Innovation
Generational tech angst in Silicon Valley: Young vs old fogies of 35+
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Mar 13, 2014 - 7:19 AM

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Silicon Valley has been the focus of a lot of debates on divides in recent times, highlighted in January when a wealthy retired venture capitalist claimed people like him were victims of anti-top 1% sentiment, that was comparable with Nazi pogroms against the Jews in Germany. The latest divide issue is the focus of a long piece published online on Wednesday and due to be published in next Sunday's issue of The New York Times Magazine on young engineers/ entrepreneurs searching for the next big thing, while ignoring opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking - - the essential products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests - - but which are dominated by old fogies of 35+.

Yiren Lu, a recent Harvard graduate, who now studies computer science at Columbia, writes of “the vague sense of a frenzied bubble of app-making and an even vaguer dread that what we are making might not be that meaningful.”

New York Times: Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem

Finfacts 2013: Women, African-Americans and Hispanics/ Latinos are unwanted in Silicon Valley

Finfacts 2013: Wall Street Journal on Silicon Valley dreams of techno-utopias and arrogance

Finfacts 2014: San Francisco protests against tech 'elite' Silicon Valley buses

Here are some extracts:

[The rapid consumer-ification of tech, led by Facebook and Google, has created a deep rift between old and new, hardware and software, enterprise companies that sell to other businesses and consumer companies that sell directly to the masses.

In pursuing the latest and the coolest, young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests. Without a good router to provide reliable Wi-Fi, your Dropbox file-sharing application is not going to sync; without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh. The talent — and there’s a ton of it — flowing into Silicon Valley cares little about improving these infrastructural elements. What they care about is coming up with more web apps.

What’s cool? Who can be trusted? Why does one start-up go public, while another, which seems to do the same thing, fizzles? What logic, if any, pertains to where the money flows? These are the anxious questions that pervade Silicon Valley now, I think, more than ever — the vague sense of a frenzied bubble of app-making and an even vaguer dread that what we are making might not be that meaningful.

Smart kids want to work for a sexting app because smart kids want to work for the same sexting app.

There are thousands of engineers working at big corporations in Silicon Valley, many with years of experience and proven track records of creating code. Many of them have also been through several cycles of layoffs, as older companies divest assets and shave costs. So why are start-ups constantly bemoaning a shortage of talent?

Older engineers are not smart in the way that start-ups want them to be — or, if they are, they have reservations about the start-up lifestyle. Both these reasons are symptomatic of how far apart the two sides have drifted. If there are whole swaths of engineering talent whose skills or styles cannot be integrated into a company, then maybe that operation has been limiting itself.

A few weeks ago, a programmer friend and I were talking about unhappiness, in particular the kind of unhappiness that arises when you are 21 and lavishly educated with the world at your feet. In the valley, it’s generally brought on by one of two causes: coming to the realization either that your start-up is completely trivial or that there are people your own age so knowledgeable and skilled that you may never catch up.

According to the company PayScale, the median age of employees at Hewlett-Packard is 39, at Facebook 26. I tried to verify with Jim the median age at Stripe, which looked to be about 25, and he paused to think. “Well, we just got an engineer whose hair is thinning.” Then he added, “I actually have no idea how old he is.”]

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