Smart people, stupid choices: Meet today's techies

Silicon Valley feels the heat as the the culture wars between mere mortals and the digital elite flame ever hotter

The oppressed workers of Silicon Valley are airing their beefs and fighting back. Kermit the Frog sang "it's not easy being green," but apparently, it's not easy having (so much) green either. Call it the pressures of privilege.

For starters, these workers are feeling insulted and discriminated against, laboring as they do under the "techie" label. According to employees of the technology industry interviewed this week by the San Francisco Chronicle, "techie" carries negative connotations and is -- who knew? -- quite rude. According to Dan Gailey, a self-proclaimed tech entrepreneur, the preferred terms are "hackers," "makers," or "coders."

Enrique Landa, co-founder of online fashion retailer Betabrand, elaborated, saying, "Whenever you get a mass migration of a new wave of people, you get a negative connotation from the people who were there before -- like Mexicans in the Mission [district of San Francisco]. The new wave always gets a bad rap."

It didn't take long for ValleyWag to jump all over that analogy:

Comparing tech immigrants to the Mexican immigrants may be hard -- Twitter's IPO just made an estimated 1,600 new millionaires -- but, for Landa, the term "techie" connotes "unwanted newcomer" in much the same way as racial slurs.

Hackers, makers, and coders probably had good cause to feel unwanted when antigentrification demonstrators in San Francisco smashed a pinata in the shape of a Google bus -- the kind of corporate shuttle that ferries workers to and from Apple, Facebook, Google, and other companies in Silicon Valley. Thankfully none of them have offered Rosa Parks analogies to describe their world of hurt ... yet.

Another beef among tech workers, it seems, is being forced to work in second-rate cities like San Francisco. Peter Shih, founder of payment startup Celery, helped confirm many negative stereotypes about makers' attitude of entitlement when he penned a post bashing his adopted town, titled "10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition." The city's residents took umbrage, and Uptown Almanac titled its article on the ensuing hornet's nest, "Tech Founder Complains About the S**thole City He's Forced to Make His Millions In."

Napster co-founder Sean Parker is another maker who didn't win many friends this summer -- beyond the 366 people on the guest list for his infamous $4.5 million "Lord of the Rings" theme wedding, which was built without permits in a redwood grove in Big Sur. As The Atlantic wrote: "Nothing says, 'I love the Earth!' quite like bringing bulldozers into an old-growth forest to create a fake ruined castle. And to build this fantasy world on a spot that should have been open to regular old middle-class people: That makes it even better."

Examples of excess among the cossetted caste abound. San Francisco magazine calls Airbnb's new offices in San Francisco part of an "arms race for inspirational office space" complete with a conference room for software developers modeled after the War Room in "Dr. Strangelove." Remember how that story ended?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose total worth is north of $1 billion, was another tech exec caught in PR hailstorm this summer when her nonprofit foundation, which is devoted to promoting women's career empowerment, listed a position for an unpaid intern. ("Design and Web skills a plus!") LeanIn.org took a shellacking and subsequently offered a half-apology, along with assurances the position would come with a wage.

If the outcry over the industry's excesses seems particularly loud or unfair of late, perhaps there are people around who still remember the 1990s dot-com bubble that preceded the 2000 bust -- and fear a repeat. As TechCrunch wrote:

The fallacy of the tech industry is that we think our "change the world/connect the world" intentions are enough, or at least that they should shield us from reproach, much like our gated communities of Ubers, Airbnbs, and TaskRabbits. We revel in our massive concentration of wealth, private-public transportation, private tech-heavy schools, and the underlying ideology that the government is stupid. We are exempt.

Love 'em or hate 'em, whatever you say, just don't call them "techies."

This story, "Smart people, stupid choices: Meet today's techies," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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