By Kung Chan
The most numerous tech workers in Silicon Valley would be programmers. Their stereotypical image was keeping their heads down, busy in their coding and programming, and even spending their whole life doing so. At times they were touted as “code peasants”. Yet this is not necessarily static and unchangeable. Some of these “code peasants” took advantage of the loose corporate culture of Silicon Valley companies, and evolved to become “code overlords”, i.e., those who prioritize their side jobs over their main jobs. This has eventually become a culture that these “code overlords” hold tight to, and refuse to let go.
About half a year ago, someone went to Cancún in Mexico, during the time that was not the peak tourist season, yet he found out the hotels there were almost fully booked. A local friend of this person who was “working remotely” told him that such was already a case since a year ago. Most of the people staying in the hotels were employees of American tech companies, and they were there for the so-called “remote working”.
Although the American government announced that the country is now fully open and that companies require employees to return to the offices, for these “code peasants” in the past and “code overlords” now, they are reluctant to get back to work. Hence, hotels at the seaside of Cancún are still overcrowded. Why are they willing to spend their time there, even if that means they could possibly lose their job? This requires looking at the problem from a new perspective.
In Cancún, an invisible supply chain of American tech companies has actually been formed. To put it simply, it is because “remote working” is not efficient at all, as it is based entirely on personal ethics. Even if things can be maintained, no major work can be done through such means. The result of this is that many businesses of American tech companies have to adopt outsourcing. Thus, everyone in Cancún becomes each other’s outsourcer. While receiving the company’s salary and benefits, those who work remotely here are helping other companies in outsourcing business. At the same time, they can also enjoy Mexico’s tax relief policy. Their daily consumption is only one-third of that of the United States. Surely these people have a good life there.
For these people, forcing them to return to their companies and stick to a 9 to 5 job, that would mean zeroing-out their side income, and this is tantamount to a crime against humanity.
For such a loose corporate culture failing to deliver proper work, is it an accidental phenomenon, or has it become a common practice?
While we cannot say that everyone in the so-called Silicon Valley culture is like what is described above, there is no doubt that many of them are. Some say that the high-tech “code peasants” working in Silicon Valley companies are not much better. One such worker revealed that he joined an underground work group in the company, which was actually a discreet carpenter organization. When the riots in Portland were the most intense, they went around making wooden fences for shops. They covered each other, divided the workload, and always ensured that two people could work outside every day. This persisted for more than a year, and the company’s administration had no clue about it.
Maybe we can also cite an even more impressive case. There is one employee who appeared to go to the office daily to work, yet he spent a year writing a long science fiction novel in the company’s café. Many scenes in the novel are completely based on his company, even with some names of the characters unchanged. It is only after this is known that his “side job” was discovered.
There is another tech company in Silicon Valley that specializes in intelligent manipulators, and it too adhered to the so-called “Silicon Valley culture”. It is said that because long-distance driving became popular during the pandemic, as a result, 30% of the electrification of RVs in California at that time was completed by employees of this company in their “spare time”, and all these businesses had nothing to do with the actual company.
When personal spare time is mixed with working time, the efficiency certainly will not be high. Hence, all working time may become spare time, not the other way around. Elon Musk, who wants to do something now, made a drastic reorganization of Twitter, with the intention of dismantling the Silicon Valley culture. Those who are not willing to work under him would have to move on, to be replaced by others. It is definitely not that Musk does not understand Silicon Valley companies and their culture. On the contrary, it is precisely because he understands too well of the flexible work and the so-called Silicon Valley culture that is so hyped up by schools of business and management.
Now Musk is fighting this war against the work culture of Silicon Valley, against these “code overlords” alone. As a technology capitalist, he is the Don Quixote in this circle.
Final analysis conclusion:
The legendary “Silicon Valley culture” has mutated. For those who advocate flexible and remote work, “working time” has become “spare time”, and the “code peasants” have evolved to become “code overlords”. Elon Musk’s current massive layoff of the Twitter team is actually a challenge against such “code overlords”.
Kung Chan is the founder of ANBOUND.