Living and Reading in Silicon Valley

Most recently, I read Disrupted, by Dan Lyons. While his subtitle bills it as his “misadventures in the start-up bubble,” I actually think that description sells it short.

 This time it was mint tea with honey (and creamer, cause I decided to treat myself) and no I did not take it for the sake of the picture but yes I did use it for three different photos. (I'm behind on these reviews, okay!)

This time it was mint tea with honey (and creamer, cause I decided to treat myself) and no I did not take it for the sake of the picture but yes I did use it for three different photos. (I'm behind on these reviews, okay!)

Because while it may start out as Lyons’ mere misadventures as a middle-aged man beginning a new career among fresh-out-college young professionals, the lighthearted storyline eventually devolves into sinister office politics, harsh critiques of the tech world, and even corporate espionage.

Actually I’ll take a few steps back here: what’s the book about in the first place? The story starts when Lyons, a 50-something career journalist, finds himself out of a job. And as he sees the journalism industry slowly caving in on itself, he’s simultaneously watching his tech friends make millions overnight. So, Lyons positions himself for a career jump: he decides to become a marketer at a tech company.

He lands a job at HubSpot, a Boston-based inbound marketing software company. His boss is half his age and he spends his days writing for the sake of sales, rather than writing for the sake of informing. He finds himself underutilized and often ignored, his valuable journalism expertise falling on deaf ears when he offers PR or writing advice.

While Lyons may have set out to write a funny memoir about an old guy at a young company (his words not mine) the book certainly packs a far more powerful punch than a simple humor story. He showcases both his journalistic chops and penchant for satirical writing (he currently writes for HBO’s Silicon Valley), intertwining facts and numbers with comedic anecdotes.

Though Lyons’ personal story does provide a strong backbone for his book, he fleshes it out with history of the tech industry and critiques of tech culture. His story centers on HubSpot--but ultimately, he uses the company as a stand-in, a concrete symbol showing the tangible faults of fervent entrepreneurism and Silicon Valley capitalism.

And I not only enjoyed reading his book, but I also learned a lot. Lyons' eloquently relays the evolution of venture capital, technology, and Silicon Valley. He explains things I didn’t even know I didn’t understand, like how valuations work, and what makes an IPO successful. (Real useful tidbits when you’re working in tech!) And he rolls it all up into an entertaining story, adding some much-needed flavor to the cold, hard facts.

By the end of the book I was absolutely on Lyons’ side. I hated HubSpot! Then I reminded myself that a well-written opinion is still an opinion, and even the most well-rounded stories have an angle. After all, wasn’t I was totally convinced of Stephen Avery’s innocence after watching Netflix’s Making a Murderer? And then I read some more facts and listened to some more interviews… and well… it’s really not that simple.

Not that a murder investigation is really comparable to a misadventure in the start-up bubble… but you get my point.

From a more personal standpoint, this story hit close to home. I live in Mountain View, practically the epicenter of Silicon Valley. (I know, I know! Palo Alto is the epicenter! That’s why I said “practically!”) And just as I was finishing this book, I was offered a job at a San Mateo tech company. (Called Owler. You should check it out. This is a shameless plug.)

I identified with Lyons’ sarcastic voice. With his cynicism, with his ability to see through the bullshit. It’s not being negative, per say--more like an unwillingness to fake it.

So, I couldn’t help but question if this industry was for me. Or would I, like Dan Lyons, find myself mixed up in misadventures set to the tune of tech?

But while there are certainly pervasive problems in the tech world, they don’t seep into every corner of every company. Rather than seeing Lyons’ book as big red flag warning against working anywhere in the entire industry, I look at it as a useful guide to help me understand the red flags at any single company.

And so far, I’m in the clear.