I have exactly one piece of advice I feel like I could give in life, and I want to share it to whatever audience I can muster.
Look: I’ve recently been working on writing a novel that reflects a lot on my first (hopefully not only) 25 years of life.
I think the structure of a novel is both useful and important for this kind of thing because it gives you a level of indirection to talk about different issues with; you get to distance yourself from the thinking a little bit, be more concerned with your audience’s time, and also protect all guilty parties that might otherwise be implicated.
It also takes a while.
I feel like this advice is maybe more urgent than that. It’s not super personal to me or too inherently tied to the perspective I have from the crazy roller coaster that has been my life.
Nobody has time to read books anyway.
The advice I want to give is advice I wish someone gave me when I got my first Big Deal Tech Job and moved to NYC. It’s something no one seems to want to tell you, but is important to keep as a voice in your mind when you’re coming into the tech universe from any “non-traditional” background. This post isn’t the space to try to establish credibility or delineate life experiences, so if it doesn’t land with you then it just doesn’t land with you, but I hope it’ll resonate with the people it’s most applicable to.
The advice itself is actually really simple.
You will never belong here.
There’s a meme floating around in liberal arts-y circles that I find kind of annoying. See, they basically think tech people are all tech and shit, and that’s just not true. Nobody is actually that one-dimensional, and enough people work in “tech” now that any broad generalization will have holes in it.
It’s actually almost the exact opposite that I’m trying to warn about here.
I wish I could find my younger self and tell him:
You know that sense of essential unease and distrust you have for society in general and all authorities in particular? The sense of The Struggle you have that you can use to push through the pain? Hold onto that. It’s more useful than you know.
If you grow up somewhere that lets you see how the basic social contract can be truly broken then you tend to adapt more of a survivalist mentality.
Then you come to work in tech and there are friendly office buildings and free alcohol and people talking about “inclusion” and all the etceteras. And in the midst of all that, it can be easy to think that you’re seeing the first rainbow, and that the crabs in a bucket mentality really is a separate thing from the human condition, and it’s just gonna be fun and sunshine from here on out.
Life with a dope job and cash in your pocket and no outstanding warrants for your arrest is definitely better than any alternative to that. But it’s still life, and part of life is always going to be some kind of struggle. It can be dangerous to forget that.
You are now working for The Establishment, and even if you drop the idea of these societal differences from your mind as you cross into new socioeconomic territory, the people receiving you won’t. You’ll use different slang and dress differently and even though those things shouldn’t matter, people like to make them matter. Because there’s an idea that discrimination is about what you look like, so it’s totally fine to be biased against someone when they “smell like jail” in the Dean Moriarty See: On The Road by Jack Kerouac sense.
And then you might be glad that at least you don’t smell like prison but be careful because these people don’t know that there’s a difference between jail and prison and it’s a Red Flag if you do. It might be a double Red Flag if you know what dead time is, so don’t even go there.
Remember, these are the same stock of people who are obsessed with phone “addiction” like they’ve never known an opiate addict — or even just someone who couldn’t pay their cell phone bill. A fun game to play here is to see who knows what happens when you don’t pay a cell phone bill, since it’s not 100% what someone might expect. (They’re cheating if they only know because they worked at a phone carrier.) Especially someone who couldn’t pay a cell phone bill, because if tech workers had contact with the financially unstable then it might be possible to cancel a Netflix subscription when you couldn’t make the next month’s payment.
But that’s not true either.
Because not “all tech workers” are any specific thing or from any specific background or whatever else. It’s just that they (we) are a cross-section of society and ultimately reinforce its values as an increasingly core pillar of industry. And it’s socially acceptable for Netflix to remain ready to pounce on your credit card the second it has an unclaimed $10.99 in credit — with little-to-no recourse available on your part — just like it was socially acceptable for them to do so when you were broke.
You might be able to change it, just like you might be able to change any other industry that you might have gone into. And there are other people out here that do want to change it. But if it was everyone then things would already be different and you wouldn’t have had the life that you did.
You were an outsider then, and you’re still an outsider now.
It’s ok. Embrace it. Lean in. Laugh at billionaires hiring “blood boys” and collecting foreign citizenships like trading cards because they’ve lost touch with their sense of mortality in the truest sense.
You do have the option to sell your soul and buy in to this collective delusion. You’ll see people who do exactly that. I’ve seen people craft entire imaginary childhoods for themselves to try to fit in more. But if you instead embrace the discomfort and alienation then you can find it’s really not nearly as bad as hard punch in the face and you already know that that’s way better than waking up in the ER with a Foley catheter in your urethra.
You will never belong here. That’s how you know you’re winning.