Silicon Valley Is a Big Ole Fraternity
What do Silicon Valley startups have in common with fraternities? A lot, it turns out.
What do Silicon Valley startups have in common with fraternities? A lot, it turns out, based on recent reports about the rise of the "brogrammer"— a would-be tech superstar whose approach to business and life owes as much to Animal House as it does Revenge of the Nerds. How exactly do two seemingly different worlds (dingy frat houses and tech incubators) breed the same type of human? Well, creating bros only takes a certain environment that both Silicon Valley and college fraternity houses share. Bro-dom is not about IQ or one's ability to win drinking games. All it really takes is giving a once overlooked guy some power. Then he turns into a sexist, self-obsessed, egotistical bro. Not all fraternity brothers are bros, not all programmers are brogrammers, not all bros come from frats. But fraternities and Silicon Valley have both birthed this culture. And it's no accident.
Though frat bros have been in the American conscience since at least Animal House, the brogrammer is a phenomenon that came to our attention in the last few months via Bloomberg BusinessWeek and now a much lengthier look from Mother Jones' Tasneem Raja. The term brogrammer refers to a bro that programs. This *satirical Quora thread, where we got this photo of a bona-fide brogrammer, does a thorough job describing the characteristic of these men. They "write code between pushups," they love beer and partying, they have the classic frat-bro aesthetic -- spiky hair, sunglasses (usually aviators) inside (while coding), polo shirts and hoodies -- and they employ bro-speak, throwing terms like "dude" around all over the place They're also sexist, as Raja details for us quite nicely in her piece. They advertise bikini clad women as perks, use beer-serving women as draws at events, and alienate women from the club advertising jobs thusly: "Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring."
At first it might surprise you that smart, skilled men would act like such louts. But this has nothing to do with skills or brains or education. It's about power. Specifically the power to throw a party. "We got invited to a party in Malibu where there were naked women in the hot tub," brogrammer Danilo Stern-Sapad told BusinessWeek's Douglas MacMillan. "We’re the cool programmers." Note how "cool," in this sense, has a direct correlation to entree into a exclusive party with hot women? That's pretty much how fraternities operate. A perk of going through that gross pledge process we heard all about from Dartmouth's Andrew Lohse, as detailed in Rolling Stone, is that frat brothers hold the key to big campus parties. They get to decide who comes in. They provide the booze and the "chicks" follow. Once lowly freshman, begging to get into these parties -- at least at my college, non-Greek men had hard times getting into these bashes unless they came with packs of women -- these now powerful guys turn into bros.
The brogrammer, with the influx of money flowing through Silicon Valley these days, doesn't have to drink booze and eat vomit to get this power. Having proven that a geeky profession can provide glamour and cache, he too gets a new found sense of power. And that's how someone like Stern-Sapad, a self proclaimed "brogrammer" on LinkedIn or Path VP Matt Van Horn, who used the term "gangbang interviews" at a speaking event, turns into a total bro-bag. Van Horn actually had some bro training, acting as president of University of Arizona's AEPi chapter, we learn from his LinkedIn.
Another, more problematic, aspect of bro-breeding is the exclusionary aspect, especially as it relates to women. Bro-dom is a club ladies can't join, unless they're wearing bikinis, or serving beers, or grinding. And, at least at Dartmouth, that sexism manifests from drinking games to date rape. Women can't play beer pong, for example, unless they pair up with a bro. "To be someone's pong partner, though, 'generally means you're going to hook up with him afterwards," says Portero. "And if you don't like it, 'Fuck you – don't drink our beer,'" writes Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman quoting a female Dartmouth student.
In Silicon Valley, this culture might not lead to date-rape, but it alienates women from an already male-dominated profession. (Also, there's all that gross objectification we mentioned above.) Take that Klout job advertisement, for example. "No. I don’t want to bro down. I can’t imagine that a girl would see that and say ‘I totally want to do that, it sounds awesome," Sarah Chips founder of Girl Develop It, a series of software engineering workshops, told BBW's Macmillan. Not only is it sexist, but it turns off 50 percent of the workforce from even getting involved.
Though, some have pointed out that a female equivalent has emerged. "The female equivalent is called a 'hogrammer' and I have big respect for women that wear that badge proudly," wrote a commenter on the BusinessWeek story. (Are "hos" really equal to bros, though?) Either way, even if some women get an in, the whole bro-culture is born out of and operates on exclusivity, something a once creative culture doesn't need.
*This thread and the @brogrammer Twitter handle are both satirical looks at a burgeoning culture in Silicon Valley.