Silicon Valley Needs To Take Itself More Seriously*

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Push Notification And The Beginner’s Mind

“Silicon Valley is high school, except it’s only the smart kids, and everyone has a lot of money.” — Kim Taylor, “Silicon Valley” star.

For an industry so reliant on the wholehearted embrace of the future, many technologists and pundits seem so completely resistant to change it’s mind-boggling.

This is how I feel when people thumb their noses at Twitter’s “non-existent” business model. This is how I feel about the endless complaining and ribbing about relatively successful celebrity investor Ashton Kutcher when it was revealed that he would be playing Steve Jobs in a biopic.

And this is how I feel about the latest round of bullshit surrounding “Silicon Valley,” a Bravo-backed, Randi Zuckerberg-produced reality TV show that highlights the lives of  tech-scene wannabes through Hollywood’s lens. My former colleague Sarah Lacy called Zuckerberg a soulless bloodsucking vampire or something like that for just being involved with the show — in my opinion a criticism too hardcore for the perceived offense. (Which was what, being silly?)

Rovian-propaganda tactics aside, “Pot calling the kettle black” is one phrase that immediately comes to my mind after reading Lacy’s piece, as media is media, whether it be a well-funded journalist or blogger or reality documentarian like Zuckerberg. Truth is we’re not out there coding, are we, Sarah?

But snobbery blinds people; how else can you explain why it bugs me that five out of the seven people cast on that show aren’t really “representative” of the Valley (as in, part of the “cool kids”). And yes, even as a non-coder, it strikes me that having only two people who code on a show supposedly about tech is sort of weird.

This aside, Lacy’s argument is fundamentally flawed; Silicon Valley needs to take itself more seriously? Why? Because it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that “employs people”? So is the porn industry. If anything, we should take ourselves less seriously because we’re all about changing the game, innovating, disrupting, etc.

It makes sense that being at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship means that you’re especially qualified for telling others how to live their lives. That doesn’t mean that you should do it. At the very least because you look like an asshole when you do, but more importantly because you’re probably wrong. Is Randi Zuckerberg doing a show about Silicon Valley the “right” way? Well, we won’t know until the thing actually premieres right?

The way I see it (and mind you I hang out mostly with media and consumer Internet founders), the culture of the tech sector and Silicon Valley today is sort of similar to that of Victorian England. Hand in hand with a demographic explosion comes pressure to remain “proper” and “serious” on the surface. Underneath the facade is a whole lot of “debauchery, ” or, in layman’s terms, hacking, building cool shit, and then going crazy on the Playa.

I don’t have the fingers to count the number of times I have attended a tech party where people are dressed like stuffed animals.

In addition to the “consumer Internet founders” dressed as furries contingent, our industry is comprised of hundreds of thousands of people who work in Silicon Valley tech who don’t have any sort of media cred or connections — the engineers in Sunnyvale and San Mateo and everywhere else who won’t be making an appearance on “Silicon Valley” anytime soon. These people aren’t part of the digerati or don’t read any of these dumb articles, but are hiring.

While there are many downsides to the mainstream exposure of Silicon Valley — the myriad fakers and sycophants that come along in any sort of high visibility situation — I’m willing to trade in occasionally having to deal with an annoying person if our values (entrepreneurship, self-reliance, fearlessness, disregard for hierarchy, technical excellence) get a wider audience and, more importantly, excite a fresh crop of high school seniors applying to college to go into CS because it “sounds cool.”

So if you are one of the few people who insist on being elitist about who exactly comprises “Silicon Valley,” you continue to limit the scope of our industry’s influence, to perhaps about 2,000 people in the Bay Area. Congrats.

When I asked my dad a couple of years ago why most engineering fields lacked women, he told me it’s because people don’t see enough engineer role models on television. I agree. Lacy and I may have been lucky enough to be accidentally exposed to the Valley just in time to contribute to it (very few people are actually from here), but think of how many kids have no idea that a place exists where taking risks is not just encouraged, but in fact is a way of life.

Many.

So, continue taking yourself so seriously, Silicon Valley. And then complain about a talent/hiring crunch. Because the two aren’t related, like at all.*

*I am being sarcastic here. Also, if you’d like an example of the right attitude to have about SV’s inevitable rise in mainstream cachet, check out how Quora’s Charlie Cheever pranked his staff this week — because “Just ship” doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have a sense of humor.

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