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We All Knew

We All Knew

All of a sudden, professional sexual harassment in Silicon Valley is being laid bare in the open, and most would argue it’s a good thing. Big-name CEOs and VCs are being brought down by, in some cases, major corroborated allegations of sexual harassment of employees, entrepreneurs, and coworkers. It’s a developing story, because people will continue to come forward and heads will continue to roll.

What’s most interesting to me is, this isn’t a surprise to anyone in the industry, especially women. But not just women.

We all knew this was happening.

We’ve all had friends, coworkers, and significant others harassed by coworkers, managers, CEOs and VCs.

Off the top of my head I can name a handful of (hitherto unreported) VCs and C-level executives who have harassed women I know.

I’ve even been personally harassed on behalf of women I know.

I have long waited for these people to be reported by someone. I can only imagine how victims feel. The waiting must be infuriating.

And therein lies the problem. Everyone was just waiting. This story was trying to ‘break’ for years–because everyone knew and was just waiting. It seems to me that cultural progress happens piecemeal and slowly, until it doesn’t, and the floodgates open. In this case, the culture was dammed up. Victims had to come forward to change the culture, and the culture needed to become more accepting of victims coming forward, so everyone just waited patiently.

Finally, this week, a cultural earthquake hit, and I think we should all be forced to think about why it didn’t happen sooner.

Though my experience is mostly secondhand and I certainly can’t tell victims’ stories for them, I don’t know if I would come forward if I were a victim myself. Professional repercussions from smearing the character of a powerful person would be one reason. But most of all, I would just be afraid to be believed. The private space in which social interactions occur between colleagues is a fuzzy area. “He said she said” dynamics abound. After all, often the harassment is verbal, not on the record. And even on the record, much actual, mutual flirting and sexual dynamics do take place in the very youthful, single world of tech. So although in each individual situation of harassment may be obvious to the victims involved, it has almost never been clear cut enough for the public.

In order for victims to come forward, culture needs to change. It needs to become more accepting (and believing) of women’s stories. The public needs to be willing and able to hear those stories and respond to them. A lot of people are crediting this latest wave of cultural tectonics to Susan Fowler’s blog post detailing her treatment at Uber, and before that, Ellen Pao’s lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins. Despite the criticism and attacks these and other women have faced (which may have discouraged more from coming forward) it’s clear that these stories build on each other to form a narrative, and when the narrative becomes undeniable, it helps to corroborate the experiences of victims going through the same thing.

And thus ultimately, in order for culture to change, we rely on the victims, the people who know better than anyone else, to tell us what’s happening, and to protect other potential victims out there. In all of these stories, there are lots of people who know before everyone else. Axios reported that Justin Caldbeck’s behavior “seemed to be an open secret among a subset of Silicon Valley’s small (but tight) network of women VCs and founders.” But as Lazaro Gamio wrote in that article, “The unfortunate truth is that I simply could not write this until Albergotti published, as I didn’t have anyone on the record, which is virtually essential from a journalistic perspective.”

That’s the great service that brave women who have put their names out there have done to shine a light on this behavior. And I’m glad that journalists are able to protect the victims who don’t want to go on the record from public exposure. It makes it likely that more people will come forward.

Even so, it’s incredible that it took so long–almost a decade–for this particular story to go public. And once it did, the repercussions were immediate and brutal. The question I have is, would the same consequences have arisen if the victims had come forward years ago?

Regardless, the obvious conclusion to draw here is that growth requires sunlight.

Which is why now, more than ever, we must realize the importance of journalists and bloggers, as the guardians and perpetrators of our culture, even when they get it wrong. Perhaps, if nothing else, because of these public revelations the threat of bad PR, lost business opportunity and reputation will force a change in behavior.

Because the thing I realized a long time ago is, there are bad apples out there who spoil the whole bunch. One bad CEO can destroy the culture of an entire company. One bad VC can torch opportunities for good entrepreneurs with the wrong chromosomes. It doesn’t require a ‘culture of sexism,’ or even ‘systemic’ sexism. It just requires a handful of individuals who ruin it for everyone else.

And I say everyone else, because good companies can’t get built that deprive themselves of the full talent and potential of half of the population. We all lose out on market making opportunities. We lose out on the benefit of having more mentors and colleagues to innovate and create with, to disrupt industries, to ‘kill it,’ in Valley parlance.

Unfortunately, so much of the damage has already been done. As we all know, this has been going on for years. For decades. For centuries. And in our own industry, in our own century, we’ve lost good people who may never come back.

July 2, 2017Comments are DisabledRead More
Why I Only Read HN

Why I Only Read HN

I used to read everything.  BBC News was my go-to for international news.  Then the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes. For a while, I visited TechCrunch and Mashable daily. I used to get a lot of news from Facebook and Twitter. I followed reddit religiously. I used to think that reading as much media as possible was important for me to become good at my job. I used to think that reading news was productive. It turns out it is not productive.

So, for three years now, my only source of news has been Hacker News. I have discovered that:

  • Anything important that happens in the world–even if it has nothing to do with technology–ends up on HN anyway. It is the best portal to legitimate news from other sites.
  • I can let the community at HN guide my news consumption. They are the smartest, most engaged community of any site on the internet (in my opinion). Which means not only can they filter bullshit out for me, but they bring up insightful points worth mentioning, letting me cut through to the essential sides of an issue.
  • HN happens to be a very diverse community. Before HN jumps down my throat for saying that, what I mean by diverse is intellectually diverse. Every article submitted to HN goes through a rigorous vetting process by which all possible interpretations of an issue are presented, debated, and usually respectfully addressed.
  • HN helps me stay on top of my industry–that’s always a plus. But it also helps me stay on top of politics, economics, world affairs, sociology, psychology, etc.
  • A lot of things make waves on HN that don’t really affect much of the rest of the world, but they’re really important. For example, I followed with sadness the brilliant and hopeful writings of Pieter Hintjens as he died of cancer. When he chose euthanasia, the mainstream media barely made a peep. But I’ve been thinking about him for weeks.
  • I actually learn new things from HN, which is more than I can say for CNN and the rest.

The team at YC has done a very good job of building a thoughtful, engaged, smart and introspective community, without allowing it to grow out of control and become corrupted like has happened to so many other great sites. I’m proud to be a part of it and contribute where I can.

November 1, 2016Comments are DisabledRead More
A Personal API

A Personal API

Why is the API model traditionally built around a central entity node connected to many consumer nodes, rather than the other way around? Why is it possible for me to connect with various APIs from cloud services like Twilio and Dropbox but I can’t create an API for myself that allows companies to connect with me?

Instead of going to the cloud, why can’t the cloud come to me?

Put it this way. I watch Star Trek on both Hulu and Netflix. My episode history is out of sync on both platforms. Why is that? Because these are separate services with their own backends. There’s no way for them to talk to each other, and there isn’t because there’s only one point of intersection: me.

But what if I could store my own episode history in a personal API, which then Hulu & Netflix would talk to? Both would have permission to update my episode history, and both would have read access. I would give Netflix billing access to the banking endpoint of my API, and so they would enable additional access on their platform. They could push content to my API endpoint and it could be synced between all my devices, including my phone which would also have read access to my API.

Everything would remain “in the cloud,” but the cloud would be my own personal cloud. A mini-cloud, if you will.

There are several types of information that could be stored in a personal API:

  • My personal contact information
  • My correspondence
  • My media
  • My preferences: brands, things I read, movies I like
  • My shopping history
  • My payment information
  • My medical history and prescriptions

Pretty much all the things I do online I could do with a personal API, but there would be a few advantages introduced by creating a new protocol:

  • I would be able to control my own data. Companies/services would need to request access to my data on an individualized basis. I would only give data that would be needed for each service.
  • Privacy becomes completely up to me. I would be able to control how access to my data is granted and revoked. My data is only in place accessible only through authentication to my API. I can revoke access tokens upon request.
  • “Add-ons” to my API service could be enabled like encryption or new REST endpoints, that would allow me to evolve what my API is able to achieve.
  • I could create direct P2P connections with fellow users of the Personal API protocol without having to connect through a third party server.
  • The protocol could integrate with multiple devices, but the nature of these devices would need to change. For example, if I wanted to send a message to my brother, right now I send a text message to his phone which gets routed through AT&T’s cell phone towers (for example). But with a personal API, I would send a message to his API endpoint, and his devices would all pull from it. So it would be like iMessage, but an iMessage that would integrate with *everything* I interact with.
  • On that note, the “internet of things” becomes much more possible. Instead of having to program all my devices, my devices would be adapted to me. When I buy a new product, it requests access to my API, and then can interact with other services that also have access to my API.
  • It weakens the government data dragnet. Right now, one clandestine program by the NSA can tap into Facebook once, and have access to everyone’s data. With a distributed personal API, the government would need to focus its attention on just nefarious or dangerous individuals. The legal status of a personal API would be more akin to a lockbox in my house than a self-storage center that is analogous to the current cloud.

If a personal API protocol were to be created, that would only be the first and easiest step. Cloud services would need to play ball, adapting their account creation and sign in systems, not to mention data access and storage, to work off of my personal cloud rather than their common cloud.

Speaking of Facebook, everything I have listed above is something Facebook could create tomorrow (or Google or Apple), and they may even be considering doing so. They certainly have access to the data necessary to create the API. But they also have the problem of centrally storing that data, creating a single point of failure/weakness/whatever. A centrally stored backend does not meet the criteria of a truly personal API listed above. It needs to be distributed.

Again, it’s a specious concept, and I can’t be first person to think about it, but I would be interested in A) If anyone has fleshed out an idea like this a bit more or attempted to build it, B) Either way, if anyone would be interested in working on something like this with me.

Would love your input in the comments.

October 13, 20142 commentsRead More
I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

It was really hard to switch off of Google, and when I finally did it, I didn’t think I would switch back.

In the past, whenever I’ve tried another search engine, I have failed. Searching is such a natural, compulsory thing to do on the internet, that whenever I have navigated to Bing or DuckDuckGo, I find myself staring at a blinking cursor not entirely sure what to search for. The conscious decision to make a search has always interfered with my ability to search naturally.

DuckDuckGoBut the recent revelations about PRISM and the NSA have led to a surge in interest in cutting the chord to big cloud services like Google whose data collection practices are well known. So, following the herd, I decided it was time for me to switch my default search engine. It wasn’t enough to remember to navigate to DuckDuckGo for searches; instead, I had to change my address bar default search engine in Chrome to force me to use the new engine.

Before I knew it, my 50 or so odd searches a day were going through DuckDuckGo instead of Google.

Now, I love that DuckDuckGo doesn’t track searches. In terms of their commitment to privacy and their users, I don’t think there’s a better option. And I love that there’s an alternative for people concerned about their data being collected. But it took me only a week using DuckDuckGo to appreciate the little things that Google does that still make it a far superior product.

Google is Faster

I didn’t think this would be something I even noticed, but it was apparent immediately that with DuckDuckGo, search results take a fraction of a second longer to show up. It must be no more than 200-300 ms, but it really makes a difference. Every time I am faced with that momentary pause all I can think about is switching over to Google to get faster gratification.

Google Keeps Up with Timely Search Queries

Earlier this week, I searched for “Pride,” expecting to find out more about Pride Weekend in San Francisco. DuckDuckGo seemed to have no understanding of that context, whereas Google’s first results were exactly what I was looking for. It wouldn’t require tracking, just an IP lookup to know where I am and return timely results. Google’s natural integration with their news engine is invaluable to my search experience.

Google Doesn’t Index Sites with Code Errors

This is huge for me. Since I am coding all day long, I need to be able to search for errors that crop up from time to time if I don’t understand them. There was one PHP error this morning that I searched (DuckDuckGo’d?), and the top 20 results were sites that had thrown this error. The sites were destinations like–completely irrelevant to my query. Google, as usual, returned very useful StackOverflow results that got me on the right track.

Google Knows When Not to Surface Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia, but sometimes it isn’t the most relevant result. The “Pride” search is a good example, but in general if it isn’t a proper noun, I am more likely to go for a news or video result than Wikipedia. DuckDuckGo seems to surface Wikipedia way too much. I like the way Google does it, especially when they float the Wikipedia results to the right so I always know where to find the article.

In short, I love that DuckDuckGo is gaining interest, and that Google has competition, and that there are choices for all of us when we use the internet. But I tried, and for the things that matter to me, it seems that Google is just a better experience. I hope DuckDuckGo improves the product, because eventually I would love to switch back. But philosophical alignment isn’t enough to get me to use an inferior product.

So, Google, you have me back for now.

June 28, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More


This is a layperson guide* for what the guy you meet on the plane to Vegas means when he tells you “I have a startup.”

  • I’m building a Chrome plugin that lists all the parks in Salt Lake City on top of all Mormon-operated blogs using a proprietary Google search algorithm
  • I work full time as a product manager/blogger/evangelist/entrepreneur-in-residence/babysitter and I want an excuse to quit my job and/or get fired while saving face and/or something to talk about at my 5-year reunion
  • I have a tech cofounder who’s a full time engineer at Apple/Yahoo/Etsy and I promised him 5% of my company to do all the work
  • We’re not incorporated yet but the product is what’s really important
  • I talked to an investor friend of a friend who really liked the idea
  • Everyone thinks I work 90 hours a week but I spent a good 80% of my day yesterday on Reddit/Facebook/
  • We are pre-launch but we’ve already had a reporter at TechCrunch promise to write about us: that’s our marketing plan. That and Viral.
  • Making friends/finding Salt Lake City parks is broken. So we’re fixing it with technology.
  • I’m friends with lots of other founders and they say there’s a need for what we’re building.
  • I have no college debt and my parents pay my rent so revenue isn’t really a concern. What we are going for is traction.
  • Traction will be easy because our product is free. We will even incentivize people to use it with mobile gamification and Reddit Gold
  • Acquisition will be easy because there are a lot of Salt Lake City mapping companies that would love to have our data
  • Mormons are our main market and there are 24 million of them
  • As soon as we Show HN our product we will all quit our jobs and go full time to double down on our traction
  • Even if everything I think about my “startup” is wrong, there’s millionaire in Korea/Japan/Santa Barbara who will probably invest in us anyway

*Written from unfortunate experience

January 18, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More