Silicon Valley coding plantations will be modified to give each worker more space?

A year ago I asked, “If programmers are anti-social, how did they end up in the bustling hives of Silicon Valley?”:

People often are drawn to computer nerdism partly because they prefer interacting with machines rather than with other people. (James Damore made this point while working at Google and learned that free speech is for Americans who don’t need to work!)

Yet the coder in a modern Bay Area software plantation is sandwiched tightly between two other galley slaves (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). He or she has less personal space than a McDonald’s cashier.

How did it come to pass that people who went into programming because they could be alone with their beloved machines are now packed like sardines into densely populated coding plantations and, after hours, packed like ocean liner steerage passengers into shared apartments?

Will this office structure, ideal for fueling any future pandemic, be reconsidered once this first wave of coronaplague subsides? Or are Silicon Valley nerds being superproductive from their cramped shared apartments such that employers won’t mind sending them into work-from-home status as soon as there is a hint of a second wave of coronaplague or whatever comes next?

Also, since people under 50 are more or less invulnerable to COVID-19 and the big Silicon Valley employers won’t hire anyone over 35, why not reopen Facebook, Google, Apple, et al? The aren’t too many senior citizens in Silicon Valley, except for some rich folks who can afford rings of servants while they keep safe in the innermost ring of their Atherton mansions.


7 thoughts on “Silicon Valley coding plantations will be modified to give each worker more space?

  1. Phil, you’re confused about death rates for COVID-19. In Santa Clara County, for example, 14% of COVID-19 deaths are fifty and under. I’d hardly call that invulnerable.

    High real estate prices are the reason they pack us nerds in more and more densely. Perhaps working from home will become the new norm, though, when employers realize that they can save even more money that way.

    I have a friend who was employee number five at Google. Whenever things got too crowded, he would move his desk into Eric Schmidt’s (the CEO’s) office so he would feel our pain. Once new office space opened up and we “de-densified,” he would move back out. Until, that is, we got too crowded again.

    • Arthur: There are 46 total deaths in Santa Clara County as of today. Using your 14% figure, we find that 6 people under age 50 have died. That’s out of a population of roughly 2 million with a median age of 37 (who is employing these folks who are over 37?!?). At least some of the 6 might have been extremely unhealthy. Employers hate the unhealthy almost as much as they hate the old. The chance of someone age 35 at Facebook being unhealthy enough to be at high risk from COVID-19 is lower than the chance among everyone under age 50 in Santa Clara County.

      For reference, there were 815 motor vehicle deaths in the county in 2019 ( ). Wouldn’t that make the risk of commuting to work (even at the 3 mph average California highway speed!) higher than coronaplague?

  2. Vaping is pretty common among people in their 20s, and becomes a high risk issue if somebody who vapes contracts COVID-19.

    If people ever needed a solid reason to give up smoking/vaping, COVID-19 is it.

  3. I wouldn’t bet on that… the open-floor offices making it possible for prowling managers to watch the screens of the peons and the culture of “radical transparency” aka Agile – in which what the coding peons are doing is totally recorded and so their activity is very transparent to the middle managers (but what managers are doing is still hidden from the coders, LOL). This one-way visibility gives managers a perfect tool to bully the subordinates – “you delayed this and that item beyond the deadline! you are not performing!” or “every time I walk I see you reading Hacker News instead of working!”

    This is not about real estate cost savings (they’re minuscule compared to wages), this is about power balance between clueless managers (who rightfully suspect that the smarter coders can easily bullshit them) and the socially inept coders – a large portion of whom are so far out on the spectrum that they are unable to recognize what’s going on since parsing social interactions is outside of their capabilities. So they buy the bullshit excuses (like “efficiency”) for being treated as galley slaves or panopticon inmates – some even develop the kind of machismo and “startup” heroics of unpaid labor till exhausion. They’ll get crumbs as their stock options in hundreds of percent for that, LOL.

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