Tech workers of the world unite!

There’s a rift in Silicon Valley. The culture might be defined by eccentric, rich nerds microdosing on hallucinogens and overdosing on a god-complex, but the growing tech worker movement indicates that another group are jostling for power. Sure, they might well be nerds - possibly even eccentric ones - but their priorities are undoubtedly very different from those that occupy the upper echelons of their companies.

I alluded to this at the end of one of last week’s newsletters - Is technology causing a trust deficit? - but I think it’s a topic that is worth scrutinising in even more detail.

As I mentioned there, because technology has a habit of reshaping organizations and straining traditional notions of hierarchy, this gives engineers - who probably very rarely interface with senior management - more power than they would have in a more ‘traditional’ working setup.

This there’s more to it than just organizational structures - engineers also earn a hell of a lot of money, at least they do if they work in Silicon Valley. This means they have a level of power that working people generally don’t possess. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t seen a great deal of unionization yet despite seeing high-profile protest and agitation from employees.

However, is it all just about politics? Or is it also about the type of company these engineers want to work in and the way they want to work?

Engineers are donating to anti-big tech presidential candidates

Although the last 18 months or so has been full of individual instances of tech workers protesting their employers’ actions, this article on Recode seems particularly significant. Essentially, it highlights that Google employees are donating significant sums of money to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders’ respective Democratic nominee campaigns - the two candidates who have been the most outspoken on ‘big tech’ and have called for companies like Google to be broken up.

Okay, so perhaps it doesn’t seem that remarkable that well-paid left-leaning engineers are donating to left-wing democratic candidates. But what makes it interesting is that there is almost a technical angle buried in among the politics - the view of some of these donors isn’t just that the break up of Google would be the right thing to do ideologically, it’s the right thing to do from a technology and productivity perspective.

As one engineer who spoke to Recode said, “I’m just not a big believer it’s going to hurt us if they break it up… It will not reduce the value of the company… when Larry and Sergey formed Alphabet, part of the thinking is that the companies would be smaller and more agile. Breaking Google up further would further their plan.”

So, yes the rift in Silicon Valley is a political one, but it’s also technological. This is important as it highlights that late-capitalism’s commonsense position that innovation=progress and progress can only be a good thing is just untrue.

Innovation and hyper-capitalism might actually be in contradiction with one another. And when you stop for just a moment to think about it that makes sense. The tech industry’s mantra of agility is plainly challenging to live up to in an industry that has been monopolized by a few impossibly huge companies.

Tech workers of the world unite - it will make the world fairer, and you might even enjoy your jobs more.