The seduction of knowledge workers
Rosie Pringle
563

This was so good.

We are all driven geniuses, after all.

The expectation that any decent human being either is or aspires to be a driven genius would be the reason why I no longer work in Silicon Valley. You know what? I’m not a driven genius, and that’s okay. I may be good at programming, but my vision of the good life involves a relatively quiet existence with my wife and kids — one where I do not miss every family vacation, outing, and experience because “he has to work”, and where I have both time and emotional energy to spend on said wife and kids after doing my job. This is simply not a permissible vision of life in Silicon Valley culture, whether you work at a startup or a big firm.

Gym memberships you never seem to have time to use. Candy jars and chalkboards and ping pong tables and beer taps.

I have a friend who started working in Silicon Valley right around the same time I left, and he is so impressed with all the on-site perks. He doesn’t quite believe me yet when I tell him the purpose of all this stuff is to ensure you never have to leave the office for any reason.

navigate to any government, medical, or education website and look me in the eye and say to my face that we have enough talent

As I now work in the public sector, I am in a position to speak to this! I think there are three major reasons why these public-sector information services tend to be of relatively poor quality:

  1. Strict job classification rules disincentivize workers from learning new skills and using the skills they do have. I have to pretend all the coding I do isn’t coding, because my job title isn’t “Programmer Analyst”.
  2. This silo-ing of skills makes it difficult for the team to pull off large projects internally, so all the major work is done by third party consultant/vendors, each with its own proprietary suite of products that it wishes to integrate into the stack.
  3. Some of these vendor’s products are pretty decent on paper, but everything must be compatible with a million and one legacy dependencies, ranging in vintage from the relatively recent to the elder days of COBOL. Thus even the best products are only slick front-end layers over an ancient, crufty stew.
  4. There aren’t enough time and resources to throw the whole thing away and start over. (Plus, institutional inertia and fear of change.)

The private sector seems to be making their money supporting the systems as they are (i.e. baroque, overcomplicated, outdated, and difficult to support), so there’s no incentive for change from any direction. Even the public already believes the government is incapable of being competent at anything and expects the information systems to be crappy.