Get on the Bus: Visions of Working at Google

Interviewing at Google was probably the most intimidating thing I've ever done. First of all, I had to figure out why they make manholes round so I could answer that if it came up. Second of all, I had to figure out how to make my résumé into a hologram. Thirdly, I had to figure out how to get to fucking Mountain View without a car. I had already passed the first two hurdles, plus a phoner, and was moving on to my final meeting with them.

“Can I take the Google bus?” I asked.

“Ah, no, sadly those are just for employees,” I was told. This only added to my yearning for this gig. One day, I hoped, I too would be able to board those white palaces of the privileged, hopefully within sight of all the hapless rubes who had to get to their shitty jobs on their own.

The creators of Silicon Valley seem to get the disparity between the outsiders and insiders of this world, and then hilariously poke fun at both. HBO and King of the Hill veteran Mike Judge have pulled off quite a feat: They have not only produced a comedy show that is actually funny (which hasn't happened in awhile), but they're artfully skewering the tech industry and the entire Palo Alto scene in a way that is entertaining to those who can get on the bus and those who can't.

The show revolves around four friends who are programmers trying to break into the scene. In the opening sequence, they are at a launch party thrown at a tech billionaire's house. Kid Rock has been hired to play, and after a particularly bombastic set, full of pyrotechnics and his over-the-top Confederate hip-hop schtick, the music stops and the camera pans out over the yard, which is sparsely populated with disinterested guests who can barely bring themselves to clap. It doesn't really matter who plays at your launch, you see, as long as they require a huge paycheck and you can tell people they performed at your launch.

The company's mouthpiece hits the stage and makes a toast. “Okay, yes, we're making a lot of money,” he says, holding up his champagne flute. “And yes, we're disrupting digital media. But most importantly, we're making the world a better place … [pause] … through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.”

Yes indeed, it's all about Thinking Different and Not Being Evil, though that didn't seem to come into play when Google laid off me and all the other writers they had contracted with. Bidness is bidness. That's precisely why the second episode of Silicon Valley is so perfect. Richard, the soft-spoken genius who created an algorithm that is suddenly in high demand, realizes he has to come up with an entire business model to present to an investor, something he knows zip about. It's not just about having a great idea; you also need to have an MBA or access to someone who does. The only thing “different” about these companies is that you get Goldfish cracker dispensers and a chef-prepared lunch. Oh, and there are slides instead of stairs.

“Be an asshole,” insists his sluggish roommate Erlich, who is the show's answer to Booger in Revenge of the Nerds (he wears a T-shirt that says, “I know HTML: How To Meet Ladies”). Thomas is torn between the knowledge that bidness is bidness and not wanting to give up his humanity — not that this show really needs heart and plot; it's brilliant when it simply makes fun of the yuppie fold-up bike crowd, or the foodies, or the blue-jean billionaires who think they are doing the Lord's work one code at a time.

There was something magical about working for Google, however briefly. I felt separate from all other lesser beings, surrounded by Ivy League graduates and people who collected Arcade Fire bootlegs. There was a lot of brainpower happening there. I no longer needed to press my face up against the Google glass to peer into that world. I was a member. I still wasn't allowed on the bus (hey, I was contracted, not salaried), but I had a kinship with those people. (Now of course, since I am no longer affiliated, they are all douche bags again.)

Silicon Valley works because it speaks to all of this, making fun of it while at the same time, somehow, respecting it. We want Thomas to succeed, and that means the show will, too.

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