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'Silicon Valley' nails the bay area's tech culture

Tom Kaneshige | April 24, 2014
CIO.com's Tom Kaneshige had resisted watching HBO's new comedy about life in the Silicon Valley. After all, he's lived it since the '90s. But a funny thing happened during his week of binge viewing.

In the premier of the new HBO comedy, "Silicon Valley," a young techie is throwing a lavish private party after Google acquired his company for $200 million. He's standing on a backyard stage next to his "good friend" Kid Rock and excitedly shouting to a small, largely uninterested crowd of techies, models and tech icons and he delivers, in perfect pitch, the great Silicon Valley lie:

While I'm late to the new series having watched all three episodes just this week even though the show premiered earlier this month, I've heard this kind of jargon for years as a tech reporter, especially the part about making the world a better place. I couldn't stop laughing and smiling. The thought that sprung to mind was that creator, producer and director Mike Judge, a former Silicon Valley engineer and maker of the tech-cult movie classic "Office Space," had nailed it.

Practically every tech marketer describes their product using undecipherable words that inflate its benefits. They claim their product will indeed make the world a better place, from the paperless office that saves trees to the social network that brings humanity closer together to, most recently, the "Internet of Things" that promises to collect data, optimize energy use, combat climate change and basically save the planet.

But we all know this higher-calling stuff is really a red herring that makes us work hard and feel good about ourselves in the process. What really matters are the stock options and the millions of dollars whipping around the valley like a fitful breeze.

Silicon Valley is chock full of such contradictions and untruths, and the comedic bent by the new HBO series — in this case, exposing the silliness in a speech that no one is listening to made by an overnight-millionaire — is perhaps the only way to expose the tech culture's absurdity.

"Silicon Valley" really does depict Silicon Valley life (although, like most comedies, the show plays everything stereotypically over-the-top). There are surreal office playgrounds replacing the grey sea of cubicles that were once home to the GenX workforce. There are oddball executives spending money like they're playing a Monopoly game. And there are the mostly male, anti-social techies who cling to each other so as not to find themselves alone. For these things, the show should be a hit.

At some point, though, Judge will have to look at the seedy underbelly of Silicon Valley and figure out how to tell those stories humorously. Right now, there are three sticking points.

First, the tech industry has a nasty habit of casting older workers aside. As I watched "Silicon Valley," I began wondering what "Office Space" techies Michael Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar, played brilliantly by David Herman and Ajay Naidu, respectively, were up to today. They can't be too happy about all the changes. My guess is they're unemployed and being told — somewhat deludedly — to increase their skills in order to find work. Perhaps they'll appear on an episode of "Silicon Valley."

 

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