Most of Silicon Valley this morning is buzzing about the quake. (It was a 4.2 forty miles away, you wimps. Try living in coal blasting country a while). But once they get over that, they’re talking about the Amazon piece in the New York Times over the weekend and the reaction of Jeff Bezos. (Full roundup here via Ars Technica.)
To me, the standout line of the whole thing is when Bezos says “I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market.” And see, that’s where he’s wrong. General Electric was the firm that brought stack ranking to the mainstream. Microsoft employed stack ranking until 2013, including all the way through the dot-com boom when they were the lodestar of high tech. Even without stack ranking as such, there are plenty of businesses that grade on a curve at review time and only have room for so many “exceeds expectations” even when an entire department had to run at redline for an entire year just to keep up.
The problem is, companies make bad decisions all the time without any regard for whether the company thrives or survives. To shamelessly borrow from Lisa Schmeiser’s hard work:
“[T]here are reams of data on the effectiveness of a shorter workweek (vol 1, issue 41), and data on the insane productivity of working mothers (vol 1, issue 45), and data on the unprofitable bias against working mothers (vol 2, issue 32), and data on the rise of workplace productivity when employees can take care of their personal business without stress or penalty (vol 2, issue 37).”
So in other words, we know these are bad ideas. We know these are unprofitable if not outright unethical or immoral practices. And yet, before Amazon even rallied to its own defense, the usual suspects of Silicon Valley were out there defending it. Quotes like “BREAKING: Hugely successfull big co has ex employees not fully satisfied, willing to criticize it” and “employees rate Amazon better than IBM, Oracle, HP and ties Tesla” and of course, super-duper-apologist Marc Andressen with “Those new tech giants’ employees are coddled, entitled, overpaid babies!” “Those new tech giants’ employees are cruelly mistreated!” because obviously, all companies treat all employees exactly the same, even when they don’t fob off half of them as contractors.
But the real indictment is Andressen’s first tweet: “Well, given the number of workplaces designed for underachievers to feel good about themselves…” Which serves to prove two things: 1) Andressen is a an overrated VC with a penis for a head who hasn’t accomplished anything since conning AOL into buying a doomed browser. 2) Silicon Valley, in 2015, is focused more than anything on ensuring the self-selected Eloi can abstract away the Morlocks. There’s no such thing as bad luck. There’s nothing that can’t be overcome if you don’t want it badly enough. Anything in life that goes wrong is your own fault, and any conditions that are intolerable are because you’re a fucking pussy, so either man up and fight your way into the ranks of the Chosen Ones or shut up and drive an Uber. My success is entirely of my own doing without help or fortune, as is your failure.
And the thing is, this ethos spreads. It’s the same thing that drove the world toward first cubicles and then kindergarten tables, the thing that makes tech websites want to portray themselves as tech companies rather than journalists, the thing that pushes the adoption of Slack and the risible notion of Snapchat as business tool. Everybody wants to be like a tech startup, because that’s the way to untold wealth and success – so goes the official fable of 2015. Horatio Alger and Dick Whittington can clear out and make way for Mark Zuckerberg and Travis Kalanick and that aforementioned literal dick-head from Netscape.
Silicon Valley is the land of Mitt Romney now. It’s long since time we stopped pretending otherwise.