Tech Industry Toxicity Goes Beyond Uber

September 13, 2017

Shiny new things have distracted people from certain behaviors, and Fast Company is calling out the entire technology startup culture in, “Why Silicon Valley Can’t Call Uber an Anomaly.” Writer Austin Carr takes us briefly through Uber’s tribulations, which culminated in the departure of infamous CEO Travis Kalanick. See the article for that useful summary, but Carr’s question was whether Uber’s noxious culture is unusual. He writes:

Silicon Valley, though, is insular and guarded. In my reporting, I encountered few people willing to speak openly, let alone critically, about Uber’s troubles. Those who did (most of them, notably, women) argue that there’s an opportunity for course correction right now. It starts by acknowledging that the Valley isn’t yet the utopian meritocracy it strives to be—and that Uber’s errant system exposed some fundamental bugs in the startup economy.

Carr identifies and discusses three of these bugs. First, that which makes a startup succeed often does not scale up well. For example, a confrontational culture that pits workers against each other might fuel a startup’s launch, but becomes unsustainable in a large, global corporation. The second problem is the myth of the “omniscient founder.” Though most of us realize that generating a brilliant idea does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with the capacity to run a large organization, much of the tech industry still seems taken by the foolish notion of one man at the top skillfully managing each and every aspect of the business. Carr points out that even Steve Jobs and Larry Page saw the wisdom in stepping back, and each tapped someone with more corporate experience to run their companies for a while. Not only is this hero-at-the-top attitude inefficient, it also risks the devaluation of every other employee. Talent does not stay where it is not respected.

Finally, Carr observes, the system of accountability needs an overhaul. It takes a lot of scandals to push investors to hold tech companies accountable for bad behavior, and even then board members hesitate to act. The article concludes:

If there really were healthy checks and balances, boards wouldn’t wait for public outrage to act. But to acknowledge that Uber’s system of accountability failed is to acknowledge that fundamental change—something Silicon Valley normally embraces—is necessary. If the Valley truly prides itself on moving fast and breaking things, it ought to start here.

We are curious to see how the industry will respond to such escalating criticisms.

Cynthia Murrell, September 13, 2017

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