the intellectual elitism of Silicon Valley

From In The Plex, by Steven Levy, pg 138. I’m interested in the politics likely to emerge when this self-conception thrives, all the more so when so many of the early Googlers went on to become multi-millionaires.

Google took its hiring very seriously. Page and Brin believed that the company’s accomplishments sprang from a brew of minds seated comfortably in the top percentile of intelligence and achievement. Page once said that anyone hired at Google should be capable of engaging him in a fascinating discussion should he be stuck at an airport with the employee on a business trip. The implication was that every Googler should converse at the level of Jared Diamond or the ghost of Alan Turing. The idea was to create a charged intellectual atmosphere that makes people want to come to work. It was something that Joe Kraus realized six months after he arrived, when he took a mental survey and couldn’t name a single dumb person he’d met at Google. “There were no bozos,” he says. “In a company this size? That was awesome.” 

Google’s hiring practices became legendary for their stringency. Google’s first head of research, Peter Norvig, once called Google’s approach the “ Lake Wobegon Strategy,” which he defined as “only hiring candidates who are above the mean of your current employees.”

From pg 139-140:

From the beginning, Google profiled people by which college they had attended. As Page said, “We hired people like us”—brainy strivers from privileged backgrounds who aced the SAT, brought home good grades, and wrote the essays that got them into the best schools. Google sought its employees from Stanford, Berkeley, University of Washington, MIT—the regulars. There were exceptions, but not enough to stop some Googlers from worrying that the workforce would take on an inbred aspect. “You’re going to get groupthink,” warned Doug Edwards, an early marketing hire. “Everybody’s going to have the same background, the same opinions. You need to mix it up.” Even more controversial was Google’s insistence on relying on academic metrics for mature adults whose work experience would seem to make college admission test scores and GPAs moot. In her interview for Google’s top HR job, Stacy Sullivan, then age thirty-five, was shocked when Brin and Page asked for her SAT scores. At first she challenged the practice. “I don’t think you should ask something from when people were sixteen or seventeen years old,” she told them. But Page and Brin seemed to believe that Google needed those … data. They believed that SAT scores showed how smart you were. GPAs showed how hard you worked. The numbers told the story.

From pg 165:

It went without saying that Page’s least favorite meetings were one-on-one press interviews. “Larry can be a very, very sensitive and good person,” says one former Google PR hand, “but he has major trust issues and few social graces. Sergey has social graces, but he doesn’t trust people who he thinks don’t approach his level of intelligence.”

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