Here’s an ambitious piece in New York Times which took me over a week to read. Today people tend to get very opinionated about Silicon Valley and startup world and most of the articles on the subject are remarkably one-sided. Here, Yiren Lu takes time to consider every issue from different angles. And he covers a lot of difficult questions, from accusations of agism to skipping college, from need to be “cool” to the second web bubble.
I particularly like how he gives voice to something that bothers me as well: lack of purpose in modern tech world, spawning technology just because we can.
I was asking a friend, a former computer-science major who now works for a hedge fund in New York, why he chose finance instead of tech. “There are so few start-ups that are doing things that are worthwhile to me,” he said. I protested: “What about Facebook?” He looked at me, and I thought about it. No doubt, Facebook has changed the world. Facebook has made it easier to communicate, participate, pontificate, track down new contacts and vet romantic prospects. But in other moments, it has also made me nauseatingly jealous of my friends, even as I’m aware of its unreality. Everything on Facebook, like an Instagram photo, is experienced through a soft-glow filter. And for all the noise, the pinging notifications and flashing lights, you never really feel productive on Facebook. A couple of months ago, I installed a Google Chrome extension called “Kill News Feed,” built by Neal Wu, a senior at Harvard who incidentally previously worked at the social network. Now when I absent-mindedly surf to Facebook.com, my News Feed is gloriously blank except for one line of text: “Don’t get distracted by Facebook!” it says.
I want to find that hedge fund manager and shake his hand!
Author also covers a touchy subject of age in the software world. (I would say “startup world”, but Google is not one and we have only few people over 40 here) Too often the cultural element in this debate is missed. Let me repeat it: culture is the key. Bank executives want to hire people like them, with shining black shoes, MBA and a necktie to match their suit. Startupers also want to hire people like them, with passion for latest technology, strong algorithmic skills and reasonable disregard for impossible. And, God forbid, no neckties. Both environments are perfectly normal and self-reinforcing.
Older engineers form a smaller percentage of employees at top new-guard companies, not because they don’t have the skills, but because they simply don’t want to. “Let’s face it,” Karl said, “for a 50-something to show up at a start-up where the average age is 29, there is a basic cultural disconnect that’s going on. I know people, mostly those who have stayed on the technical side, who’ve popped back into an 11-person company. But there’s a hesitation there.” The flip side of the kind of cohesion I saw at Stripe is that it can be off-putting to people outside the circle. If you are 50, no matter how good your coding skills, you probably do not want to be called a “ninja” and go on bar crawls every weekend with your colleagues, which is exactly what many of my friends do.
“Top tech companies emphasize rigorous algorithms problem solving and de-emphasize prior experience, which is where an older engineer is going to shine,” McDowell said. “Older engineers are also very likely not to have computer-science degrees; even if they do, C.S. was a completely different field 30 years ago.”
I could argue with few things in this article, but overall this is a remarkably mature piece from someone who, turns out, is only 21! (Am I being agist now?)
In conclusion, if you want to see a parade of belligerent bigots, read (many of) the top-rated comments for the article.