Obscene fortune: the truth about Silicon Valley

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:07 pm on 13 September 2016

The image of Silicon Valley as a place where 20 something computer geeks can become billionaires with hard work and a good idea is a myth according to ex-Facebook employee Antonio Garcia Martinez.

Antonio Garcia Martinez

Antonio Garcia Martinez Photo: Harper Collins

He says it's more like The Game of Thrones. with middle managers fighting to form their own fiefdoms and where ruthlessness rivals Wall Street. He tells the secrets of start ups in his new book; Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley.

Martinez is a former start up CEO, advisor to Twitter and worked for two years as a product manager at Facebook before he was fired.

He gives his account of a cult-like culture that will stop at nothing to succeed; with Mark Zuckerberg as the supreme leader. 

In the California community where so much of the technology we use every day is imagined, Martinez describes a culture of mass delusion, where everyone is a genius and all ideas are the next big thing.

So has he broken every Valley rule?

“Absolutely it’s the case that I’m breaking an unwritten code of silence around what goes on in tech companies.”

“Although the reaction hasn’t been nearly as negative as I thought it would be, and I think most Valley insiders recognise I’m only saying things that everyone inside already knows.”

In fact Martinez says he could probably still get a tech job if he really wanted one.

In reality ‘chaos monkey’ is a piece of software that replicates the actions of a crazed chimpanzee loose in a data centre.

“Chaos Monkey was bought by Netflix and they run it and it randomly turns off and kills different servers inside a server farm and it will test if they can screen House of Cards or whatever.

“Metaphorically what it means is Silicon Valley is basically the zoo of the chaos monkeys.”

He gives Uber and Airbnb as examples of Silicon Valley innovation that can have profound consequences for communities and economies.

“And they literally go around zapping one or other industry and changing it completely without really much thought to what it means for society.”