I was searching for something on Netflix and saw a preview for a standup in which a comic referred to herself as an elder millennial. I can relate. I consider myself an elder Valley girl. Of course, I mean Silicon Valley. And as elders tend to do, I miss the good old days.

There was a time before iPhones and Twitter when we used to page each other like a bunch of Orangutans. Back then, Silicon Valley was a surprisingly small circle of anti-social people who never talked to each other but knew and grudgingly acknowledged one another. Everyone knew everyone worth knowing, and everyone knew who created what. The corporate computing solution was IBM, the semiconductor chip was Intel, and PayPal Mafia was the coolest kids in town. For a fashionable personal computer, Jobs was the man, and the search engine was Google kids. If you needed a robust database, you went to see Larry (Ellison). If you wanted an enterprise solution with built-in OS, you were shit out of luck because you needed to get on a plane and fly out to a backwater town called Redmond, WA. When we said a disruptor, we meant Mozilla Firefox or Dell. AMD was blasphemy, UNIX was the king, and everyone still read fuckedcompany.com—just in case. If you were an engineer in the 2000s, you know what I’m talking about. Each of these names was synonymous with a product, a solution for business or life. 

As one of the few socially apt people in the Valley, I was a party girl feasting on the ideas of socially awkward future billionaires. (Of course, I was a teenager then, but they didn’t know—a prerogative of a child prodigy.) It was an era when every new idea was a potential 10000X, and you couldn’t talk down to any engineer with a dream because he may be the next Wozniak. UC Berkeley students slept on the floor of Soda Hall because finishing the project was much more important than herniated disks. A 12-hour workday was the acceptable norm because what could possibly be more important than leading humanity into the future? We all worked ridiculous hours, slept in our offices, compromised on personal hygiene, sacrificed relationships, and were proud to be part of something much bigger than ourselves. We were the future and that meant something.

Things are different now. For every brilliant idea, there are a dozen companies trying to make the same product. They have a much smaller overhead because they work from an incubator or a country with a lower GDP. You no longer start your company from your parent’s garage because you live there. When you finally come up with an original idea, you can’t get a freakin website because everything that ends with .com is taken by someone who has no intention of ever using the name. You cannot collaborate with others because you don’t know who’s who, and you cannot hire brilliant people because it’s not PC to discriminate against stupid people. CS students at Berkeley would not sleep on the floor of Soda Hall even if you paid them to do so, and the camaraderie born of 12-hour workdays is nonexistent because half the people are working remotely.

I miss the good old days. I miss the 12-hour work culture, the no-nonsense approach, and being able to see and high-five the people on my team. Most of all, I miss the passion and the drive to change the world. I don’t think Sergey and Larry P. got together and said, “What can we do to make billions of dollars?” I truly believe Google was born out of a desire to build a better algorithm. I don’t think Gates built Windows for world domination; he was a visionary looking for a solution to a problem. Silicon Valley was built on the passion and visions of great men and women who desired to improve lives, advance technology, and become filthy rich in the process. That is what made it so exciting to live in the Valley and witness the birth of marvelous ideas that shape the history of humanity. 

Maybe it’s not possible to drag our asses back to work. WFH is here to stay. I get that. But wearing yoga pants all day should not deter us from desiring to build something amazing that can improve lives and change the course of history. After all, isn’t that what distinguishes us from AI? The empathy, the passion, and the desire for more? If we don’t get our shits together, the next big thing will not come from the Valley. It will come from Bangaluru or Shenzhen. And I will have to forsake the world in despair, move to an island, and turn it into a wholly self-sustaining eco-political state. 

Ode to Silicon Valley

Post navigation