Silicon Valley's "Meritocracy"


I can't find the Tweet anymore, but I know someone from my network (I think it was @raganwald) posted something to the effect of:

Silicon Valley is a meritocracy for sufficiently cronyistic values of "meritocracy".

That phrase has stuck with me since, mostly because it explains one of several issues I had with Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley's barrier of entry rivals that of AAA game development, and every AAA game development job on the planet is either a dead end or it requires a shipped title. Good luck jumping that one.

The practice of hiring one's friends in lieu of a better-qualified stranger is understandable, and I think the pervasiveness of the practice stems from multiple factors:

  1. It's still "hard" to find good people. It's easier than it used to be, and there are smart people working to make it even easier. That said, there's still no Magic Directory of Perfect People. Yet.
  2. The demand for the "right" person is accelerated in the Bay Area. If there's a position to be filled in Silicon Valley, it needed to be filled yesterday. And in a startup, there's rarely the luxury of hiring from within simply due to their size.
  3. An insane amount of professional incest. Partially because of a snowball effect lent from the cronyism itself and partially due to the high turnover of both individual staff and entire companies, a lot of Silicon Valley has worked with a lot of Silicon Valley.

Just the first two factors are enough: if I needed someone yesterday and I don't have an easier way to find someone, my Rolodex will do just fine. Bob may not be the best fit, but he's good enough for our little startup. This is compounded by the last factor, a self-fulfilling prophecy of recycling the "best" talent in Silicon Valley from company to company until they either retire or leave.

Granted, there are still people spending the time to get the Right Person For The Job, even if they're not already in the Valley. I'm an example. That also means I know firsthand just how alienating an experience that was. That said, that kind of education is one-in-a-million, and there are far better programmers out there that should have my spot if Silicon Valley Just Looked Elsewhere.

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