Just over three years ago, on February 19, 2017, Susan Fowler published a blog post. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like,” she began. “It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go.”
Slightly horrifying, it would turn out, was an understatement. The post documented a pattern of discrimination and harassment at the company that had made it its public mission to change the way people move through the world. On her first day as a site-reliability engineer, Fowler wrote, her manager propositioned her for sex via Uber’s internal chat system. Later, another manager gave Fowler a glowing performance review; he amended it after the fact, she wrote, in order to limit her freedom to move to another team within Uber—and additionally, she speculated, to take credit for keeping a woman as a direct report when relatively few women worked at the company. At another point, after Uber had decided to buy its engineers branded leather jackets, Fowler and her female colleagues were informed that they’d need to forgo the perk: The company was getting a discount on the bulk order for the men’s sizes, an email explained, but “there were not enough women in the organization” to get the same discount for their jackets. The company’s handling of the whole thing was an absurdity that, in the context of the rest of Fowler’s blog post, also read as evidence of something more sinister.
Fowler’s post instantly went viral. It led to an investigation into Uber’s culture that was co-conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. It led to the resignation of Uber’s co-founder and onetime CEO, Travis Kalanick. It led to demonstrable, quantifiable change. But it led to a more nebulous kind of transformation as well. Several months before journalists’ reporting on Harvey Weinstein would expand the #MeToo movement, Fowler’s post—and the outrage it inspired among both tech workers and the many people whose lives have been shaped by their labors—suggested a shift. A worker could blow the whistle without an intermediary. She could tell her story in her own words, on her own terms. And she would, at least in this instance, be heard.
This week, Fowler published a book, Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber. In one way, the memoir is an expansion of the 2017 blog post: It documents, in detail that is deeper and more gut-wrenching than a 2,900-word entry could allow, Fowler’s experiences at Uber. It recounts casual sexism and casual racism and, as Maureen Dowd put it in an article about Fowler’s original post, “the self-indulgent, adolescent Pleasure Island mentality of Silicon Valley.” But Whistleblower, despite its subtitle’s reference to Uber, is also a memoir in the classic sense. It is the story of how Fowler’s life was shaped by her time at Uber—but a story, too, of her fight for a life that would not succumb to the company’s influence.