I attend dinners and parties in Berkeley and San Francisco where many of the guests work in high-tech. Most of them at one time or another have worked for large or illustrious computer corporations such as Apple Computer or for leaders in the field of technical publishing such as Ziff-Davis. These programmers and network architects and directors of marketing are usually four or five or six employers into their careers in high-tech.
Starting about six months ago, I began to not want to pose the question adults usually ask when they meet someone for the first time, or when they want to get caught up with folks they haven't seen in six months: What are you up to these days? Where do you work?
Because I know what will happen. They've all gone to startups and as soon as I ask how work is going they'll start pitching and they won't quit. Stop, stop, stop! I'll want to say, I would never be the customer for what you're selling, I don't have any money to invest, I won't introduce you to any venture capitalists, and convincing me of the merits of your e-commerce play won't have any effect on potential valuations of your stock options.
Instead of being the mostly-nice guys with whom I could talk about all kinds of things and who had been for the most part genuinely interested in creating something that worked, they have become instead the sort of people that chase me down the hallway -selling me- as I am trying to get away from them and into the dining room.
I was once at a dinner where all of the 18 other guests were busy pitching each other. It was like breakfasting with bullfrogs. I wanted to clap my hands over my ears and say " shut up! shut up! shut up!" And, far more in sorrow than in anger, I wanted to cry out, "What has happened to you?""
For what I have wanted to inquire of these 18 guys and all the other ones I have been running into at social occassions for the last while was "why have you turned yourselves into creatures where when I say 'isn't great the weather we're having?' you'll respond with 'let me tell you how the sky being blue is related to our value proposition'? Talking to you has become like having a conversation with a beeper, it's all one-way."
These thoughtful amiable technologists have become monsters of spigotry. One you turn them on, you cannot turn them off. Listening to their pitches is like getting locked into your seat at the rollercoaster and you can't get off until the ride is done, no matter what you do.
Haven't they read "Death of a Salesman"? Don't they know what happened to Willy Loman?
I've finally figured it out, though. These guys have gone through a process of self-deformation for much the same reasons as Chinese women were put through foot-binding: increased value in the marketplace. There's just too much status to be gained in doing so, and too much to be lost without.