Beware the callow misfit who becomes part of the ruling class; rather than disrupt the social order that excluded him, he might just reap its spoils for himself. A number of the men depicted in Emily Chang’s Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley seem to be making up for lost experience, using their new-found wealth and power to get whatever it is they had previously been denied — mainly stuff, status and sex. “From its earliest days,” Ms Chang writes, “the industry has self-selected for men: First, antisocial nerds, then, decades later, self-confident and risk-taking bros.” How nerds became bros is one of the central stories in this book. But the technology industry didn’t always skew so male. As Ms Chang explains, women played a formative role. The mathematician Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program in 1842; the navy admiral and mathematician Grace Hopper helped create the Cobol programming language. Women received almost 40 per cent of computer science degrees in 1984, but even though they continue to work in the field and make essential contributions, today that number is a measly 22 per cent. Ms Chang, the host and executive producer of the television show “Bloomberg Technology,” is on to something important, even if her book doesn’t quite do it justice. Some of the writing is blander than it needs to be, and she has a soft spot for worthy proclamations. The book includes a blistering chapter about the venture capitalist Peter Thiel and the self-styled PayPal Mafia — an all-male clique of company alumni who fund one another’s business ventures. Mr Thiel and a group of mostly conservative classmates from Stanford later founded PayPal and boasted about their entrepreneurial success, casting it as a vindication of their hiring strategy. None of the company’s first engineers were women. As one founder admits, “We didn’t know any.” In other words, they hired their buddies, and their buddies were all men. Yet they insist that such cronyism was just the meritocracy at work.
Keith Rabois, another member of the PayPal Mafia, describes the company as a “perfect validation of merit”: “We went from complete misfits to the establishment in five years.” The absurdity of this logic is too much for Ms Chang to bear. “The idea that these men just happened to be personally connected to the most talented people available is simply ridiculous.”