Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener

Anna Wiener Memoir

BOOK REVIEW by Bland Lawson

In 2013, Anna Wiener faced an uncertain future as an entry-level employee with a New York literary agency. Sensing possibilities in the tech field, she accepted an offer to join an e-book platform startup. The founders seemed unsure of what to do with her and ultimately let her go, but not before helping her to land an interview for a customer-support position with a data-analytics startup in San Francisco.

Thus, began Wiener’s odyssey through the “uncanny valley” of the Bay Area startup scene. As a female with a liberal arts background, she was doubly an outlier in this world.  “[M]en were everywhere,” she writes. “I was always fixing things for them, tiptoeing around their vanities, cheering them up… My job had placed me, a self-identified feminist, in a position of ceaseless, professionalized deference to the male ego.”

The accumulating “list of casual hostilities toward women” at the startup eventually drove Wiener to move to a new job with a company that created software tools for developers. There was a “red flag,” in the form of a gender-discrimination scandal at the firm that had earlier made national news, but the absurdly generous perks and pay led her to overlook this.

What finally drove Wiener to leave the insular world of Silicon Valley was the realization that she had gone there in an attempt to escape the “emotional, impractical…part of me that…had no apparent market value.” The young, rich founders of the startups, in contrast, “saw markets in everything, and only opportunities.”

Wiener’s vivid, perceptive writing makes this one of the finest memoirs about Silicon Valley yet written. Her diagnosis of its flaws seems spot-on, yet she also conveys just how seductive the startup-culture lifestyle can be.

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