The Silicon Hillbillies

Silicon Wafers with your Texas Tea

It is, in many circles, a forgone conclusion that the best and brightest from all over the world flock to the Bay Area of California in order to start countless technology companies. There, every entrepreneurial mind can join in on the stampede of technology, working day and night to bring services and products to people who didn’t even know they needed it. Facebook’s former motto, “move fast and break things,” was perhaps the most clear expression of the Silicon Valley mindset.

Yes, in some respects Silicon Valley represents the pure, unadulterated entrepreneurial spirit. The voice that drives modern companies from inside of tiny studios in San Francisco is the same that drove countless pioneers to California in the first place. Despite many arguments against it, the United States is steeped in a culture of conquest, expansion, and Manifest Destiny. We’ve hit our geographical limits, but not our technological ones.

Expansion, as a concept, is in our blood. In this new realm of technology, the advancements the world has seen are unprecedented. Yet, while the technology culture markets itself as a total meritocracy, the reality is far less appealing.

The power to change the world through technology is concentrated. Some entrepreneurs have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, to be sure, but a success story like Dong Nguyen’s (the creator of Flappy Bird) does not bury the countless, nameless, faceless individuals whose great idea was never translated outside of their head. This doesn’t apply solely to countries outside of the United States. From city to city, state to state, region to region, much of the country is being left behind while the ‘tech elite’ become more and more insulated and wealthy.

“Like… some people say I sound like I’m from the South… and I just don’t want to be associated with those people.” — Anonymous classmate

Unfortunately, while these opportunities have given riches to a number of entrepreneurs, the Southern United States has been forgotten. The region still carries a large population of the country as a whole, but almost all of its population has been bucketed as slow, backwards, conservative, and generally unintelligent. ‘Southerner’ is still a term that carries 200 years of connotations and guilt.

When it comes to new technology, the majority of the Southern states seem to be last in line. The markets are smaller than others, to be sure, but the poor infrastructure of the region leads to incredible difficulties in upgrading, maintaining, or simply installing new technologies. These logistical concerns along with many others seem to have led to the reality that, in terms of technology based opportunities, the Southern United States has fallen steadily as other areas have risen dramatically.

“Why can’t you pronounce pen and pin correctly?” — Citizen of San Francisco

Yet, this is not intended to be a sob story. I and many of my classmates have come from various parts of the American South in order to study at a world renowned institution and eventually land internships and careers in technology, whether in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or other tech hubs. We are able to leave our hometowns and become successful in our industry because we are intelligent and work hard. But this success abroad underlines the key problem I presented in the beginning: as a Southerner I must divorce myself from the South if I wish to succeed. A neutral accent, a little bit of luck, and the willingness to leave home behind forever are simply mandatory for Southerners looking to enter the modern technology culture. The lack of opportunities leads the brightest to leave and the brightest leaving leads to a lack of opportunities. This situation is even further complicated by the sometimes tumultuous relationship many have with their home states, most recently with so-called ‘religious freedom’ laws and other civil rights issues.

“Of course I’m moving to Seattle. Why would I ever go back? It’s not like I could find something back home.” —Microsoft hire, originally from Alabama

Unfortunately, I have no solution to a regional problem that has been present since the mid-19th century. Nor do I expect companies to begin recruiting more or less from various areas of the United States let alone relocate. In fact, I write because I’m ashamed of myself. I too want to work in the promised land of tech. I too will be leaving my home state of Arkansas in order to pursue a career. I too will never look back at a part of the country that is and always will be my home.

Many, myself included, are culpable in continuing to push the South (along with many other regions of the United States and beyond) farther and farther behind. It’s not sustainable. It’s not ethical. Everyone, inside the United States and out, Southerner and no, deserves the right to move fast and break things.

“No, no I never expected you to move back home. You need to move on and be successful. There’s nothing for you here.” — My mom