Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Why Are New Tech Companies So Liberal?

 

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock.com
I am a millennial, living in a Boston suburb, developing software for a high profile technology company, and I can’t fathom why so many of my colleagues have such different views than I do. With the recent stories of news censorship by Facebook and Twitter and corporate pressure in Georgia and North Carolina, it appears much of the tech industry has become a force of the left.

I know there appears to be an easy answer for this question, demographics. Of course they are liberal, you may say. Their workers are mostly young and urban. They reside in Northern California, Boston, and New York. How could they be anything but liberal?

That is true, but they also consist of engineers and highly skilled immigrants. They are people who have worked hard and are well compensated. While many of their peers were “studying” sociology and women’s studies they were taking computer science and engineering courses. What they learned was rooted in logic and the physical world, not rehashed Marxism and utopian fantasies.

When I was growing up in Massachusetts, it made sense that my teachers were predominantly leftist. They belonged to a union and their pay was determined by how well they could scare the town into approving ever increasing school budgets and not by how well they did their jobs. I recall a great anticipation of reaching the working world where market forces would determine success and thus people would see the inherent benefits of individual liberty and classical liberal values.

Since graduating college I’ve been a naval officer, nuclear engineer, software engineer at an older tech company, and now one that is based in the Bay Area. Until now most of my fellow employees have appeared right of center, thus confirming my expectations. That’s not to say it isn’t a great place to work, it most certainly is. However, I am at a total loss to explain its culture or the cultures of other companies of its ilk.

I have a few theories, but I am not very confident in any of them. My definition of “new tech companies” are those that have been created or risen to prominence in the last 15 years, such as Twitter or Facebook.

  • The people are the same but the companies are more authoritarian. Motivated by a very competitive job market and empowered by financial success, these companies seek to engage with their employees at a new level. They encourage their employees to basically live at work, breaking down the professional and personal divide. This fosters an environment not unlike a university. Everyone must be careful not to offend and the needs of all must be accommodated at the expense of the few. The cultures of victimhood and blind acceptance find fertile soil, and people who disagree learn to keep quiet.
  • Newer tech companies are more software- and web-based than their predecessors. Therefore aesthetically pleasing design is more important to the success of their products. Therefore more creatives are required and creatives trend left of center.
  • College indoctrination has become so successful that it has bled into the hard sciences and engineering spaces. My fellow employees seem more liberal because they actually are more liberal.

There are 64 comments.

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  1. EThompson Inactive

    They encourage their employees to basically live at work, breaking down the professional and personal divide. This fosters an environment not unlike a university. Everyone must be careful not to offend and the needs of all must be accommodated at the expense of the few. The cultures of victimhood and blind acceptance find fertile soil, and people who disagree learn to keep quiet.

    I wouldn’t disagree with this; one of the many things I admired about the late Steve Jobs is that he promoted a culture of pushing the boundaries but never one of accommodation. :)

    • #1
    • May 12, 2016, at 10:19 AM PST
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  2. Retail Lawyer Member

    Excellent post, question, and theories. Especially the first theory. I live in Silicon Valley and many of my neighbors work for these companies. I observe that many have expressed views to me that would raise eyebrows (at a minimum) at work. Many of these employees have no connection to the broader community, live at work, and just go along to get along, probably thinking something like, “how could all these smart people be wrong?” But I have two more theories: First, they are now rent seeking, depend on government favors, and are placing their bets. Second, its a “masters of the universe” problem. The leaders are wealthy beyond understanding, young and cocky, and some of them have actually tasted what its like to “change the world”. They have lost sight of any limiting principle. They have lost sight of the common man, if they ever had such a sight. They are arrogant and self centered and think its fine to have a carbon footprint similar to Obama’s as long as they can offset it by forcing regular people to lessen theirs. They are looking for a purpose higher than placing advertising and trying some out – like gay marriage. Who is going to tell Zuckerberg, after telling Obama (in his house) “I’m cool with that” in response to Obama “asking the most fortunate to pay their fair share” that the IRS does not “ask people”, that “fair share” needs a criteria by which to determine fair . . . ?

    • #2
    • May 12, 2016, at 10:44 AM PST
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  3. Aaron Miller Member

    Good points.

    Another factor is the ever-growing threat of lawsuits PC speech-code violations. Conservatives don’t often file lawsuits when their coworkers badmouth Christianity, Republicans, or conservatism.

    Also, a corporation’s reputation might be bound more closely today with the expressions of its employees than in previous decades. Through social media especially, employees can get a company into hot water because of the same intolerant hippies ever on the alert for an offensive comment. Thus, I see tech company PR applauding feminism, homosexuality, and whatnot on their official Twitter and Facebook feeds.

    Progressive leaders know what they are doing. They are making it expensive and risky to be openly conservative. More often than not, conservative CEOs are more interested in being left alone (for now) to profit than in fighting to preserve a more respectable culture.

    • #3
    • May 12, 2016, at 10:57 AM PST
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  4. David Foster Member

    Good post. I wouldn’t exactly call the ‘basically live at work’ thing exactly *authoritarianism*, but rather a form of paternalism.

    There was recently a story about tech workers in SV who, far from considering themselves Masters of the Universe, feel that they are Exploited Proletarians. I wrote about it here: TechnoProletarians?

    • #4
    • May 12, 2016, at 1:49 PM PST
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  5. David Foster Member

    Also, a substantial part of the ‘tech’ universe is in practical terms part of the entertainment industry.

    • #5
    • May 12, 2016, at 1:50 PM PST
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  6. MoltoVivace Inactive

    If they went to a four-year school they spent 16 years, at least, in Leftist indoctrination camp. That’s close to as much time as they spent with their parents, or for many of them, more time than they’ve ever spent with their parents. Consequently, the vast majority of them will be liberals.

    Even the ones who aren’t explicitly liberal are usually working under liberal assumptions about the world. Peer pressure is the most powerful behavioral force in most people’s development.

    • #6
    • May 12, 2016, at 3:36 PM PST
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  7. Ulysses768 Inactive
    Ulysses768 Post author

     I wouldn’t exactly call the ‘basically live at work’ thing exactly *authoritarianism*, but rather a form of paternalism.

    Yes that is probably a better word for what I described. But it perhaps allows for a strong cultural control by the company’s leadership, which could be described as authoritarian.

    When someone anonymously crossed out “Black Lives Matter” on the office’s signature wall, Zuckerberg called out the action publicly. If you didn’t have such a paternalistic workplace where the “correct” political views are encouraged, you wouldn’t have the opportunity for such authoritarian control. That being said, I am clearly not an expert on the meaning of authoritarian as it relates to corporate culture.

    • #7
    • May 12, 2016, at 4:41 PM PST
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  8. Lazy_Millennial Member

    Part of the upper management encouraging the culture probably stems from trying to avoid attracting attention. The most attractive industry for looters to loot is where business is booming. The most attractive industry for bureaucrats to regulate is where there are no regulations whatsoever. Upper management that aren’t “true believers” in progressivism have a vested interest in paying off all the “right” (progressive) people and encouraging all the “right” (progressive) ideas in order to avoid being the next victim of either the social media “two minutes hate” or government shakedown/shutdown/regulation.

    • #8
    • May 13, 2016, at 5:21 AM PST
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  9. Joe P Member

    Here’s a theory you haven’t considered:

    Software professionals spend their entire day imposing their order on the emptiness of the computer. They’re really smart, telling the computer what to do and how to do it. The computer, which is not smart, dutifully obeys every command. The result of this partnership, where the engineer is master and the computer is slave, is a discrete piece of software whose usefulness can be directly assessed fairly quickly and easily. Thus, any hubris the engineer may have regarding their wisdom is quickly tempered by reliable external mechanisms, like the compiler/interpreter, the QA department, and the users of the software.

    If you naively transpose this mental model onto society at large and add in the typical misconceptions that average people have about how government and the economy work, you end up with a bias towards authoritarianism. A naive, well-intentioned authoritarianism, but authoritarianism none the less. The elite masters try to fix complex problems by just changing a law here or there by telling other people what to do. But unlike the software which can be evaluated easily, the effects of law are difficult assess. There’s no compiler that will throw an error if you try to pass a law that is literally impossible to execute, decisively persuading you to change your mind. Instead you hold on to your priors, which are obviously right because you are smart and everyone else isn’t.

    • #9
    • May 13, 2016, at 5:59 AM PST
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  10. Mike H Coolidge

    I don’t buy the indoctrination thing. I think pretty much no matter how much someone was “indoctrinated” they become their own person eventually, probably by age 30.

    Now, there is probably a factor of conformity. People who hold non-liberal views are much more likely to keep quiet lest they hurt their social and future job prospects.

    Also, people in heavily cognitive fields are more likely to see humanity as a project similar to their work. Say, you’re a programer so you think if we just wrote a program that would tell people what to do when, we would get much better outcomes. They fall into this trap where they think social interaction is optimizable by top-down planning and use of force.

    • #10
    • May 13, 2016, at 5:06 PM PST
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  11. RightAngles Member

    I think it’s the “cool” counter-culture factor. They think they’re being so cool doing anything their parents would disapprove of, anything that’s seen as non-mainstream. They think they’re being anti-establishment. The trouble is that when we weren’t looking, the Left became the Establishment. They control our schools, universities, news media, social media, movies, and TV. And when the Left is the Establishment, they turn totalitarian every time. And all those little hipper-than-thou lefties become the KGB and Thought Police. And they don’t even see themselves.

    • #11
    • May 13, 2016, at 5:31 PM PST
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  12. Mate De Coolidge

    I’ve noticed a similar thing going on with people I know in advertising. They are usually really creative types who live at work and have high salaries and are very progressive.

    Maybe these people fancy themselves a new kind of elite. A sort of aristocracy that live one way but want to impose another way of life on their lessers

    • #12
    • May 13, 2016, at 5:37 PM PST
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  13. Joe P Member

    Since graduating college I’ve been a naval officer, nuclear engineer, software engineer at an older tech company, and now one that is based in the Bay Area. Until now most of my fellow employees have appeared right of center, thus confirming my expectations. That’s not to say it isn’t a great place to work, it most certainly is. However, I am at a total loss to explain its culture or the cultures of other companies of its ilk.

    I am also a millennial living in a Boston suburb developing software, but for a low-profile company. Rather, for a company that serves a very specific niche, thus is low profile outside of its industry. May I ask how you determined your co-workers appeared right of center? I ask because, the culture of where I work now is such that it would be very hard to determine what people’s beliefs are. Even after working here a year and a half, I wouldn’t feel confident pegging most people because it just doesn’t come up; we’re all working, most of us on different projects, and we’re all pretty polite too.

    • #13
    • May 13, 2016, at 6:25 PM PST
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  14. Richard Easton Member

    HR departments are run by cultural Marxists who mindlessly blather about diversity while stamping out political diversity. Conservatives who want to keep their jobs keep their opinions to themselves.

    • #14
    • May 13, 2016, at 6:31 PM PST
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  15. namlliT noD Member

    Silicon Valley engineer here.

    It’s not what you think; it’s not about carefully considering the consequences of political ideas.

    Instead…

    1. It’s cool, it’s what the hip people do.
    2. You get to enjoy that feeling of smug self-righteousness for caring about the oppressed, caring about the poor, caring about the planet, “being on the right side of history”.
    3. Being fundamentally better than those stupid people with opposing views.
    4. You get to say the nastiest things about conservatives and talk about them as if they were sub-human. And receive accolades in response.
    5. You get to call them racists, sexists, homophobes, islamophobes, misogynists, climate deniers, anti-science, hypocrites, flat-earthers, creationists, believers in make-believe deities, stupid, evil.

    Conservatism simply doesn’t offer those advantages.

    [edit, I’ll add a couple more]

    6. The respected elite media sources (NPR, PBS) say liberal is good.

    7. Saying “the government will solve it”, or “we’ll just fund this program”, provides a very simple solution to virtually any problem.

    • #15
    • May 13, 2016, at 6:42 PM PST
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  16. Aaron Miller Member

    It might also be significant that programmers and other tech professionals who work around computers are often plugged into social media all day long. They are plugged into pop culture.

    David Foster:Also, a substantial part of the ‘tech’ universe is in practical terms part of the entertainment industry.

    The game developers I have known over the years, including those in Texas, lean Left. It is not helpful that the industry’s journalists push progressive concerns, so game developers and publishers are encouraged to respond in kind to secure good publicity.

    There are a handful of conservative movie studios. I’m not aware of a conservative game studio.

    • #16
    • May 13, 2016, at 7:39 PM PST
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  17. Joe P Member

    Aaron Miller:It might also be significant that programmers and other tech professionals who work around computers are often plugged into social media all day long. They are plugged into pop culture.

    David Foster:Also, a substantial part of the ‘tech’ universe is in practical terms part of the entertainment industry.

    The game developers I have known over the years, including those in Texas, lean Left. It is not helpful that the industry’s journalists push progressive concerns, so game developers and publishers are encouraged to respond in kind to secure good publicity.

    There are a handful of conservative movie studios. I’m not aware of a conservative game studio.

    Is that an opportunity for entrepreneurship? I don’t know what a good “conservative” game would be, but there’s got to be a market for one. If only as a counter the endless social justice parade that has been choking the fun out of everything.

    • #17
    • May 13, 2016, at 8:05 PM PST
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  18. Ann Inactive
    Ann

    Thank you Ulysses for starting this interesting conversation.

    Interesting how most are thoughtfully pondering a deeper cause when Don (comment #15 ) throws out the most simple and superficial of reasons as the answer. Which is probably closer to the mark.

    • #18
    • May 13, 2016, at 8:06 PM PST
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  19. Liver Pate Inactive

    • #19
    • May 13, 2016, at 8:07 PM PST
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  20. Von Snrub Inactive

    Maybe software development is not that hard, and they’re not that smart?

    • #20
    • May 13, 2016, at 8:29 PM PST
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  21. Pilli Inactive

    Don Tillman:Silicon Valley engineer here.

    It’s not what you think; it’s not about carefully considering the consequences of political ideas.

    Instead…

    1. It’s cool, it’s what the hip people do.
    2. You get to enjoy that feeling of smug self-righteousness for caring about the oppressed, caring about the poor, caring about the planet, “being on the right side of history”.
    3. Being fundamentally better than those stupid people with opposing views.
    4. You get to say the nastiest things about conservatives and talk about them as if they were sub-human. And receive accolades in response.
    5. You get to call them racists, sexists, homophobes, islamophobes, misogynists, climate deniers, anti-science, hypocrites, flat-earthers, creationists, believers in make-believe deities, stupid, evil.

    Conservatism simply doesn’t offer those advantages.

    This describes the one very liberal programmer we have on our staff. Has a Masters in logic that he likes to mention. Most of us think he’s a P.I.T.A.

    It’s interesting that the Physicists (Ph.D.s) we have had on staff were very conservative.

    • #21
    • May 13, 2016, at 9:01 PM PST
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  22. Metalheaddoc Member

    My assumption was always that it was a combo of “hipness”, conformity and constant liberal indoctrination. I doubt any of these people has been exposed to real conservative thought. If they have ever heard a conservative viewpoint, it was probably only as a talking point to be swatted away. None of them has read Locke, listened to Limbaugh or read the Federalist Papers, I bet.

    I always figured that coders were more likely to be conservative. They live in a world of process, problem solving, error trapping and IF-THEN statements. I would think that would lend a more rightward worldview. Creatives are more likely to be all fuzzy, touchy-feely progressives.

    • #22
    • May 13, 2016, at 9:17 PM PST
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  23. Aaron Miller Member

    Joe P: Is that an opportunity for entrepreneurship? I don’t know what a good “conservative” game would be, but there’s got to be a market for one. If only as a counter the endless social justice parade that has been choking the fun out of everything.

    Certainly. But it’s not necessary, nor perhaps even advisable, for authors of any fictional experience to deliberately produce conservative works. An author’s beliefs and preferences will be evident in his works anyway, if he is good enough to accurately express his ideas.

    There are often deliberate efforts among game designers to include progressive themes in their works, as companies like Lionhead, Bioware, and Maxis have made explicit in attempts to normalize gay relationships. But more often designers are simply acting on assumptions which are not shared by their conservative customers.

    Leftist culture among entertainment/art companies expresses itself not just in themes but in manners and advertising. Democratic voters more commonly revel in vulgarity, for example (and I don’t mean only cussing).

    • #23
    • May 13, 2016, at 9:32 PM PST
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  24. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    This is something that troubles me too. I work for a large, well established technology company, possibly the most established of all established technology companies. And yet even there I am beginning to feel like a dinosaur, not only in terms of age but in terms of my political and social attitudes.

    I am afraid the real answer is simply a demographic one. The software business skews young, and middle-aged people like me are vastly outnumbered by twentysomethings freshly graduated from the academic womb. These people have been steeped in progressivism since birth; they are so deeply indoctrinated that they aren’t even aware of their own biases. They are the new generation, and this is just how they think.

    This is not, unfortunately, an optimistic analysis. But I’m afraid it’s probably true.

    • #24
    • May 13, 2016, at 10:26 PM PST
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  25. Percival Thatcher

    The unexamined life lies along the path of least resistance.

    Sorry, Socrates.

    • #25
    • May 13, 2016, at 11:33 PM PST
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  26. Mark Wilson Member

    I’m an engineer at a large company in the Silicon Valley, although not perhaps in the category of “tech company”. I think what you are observing is actually selection bias. It’s tempting to think of engineers as inherently conservative but there is diversity within any group. The type of engineer you might expect to be conservative by temperament would work in a field that could be considered evolutionary by nature. By this I mean fields like civil infrastructure, traditional manufacturing, food industries, most consumer products, and transportation systems like automobiles, airplanes, and trains. In these industries current practices are almost entirely the product of the long accumulation of knowledge and experience over many decades and the current state-of-the-art is to shave percentage points of efficiency in order to remain competitive. This reliance on tradition and incremental improvement is basically compatible with political conservatism.

    The tech companies, on the other hand, are revolutionary by nature. By this I mean their typical goals are to develop fundamentally new products or services which are disruptive and do not face competition, leading to quasi-monopolies and very large profit margins. The mindset required to invent such products is one that sheds the shackles of tradition and past experience, leaves behind conventional modes of thinking, and forges out in a new direction. The type of person who is attracted to this idea is basically non-conservative. They are out to change the world.

    • #26
    • May 13, 2016, at 11:53 PM PST
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  27. Mark Wilson Member

    Let me add that I think both mindsets, conservative and liberal, are necessary to create the healthy conflict and interplay between tradition and advancement of a prosperous civilization. This dynamic works best in the marketplace, second best in the culture, and hardly at all in government, which is why we need a written Constitution of limited enumerated powers and fixed meaning based on timeless principles.

    • #27
    • May 14, 2016, at 12:02 AM PST
    • 1 like
  28. DialMforMurder Inactive

    I have a couple more theories:

    1. Neither facebook, google or the main web browsers are user-pays, at least on a individual level. And they have very large market share with little competition. The power is with them, not the consumer.
    2. None of them produce tangible, physical goods. They’re not buyers themselves of any raw material. They’re not concerned about customs, shipping, taxes and design regulations. In fact they’re particularly good at tax evasion.
    3. facebook is this century’s most overvalued stock, based on points one and two, and the fact they are more dispensable than eBay or google. I smell a massive financial calamity in the offing for them and their free media mates.
    • #28
    • May 14, 2016, at 12:24 AM PST
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  29. Joseph Stanko Member

    Von Snrub:Maybe software development is not that hard, and they’re not that smart?

    I taught myself BASIC when I was in grade school, so no, I don’t think it’s all that hard, though I may have a skewed perspective. I think anyone who can think logically can learn to write software, but I’ve come to understand that elemental logical reasoning abilities are less common than I would have thought…

    • #29
    • May 14, 2016, at 1:59 AM PST
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  30. Joseph Stanko Member

    I work in Silicon Valley, and it’s not just the new tech companies, it’s all of them.

    I think most of the software engineers I’ve met tend to support markets, entrepreneurship, and capitalism, and yet this seldom translates into support for conservatives or the GOP. One factor is what Don identified:

    Don Tillman: You get to call them racists, sexists, homophobes, islamophobes, misogynists, climate deniers, anti-science, hypocrites, flat-earthers, creationists, believers in make-believe deities, stupid, evil.

    They aren’t so much voting for the Democrats as against the racist, homophobic, warmongering etc. GOP.

    • #30
    • May 14, 2016, at 2:28 AM PST
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