At risk of sounding like an angry old man and by Silicon Valley standards I kind of am, as a 46 year old. As someone who has been in the tech industry and in San Francisco since January 1999 there was a lot of “History repeating itself.”
I started having a tremendous amount of personal disquiet about the Tech industry starting in 2017. I saw a widespread lack of thoughtfulness & hype. At the same time, I also saw an incredibly high level of arrogance and bad behavior from both founders and Investors during this time in Silicon Valley. All mainly driven by Greed due to the immense amount of money coming into the industry. The Softbank Vision Fund was only just a signal of the overall craziness.
Reminded me of the stupidity driven by Frenzy & FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that happened in 1999–2000, in the run up from 2006–2007 and more recently the Crypto ICO insanity in 2017.
Add to this, the increasing bubble and distance the tech industry was building around itself. This caused a massive disconnect to the real world, the rest of America and the world. For comparison, the average per capita income in the USA was $63,174 USD, in the San Francisco Bay area per capita was $96,265 usd. But add on another filter, for tech workers it is $122,000. A very large difference. Granted it is much more expensive to live in the SF Bay Area but this additional surplus of capital allows folks to build a bubble around themselves. A live example is of the self contained Google, Facebook and Twitter amenity filled campuses/offices where you literally do not need to leave the grounds at all. So we saw for most part, tech startups building stuff for high income earning urban dwellers leading to a dangerous echo chamber.
You can argue that Silicon Valley is incredibly diverse. It certainly is from a racial/international perspective. But from a socio-economic, educational perspective whether you are from India, Russia, USA, France, Argentina, Mexico, Canada etc. most of us in Silicon Valley tech are basically the same person with similar view/ values. Net net: left wing, high post secondary education and global minded + high income. This opens up a huge blind spot and why so many of us were shocked by the 2016 elections of Trump.
So what is the point of this tirade?
I believe that as the great educator and startup guru Steve Blank said, the importance of “getting out of the building” becomes even more important in times like this. In this case, getting out of your bubble, talking to customers both perspective and even talking to non-customers as an anti-pattern.
Building and hiring diverse people from other countries and races and sexes. Traveling within the country to non-coastal states and internationally as I’ve espounded on many times. For me, I also spend time reading right wing media like Breitbart and Fox, both of whose views I viscerally dislike and disagree with. But it certainly is still helpful to understand other’s differing perspectives.
I hold the view that technology, like many tools, ultimately is neutral. But I also understand the massively disruptive power technology has on the world.
The way we harness this technology in a society positive way is by understanding as much of the different people’s perspectives outside of our own filter bubbles. I think this is finally happening in 2020 with the pandemic. We have seen many key Silicon Valley investors and founders dispersing all over the USA and the world. These evacuees’ mental horizons will be opened in these new environments. At the same time, they will bring their talent, knowledge, best practices and mindset to these new places. A true win-win in my view and why we will see technology become even more ingrained in the world and the rise of even more successful startup ecosystems all over the place.
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