The Roar Proceeds a Fall

There is a fascinating cultural moment happening in San Francisco. Every year this hot spot of the world's software zeitgeist compete to hire the best and brightest. While accoutrements meant to lure these people include everything from on-site dry cleaning to black comedy conference rooms, the main enticement remains money.

These ever increasing salaries, ironically, come with a price: it's eroding away the cultural diversity the area is known for. Those displaced aren't happy about it. What started as political performance has now become violent. In the big picture it is not the Syrian civil war. But slashed tires and rock-broken windows aren't the symbols of civil society, either.

"Yes, we're in the midst of a battle for a culturally, racially, and economically diverse San Francisco and Silicon Valley. (It's not just a local fight, either; what's happening here is subtly — and will be overtly — playing out elsewhere, too.) From Google bus graffiti and IPO protests to essays lamenting the shuttle buses and others defending techies, 2013 marked a shift for the geographical hub of the tech that's reshaping our lives. Lines were drawn. A battle began." — Susie Cagle

It is part of the American cultural mythos playing out. Is is the Puritan belief that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. We are a nation where anyone, given enough elbow grease, can acquire their piece of happiness. It also implies that if you haven't pulled yourself up by your self-reliant bootstraps, you certainly must not be working hard enough. You must be lazy and stop bothering those working it with your FAIL.

"The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it's a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that's okay." — From a Valley CEO

Like many arguments, the idea that one just has to work harder on their coding sounds great in a vacuum. Reality, however, is far more messy. Success is a function with numerous inputs, of which hard work is only one. There is luck. There is who you know. Charm. Intelligence. Vigor. Resilience. Even where you were born.

While I can work from places remote and exotic, from South Dakota to Costa Rica, I couldn't have started there. My success as a programmer has been about the people I've been able to meet and work with. A conversation built trust. That trust lead to a job. That job lead to a bigger job, and so on. While someone getting a killer work from a brilliantly written blog post or open source library does happen that hasn't been my career. I needed more than to "work hard". I needed to find a new community. So I moved. I understand that is a luxury that not everyone has.

But when you have a city where critical components to the civic makeup - teachers, law enforcement, medical staff - can no longer live there, can you still call it a community? Or a homogeneous fantasy land? Have you created a techno-libertarian utopia? Or a tone deaf bubble of the world's best and brightest no longer building the relevant goods and services the world needs.

Succession is not the path to diversification. In the best case, it's the path to ridicule. It's circling the wagons of one's kind, rather than obtaining a greater understanding of real people and their problems.

Does anyone else remember their introductory college course on genetic selection? I recall there was a story about tigers. Normally a powerful creature, actually larger than a lion, a set of tigers became trapped within a volcanic crater when the only path in or out was blocked. Over subsequent generations, due to inbreeding, the tigers' health declined, with greater defects increasingly threatening the future viability of the species.

Diversity is necessary for the health of complex systems. If we wall ourselves off to preserve the purity of an ideal we've forgotten the thing that makes us great. All that's left is arrogance and avarice.