Why I Left My Big Fancy Tech Job and Wrote a Book

From Medium:

Several years ago, I was sitting in the audience at a big tech conference, learning about a startup that made it easy for people to rent rooms in other people’s houses for short stays. In a world where people can now travel to any part of the world and share someone else’s home, could we hope, the CEO asked, for greater cross-cultural understanding? “Would nations have less war if the residents lived together?”

I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and felt an immense sense of peace and hope for humanity wash over me.

Then I opened my eyes and thought, “Isn’t this basically a hotel in someone’s house — a cool, convenient, unregulated hotel?”

When it was my turn to take the stage, I too had a grandiose proclamation: Our startup, I declared, was helping people make meaningful connections in the real world.

What I really should have said was: We help people hook up.

On the plane ride home, I began to write what would eventually become The Big Disruption, a satirical novel based on my experience working at both a startup and one of the biggest tech companies in the world. I had no goal at the time other than to provide a bit of cathartic escape from the tech industry, where, on the surface, things seemed really important and exciting.

We were doing big things!

Bringing the internet to the developing world!

Singing songs to orphans!

But also, on some level, it all felt a bit off.

So, where to begin?

. . . .

To be sure, Silicon Valley has built some great products that have truly changed our lives for the better. And I do think that in many, many ways, it has taken noble stands during difficult times and helped redefine what people expect from companies, well beyond just the tech industry. It has also led me to some of my best friends and greatest opportunities, for which I am very grateful. There is so much I really do love about this world.

But there is also what drove me to leave the big tech company last fall and take a break. The issues that I got tired of defending at parties. The endless use of “scale” as an excuse for being unable to solve problems in a human way. The faux earnestness, the self-righteousness. All those cheery product ads set to ukulele music.

I wrote this book for two reasons. First, I wanted to explore what drives the insatiable expansion of the big tech companies. Despite how the industry is sometimes portrayed in the media, I don’t really think the management teams at Facebook, Google, Apple, Uber, or Amazon wake up each morning thinking about how to steal more user data or drive us all out of our jobs. Those are real consequences, but not the root cause. Rather, it’s the desperation to stay on top and avoid being relegated to a dusty corner of the Computer History Museum that pushes these companies into further and further reaches of our lives.

Second, I wrote this book because we should be able to love and celebrate the products that we build — but without ignoring the hard questions they raise. We need to end the self-delusion and either fess up to the reality we are creating or live up to the vision we market to the world. Because if you’re going to tell people you’re their savior, you better be ready to be held to a higher standard. This book is my small way of trying to push us all to be better. Meaning…

You can’t tell your advertisers that you can target users down to the tiniest pixel but then throw your hands up before the politicians and say your machines can’t figure out if bad actors are using your platform.

. . . .

You can’t buy up a big bookstore and then a big diaper store and a big pet supply store and, finally, a big grocery store, national newspaper, and rocket ship and then act surprised when people start wondering if maybe you’re a bit too powerful.

And you can’t really claim that you’re building for everyone in the world when your own workforce doesn’t remotely resemble the outside world.

Link to the rest at Medium

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4 thoughts on “Why I Left My Big Fancy Tech Job and Wrote a Book”

  1. “First, I wanted to explore what drives the insatiable expansion of the big tech companies.”

    Money?

    “Because if you’re going to tell people you’re their savior, you better be ready to be held to a higher standard.”

    Ah – which one(s) are claiming to be a savior?

    “You can’t tell your advertisers that you can target users down to the tiniest pixel but then throw your hands up before the politicians and say your machines can’t figure out if bad actors are using your platform.”

    You can sell third parties stats saying X% looked at this page/ad and X% of those clicked on it, but there’s no way to tell what the third party does with that information – or if the third party is gathering that info for a fourth party – who is gathering it for a fifth.

    “You can’t buy up a big bookstore and then a big diaper store and a big pet supply store and, finally, a big grocery store, national newspaper, and rocket ship and then act surprised when people start wondering if maybe you’re a bit too powerful.”

    What? I thought Walmart was still bigger – it’s just the ADS types whining that Amazon is to big.

    “And you can’t really claim that you’re building for everyone in the world when your own workforce doesn’t remotely resemble the outside world.”

    When has that ever been a problem – or a feature?

    As just another ‘buy my book’ piece, I don’t think it’s worth my time – much less the cost …

    • “First, I wanted to explore what drives the insatiable expansion of the big tech companies.”

      Money?

      I thought that the “tech” should be removed from this sentence. This is a feature of almost all companies.

      Most of the other complaints also seemed features of companies…. and general product advertising.

  2. “Nor did I want readers to sit diagramming the characters, trying to figure out which character corresponded to a famous tech exec. (Hint: None of them do, except the one likable character. Clearly, that’s me…just kidding. No one’s likable in this book.)”

    And now I know I don’t want to read this book… I work for a tech startup right now, so the initial spiel was interesting, but I don’t need fictional people to be angry at and disgusted by when there are so many in the news.

  3. Or you could skip this book and watch the HBO show Silicon Valley, which is painfully “funny because it’s true” humor. People who’ve worked in software/IT/tech start-ups, this is your show. We have lived this stuff. >.>

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