The tech sector a meritocracy? I wish | Jemima Kiss

Blogger Jason Calacanis says anyone can get ahead in Silicon Valley just by hard work. Easy for a privileged white guy to say

Jason Calacanis, first-generation tech blogger turned investor, is known for his motor mouth, which, in person, can be endearing, energetic and youthfully enthusiastic. Not coincidentally, playing that mouthy New Yorker part has also helped ignite several tech-world spats over the years, most recently with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington over control of a tech conference. Which wouldn’t be a bad example of the white male-on-white male ego-rutting that typifies the tech sector.

In print, that motor mouth loses a little of its charm and, unrestrained by any self-imposed word count, has, on this occasion, strayed into the delusional. Silicon Valley, he says, is a meritocracy. Ha! Is he joking? He’s not joking.

Where to start.

Calacanis says he believes we are on the precipice of a post-racial world.

“The tech and tech media world are meritocracies. To fall back to race as the reason why people don’t break out in our wonderful oasis of openness is to do a massive injustice to what we’ve fought so hard to create. It flies in the face of our core beliefs: 1. anyone can do it, 2. innovation can come from anywhere and 3. product rules.

“Two of my most successful writers are now high-profile bloggers: Xeni Jardin and Rafat Ali. The first a woman, the second with much darker skin than mine (brown, but not black for those obsessed with the exact tone – really?). Both are exceptional talents who started their careers with – not for – me. I got lucky enough to recruit two folks smarter than me, the theme of my career I now realize (hire up!). We kicked ass together and it had nothing to do with our gender or race. We just all busted our asses and kicked a lot of ass.”

As has been pointed out already, it takes no small amount of gall for a white male to dish out clumsy observations on how there are now so few barriers to non-whites in the tech sector, based, largely, on his experience as a white male in the tech industry. You’d better have some damn good insight to be that brave, or you’ll look foolish.

Calacanis has been criticised for denying people their own experiences. I think that’s true, but I also think the danger is in the generalisations he made, and in the generalisations it is easy to make in response. Even he seems to have been surprised by the reaction, giving him the opportunity to write a lengthy if reasonably contrite follow-up:

“Now I know why so many intelligent, considered and honest folks told me to not blog about race …”

He makes some interesting points about VCs now actively looking for entrepreneurs who drop out, or immigrants who have had to struggle – what he describes as investors “pattern matching” to find fierce, committed talent. Calacanis also picks out some non-white success stories in tech media, and reiterates that all you need is hard work: his pet pep-talk.

But some bias towards dropouts and a few non-white success stories do not prove the case. It does not mean that those Indians/Latinos/women given as examples didn’t achieve in spite of the extra obstacles presented to them. Describing the industry as meritocratic simplifies the challenges and distorts the achievements of those who had to work harder, network harder, find more money – those who didn’t have doors opened to them, frat buddies or nepotism greasing the way.

Resisting generalisation again, perhaps everyone in the industry has had their own battle, whether with health, or funding, or education, or sexuality, or not speaking English, or (as in my case) gender. But those challenges vary, and it would be hard to see that this “meritocracy” is a level playing field when entry is easiest for privileged white men.

My battle is a familiar one of childcare, of the Sisyphean frustration and exhaustion of trying to do two jobs, either wrenching myself away from my wonderful children or wrenching myself away from the electricity and excitement of work. It’s tedious to anyone without kids, but has made me realise why women are less represented, especially in senior executive roles – because they simply can’t be in two places at once.

Any industry that values the ideas and perspectives of women as half the consumer base has to recognise that. I don’t ask for any favours or allowances, although it would be good to be able to talk about it without expecting a wave of vitriol that is always – as colleague Charlie Brooker will testify – worse for women writers than for men.

Meritocracy? Far from it. Until we overcome all prejudice and social disadvantage, that’s a delusion.

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Rebellious HMV tweets are in a fine tradition | Richard Seymour

The retailer’s Twitter account went rogue. It’s always good to see workers take some control back over their fate

As the triple-dip recession hits, major stores have embarked on a jobs massacre. Jessops, Blockbuster and HMV have collapsed, placing thousands of jobs at risk. Having nothing to lose but their high street chains, HMV workers in Limerick responded by occupying a number of stores.

Today, as more HMV workers faced the sack, the company’s Twitter account was taken over by an angry employee. “There are over 60 of us being fired at once!”, one of the tweets said, although a total of 190 redundancies have been confirmed. “Mass execution of loyal workers who love the brand.” One hopes the workers have learned this much at least: loyal workers are always the first to get it.

“Under usual circumstances,” another tweet explained, “we’d never dare do such a thing as this.” But these are not normal circumstances, so “what have we to lose?”

Shortly before the tweets got deleted, the account was updated one last time: “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?'” Another lesson here: the cluelessness of management can always be used against them.

These scattered rebellions by HMV workers stand in a venerable tradition. When workers were threatened with redundancy at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, workers occupied and won a series of demands. When Ford Visteon workers were unceremoniously sacked, they occupied production plants and called for solidarity.

What these examples have in common is that they involve groups of workers taking some control over their fate. We treat “the market” as if it was some impersonal god, rather than simply the effect of human behaviour. It feels as if we have no way out. Taking control means defying the logic of “the market”. And this, in germinal form, constitutes the reappearance of an older tradition of workers’ militancy, from factory councils in Turin in 1919 to the Recuperados in Argentina in 2001.

In recent years, Occupy raised similar questions about how we can take control of our fate, forming “liberated” spaces for democratic discussion and planning activism. But what Occupy couldn’t successfully do was take control of the means by which real power is exerted. This is something that workers occupying factories, stores and even Twitter accounts have done first-hand. They are right to do so, and shouldn’t stop at protest and rebellion. In the best tradition of the labour movement, they should say “we don’t want just a bigger slice of the cake; we want the whole fucking bakery”.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Why Publishing Guest Posts Can Be a Bad Thing

If you look around, you’ll find hundreds of blog posts that talk about the benefits of writing guest posts for other people. Few people seem to talk about the pros and cons of actually being the publisher the guest posts. It’s worth noting that certain blogs thrive on guest posts, and regularly utilize guest bloggers. […]

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Why Publishing Guest Posts Can Be a Bad Thing

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