Until recently, tech was an industry primarily inhabited and represented by ponytailed geek guys. Though the sandals may still abound, the image of the modern nerd is far from nerdy: tech is cool, and not just because the products these geeks develop are so inextricably tied to our every day lives.
Effervescent wunderkinds and Ivy League golden boys are forgoing finance to wade into the tech pool with the geeks, slapping their names on any startup harnessing the Social Graph API and slipping into the most visible roles in business development, marketing and product. Hey, nerd. Move over.
“The combination of easy money and the glamour of appearing in magazines and on television as an ‘entrepreneur’ has driven some of our best and brightest to dedicate themselves to social start-ups,” writes Allen Gannett of The Next Web. The pursuit of fame and fortune is crippling the tech industry’s ability to do what it does best, he says, namely innovate to make the world a better place.
Mr. Gannett rather confusingly dubs this phenomenon “social media brain drain” which makes it sound like Goldman is losing valedictorians to tech startups (which would be a good thing?), as “brain drain” usually refers to the diversion of talent from a desirable venue into an undesirable one (as when smart people from India go to school in the U.S. but then return home because of strict immigration rules, etc.). But in this case the solution is much simpler than rejiggering visa requirements.
Maybe we just need to make tech uncool again.
Entrepreneurs have made the transition to demi-gods in our status-obsessed society. The rise of brogrammers perfectly illustrates this shift in attitude concerning the quintessential tech worker. The brogramming community on Facebook—“We rage on the codebase, rage in the gym, and rage at the club”—has over 20,000 members. Napster co-founder Sean Parker may be the original tech bad boy, with tales of lavish drug-fueled parties and the Page Six nickname “NYC’s Billionaire Playboy.” Kim Dotcom (nee Schmitz), founder of the recently-shuttered Megaupload and for a time the world champion of Modern Warfare 3, amused the web with photos of himself lounging in bubble baths and pictures of his giant giraffe statues that surfaced following his arrest. For the ultimate celebrinerd, look no further than Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose every move—both online and off—is documented with paparazzi precision, and in one case, actual paparazzi.
Despite all the jokes about jobs where people are paid to tweet, social media is not an inherently vapid or soulless industry. Peel away the buzzwords, the BS, and Gary Vaynerchuk’s mind-numbing “Next Wave” video series for The Daily, and the industry thrives as a digital bastion for modern connectivity, one that we’re growing closer to quantifying and understanding.
By eschewing the quest for the limelight and focusing on making products that matter, we can begin to steer the industry back where it belongs: with the ponytailed sandal wearers, the keen-eyed innovators, the brainy do-gooders who never once have uttered the word “synergy.” You know. Real nerds.