How Some Tech Employees Protest Their Industry’s Ethical Practices
Silicon Valley gets woke.
- CategoryMakers + Entrepreneurs
Walking through any number of Silicon Valley’s tech campuses, it’s hard not to get swept up in the “all for one, and one for all” messaging. These headquarters were designed for it … communal work spaces and meeting spots; cozy cafeterias and snack stations for productive pow-wows; inspiring, pro-brand propaganda displayed at every corner. Yes, the force is strong here, and it’s hard not to experience a sense of family when work literally becomes your second home.
But in the wake of Russian interference in elections, surveillance, censorship, sexual harassment allegations and more, many loyal tech employees are finding their political voice, even if that means rebellion from within.
California Sunday spoke with several tech employees who challenged the ethics of their industry in unique ways. Here Anna Geiduschek, a software engineer at Dropbox, shares a recent moment of social activism:
“As a software engineer and especially as a woman, I get a ton of recruiting emails. There’s almost no emphasis on, ‘What is the impact of this company?’ Instead they talk about, ‘We just got funding. Look at this cool tech stack you’ll be working with.’ At Stanford, there was only one ethics class that was a requirement for all computer science majors. There was this sense of, “Oh, if you’re going into tech, it’s not evil like investment banking. It’s a more ethically safe route.” Last August, this Amazon Web Services recruiter emails me. I had recently found out that Palantir, which works directly with ICE, was running on Amazon Web Services, and I was talking about it with a friend who was working with a Latinx political organization called Mijente. They had just initiated a campaign to try to cut ICE from the tech that supports it. In my email to the recruiter—it was a spur-of-the-moment thing—I wanted someone to understand that I’m paying attention to what their company is doing, that I’m not just going to sign on because of the cool tech I might get to work with. Palantir doesn’t have a gigantic contract with Amazon Web Services, and it wouldn’t be financially difficult for Amazon to cancel its contract.
Three weeks later, I get an email from the manager at Amazon that said, ‘My recruiting partner reached out to you and brought your profile to my attention.’ I think my email got pulled up in some filter that says, ‘Good candidate. Respond to recruiter: yes or no. If they responded, then forward to the manager.’ This manager had not seen the email I had written. We spoke on the phone, and it was clear that he thought he was going to be talking to me about working at Amazon. I pretty quickly hijacked the conversation and said, ‘Did you read the email?’ He’s like, ‘No.’ I said, ‘OK, instead of you trying to sell me, I’m going to tell you why I wouldn’t work for Amazon, and can you tell it to your boss?’ He seemed caught off guard and was probably being polite until he could get off the phone.”
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