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  • Writer's pictureNeil

Whither Big Tech

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

I am fortunate to speak with other people about their ambitions and career goals. At this moment, joining big tech is socially encouraged - a 'smart choice' to justify time and effort for. However, putting yourself through the interview process can be jarring and uncomfortable. Judgment is summary, and feedback rarely given. When you do succeed, will you remember the goals you had before you were swept into the current? What did you come here to do?

I am writing this on the day the US Department of Justice will file charges from its 2020 antitrust inquiry into Google (already fined 8B in the EU). The history of big tech, from tiny west coast garages to sudden industrial leadership, has been compared with railroad empires and Gilded Age monopolies. If data is the new preeminent resource, fundamental yet fraught, shall we view these trillion dollar companies with the derision many view global oil & gas? The hierarchy of consumer first, then shareholder, and worker last will continue to be challenged (in Europe, if not seriously in the US). However, I see at least two enduring reasons for individuals to consider joining their ranks.

FAANG provided me with skillset and subject expertise in high growth areas of the economy: e-commerce, then cloud. I specialized in global selling, then startups. I upgraded roles and responsibilities more or less as quickly as I wanted to (though hardly as easily). Even in junior roles, the scale and impact in a market segment leader can paper over a difficult manager or annual goal. Unlike stories from peers in banking and management consulting, the culture in tech - 'speed matters in business' - meant I paid relatively few dues before taking on greater responsibility, people management, and international moves.

These white collar jobs inside FAANG have remained resilient, even as the economy around them, an economy they helped create, has faltered. I realized this when speaking with startup founders upended by COVID and facing furloughs, layoffs, debt & bankruptcy. At that moment, I invoked empathy and realized my voice sounded insincere. In this moment, what skin did I have in the game? What risk did I, nine years deep in the bubble, share with my top billing customer? This gap, I fear, will continue to widen. My only encouraging notion is that remote work may distribute the economic opportunity and particular housing and cultural burden of tech workers beyond our absurd, disruptive concentrations today.

So if you decide to apply, do not go half way. Think, reflect, and make up your mind before you take the first step. Plan for the long term, and figure out how to hold yourself accountable. It is too challenging, too frustrating to put yourself through without a clear objective. Be sincere about who you are and what you stand for, what you are willing to sacrifice and what you are not. You might not look back for nine years.

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