My name is Ehb Teng, Co-Founder of Diginido Labs LLC. I am a proud Bay Area native. technologist, and social entrepreneur, and I have been beleaguered as of late by my own tech startup community.
I had the privilege of growing up during a time of great innovation as I witnessed the entire advent of the digital age and the growth of Silicon Valley. I remember living during a moment in time when I made play dates over a rotary phone, what was a Nintendo?, the modern computer had not yet been invented, the Internet was a fantastical pipe dream conjured through the myths laid out in science fiction books. Hell, our televisions still had rabbit ears [I’m fully aware I’ve just deeply dated myself]. Then all of a sudden, with a seeming blink of an eye, a digital explosion tore asunder our simple world and blew our minds open to the possibilities of technological progress.
(My mind being blown)
Cell phones, the first PC, video game systems, communication over modem (ksssssskaaaaahkshhhhhhksssss, remember that sound?), AOL and the World Wide Web. Leaping even further forward: Facebook and the advent of social media, the first smartphones, the first iPod the iPhone, laptop computers, the internet of things, numerous other achievements, and now the advent of self-driving cars!
The digital age forever changed me and my entire outlook on life. My father was an early pioneer in CMOS technology (anyone even know what that is anymore) and he exposed me to everything tech. I became a budding technologist very early in life due to his influence. Even though I went through a rebellious phase and made a career out of music, I never stopped applying my technological leanings. I became an audio engineer and my first entrepreneurial endeavor was a brick and mortar production / recording studio called Studio E. That’s right, I was a brick and mortar entrepreneur before everyone was just building apps with zero revenue model and calling them businesses. I luckily dodged the implosion of the Dot Com crash due to the success of my studio. However, the advent and ubiquity of cheap DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) caused me to shift focus and sell my studio. I eventually moved to San Francisco to be a ‘proper’ artist, but shortly after moving, I retired from the music industry. I had become too jaded by corporate shills and watching the price of commoditization of art take its toll on the quality of music being produced. After some time mentally drifting, I decided to marry my love of creating games and music, and reinvented myself into a game designer. My first official ‘tech’ startup by Silicon Valley terms was a small gaming studio called WRENDO. We raised money, we got acquired, we were successful by most humble measurements. Not a huge exit, but enough for me to contemplate my next move. I decided to commit the remainder of my life to solving poverty level issues like homelessness and human trafficking.
It was around this time that the new tech boom was officially underway and the rise of the new crop of entitled Tech Bros wouldn’t be too far down the line.
In the broadest sense of the term, a Technologist is a technology specialist. We view technology as an impartial tool that can be used to solve many different problem areas and make improvements to society. My team at Diginido Labs works on solving issues such as homelessness, human trafficking, workers rights, and tech education for low income students. We are deeply committed to closing the digital divide for marginalized populations.
In the broadest sense of the term, a Tech Bro is a douchebag at an elite level. They view technology as a way to pad their egos and perpetuate a lifestyle of privilege and elitism without really solving anything or creating anything useful. Though they are truly convinced they are ‘changing the world’, they all too often perpetuate an elite myth and disintegrate communities while congratulating themselves on a job well done.
The current battle for the heart of Silicon Valley is between these two groups. Or is it?
By now, we’re very familiar with the narrative being spun by most media outlets: The Tech Bros have invaded San Francisco and turned it into a playland for the wannabe rich. There is a great deal of truth to this. However, it’s important to have a broader historical view and not lump all of us technologists into this problem. In fact, the current housing crisis has been underway for the past 3 – 4 decades and much of the blame can be put on the shoulders of flat legislation and over lobbied politicians lining their wallets. Does anyone remember when Ed Lee created the massive tax incentive program commonly known as the “Twitter Tax Break”? In 2015, the city lost $34 million in taxes due to the loopholes in this tax break. I’m fairly certain that wasn’t the fault of us technologists.
As community leaders, the mayor and his administration wholeheartedly invited tech startups into the community. There was nothing wrong with this in concept. However, how they were invited in was problematic. The tax breaks brought in investment money and with that came the usual bad behavior associated with hyper growth and elitism. When you come into a town and are told it’s ok to treat it as your own Peter Pan playland, then is it no wonder that the city would give rise to the Tech Bro? It was an inevitable conclusion and we can place equal blame on ourselves for turning a blind eye to the policies of the mayor and his administration. Perhaps, we didn’t willingly ignore the situation until it was too late, but it was a blind spot in a community based on free love.
Yes, Tech Bros, suck. They suck the equivalent of 100 golf balls through a mile of hose.
Yet, they are the end product of incredibly bad policy put in place. And we technologists have taken the brunt of the blame for these policies and inexcusable actions of the few.
I don’t blame the media or public narrative. I get it. Deeply entrenched politics are hard to report on and not as sexy a target as the Tech Bros. However, understand that the majority of us technologists in Silicon Valley are just that, technologists. And we see what the current landscape has wrought and we are deeply committed to rectifying the situation.
Despite all of the bad policy set (Why is Ed Lee still mayor?), the Tech Bros have come and they are here to stay. The true technologists recognize this and we are currently entrenched in a battle for the soul of technological progress. We are deeply committed to helping change the narrative of ‘evil’ tech startups.
We see what unchecked growth and prosperity for the few has done to this once alive city. The true ‘locals’ and vibrant artists have been pushed out by greedy landlords and developers to accommodate the high priced new tenants. Even myself, a technologist and entrepreneur in the richest place in the US, gave up paying rent in SF to live in my car for 3 years so that I could relegate my finances towards starting Diginido Labs because I believe in our mission to concentrate technology only on solving entrenched social issues. I now live in West Sacramento where my girlfriend and I bought a 3 bedroom for the same price as the rent we previously paid at her tiny studio apartment in the TenderNob. Yet, a part of me stayed behind in the city by the bay and I cannot sit idly by as poverty and homelessness grows and becomes institutionalized in the richest city in America.
The quiet technologists are the unheralded ones fighting government surveillance, the ones inventing equalizing technology like blockchains, working on transparency in politics, furthering workers rights through transparency in the supply chain, working towards abolishing human trafficking, alleviating poverty and homeless issues, advocating for closing the digital divide for marginalized communities, challenging the school systems and fighting for better tech education, bringing the internet to poor neighborhoods, advocating for open and fair source technology, and fighting for a free and democratic internet.
We do all of this behind the scenes without much fanfare, while the media excoriates us because of the loud actions of the Tech Bros.
It reminds me of the internet meme floating around:
(But seriously, 9×1 does not equal 7. It equals 2, right?)
The technologist community is out there working hard to rectify the wrongs of society. It’s true, we’re not all saints, nor are we little devils flying around vomiting fiery poops from our mouths on the citizenry. And we are definitely NOT defined by the Tech Bros.
We are Technologists fighting for the future of technological progress for an open and free society.