The Evolution of the Silicon Valley ‘Bro’ and Can It Change? by Flynn Thompsett is marked with CC0 1.0 Universal
The Silicon Valley ‘Bro’ has experienced a gordian change since its beginning’s in the 1960’s influenced greatly by historical, social, cultural and economic factors it has shown symptoms of change, however, complete change has been difficult due to the deep connections and decades of repeated culture to perform a complete transformation quickly. The Silicon Valley ‘Bro’ or ‘Tech bro’ is a term created to describe the vast majority of the straight and white males in the valley who possess “traits of being obscenely obnoxious and sexist”(Mulla, 2019).
“The reality is, men right now have the power and the money, and they should be the first ones to change. They can do it today!”(E. Chang, personal communication, February 5 C.E.)
Silicon valley has experienced these Tech Bros since its beginning heavily due to large portions of the area being males from Stanford who only sought to hire like-minded or younger versions of themselves retaining the same culture’s and ways of thinking which back in the 1980’s and 1990’s generally took on a work hard, play hard mentality attracting young, naive and overqualified frat boys. The creation of the dot.com bubble saw the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come through who brought along a new era of the tech bro in which they were yes, rich and powerful however possessed a nerdy or less threatening persona then their valley predecessors. Finally is the introduction of the modern giants of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, these three names dominate the tech landscape today especially through the help of platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and X/Twitter allowing them to create a mass following however in turn promoting their over emasculated lifestyles and extreme wealth. However through all this change to the Silicon Valley Bro’s themselves not much has changed in terms of a positive culture towards diversity and equality with race and gender, this constant and recurrent bro culture sticks around leading to no deep or rooted change although it is possible.
The Early Days
The early days of Silicon Valley were heavily influenced by a Californian Ideology and a bohemian discourse that saw predominately white males setting the culture and foundations of what would be the future of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley was created of by the movements of William Shockley and his team who “After just one year, eight employees resigned on the same day.”(Nigeria, 2020) after this they created their own chip company in the Bay hence creating an area of likeminded business’s and individuals. Shockley’s team split up and his reported aggressive style bred a competition in the valley and the naive and imperialist attributes they came with were clear as the valley area was highly active with many local Mexican and Native tribes that these original Tech Bro’s kicked off. As the valley grew more companies and start ups moved to the area to access this Bohemia and self governance as “In the 1960s, Bohemia and cybernetics justified one another”(Lusoli & Turner, 2020). However, a trend was created from all this movement and that was “The communes of the 1960s tended to be very male dominated.”(Lusoli & Turner, 2020). Male, straight and mostly middle-class creating this competitive and fraternity behaviour that meant the line between work-hard and play hard was extremely thin. Joe Liemandt and the trilogy group in the 1980’s was a key example of this. Liemandt admitted that his “initial product ‘sucked’”(Mulla, 2019) however due to a superior confidence and ability to convince customers and shareholders, trilogy became a success. The problems start to arise however when Liemandt started recruiting. he recruited people with the same attributes as himself which were “talented, overachieving students with no real-world experience.” Who would be roped in using 22 year old females, from colleges such as Berkeley and Stanford. Hence, the early days of Silicon Valley lay down the building blocks for the yes the highly successful yet highly toxic place it is today, providing the people and culture that created the ‘Tech Bro’.
The Next Era
The next era conveys a wide range of Tech moguls and Bro’s and reveals how through access to the internet and a wider pool of candidates things have changed and evolved but not necessarily for the better. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates saw the introduction of a new type of tech bro, one that was “noticeably dorky, careful with their words” (Kay, 2023) and very reserved. Jobs and Gates were yes very confident in the way conducted business, presented to clients and communicated with employees however it was never in an extremely outgoing way more just quietly confident. As seen in the video Jobs seems very self-assured a little geeky but still oozing with confidence as he rides a BMW motorbike with no helmet and long hair. “take the chance, you have nothing to lose.” is echoed in the video as a philosophy of Jobs and the silicon Valley back in the 80’s and it show the culture and confidence these future CEO’s and start ups had.
The current day could be argued to be the peak of the Silicon Valley Bro’s with the likes of Jeff Bezos, the founder, former CEO and now Chairman of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook/Meta, and then Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla and Space X. This trio makes up some of the wealthiest people in the world and hold extradorinaiy amounts of power of social, political and economic factors even outside of the Valley.
- Elon Musk
2. Jeff Bezos
- Age: 59
- Founder and Executive Chair: Amazon
- Net Worth: $150 billion
3. Mark Zuckerberg
- Age: 39
- CEO and Chair: Facebook/Meta
- Net Worth: $111 billion
Through the reach and power they have in the digital world these three have created a cult persona that exudes confidence and arrogance.
“Musk and Zuckerberg’s posturing is the kind of broey behavior that you’d expect from a pair of fraternity brothers”(G. KAY, personal communication, June 25 2023 C.E.)
Through getting absolutely shredded and challenging each other in cage fights and gym contests these tech bros have become not convoluted with trying to one-up each other you feel that they completely overlook the key issues within their companies and digital cultures in the Valley.
Can this Change?
The key question at the end of the day is, can this continuous evolution of the tech bro change? Ultimately there is a strong need for change and as these Tech ‘Bros’ continue to act out of line and ignore company problems such as harassment, racism and sexual assault Silicon Valley will turn into a completely undesirable place to work or conduct business. Tesla is has an extremely high level of sexual and racial harassment and assault where in 46 lawsuits, former and current employees say they were targeted and attacked based on gender or race(Kay, 2022). Frank Turner in his interview with Lusoli says “At Tesla, the workers are intensely collaborative, but they’re also intensely endangered “(Lusoli & Turner, 2020) the fact Elon runs this company is such a way is unthinkable in any other profession or outside of Silicon Valley.
Emily Chang the author of ‘Brotopia’ as well as anchor and executive producer of Bloomberg Technology believes the valley can change and needs to. in her book ‘Brotopia’ she explores the cruel and misogynistic world of silicon valley were being a woman is a statistical disadvantage due to:
- 9% of female investors
- Women-led companies get only 2% of Ventured Capital funding
- Women hold 20-25% jobs in the industry.
Chang sees a need for the ‘bros’ to be held accountable in how they act, portray themselves online and run their companies. She adds “CEOs have to communicate the merits of diversity to everyone in their entire companies, venture capitalists need to hire more women, and the limited partners who invest in those VC firms need to pressure them to prioritize diversity.” (Chang, 2018). This awareness is now there and change in the near future is possible it just needs to the people in charge such as Musk, Zuckerberg and Bezos to understand and implement this.
- Chang, E. (5 C.E., February). How to fix Silicon Valley’s “Brotopia” (K. Swisher, Interviewer) [Personal communication].
- Chang, E. (2019, May 19). “Brotopia” author Emily Chang answers your questions (J. Brown, Interviewer) [Interview]. In PBS News Hour.
- Delbecq, A. L., & Weiss, J. (2000). The Business Culture of Silicon Valley. Journal of Management Inquiry, 9(1), 37–44. https://doi.org/10.1177/105649260091008
- Kay, G. (2022, March 24). On the Tesla production line: Dozens of former employees say they faced catcalls, groping, slurs, and harassment on the job (Á. Cain, Ed.). Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/tesla-lawsuits-former-workers-claim-racial-discrimination-sexual-harassment-2022-3
- Lusoli, A., & Turner, F. (2020). “It’s an Ongoing Bromance”: Counterculture and Cyberculture in Silicon Valley—An Interview with Fred Turner. Journal of Management Inquiry, 30(2), 105649262094107. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492620941075
- Lyons, D. (2017, April 1). Opinion | Jerks and the Start-Ups They Ruin. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/opinion/sunday/jerks-and-the-start-ups-they-ruin.html
- Moskowitz, D. (2020). The 10 richest people in the world. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/012715/5-richest-people-world.asp
- Mulla, N. (2019, November 19). The history of Silicon Valley Bro culture, and how I hope we can defeat it. The Startup. https://medium.com/swlh/the-history-of-silicon-valley-bro-culture-and-how-i-hope-we-can-defeat-it-3c79f92791b9
- Nigeria, E. (2020, July 26). How Did Silicon Valley Become Silicon Valley? Medium. https://endeavornigeria.medium.com/how-did-silicon-valley-become-silicon-valley-7644f7ecac9f#:~:text=A%20journalist%2C%20Don%20Hoefler%2C%20coined
- OLD NEWS: Steve Jobs Talks About Starting Company in Silicon Valley. (1981). Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtuJR2bzIO0&list=PPSV