Tech Industry Gets Political
In the last decade or so, the tech industry has become increasingly political which is different from being politicized. If I had to guess, I’d say that for the most part everyone is on the same page. However, many of the largest technology concerns have come to the realization that to protect their outlook, they need representation in Washington in the form of lobbyists in addition many successful entrepreneurs began contributing to parties. That political awareness became obvious over the weekend as the new administration’s ban took ham-handed hold of immigration policy.
The reporting has been robust on the subject. A story in the New York Times from January 30 noted numerous Valley headliners taking stands notably, “Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings, wrote on Facebook that Mr. Trump’s actions “are so un-American it pains us all” and that “it is time to link arms together to protect American values of freedom and opportunity.”
But also, “Sergey Brin, a Google founder who immigrated from the Soviet Union when he was 6 … attending an impromptu protest on Saturday evening at San Francisco International Airport…“I’m here because I’m a refugee,” Mr. Brin said, according to a Twitter post by the Forbes writer Ryan Mac…
Of course Mr. Social Media also made a point, “Like many of you, I’m concerned about the impact of the recent executive orders signed by President Trump,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook on Friday…
And cautionary sentiment was even felt by those more likely to support some of the administration’s views. “Even some of those working closely with the Trump administration were critical. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, who sits on two of Mr. Trump’s advisory committees, wrote on Twitter that the ban was “not the best way to address the country’s challenges.”
All of that might only be preamble if the story form Bloomberg gains steam which said in part that the “…administration has drafted an executive order aimed at overhauling the work-visa programs technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of employees each year.”
Work visas are another name for the H1B visa. There are 85,000 H1B visas awarded each year and there’s always a scramble for them because they enable companies to import talent that they simply can’t find domestically. It doesn’t mean Americans are stupid or lazy but sometimes if you want the expert in a small field to work for you, the field is rather sparsely populated and you hire where you can.
Tech executives are getting creative. For example, Techcrunch wrote that “Early Twitter investor Chris Sacca, for example, was an early one to start the trend and offered to match donations to those who would direct message or respond with receipts.” About a dozen tech executives and venture capitalists followed the lead.
And that “Google has created a $2 million “crisis fund” that can be matched by up to $2 million in donations from employees.”
All of this might seem like a small disruption to some people especially if they wish to believe in the need for the clampdown. But even though the immigration ban appears to be a temporary disruption, we don’t really know what form any H1B reform might take.
Disruptions drive uncertainty and that drives other decisions. If you put enough disruption driven decisions together you can have a movement or a trend. That’s what the tech world is all about and it’s what we innately understand. So the events of last weekend are at least troubling; they’re certainly troubling to get billionaire Brin to SFO on Sunday to take selfies with arriving passengers.
It’s hard to say what forms the next actions and counter actions will take. Certainly, there are options and one of the easiest and best would be for the sides to begin listening to each other. But it takes two sides to have a conversation and so far each has been speaking mainly with itself.