Silicon Valley Memoir Review: Uncanny Valley

February 12, 2020 Uncategorized 3 ★★★★

Silicon Valley Memoir Review: Uncanny ValleyTitle: Uncanny Valley
Author: Anna Wiener
Source: Library
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads

Summary: An interesting insider look at some big-name Silicon Valley tech companies, but not much new commentary.

The concept of this memoir from publishing assistant turned start-up employee Anna Wiener grabbed my attention immediately. I was interested in her outsider perspective on start-up culture. I also always want to hear from women in tech, although the sexism this typically reveals is sobering. Both of these aspects of the book were about as expected. When the author first arrives at a data analytics start-up, she sounds like an anthropologist studying a new culture. The way sexism was addressed felt a little odd to me. It seems like it was a pervasive part of the author’s work in Silicon Valley, but it isn’t really part of her linear narrative. Instead, she occasionally pauses to tell us about many of her experiences with sexism. It made for a jarring contrast with the rest of her experience that was quite effective.

Something I didn’t realize about this book was that the author would eventually become an insider, giving us a close-up perspective of some of the best known companies in Silicon Valley. Although the author omitted all company names, I have a hard time imaging she did so to protect identities. It was always very clear which companies she was talking about. The lack of proper nouns for companies did change the way her story felt. Initially it felt literary and eventually also began to feel dystopian. The beautiful writing and analysis of millennial work culture reminded me of Severance by Ling Ma and, to a lesser extent, Why We Came to the City by Christopher Jansma. The author only rarely captured the beautiful cadence I enjoyed in Jansma’s between-story-sections commentary on millennial life.

The only letdown of this book was the commentary on Silicon Valley. As Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves observed in her review, the author’s tenure at a second start-up begins to feel a bit repetitive. I couldn’t believe she decided to give tech start-ups a second chance! I also found the author’s commentary unoriginal. She didn’t have much to say that I’ve not read about Silicon Valley before (and often better, especially from Ellen Ullman in Close to the Machine and Life in Code). The most novel part of this book was observing the author’s naivete about tech give way to cynicism. Her story gives valuable, horrifying insight into how little people in tech have thought about the implications of the ways they’re changing the world.

3 Responses to “Silicon Valley Memoir Review: Uncanny Valley”

    • DoingDewey

      This definitely wasn’t a bad one! I really enjoyed it, it’s very timely, and I think it covers the way Silicon Valley tech workers often don’t realize the impact they have on the world in a way that will interest people a lot right now. Especially as someone in computer science though, I definitely enjoyed Ellen Ullman’s books more. They’re a little more detailed and do a better job of describing what it’s like to code and showing historic moments in the valley.

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