Archive for the ‘technology’ Category
It’s hard not to feel like a second-class citizen in Silicon Valley. In a world where everyone seemingly has a startup, an idea for a startup, or an idea for an idea for a startup (this latter group being the largest contingent), I am boringly uninspired. 95% of my mental energy goes into my job, and the other 5% is reserved for Scrabble matches.
The entrepreneur worship in the Valley is extreme – although you could argue that a large portion of it is self-worship. For every brilliant and successful entrepreneur, there are hundreds (thousands?) planning to build a “Netflix for cats.” Or worse, they are entrepreneurs in search of an idea. Um, order of operations??
I don’t mean to sound so frickin curmudgeonly. The audacious, pursue-crazy-ideas-against-all-odds mentality is a big part of why I love living and working in the tech community. I guess I’m just tired of feigning engrossment in the composition of an oh-so urgent tweet whenever conversation turns to everyone’s world changing ideas. Market demand and business models be damned. Gah, curmudgeon!
But in the past 24 hours, I’ve read two (totally unrelated) posts that make me feel much, much better about my lacking entrepreneurial spirit.
The first, The Secret Guild of Silicon Valley, shines a light on perhaps the least visible but most essential Valley contingent. Or as the author puts it, “They are part of a nomadic band of software tradesmen, who have mentored one another over the last four decades in Silicon Valley, and they have quietly, steadily built the infrastructure behind the world’s most successful companies.”
And then this quip from Dustin Moskovitz at last night’s PandoMonthly interview, “The 100th engineer at Facebook did way better than the vast majority of entrepreneurs in the Valley.” And they’ve also “had more impact.”
I think impact is the most important point. There are a multitude of companies in the Valley serving millions or tens of millions of users each, with employee counts in the hundreds (or in Instagram’s crazy case, the teens). That’s a pretty powerful ratio.
Which isn’t to say that I would never ever do the startup thing. If I had a brilliant, all-consuming idea, I like to think I’d go for it. (And yes, I know I’m a PR chick with no programming skills, but hey, a girl can dream.)
But in the meantime, I’m going to forgive myself for being content helping to build a company that I fiercely believe in, but had no part in starting.
And maybe I’ll compile an arsenal of really, really horrid company ideas to deliver deadpan the next time peeps want to talk startups at a dive bar.
Thanks to the Twitters, I stumbled upon this list of 20 New Year’s Resolutions For 20-Somethings a few days ago. It is, in a word, brilliant. Do yourself a favor and read it, even if you’re a some-other-decade-something.
Perhaps my favorite ‘resolution’ of them all:
Wait 30 seconds before you look up a fact you can’t remember on your phone, and try to remember it using your brain. This is what the olden days were like.
Now, I actually have a freakishly good memory. Ask me to find an email from a year ago, and I’ll conjure it immediately from the cyber abyss because I remember certain phrases verbatim (yup, Gmail search is my bitch). When I was little, I’d watch a Disney movie for the first time, and then afterwards repeat entire scenes back to my poor, tolerant parents.
But I digress.
Despite my not-so-humble-bragging about my crazy powers of recall, I am the worst offender when it comes to using Google as a substitute for my brain. If the information I need is not immediately forthcoming from my memory, it literally pains me to try to extract it. So I don’t try. On some level, I think I’d rather not have to confront how many brain cells I may have lost. (Although fortunately, I don’t need to worry about resolution #15 these days. Whew.)
On the bright side, my Googling skills are pretty sharp – I’m sure I’m not alone in this. It’s pretty much a survival mechanism in the age of information overload. But you’d never know it to look at my Google search history (which, coincidentally, I found by Googling “how do I find my Google search history?”).
So um, yeah. Here’s a snapshot from today:
I am pretty much the laziest person ever. I use Google to spell check REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS, like the proper spelling of Miss Lohan’s first name (totally incorrect) for use in a very important tweet, and the plural of the yuppie car I drive (this time, right on the money). And in my defense, “stingy” just looks weird, and totally warrants internet validation.
I also use Google to double-check idioms. Sometimes this fails, because there are a lot of misused idioms on the internet, and almost any bastardization is bound to generate a lot of results. I guarantee you if I had spent five extra seconds today thinking about the two on this list, I would have realized “in” should be “with,” and that the act of seeing is, quite clearly, very different than the act of being the top of a mountain. But that’s a good three seconds more than the time it took to hit up Google. And time is precious.
All this lazy web action is probably just misguided revenge. When I was little, my mom would FORCE ME to look a word up in the dictionary (the book kind, with paper and stuff), rather than just telling me how to spell it. But while incredibly annoying, I did actually remember what I looked up, to avoid future trips to that musty, evil book of words.
Now, I just open a new browser tab, or pull out my iPhone. So take that, Mom! And because there’s so little friction to searching, there’s no incentive to actually retain anything Google tells me.
Which means I am forever doomed to Google the proper spelling of Lindsay Lohan. Pretty sure I’m the one losing here.
So, huge nerd alert. I’d ask you to withhold judgment, but that doesn’t seem reasonable.
I’m in 2012 planning mode at work, so naturally I decided to give my personal life the same treatment. To start, I listed various dimensions of my life – work, social, romantic, creative, fitness, hobbies, etc – and then ranked my level of optimization for each. (I know, I know. But I have friends that use Excel spreadsheets to track relationships, so I’ve come to think that this behavior is not only normal, but rather clever.)
Diagnosis? I’m totally unbalanced. By my own very biased measurements, I’m quite optimized in some areas, like work and social (yeahhhh awesome job and kickass friends). But not so much in others, such as fitness and hobbies. Or my love life – which, while highly entertaining, probably does not satisfy the conventional metrics of success for a 26-year-old, especially as the engagement epidemic spreads.
Well fuck, what’s a girl to do? Should I subtract some points from my high-performing categories and spread the love around? Slow down my career to fast track future babies?
Oh hell no. Or at least that’s what I imagine Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg would tell me, if she and I were bffs and reviewing my chart over a few beers. (Sheryl, if you’re reading this, I’m a huge fangirl. First round is on me.)
After all, her mantra for women is “lean in,” as told to the lucky Barnard Class of 2011 in a commencement speech:
“Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.”
“Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision.”
Especially in the tech world, where there’s a constant blame-throwing frenzy to explain the shortage of female leaders, I love that Sheryl holds women accountable. Sure, there are some very real, very unfair extra hurdles. But at the end of the day, what we do with our careers is an individual – not institutional – decision. Blaming the system gets us nowhere.
And those “small little decisions” that women are prone to making are dangerous. They pretty much rob us of the chance to make any big decision later on. Because by the time we’re weighing a career against marriage, or kids, or whatever, the career has already lost its luster.
“Leaning back” means that rather than choosing between options A and B, we’re downgrading A in hopes of optimizing for an unknown X. Which sucks, because you can’t really optimize for the unknown.
But to only apply this logic in favor of career escalation would be narrow-minded. For the same reason that you shouldn’t take yourself out of the running for a promotion because you worry it might compromise a future relationship, you also shouldn’t give up the hobby that you love because it will surely be unmanageable when you have your yet-to-be-born children. Nor should you abandon a great relationship because it might, in the future, distract you from your career. (See, the reverse is possible, too.)
Do everything that makes you happy, and do it fully, until you reach a breaking point. And only then make a decision, because only then will you actually have a decision to make.
I’m really glad that “sleep” wasn’t on my optimization chart.
Last week, another voice entered the ongoing debate about why there are so few female entrepreneurs in tech. In this case, the voice actually belonged to a female entrepreneur – Penelope Trunk, who attempted to spell out how VCs can address the “woman problem.”
Many explanations have been offered for why there’s such a shortage of female entrepreneurs. Some thoughtful, some surprising, and some plain uncomfortable.
But none have made me angry. Until now.
Penelope’s intro is overly simplistic. Basically, women don’t do startups because women want babies. And even when we’re in our pre-baby making years (late twenties), we’re too busy being happy. The happiest we’ll ever be. And happiness and startups are, apparently, mutually exclusive.
Whatever. That’s not the part that bothers me. The baby thing is legit, but it’s a consideration for every maternally-inclined career-driven woman. So that doesn’t go far enough. The happiness argument is just plain dumb, so I’m ignoring it.
But I can’t ignore Penelope’s recommendations for VCs, which are straight-up offensive. If VCs really want to encourage women to get into the startup game, she says, they need to “change the equation.”
Changing the equation apparently means changing (increasing) the salaries doled out upfront. Why? Because women love to shop. It makes us oh-so happy. So if VCs want to cater to female founders, it means less bootstrapping…and more shoe shopping?
If this were true, there wouldn’t just be a lack of women in founding roles, there would be a lack of women in startups, period. If we’re optimizing for shopping sprees, we’re far better off taking that higher paying, lower risk gig at a large, well-established company. Besides, our Manolo Blahniks would, like, totally clash with the jeans-and-t-shirt startup dress code.
Regardless of whether or not you have a Y chromosome, you don’t join a start-up for the money. You join a startup for a chance to make a disproportionate impact on something you think is important. You join because you love the idea that your role will grow and evolve in entirely unpredictable ways as you try to keep pace with growth of the company.
And to keep pace, you have to move fast. Which is why Penelope’s second recommendation to VCs is so absurd. Sorry, but if you want to bankroll women, you’ll have to say goodbye to speed.
Startups don’t move quickly because of personal style or some gender-based preference. They move quickly because expansion is usually essential to survival. If you’re exploiting a gap in the market, or taking advantage of some new technology, you generally don’t have the luxury of time. The competitive marketplace is gender-blind, and even if VCs were to make speed concessions for women-run companies, customers surely wouldn’t.
Maybe I’m just naïve. I haven’t started my own company. But I do work for a startup with four female execs, two of which joined early on. My sister works for a startup with a female co-founder, who happens to be pregnant with her second child. Yes, that’s an exception to the rule. And yes, there’s a very real shortage of female entrepreneurs. But saying that women don’t start companies because the early payout isn’t conducive to our shopping needs is just jaded. And suggesting that women should be allowed to grow their companies more slowly so that they can take longer breaks in the summer implies that women really aren’t in it to win it.
This is an important discussion to have, so let’s have a real one, please.
Okay, rant over.