Taking Silicon Valley back from the brogrammers
It’s no secret that a peculiar, masculine type pervades Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the tech startup world. The tech industry celebrates brazen and brash leaders who will stop at nothing to see their companies succeed. These overconfident “brogrammers” appear to exist in their own alternate version of reality in which they’re rarely (if ever) wrong. The industry seems to encourage this behavior by investing in, supporting, and exalting startup founders who win at all costs.
But maybe things are finally changing. In recent news, industry heavyweight and ridesharing startup Uber has received lashing after lashing for its founder’s brazen attitude and the company’s corrosive culture. In just a few months, the company has suffered backlash from CEO Travis Kalanick serving on Trump’s economic advisory council following his immigration order; a sexual harassment claim by a female former software engineer; a patent infringement claim by Waymo, an Alphabet company (parent of Google); and a dashboard cam recording of Kalanick shouting at an Uber driver over the rates drivers are paid by the company. The number of missteps would be almost comical if they weren’t so sad.
To be fair, this brogrammer culture isn’t exclusive to men. Take the case of Miki Agrawal, CEO (or, in her words, “She-E.O.”) and founder of Thinx who also appears to be living in a world skewed by her self-importance. She’s been accused of vindictive and hostile behavior, including sexually harassing female employees and withholding raises from employees who’ve questioned her methods. Sound familiar?
A common trait of brogrammer-led companies is a controlling environment where power plays, infighting, and political games are common — sometimes proudly claimed as a “meritocracy” — where an unfailing devotion to the company and its mission are mandatory, no matter the fallout.
Is the “brogrammer” mindset simply a powerful and effective trait for successful startup leadership? Some think so. But, even if it is, the mindset creates an unsustainable company culture that sacrifices people for the sake of the company’s mission. Not only does the culture negatively impact a company’s employees, but it’s hard to believe that a company with little regard for its own employees thinks much differently about its users and community.
So, what are we to do?
Reject the culture
We as consumers ultimately have tremendous influence to discourage behavior. Only one week after #DeleteUber first appeared on Twitter, 500,000 people requested to delete their Uber accounts. Will this cause the company to fold? Most definitely not, but it does send a signal that the company’s actions are unacceptable to its users. Lyft, Uber’s largest competitor in the ride-sharing space, benefited from a flood of new users during the #DeleteUber campaign, and is noted for its values that portray the company as having a culture in stark contrast to Uber’s.
Encourage opposing views
The brogrammer mindset has little chance of being challenged by other tech bros. If the tech industry, which suffers from dismal diversity statistics for both women and minorities, were to prioritize hiring qualified folks who are not highly-educated white men cut from the same cloth, the company could better empathize with its much more diverse user base. Somewhat ironically, this would actually benefit the company’s bottom line, too — studies have shown that more diverse companies perform substantially better than their peers.
There are several great groups that educate and support underrepresented groups in computer science. These folks are doing good work, and they need volunteers as teachers and mentors for the next wave of software engineers and data scientists. Two such organizations are Code2040 and Girls Who Code, but there are plenty more!
More than anything else, we should be talking more about the problems of brogrammer culture. We should demand more from the companies that we support each time we launch an app. As we’ve seen with Uber, consumers do influence the decisions made by these large and powerful companies.
Talk about brogrammer culture in the tech industry. Investigate companies that build the apps or services you use on a daily base. Share your findings. Write about why this matters. Tell your friends who use companies like Uber that there are alternatives, and that their choices matter.
No matter what you do, do something. It’s time to take back the tech industry from the brogrammers.