When you meet someone in Silicon Valley, the very first question they’ll ask you is “what do you do?” It’s a great question! In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to ask. I love hearing about the eccentricities of other people’s work.
But I also think that the frequency and prominence with which the question is asked reveals something deeper about the area than just an affinity for work.
I think it reveals the two most deeply entrenched values of Silicon Valley: ambition and intelligence.
Ironically, being ambitious and intelligent isn’t something that boosts your social status here because the Valley is brimming with smart, driven people. It’s a self selective area. So to be held in high regard by others, you need to have proof that you’re smarter than the smartest and harder working than the hardest working.
And that proof comes in the form of nonlinear wealth – Silicon Valley’s holy grail.
Of course, applying your ambition and intelligence doesn’t guarantee an outcome of wealth, but it is the only way to give yourself a chance. And if you’re trying to generate wealth as quickly as possible (remember, we’re being ambitious), there’s only one way that journey can begin: ownership.
Which means there are two types of people at the tippy top of Silicon Valley’s social ladder:
They’re at the top because starting or leading a company requires an objectively high level of ambition and (presumably) a high level of intelligence for that company to succeed.
In other words, being a founder or investor is pretty much the only impressive answer in the Valley to “what do you do?”
So while there isn’t much you can do to climb the social ladder without financial success or starting your own company, there are definitely certain things you can do to place yourself at the bottom.
Without further ado, I present 🥁drum roll please 🥁
People Groups at the Bottom of Silicon Valley’s Social Rankings
In order from least worst to the very worst:
I’ve experienced this ranking play out in social contexts countless times – I’ll share some of those anecdotes in the future – but the best way I’ve found to describe the Valley’s general attitude towards Christians comes from an episode of HBO’s hilarious, must-watch comedy Silicon Valley (here’s a decent 4 minute montage of the episode).
In the episode, Richard (the show’s protagonist) attempts to close a business deal with a successful gaming startup by bringing in the founders of other startups he’s already convinced to join. One of those founders is Dee Dee, an openly gay founder whose startup is building a gay dating site.
During the pitch, Richard unwittingly mentions that Dee Dee is also Christian, attends Bible studies, and goes to church every week.
The entire room recoils.
A mortified Dee Dee confronts Richard in a hushed voice immediately after the meeting:
“Why did you say that! You just told a room full of tech people that I’m a Christian. I told you that in confidence! Thanks a lot man, you just outed me.”
Richard remains skeptical of Dee Dee’s response until a co-worker explains the magnitude of his social blunder in one of my all-time favorite lines from the show:
“You can be openly polyamorous and people here will call you brave. You can put micro doses of LSD in your cereal and people will call you a pioneer. But the one thing you can not be, is Christian.”
A second co-worker immediately follows up with
“I find their theology to be illegitimate, and it’s clear that they’re the source of the majority of the world’s problems…but fuck, Richard, even I wouldn’t just out a Christian like that.”
So why exactly is being Christian perceived so poorly by those in the Valley? And is it really that bad? See you all next week!
I’ll end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If you feel like it resonates, please reply to this email with your reflections! Over the course of the newsletter I’ll share some of the responses (anonymously) at the bottom of the next email in a section called “Fellow Valleyists.” I hope we can share this journey together.
What are two core values by which you measure the social status of others where you live?