What images come to mind when you hear the phrase “Silicon Valley”? A colorful workspace filled people scootering around the office while they munch on their endless assortment of vegan snacks? That might paint one picture. Anna Wiener paints a different side in her memoir, Uncanny Valley.
Anna began her career as a young adult in New York where she first gained exposure to the tech sphere working for an e-book start up. Although this chapter of her life was short, she decided that she wanted to fully lean into this industry. When her career at this e-book company ended, she decided to venture out west. She moved to San Francisco and began work as a Customer Support Specialist at a startup. She did not know what it would be like to work in Silicon Valley and she learned, very quickly, that it is a unique experience.
What Anna outlines in her memoir is years of sexism, toxic work culture and gaslighting. Leaders in the tech industry guilt trip their employees to work demanding hours while enticing them with perks, food and the idea of an innovative workplace.
But what she also outlines is exactly why people put up with this sort of behavior. It’s so easy to fall for the joie de vivre of the startup life – endless free benefits, stunning workspaces, young and energetic people. When you have this idea of a luxurious life placed in front of you, you’ll do anything to hold onto it. Why would you want to work in a boring office anyways?
As a San Francisco native who has experienced the tech bubble firsthand, this book hits close to home. I have friends and families who work at tech companies and tell stories of their day to day lives in this industry. I have heard the stories of people burning the midnight oil and working incredibly long hours for their new startup. At the same time, they are rewarded with prizes, vacations and stellar benefits. It seems to even out in the end – you get out what you put in. If you prioritize work, you will reap the benefits.
However, I am personally a big supporter of work life balance. It’s important to separate your work life from your home life and make sure that the boundaries are not blurred. The issue with the intense work culture of tech startups is that they want you to blend work and life into one. They want your work to become your life. For some people, this is a fantastic opportunity to advance their careers. For others, it leads to burn out. It all depends on what you are looking for in your work.
Uncanny Valley is an excellently written book that shows her genuine experience at a couple tech startups in San Francisco and how it has shaped Anna’s career. Although she discusses the toxic culture of the tech sphere, she does show her appreciation for the industry. Working in Silicon Valley in the middle of this technologically advanced era is a coveted experience that has molded the future of work.
Many companies have adopted the typical perks of startups such as unlimited paid time off (PTO), free lunches, tasty snacks, branded gear like t-shirts, blankets, mugs and hats, and fun spaces that make coming to work an enjoyable experience. What I’ve learned is that with all of these wonderful incentives comes a cost – you may be at a beautiful office with a gym, endless meals and swag, but it’s because these companies want you to stay and work as long as possible. It’s up to you – what’s your cost? Read Uncanny Valley to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be part of this tech bubble revolution.