Code seems cold and objective, the raw logic of the internet, and Silicon Valley likes it that way. Programmers hunker down in low-slung Palo Alto office parks having signed a nondisclosure agreement at the door. The work is opaque, confoundingly mathematical.
When algorithms are implicated in a scandal — say, a new tool to decide jail sentences gives black people longer ones, or a web search for information about vaccines offers up noxious conspiracy theories — the playbook is simple: Blame the code, some off-kilter machine learning, an out-of-control A. Certainly no human hand was involved.
He explores how they live, what motivates them and what they fight about. By breaking down what the actual work of coding looks like — often pretty simple, rote, done in teams rather than by loner geniuses — he removes the mystery and brings it into the legible world for the rest of us to debate. Human beings and their foibles are the reason the internet is how it is — for better and often, as this book shows, for worse.
See the full list. Every boom in the Valley gets a book, and this sober one is extremely Thompson approaches Silicon Valley as if he were performing an autopsy. He trots out the brogrammers and rock star coders, the hackers and disheveled introverts. He explains how they show off and how they got their jobs. And in plain English, he explains. He lays out some lines of code in the language Python.
And he likes it.
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He uses poetry to describe how tight, short code is the most powerful. The good coder values efficiency, and he begins to appreciate that.
He drinks the popular meal replacement Soylent, and he does not complain. He starts to see how annoyingly complex humans are in comparison. But a few pages later he sours on his own brief joy as he realizes how it is perverting him. The backdrop to this book is that something is broken about Silicon Valley. Because deeply introverted people were drawn to coding, they did not prioritize positive human interactions. A community that indulges thoughts of anarchy was wary of adding any guardrails to the programs and products it produced.
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