Silicon Valley was built on the ethos of disruption. A memoir from a former insider shows that there's one principle that they won't challengeby Sanjana Varghese / April 15, 2020 / Leave a comment
Wendy Liu’s first encounter with the inner workings of technology happened when she was twelve. She was chatting to a boy over MSN Messenger who was telling her about a website he’d made. She looked up the terms he used, like “source code” and “HTML.” “It was as if a hole in the universe had just opened up to reveal its inner mechanics,” she writes in her new book Abolish Silicon Valley.
Abolish Silicon Valley is half memoir, half manifesto. Liu, now a prolific critic of the tech industry, recounts her teenage years spent on open source software forums, her formal education in computer science at McGill, and then, a bemusing summer spent as an intern at Google in 2013, when Silicon Valley was still considered a bastion of progressive thinking. “I could feel virtuous solely through my association with my employer. All I had to do was show up,” she writes. After university, Liu turns down a job offer from Google for a more adventurous venture working on a data analytics startup with three friends. The early optimism eventually gives way to confusion and fatigue, particularly as the myth of Silicon Valley starts to crumble for her team.
When Liu set out to write Abolish Silicon Valley, she was conscious that many of the elements of life in Silicon Valley—the dominant culture of overwork, the exploitation of a precarious workforce partly alleviated by office perks, the hero worship of a select few male founders—were starting to fray at the seams. Those problems have only grown as she finished writing the book. In the book, Liu describes actions such as the 2018 Google Walkouts—where employees at Google walked out of company headquarters around the world to protest the company’s treatment of sexual harassment claims and massive payouts to those accused—and strikes led by Uber drivers over issues such as declining wages. They were among the first kinds of collective action taken by tech workers in recent history.
Throughout Abolish Silicon Valley, Liu recounts her life in granular detail, which she admits in a phone interview, was excruciating. “I realised I had all of these assumptions which I didn’t think to question,” she says. “I wanted to lay out those experiences so that…