Book Review: Brotopia

After reading the Vanity Fair Brotopia exerpt, I was definitely curious what was else in this book that I didn't know about. So when I was looking for another book to read, I picked it up. I was hoping it would be able to shed some light on things I didn't know about as someone both in the tech industry, but not Silicon Valley and as an avid reader of technology news. Unfortunately, a quick summary of this book would be that if you have followed Silicon Valley in any real fashion since the turn of the century, there is nothing really new here, but it is a great summary to remind everyone just what the struggles for women and minorities in Silicon Valley are and how pervasive they are.

Brotopia itself was well-written, and needed at a time like this. The new things that were brought to my attention were not anything recent (though obviously I didn't know of the details of each piece of harrassment) but more the history of how we got to where we are today in the industry. Last year I watched Hidden Figures one Saturday night, and I didn't know of that story until the movie. There are many historical stories like that which Change alludes to in Brotopia. But to me the two anecdotes that still hit me after reading the novel were:

  1. The first image popularized and used widely as image compression algorithms were created was that from a Playboy centerfold. Yes, the image itself was cropped, but that didn't stop every one from knowing where it came from and for many young men to have it on their walls. I can definitely see how this would be off-putting to women in the industry and how they would not feel welcome from the early days and thus ended up leaving.

  2. The study Chang references that IBM paid for to determine the ideal personality of the computer programmer which found that the ideal programmer should be a loner who can solely focus just on programming. And from there, the stereotype of the loner computer nerd who lives in his mom's basement began.

  3. The Stanford school paper's article (or column) that said Marissa Mayer was a campus celebrity because she was the hot girl that was taking computer programming classes.

To me these were the anecdotes that I kept coming back to as I read the rest of the book. They were what stuck with me, not the stories of harassment, or the sex parties, or the lack of women in Silicon Valley, or the fact that people often times just went to and at their friends when they were trying to fill out their companies. But the explanations at just how hard it has been for them to get into the industry and once they are in stay within the industry.

As someone who has had responsibilities to hire technical resources at various points in my career, I can say that hiring people different than me is one thing that I have always tried to focus on. I was very proud that the development team at my previous company was diverse, but of course I would have liked it more diverse than it was. I also didn't realize just how the brain teaser aspect of some interviews caused issues for different people, and while I quit asking those quite a while ago, I didn't know they were something that has also impacted the ability for some people to get their foot into the technology industry.

The time I spent reading this book was for me a time to reflect on myself and where I sit in the larger technology industry and what I can do to change things, even so small. I think the biggest thing is that I can help to provide mentorship to all and focus on women and minorities, continue to push the idea that not all great technology companies need to be based in Silicon Valley, and even work to push hires for candidates that may not meet all of the criteria, but we know can do the work.

Quick Review: 3 out of 5 stars