The genius of Steve Jobs lies in his hippie period and with his time at Reed College, the pre-eminent Liberal Arts college in North America. To his understanding of technology, Jobs brought an immersion in popular culture. In his 20s, he dated Joan Baez; Ella Fitzgerald sang at his 30th birthday party. His worldview was shaped by the ’60s counterculture in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he had grown up, the adopted son of a Silicon Valley machinist. When he graduated from high school in Cupertino in 1972, he said, “the very strong scent of the 1960s was still there. After dropping out of Reed College, a stronghold of liberal thought in Portland, Ore., in 1972, Mr. Jobs led a countercultural lifestyle himself. He told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security delayed the International Entrepreneur Rule to next March, and it is currently accepting comments on plans to rescind it altogether. The agency cited logistical challenges in vetting these new visas. The International Entrepreneur Rule was designed by the Obama Administration to support Silicon Valley and the high tech industry’s need for immigrant entrepreneurs and engineers. Immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S. account for 44% of all startups. The news has prompted a backlash from immigrant entrepreneurs like PayPal cofounder Max Levchin and leadership at the National Venture Capital Association, who argue that rolling back the rule will drive would-be job creators to other, more welcoming nations. This is already happening.
For over a year now I have blogged here about the red flags flying about Travis Kalanick and Uber. Many investigative articles have been published over this time, in the New York Times and other publications, which have raised disturbing questions about Uber, Kalanick and some members of his team. The Board of Directors has finally taken action but it feels like its a day late and a dollar short. Why did it take so long? I have bluntly used the epithet that “Uber is Trump,” but now on reflection, it is more apt to describe Uber as Enron the sequel, and “deja vu all over again.” Remember the audio of two Enron electricity traders laughing about “screwing grandma?” That is Uber.
Perhaps the premiere of Season 4 of “Silicon Valley” twigged me to share this post. but despite the title, the HBO series only connection may be the now viral “mean jerk time algorithm.” The real “Silicon Valley jerk” has been around for decades, buried with all the other dirty laundry. Uber’s Travis Kalanick has only brought it front and center at this moment. It is something of a conundrum as some of the jerks are also the most successful. We all now know about the “bad” Steve Jobs. Oracle for years had a very bad reputation that came directly from Larry Ellison himself. Microsoft was long known as a “sweatshop” with a highly negative culture led by Steve Ballmer. Even venture capitalists themselves have caught the disease as evidenced by Reid Hoffman and the late Tom Perkins of KPCB. The best assessment I have heard is that these aggressive unrestrained corporate cultures destroy their own goals. Or better yet, the saying that “culture trumps strategy.”
The unwritten promise of a post-secondary education has been to earn a degree in an applied field such as engineering and you’ll end up with a good, stable job, but the millennial generation is finding that can no longer be counted on. I have been thinking about this issue for some time. Last year, I posted an article on this blog by Robert Reich, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley and former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. I was stimulated to share that article by what I was seeing with my own students from the University of British Columbia, and contrasting that with my own experience years ago, walking into my Silicon Valley dream career by sheer chance. That simply no longer happens. Grads must begin plotting out a plan early, no later than the beginning of their third year, and begin to execute on it in order to find an entry-level position commensurate with their education. Networking and cold calling is imperative, but as this article points out, even that may not guarantee solid employment.
The Vancouver technology industry may well be on the verge of an extraordinary period of growth. Global, national, and regional factors appear to be aligning in ways that could create an extraordinary economic opportunity for the Lower Mainland which could not have been anticipated. Vancouver has been an endless topic of discussion about its comparability (or not) to Silicon Valley, the historical Canadian investment conservatism, and the lack of other resources necessary to create the “secret sauce” that makes a region achieve critical mass. That may be changing if only the convergence of factors is grasped and exploited.
UPDATE: KALANICK VIDEO SURFACES. Suffice to say, people are angry with Uber, and things aren’t getting better. This is actually deja vu all over again. We have seen this before in Silicon Valley. The hubris of a company founders or founders creates an ugly overly aggressive and unrestrained culture in its employees and before long things begin to unravel. This has been quietly observed at Uber for some time, and can be gleaned by its own actions as reported in the press. Now, new self-inflicted cracks are appearing. More than 200,000 people have deleted the UBER app off their smart phones in the past month. After former employee Susan Fowler Rigetti published a detailed blog post about the sexual harassment and discrimination she allegedly experienced at the company, people began deleting the ride sharing-app again. As more and more employees have spoken out about the alleged poor working conditions, Uber’s customer base is dwindling … and the company is getting desperate.