Is Yiren Lu’s ‘Silicon Valley youth problem’ just about Silicon Valley?

A few excerpts from a very long, but very worthwhile read in the New York Times from Yiren Lu, a graduate computer science student from Columbia and recent Harvard Grad. Explores some of the tensions between the technology ‘old guard’ and ‘new guard’ from a very interesting perspective. Read the whole article here at the New York Times.


“What’s cool? Who can be trusted? Why does one start-up go public, while another, which seems to do the same thing, fizzles? What logic, if any, pertains to where the money flows? These are the anxious questions that pervade Silicon Valley now, I think, more than ever — the vague sense of a frenzied bubble of app-making and an even vaguer dread that what we are making might not be that meaningful.”

“The sense that it is no longer necessary to have particularly deep domain knowledge before founding your own start-up is real; that and the willingness of venture capitalists to finance Mark Zuckerberg look-alikes are changing the landscape of tech products. There are more platforms, more websites, more pat solutions to serious problems — here’s an app that can fix drug addiction! promote fiscal responsibility! advance childhood literacy! Even as the pool of founders has grown and diversified, the products themselves seem more homogeneous, more pedestrian.”

“Recently, an engineer at a funded-to-the-gills start-up in San Francisco texted me to grumble about his company’s software architecture. Its code base was bug-ridden and disorganized — yet the business was enjoying tremendous revenue and momentum. “Never before has the idea itself been powerful enough that one can get away with a lacking implementation,” he wrote. His remark underscores a change wrought by the new guard that the old guard will have to adapt to. Tech is no longer primarily technology driven; it is idea driven.”

“Yet for all the glitz and the glory and the newfound glamour, there is a surprising amount of angst in Silicon Valley. Which is probably inevitable when you put thousands of ambitious, talented young people together and tell them they’re god’s gift to technology. It’s the angst of an early hire at a start-up that only he realizes is failing; the angst of a founder who raises $5 million for his company and then finds out an acquaintance from college raised $10 million; the angst of someone who makes $100,000 at 22 but is still afraid that he may not be able to afford a house like the one he grew up in.”

“Despite its breathtaking arrogance, the question resonates; it articulates concerns about tech being, if not ageist, then at least increasingly youth-fetishizing. People have always recruited on the basis of ‘Not your dad’s company,’ but in recent years, that precept has become a mantra. According to the company PayScale, the median age of employees at Hewlett-Packard is 39, at Facebook 26. I tried to verify with Jim the median age at Stripe, which looked to be about 25, and he paused to think. “Well, we just got an engineer whose hair is thinning.” Then he added, “I actually have no idea how old he is.””

Is this something that is just going on in the valley? It seems like it is a much wider issue than that. Thanks for stimulating our conversations in the office today Yiren.