Illustration: Shira Inbar; Photography: Kelsey McClellan.

Into the Valley

Tech Can’t Handle Criticism: A Conversation with Anna Wiener and Jessica Powell

The authors discuss sexism, power, and diversity in Silicon Valley

Brian Merchant
Published in
13 min readFeb 27, 2020

This article is part of Into the Valley, a feature series from OneZero about Silicon Valley, the people who live there, and the technology they create.

IIt’s fitting that the most-discussed book about technology of the young decade is not a behind-the-scenes startup story or a hagiography of a tech titan, but a memoir about navigating mid-2010s Silicon Valley as an outsider. Those were the years, after all, when many of tech’s promises began to curdle.

Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley follows her immersion into the industry at the apex of its disruptomania — her entry point into tech is through a job at Oyster, a short-lived startup that wanted to be “a Netflix for books” — on through to the disinformation-assisted election of Trump and a growing discomfort with ubiquitous digital platforms.

Few know those environments better than Jessica Powell, the former vice president of Google’s Communications department. At one point, Powell was one of the highest-ranking women at the company; after she left, she wrote The Big Disruption, an acerbic work of satire that lampoons a power-mad tech company that’s going to absurd lengths to keep its male employees happy and productive. (Full disclosure: The book was published online by Medium.)

Given the successes of these books, the sense that a tech backlash is in full swing, and the rise of worker-led movements to protest gender inequality and climate policy in the industry, OneZero decided to bring these two authors together to discuss tech’s state of unrest. In February, Wiener and Powell came to Medium’s San Francisco office to discuss the nature of this percolating backlash, sexism in the industry, and the relationship between tech culture and its products.

The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

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Brian Merchant

Senior editor, OneZero, books, futures, fiction. Author of The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, founder of Terraform @ Motherboard @ VICE.