Confessions of a Silicon Valley techie

techieHope King ran her review of Chaos Monkeys on CNN Money under the title “New book compares Facebook’s culture to fascism but fails to prove it.” The subtitle is equally revealing, concluding that the book “reads like four year’s worth of Medium posts from a scorned man.”


Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez

@@@@ (4 out of 5)


Clearly, Antonio Garcia Martinez has rubbed a whole lot of people the wrong way, and not just one reviewer for CNN Money. His takedown of Silicon Valley’s culture in general and Facebook’s in particular is withering, but writing it all off to spite is grossly unfair. Chaos Monkeys reveals the ins and outs of venture capital, the vicissitudes of launching a tech company, the intricacies of compensation in Silicon Valley, the divide between the Valley’s “haves” (early hires) and “have-nots” (most of the rest), and the internecine warfare among the behemoths of the technology world (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft). And Martinez writes about it all in a take-no-prisoners style that is at once profane, colorful, and incisive. Though it’s all viewed through the eyes of one unhappy veteran of the Valley, Chaos Monkeys is nonetheless an important book. The author is clearly brilliant, uncannily articulate, and an unusually sharp observer. Discount the seething anger that seeps between the lines, and you’ll emerge from reading this book with a much clearer picture of what life in Silicon Valley is like.

A lucid insider’s account

Chaos Monkeys is a lucid insider’s account of three years of life and work in the belly of the Silicon Valley beast. Martinez shreds the reputations of many of those he worked with, not just at Facebook but (previously) at Goldman Sachs and (later) at two other San Francisco tech companies. With only a couple of exceptions, no one comes across as worse than Martinez himself. Chaos Monkeys, as much confessional as expose, is imbued throughout with the author’s cynicism. However, he urges us not to “be deceived by my withering criticism of Facebook in this book; inside every cynic lives a heartbroken idealist. If I’m now a mordant critic, it’s because at one point, like Lucifer once being the proudest angel before the fall, I too lived and breathed for Facebook, perhaps even more than most.” Martinez is as disdainful of his own behavior as he is of others.

A warped perception of life in America

Unfortunately, the author ingenuously reveals his own warped values. Explaining that after four years at Facebook (he was only there for two), his compensation would have amounted to nearly $1 million per year. Then he complains that “it was really about $550,000 take-home per year, or about twelve times the median US family income . . . This was about San Francisco middle class, or barely, really.” (Really??!!) “Coupled with another tech salary from a spouse, it would be the high-six-figure take-home that would permit a normal, though not posh, life in what was becoming the country’s priciest city.” One million dollars per year?? Middle class?? Give me a break!

About the author

Antonio Garcia Martinez left a highly paid job as a “quant” at Goldman Sachs for a two-year stint at a firm developing software and services for online advertisers. Then, with two coworkers, he left to co-found a startup in the same field. In just one year, the three sold their business to Twitter — but Martinez managed to escape the deal and take a lucrative middle-management job at Facebook. His two years there forms the bulk of Chaos Monkeys.

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