Pirates and Lovers in the Silicon Valley
By: Ankur Mathur | 3rd September 2018
“Silicon Valley is a culture more than a place...It means to discover and not assume, learn not know, be unreasonable but pragmatic, and determined in not giving up when the going gets rough. It is not being foolish and yet foolish enough to try things others won’t, to be naive enough to not be dissuaded easily, ask fundamental questions around “Why not?”, and not “How has it been done before or tried before?”, says Vinod Khosla, the pre-eminent Indian technocrat.
That is a beautiful description of the seductive force that drew me here 20 years ago. After witnessing the spectacular dotcom bust in my first year out of college, I returned to India (where I grew up), worked for large multinationals there, then spent a decade in Canada, all in tech. Now I’ve been back in the Bay area for a few years, and often find myself thinking about how the people, culture and feel of the place has changed, and how it is still the same, in different ways.
I see a lot more Indians in management positions. Its hard to ignore the strong cultural undercurrents, parochialism and even nepotism. Maybe all communities tend to favor their own, but I cringe with embarrassment and chagrin at the way we do it! The fierce tech talent wars here have led hiring managers to de-prioritize communication, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence etc and I think we are now seeing that impact company culture. As Lincoln famously said "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”
Its important to always keep in mind that India is an extremely diverse place, and people from the big urban centers, educated in international schools, largely consuming western media and entertainment, often have more in common with westerners than some of their fellow Indians from villages, small towns and traditional backgrounds. Sometimes the latter can’t help but bring a hierarchical, class-oriented or elitist mindset into the western workplace.
The sad truth is that the intense fight for survival in overpopulated developing countries like India creates a kind of compulsive competitive spirit, a mindless greed for money, a habit of exploiting the system and mooching off others. I wager it can even live on for a generation or two after those extenuating circumstances are gone.
Instead of feeding these compulsions in the name of capitalistic freedom, why don’t we consciously promote true love for science and technology, and fuel the dream of creating a beautiful new world where technology improves lives and solves important problems for mankind?