This post on PandoDaily has the potential to open up a discussion of power and privilege within the Silicon Valley tech-elite. In it, Jason Calacanis expresses his deep anger for the way that three tech leaders have treated their local homeless population, and the utter callousness and displeasure they express towards those they deem to be in the “lower part of society”.
Arrogance and abuse is rampant within the tech community; something that is rarely talked about, but that is slowly changing. This is one of the reasons there are so few women working in technology.1 Some technology leaders see insults and vilification as their “culture”, something they are entitled to do to others. Even amongst those techies who wouldn’t dream of mistreating others often find themselves look down upon those who do not have the same geek chops that they do. Think of IT guys scoff when a user asks a basic question they could look up themselves (I’ve been guilty of this, and it’s something I’m trying to fix).
We live in a society where nerdiness is revered. Silicon Valley has done a lot to make being a geek popular, and I’m so happy I live at a time where I can totally geek out about something, still be respected as a professional, and have that passion for technology rewarded. But we need to be careful not to let it get to our heads. Just because someone has trouble with something that comes easy to you, doesn’t mean that they’re not smart; quite the contrary – it just means that they have different skills that you do.
It’s obviously not just geeky arrogance that causes people like Greg Gopman to harbor such blind hatred. It’s straight up classism or ethnocentrism – prejudice against those who are different from him.
Why do Peter Shih, Greg Gopman, Bryan Goldberg, and men like him, feel comfortable expressing such revulsing views?
Jason argues that these men are not representative of the tech industry, and in a lot of ways I want to agree. I want to believe that most technologists find the views these men have expressed abhorrent. But then I remember that egotism is often the default with techies – those who don’t know what we know, know nothing.
Donations by Mark Zuckerberg2 and Bill Gates have begun to make giving back cool amongst the tech elite. Projects like code.org have made programming accessible. But that’s just the beginning. We need to change tech culture so that inclusiveness and mindfulness is the default – where giving back is just something everyone does because we should.
Let’s figure out how to get there.
The NYT article is from 2003, but it’s highly relevant to today, as not nearly enough has changed in the 11 years since that was published. This is a topic I could go into in much more detail, and likely will in a future post. For now, I’ll leave it to those who know far more about this than I do. ↩