of my co-workers being fired for sayings as such.
I don't entirely agree with this article I found either, it actually skews more to your point of view, however it was quite interesting.
The author's description of the challenge the Damor memo touched upon:
"What we are dealing with here is the problem of how we might offer possible explanations for what is going on, while at the same time keeping in mind the impact those explanations might have on the people and phenomena we are trying to explain. It is important to understand this problem, so I will explain it here. Technically, this is called “the problem of the double hermeneutic”. A hermeneutic refers to a method or system of interpretation. In psychology and the social sciences, hermeneutics refers to the ways people develop systems of meaning and justification that allow them to make sense out of the world."
That makes sense you would find that notion demeaning. I do as well. As I said to someone else, if you took offense (which wasn't intended) from my comment, I'm sure you can understand why many people would take offense from Damor's memo :).
No, in fact this it's just the opposite. Claiming that "women are less likely to choose to work in tech" is a harmful statement is implying that those who do not work in tech are lesser. This is what I am pointing out. Those that do take offense to Damore's memo are inherently implying that people who choose not to work in tech are lesser. Otherwise it would not be an insult to say that group is less likely to choose to work in tech.
I thought Damore's comment in footnote 9, when discussing compensation in the workplace, that "Considering women spend more money than men" was particularly insightful ;) /s
"The problem is, the science in Damore’s memo is still very much in play, and his analysis of its implications is at best politically naive and at worst dangerous"
"But despite the legal gymnastics of Damore’s attorneys, getting fired for his memo wasn’t discrimination, and it certainly wasn’t censorship. As Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the time of the memo’s circulation, it violated the company’s policies, perpetuating sexist ideologies. Damore disclosed to his non-male colleagues that he believes that they are predisposed to being worse at their jobs than males. Former Google engineer Yonatan Zunger sums it up nicely in this line from his blog post responding to Damore’s memo: “You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.” In a workplace, you can’t say whatever you’d like without consequences—violating a company’s code of conduct is grounds for firing."
"TL;DR: Yes, men and women are biologically different — which doesn’t mean what the author thinks it does. The article perniciously misrepresents the nature and significance of known sex differences to advance what appears to be a covert alt-right agenda."
I think there is independent merit to removing people who are terrible, even if doing so deprives the company of an incredibly valuable asset--e.g. firing your mythical 10x founding engineer because they're harassing other employees and making them feel unwell/unsafe, even if it severely damages your company's ability to produce. This is because growth and profit are not--and despite the "100% meritocracy free market" advocates' arguments, never have been--the sole aims of a business.
Businesses exist within a broader community; they aren't optimizing for widget creation in a vacuum. The rise of intangible/cultural reasons for punishing a business in the court of public opinion (uber; those scandals didn't highlight things that directly impacted the company's bottom line, but rather things that were unacceptable ethically to the broader community, or things that might have, given time impacted the bottom line) speaks to this; so does the decrease over time in Tamany Hall/Boss Tweed-type abuses of employer authority.
In short, for a business, acting ethically has an objective value which is independent from (or, if you want to nitpick "independent", at least has primary influence on) profit/growth.
YMMV what "great" and "good" means, or how disposable "good programmers" are, but I don't think the assertion is categorically true.