About five years ago, I was trying to get a bunch of Big Tech companies to take the right side of an urgent online civil rights fight, and I called an old friend who was very senior at one of the biggest tech companies in the world; they told me that it wasn't going to work, in part because the kinds of people who were coming to tech were there because they wanted to get as rich as possible, no matter what they had to do. My friend contrasted this with earlier eras -- even the dotcom bubble -- when the financial motive was blended with a genuine excitement for the transformative potential of tech to make a fairer, more equitable world. Now, my friend said, the kind of kid who would have gotten an MBA was instead getting an electrical engineering or computer science degree -- not out of any innate love for the subject, but because that was a path to untold riches.
But things are changing. Not only are young people far more skeptical of capitalism and concerned that it will annihilate the human race, but the tech companies' masks have slipped, revealing their willingness to supply ICE and the Chinese government alike, to help the oil industry torch the planet, and to divert their fortunes to supporting white nationalist causes. Companies that tout their ethical center have harbored and even rewarded serial sexual predators and busted nascent union movements.
The tech worker uprisings of recent years have caught the attention of the best and brightest grads of America's elite universities. The New York Times reports that tech recruiters are getting the cold shoulder from students a job fairs, where they are quizzed about Salesforce and Palantir's work with ICE; Google's multimillion-dollar payout for a top exec who engaged in years of demeaning sexual misconduct; Tesla's union-busting; and Facebook's years and years of depraved fuckery (a former Facebook recruiter told the Times that the rate of job-offer acceptances has fallen by 40%!).
Two years ago, I wrote that the tech industry's scarcest resource was tech workers, who are increasingly disillusioned with their employers, and who no longer see themselves as possible CEOs of their own startups, thanks to the monopoly tactics and market concentration that have created a "kill zone" around tech that preclude the possibility of unseating the Big Tech companies with your scrappy startup.
Tech companies can hire new cafeteria workers and gig economy drivers, but talented software engineers, security researchers, and mathematicians are in short supply. They have incredibly leverage over the Big Tech companies, and, as they start to build solidarity with their users and more easily replaced co-workers, they have it within their power to bring Big Tech to its knees.
“It felt like in my freshman year Google, Palantir and Facebook were these shiny places everyone wanted to be. It was like, ‘Wow, you work at Facebook. You must be really smart,’” said Ms. Dogru, 23. “Now if a classmate tells me they’re joining Palantir or Facebook, there’s an awkward gap where they feel like they have to justify themselves.”
Palantir, in particular, has drawn the ire of students at Stanford for providing services to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (also known as ICE).
Last summer, a campus activist group, Students for the Liberation of All People, visited the company’s office, a 15-minute walk from campus, and hung a banner nearby that read: “Our software is so powerful it separates families.” Similar protests took place at the University of California, Berkeley, Brown and Yale, according to Recode. The protests, and the attitudes they reflected, were also covered in The Los Angeles Times.
Audrey Steinkamp, a 19-year-old sophomore at Yale, which sends about 10 percent of each graduating class into tech, said that taking a job in Silicon Valley is seen as “selling out,” no different from the economics majors going into consulting who are “lovingly and not-so-lovingly called ‘snakes.’”
‘Techlash’ Hits College Campuses [Emma Goldberg/New York Times]
(Image: No Tech For ICE)