Hooli the “best” place on earth…

“Hooli isn’t just another high tech company. Hooli isn’t just about software. Hooli. Hooli is about people. Hooli is about innovative technology that makes a difference, transforming the world as we know it. Making the world a better place, through minimal message oriented transport layers. I firmly believe we can only achieve greatness if first we achieve goodness.” -Gavin Belson

While reading No Collar by Andrew Ross I was reminded of the plot lines of my favorite show Silicon Valley. In one of the first scenes of the pilot episode Richard Hendricks rolls his eyes as his listens to Gavin Belson, founder and owner of Hooli talk about the company. Richard a socially awkward programmer works for Hooli by day and on his software project Pied Piper by night. He obviously works at the company just to get paid, not because he believes in Hooli’s mission.

Hooli is a representation of the New Economy technology corporation ’90s startup in Silicon Valley today. Like the workplaces Ross describes, Hooli is, “more informal and democratic in their organization and employee culture” (9). Hooli is like a playground. A large campus-like atmosphere much like Google or Facebook. Programers walking around in hoodies, playing games of ping-pong. Richard however is not falling for Hooli’s bullshit. He obviously is not as brainwashed as the other workers at Hooli.“Oh God, the marketing team is having another bike meeting” he remarks when he arrives to work, “yup, another day inside the Galvin Belson cult compound.” Richard has bigger dreams. He tells his best friend Bighead that he doesn’t want to be stuck at Hooli forever, become a Hooli “lifer.” Other workers are surprised by his disdain for the company. One “brogrammer” even makes fun of Richard for not wanting to work at the most “innovative” company at the world.

It is obvious that Hooli is trying to come off as some technology “innovation” utopia. I put quotations around the word innovative, because throughout the show Hooli fails to ever do anything remotely significant.  Hooli fits the framework of the utopia Ross describes in relation to New Economy workplaces, “The opportunity they provided for employees to reinvent themselves borrowed from the national heritage utopian communities, while their appetite for spontaneity and self-direction owed something to the spirit of the bohemian commune” (18). Hooli is a commune, and Gavin Belson is their leader. He is a God like figure, yet he seems to know nothing about technology. Belson relies on the innovations of others that he can pass off as his own. He is just the face behind Hooli, not the brains.

 

But Richard has bigger dreams. He commits to working on Pied Piper. After receiving backing for Pied Piper from investor Peter Gregory Richard finally leaves Hooli. This comes after a face-off between Gregory and Belson for who will get Pied Piper. Gregory wants Richard to create his own company, while Belson wants to buy Pied Piper from him, knowing full well its potential.

The atmosphere at Pied Piper is much like the ’90s Silicon Valley tech startups. Richard employs his friends (who also worked at Hooli) and they continue working on Pied Piper in the living room of their house aka “the incubator”. The companies “cubicles” is the living room table, their “meeting room” either the kitchen or living room. The work schedule is flexible, as employees work at all different times of the day, sometimes taking breaks to play video games. Ross describes the atmosphere of the ’90s startups as, “Anti-Establishment and pioneerist, embraced by a warm community of job-hopping engineers and programmers, whose loyalty to companies was flimsy, at least by the standards of Yankee discipline” (36). The team sacrifices a lot of their time in order to build Pied Piper, sometimes not even getting paid.At first some of the employees loyalties are “flimsy”. They are not committed to the software, and it seems like they are only working hard because they don’t want to lose their job. By the end of the second season, there is a new sense of camaraderie and they are truly committed to Pied Piper.

As Ross points out, “They are in a race to optimize their own time against the time of technology. Unless they stay on top of their game, they will be at odds with the speed of the machine (or speed at which their competitors use the machine) and will fall behind or even below the labor divide” (35). Much like no collar companies, Pied Piper too is involved in a “race” to innovate. After Richard leaves Hooli, Belson announces that they will be releasing Nucleus, a software just like Pied Piper’s. Therefore much of the first season shows the members of Pied Piper rushing to get their startup established. This pressure is heightened during the second season when investors expect the software to make certain deadlines. In one of the episodes, Richard ask another startup leader his advice on how much money to take from investors. In the pilot episode this friend had thrown an extravagant party because his company had received billions from investors. By the second season we learn that he was unable to make deadlines and was kicked out by investors.

HBO’s Silicon Valley is a satirical take on the New Economy lifestyle in the Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley both reflects and distorts the sealed cult of tech. Hooli, the New Economy corporation, and Pied Piper the new collar workplace just trying to stay afloat. Although more glamorized than what Ross presents, a lot of parallels can be drawn to the image of the no collar workplace. Pied Piper is still in its beginning stages. It will be interesting to see whether or not Pied Piper will continue to form into a workplace similar to the no collar ones Ross describes. Will Richard invest in a foosball table?

Sidenote: if you haven’t seen Silicon Valley before stop what you are doing and go watch it. It is a work of pure comedic genius. 

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