The Wall Street Journal: Like Peter Thiel, Tech Workers Feel Alienated by Silicon Valley ‘Echo Chamber’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/like-peter-thiel-others-feel-alienated-by-silicon-valley-groupthink-1518962400

Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel has said he plans to leave Silicon Valley in part because of its perceived cultural uniformity. He isn’t the only one.

Several tech workers and entrepreneurs also have said they left or plan to leave the San Francisco Bay Area because they feel people there are resistant to different social values and political ideologies. Groupthink and homogeneity are making it a worse place to live and work, these workers said.

“I think the politics of San Francisco have gotten a little bit crazy,” said Tom McInerney, an angel investor who moved a decade ago to Los Angeles from the Bay Area.

“The Trump election was super polarizing and it definitely illustrated—and Peter [Thiel] said this—how out of touch Silicon Valley was,” said Mr. McInerney, who describes himself as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.

Tim Ferriss, the tech investor and best-selling author of the “4 Hour Workweek,” moved to Austin, Texas, in December, after living in the Bay Area for 17 years, partly because he felt people there penalized anyone who didn’t conform to a hyper liberal credo.

People in Silicon Valley “openly lie to one another out of fear of losing their jobs or being publicly crucified,” said Mr. Ferriss in a recent discussion on Reddit.

Mr. Ferriss, who describes himself as socially liberal, said during the discussion that he found that Austin has a “a wonderful exploding scene of art, music, film, tech, food, and more,” adding that “the people are also—in general—much friendlier.”

Proponents of Silicon Valley point to its rich history as a hotbed of entrepreneurism teeming with new ideas, a region that has spawned some of the world’s biggest companies. Tech leaders have a unique brand of politics, they say, typically favoring globalization, free trade and immigration, while also generally supporting capitalism and opposing labor unions and government regulation.

“Nowhere but Silicon Valley is there as much of an intensity and variety of creation and development going on,” said Aydin Senkut, a startup investor at Felicis Ventures. “I think it’s up to you as an individual to not be limited to the echo chamber in Silicon Valley.” Mr. Senkut says he seeks out friends in art and other industries beyond tech, and his firm looks for investments outside of the Bay Area.

Preethi Kasireddy said she wasn’t surprised when she heard the news that Mr. Thiel is moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Ms. Kasireddy, a 27-year-old startup entrepreneur, said she made the same move last November because, like Mr. Thiel, she felt surrounded by people who shared identical beliefs, particularly about how to build a successful company.

Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders “have a certain way of thinking, and if you don’t fit into that way of thinking you’re not in the cool club,” said Ms. Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn’t influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project—a blockchain startup—didn’t require her to be in Silicon Valley.

Apart from ideological issues, many are being driven away from the Bay Area by soaring housing costs and increasing traffic congestion, a 2016 survey by the Bay Area Council suggested. Of the 1,000 registered voters from the nine counties making up the Bay Area, 40% said they were considering leaving the region, citing the cost of living, traffic and a lack of availability of housing.

Still, there are signs that the political discussions pervading workplaces over the past two years have alienated a section of the workforce. According to a recent survey by Lincoln Network, an advocacy group for conservatives and libertarians in the tech sector, 31% of the 387 tech workers polled said they know someone who didn’t pursue or left a career in tech because they saw a conflict in viewpoints with their employer or colleagues. Among respondents who identified themselves as “very conservative,” that number was 59%.

Dan Hackney, a 31-year-old who describes his political views as adhering to Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, said he left his job as a software engineer at Alphabet Inc.’s Google in January, after growing frustrated with what he saw as a lack of tolerance for conservative views at the company.

He said he was surprised when, shortly after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, the firm canceled a companywide product demonstration and instead held an all-hands meeting to talk about the results of the election.

Mr. Hackney said he doesn’t support Mr. Trump but he worried that Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who attended the meeting, were setting a tone that it was OK to exclude certain types of political views from the dialogue in the workplace.

“In that meeting it felt very much like, if you are a Trump supporter, you are out in the cold,” Mr. Hackney said.

He said he decided to look seriously for a job at another company after engineer James Damore was fired by Google after penning a memo that suggested men were better suited than women for certain tech jobs. Mr. Hackney said he felt afraid that he couldn’t express certain ideas without fear of punishment.

Google didn’t immediately respond to multiple requests for comment. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board said Google didn’t violate any laws by firing Mr. Damore.

Sahil Lavingia, one of the first employees of Pinterest Inc., said he left San Francisco last year because he felt like he wasn’t learning anything new in his interactions with other people in the tech industry, who mostly shared his political and social views.

“I would meet someone for coffee or dinner or drinks, and I felt like I was just having the same conversation over and over again,” said Mr. Lavingia, 25, a self-described liberal who founded the e-commerce company Gumroad Inc.

To find countering viewpoints, Mr. Lavingia said he relocated to Provo, Utah, where he has made an effort to become part of the largely conservative-voting city’s growing tech community, along with attending Mormon services every Sunday with his girlfriend and taking classes at Brigham Young University.