The age of the brogrammer

Solving tech's diversity problem may be a key to saving San Francisco


"Die techie scum." Those words are sprayed ominously on sidewalks throughout San Francisco. They're plastered on stickers stamped on lampposts. They're even scrawled in the bathrooms of punk bars, the very establishments now populated by Google-Glass-wearing tech aficionados.

Journalists from San Francisco to New York have opined on the source of the hate: Is it the housing crisis? Tech-fueled gentrification? Rising inequality? Those same journalists later parachute into the tech industry to periodically peer at its soul: Is tech diverse enough? Is it sexist? Is it a true meritocracy?

Those issues are often looked at in a vacuum, but perhaps they shouldn't be. Perhaps those problems are all interconnected, and solving tech's diversity problem is also part of solving income inequality in San Francisco, giving longtime San Franciscans a chance to join the industry many now view as composed of outsiders and interlopers.

The average Silicon Valley tech worker makes about $100,000, according to Dice Holdings Inc., which conducts annual tech salary surveys. Opportunity in the tech sector may bolster San Francisco's middle-income earners, vanishing like wayward sea lions from the city's landscape. Statistics from the US Census Bureau show that 66 percent of the city is either very poor or very rich, showing a hollowing out of the middle class.

Some tech CEOs are addressing their employment needs with a foreign workforce. Mark Zuckerberg and a cadre of tech CEOs have lobbied Senate and House Republicans to reform immigration in their favor, hoping to lure out-of-country workers to fill tech's employment vacancies. Politico reported Sean Parker gave upwards of $500,000 to Republicans in 2014, all for the cause of immigration reform.

Conversely, a movement is already underway to bring San Franciscans into tech's fold, based on the idea of a win-win scenario: San Francisco's public school students are overwhelmingly diverse and lower income, while the tech industry is not.

Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo recently released their diversity numbers, showing the companies are mostly white and male. This accusation has long haunted Silicon Valley.

Two years ago, Businessweek heralded the "Rise of the Brogrammer." The stereotype is as follows: He preens as he programs in his popped collar, his startup funds fuel the city as he hunts "the ladies," and he is insensitive toward women in the workplace in the most fratboy-like way imaginable.

But while outlier brogrammer douche-bros certainly exist, whose classist opinions ignite widespread ire (think Greg Gopman's statement comparing homeless people to "hyenas"), the real brogrammer threat is more insidious, more systemic.