The Dark Side of Silicon Valley
A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the key elements of SIlicon Valley culture that have made it an emblem for success that many around the world try to replicate. But like any good thing, it does not come without its flaws. Beneath the cutting edge of tech there is a dark underbelly of discrimination, mental health challenges, and more that come with the Valley, which has led to a “Tech Exodus” in the past decade.
1. Lack of Diversity
As with many industries, there is a lack of diversity in the people that work here. The average employee in the Bay Area is a 30-something unmarried white male. The percentage of ethnic minority people present in the Bay is misleading as there are virtually no Black or Latinx people at most tech companies and even the Asian minority individuals often find themselves unable to rise to leadership positions at companies. Beyond this, though, the percentage of women is abysmal, and many of the women that do make it into these “all boys clubs” find the culture to be extremely exclusionary and toxic.
2. Living Costs
There’s a wonderful Medium article I read a while ago that talks about how there are three different Silicon Valleys. The first is the glamorised tech world. It’s what you classically envision; with fancy dinners, VC meetings and high rise buildings. But beneath that there’s a 2nd and 3rd level, the 2nd being the middle class and the 3rd being the working class and the economically deprived.
It has long been known that the middle class is disappearing, but in Silicon Valley, the tech industry has created a situation in which anyone that doesn’t work in tech finds themselves struggling to stay afloat. With the average house in good neighborhoods costing upwards of $1.5 or $2 million dollars, it’s not hard to see why this is. In the Valley, it is common to make a 6 figure salary while still being forced to live out of your car. People who work in big tech well into their 30s and sometimes even 40s often share flats with others as a way to keep costs down.
In extreme cases people even rent out garden sheds or boats to stay in as this is a “cheaper option” costing around $3000 a month as opposed to the usual $4000-5000 for a studio apartment in San Francisco. The hardest hit have been the lower class, who have long been moving out of the Valley or had to face gentrification as techies come to inhabit their neighborhoods in adjoining cities.
3. The Bubble
After living in the Valley long enough, most people start adopting a mentality where technology is seen as the be all and end all. People are convinced that every problem has a technological solution and there is a superiority complex that develops within the tech industry where other careers and jobs are seen as “less than.” In social settings, it is always assumed you work in tech with the next question being “where?”
Even with the booming startup scene, the amount of competition means that even startups that become “unicorns” are sometimes seen as unsuccessful because of the lack of brand value they have. The pressure trickles downwards as well with the Bay Area seeing some of the most successful schools in the country but also those with the highest suicide rates. Nonetheless, there is a level of exclusivity when living in the Valley. You often find yourself Beta testing products, the hype is always about the latest app that has launched and you usually know the big tech news before it makes it to TechCrunch. When you take a step back, though, you realise that big tech is just a bubble, and on the outside, most of what goes on is virtually inconsequential.
Like with any place, Silicon Valley has its fair share of issues. But many of the disparities have only continued to increase with some citing that the Valley has lost touch with reality as it becomes caught up with itself. In the past few years, many titans have left the Bay because of the toxicity in the industry. Where the Valley goes in the long-run thus remains the lingering question.