This Is Silicon Valley – OneZero

Mar 3, 2019 by

I feel myself becoming part of the machine

I am privileged to live in Silicon Valley. I was born here, I grew up here, and now I work here as a product manager at Google. The weather is lovely, the crime rate is low, and the schools are well funded. The adults have cushy jobs and the kids have endless resources. People feast on $15 sushirritos and $6 Blue Bottle coffees. The streets are filled with Teslas and self-driving cars.

It’s a place of opportunity. Many new graduates, myself included, are making six-figure salaries straight out of college, plus equity, bonuses, and benefits on top of that. I get unlimited free food at work — three full meals a day and as many snacks as I want in between. There’s a place to do laundry and get a haircut. There’s even a bowling alley and a bouldering wall.

This is Silicon Valley. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

When I was in eighth grade, over a six-month period four students at a nearby school committed suicide by jumping in front of the Caltrain. During my sophomore year of high school, a schoolmate I used to walk with to the library took her own life. In my senior year, every single one of my peers had a college counselor. Some paid up to $400 an hour for counselors to edit their essays, and I witnessed other students paying to have their essays literally written for them. My classmates cried over getting an A- on a test, cried over getting fewer than 100 likes on their profile pictures, and cried over not getting into Harvard. (I admit, I cried over that one, too.) They pulled multiple all-nighters every week to survive their seven AP classes and seven after-school activities, starved themselves to fit in with the “popular kids,” stole money from their parents to buy brand name clothing, and developed harrowing mental health disorders that still persist today, years after high school graduation.

This is Silicon Valley.

During my four years of high school, there were a total of three black students and around a dozen Latinx students in my school of 1,300 kids. On my floor at work, at a company that puts so many resources into diversity and inclusion, there are no black or Latinx engineers. In 2017, of all tech hires at Google, 2 percent were black, 3 percent were Latinx, and 25 percent were female. Upper management statistics are worse, and numbers throughout the Valley are just as depressing.

The lack of diversity doesn’t stop at work — it permeates every aspect of life. Everyone wears Patagonia and North Face, everyone has AirPods hanging from their ears, and everyone goes to Lake Tahoe on weekends. And everyone talks about the same things: startups, blockchain, machine learning, and startups with blockchain and machine learning.

This is Silicon Valley.

In my liberal arts college, conversations varied dramatically, from British literature to public policy to moral philosophy to socioeconomic inequality. Compare this to my product management program filled with new grads, where even social conversations revolve around tech — whether it’s spilling the hottest gossip on the new VP, plotting how to get “double promoted” from a Level 3 to a Level 5 product manager in exactly 22 months, or debriefing where the top angel investors get drinks on Thursday nights. (And yes, Silicon Valley has an alcohol and drug problem, too). Attempts to hold discussions about social issues are often met with bored faces and are quickly terminated. For example, a friend in the program and I have brought up climate change on many occasions, since it’s an issue we’re particularly passionate about. We’ve mentioned the worsening air quality in light of the Camp Fire that devastated more than 150,000 acres of Northern California, lamented the fact that Google still uses plastic water bottles and straws, and encouraged others to donate to environmental organizations during our company’s giving week. Each time, we were met with silence.

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