"Chaos Monkeys" and how it got Antonio Martinez fired from Apple

Dedicated readers of this blog (all 1 of them) may recall last month's post about author Antonio Garcia Martinez being fired by Apple because a bunch of neurotic employees didn't like what he'd written in a book five years ago. I promised a review of that book: "Chaos Monkeys - Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley" and, dear readers, this is that review.

It's a great book. Is it the "Liar's Poker of Silicon Valley"? Maybe, maybe not, but they have a lot in common. Martinez takes you through his career at Goldman Sachs in New York, joining a dying Silicon Valley startup (Adchemy), fleeing to do his own startup (AdGrok), dancing through lawsuits and VC funding, and finally playing Twitter for an acquisition before skipping to join Facebook as an ads product manager. His stint in Silicon Valley is 2008 to 2016 and, to the best of my knowledge, accurately represents the people, companies and society there at the time.

Most importantly, like Michael Lewis of "Liar's Poker", Martinez is a compelling writer. He is opinionated, informed, funny and - unlike Lewis - cheerfully portrays himself as an averagely terrible human being. He fathers two children out of wedlock, kind of screws over his startup partners - though there's a twist at the end - gets away with drunk driving and outrageous speeding, has a torrid all-over grope with a busty fellow product manager in a Facebook janitor's cupboard, and plays off Twitter against Facebook with misleading information to boost the acquisition value of his start-up. He's contemptuous of the CEO Murthy Nukala, although to be fair Mr Nukala does not sound like a pleasant human being himself, and of the ass-kissing divisional leadership of Facebook.

Martinez is a really interesting and colorful guy. I would totally buy him lunch to hear a few of his stories. I would probably not want him dating my girlfriends though.

The full list of grievances of the Apple employees is given in the petition that was leaked to The Verge. Zoe Schiffer's byline there is no surprise, she is the leak-destination-of-choice for Big Tech. The top grievance was of course about Martinez's portrayal of women in Silicon Valley:

Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague [my emphasis] or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.
I've encountered a good number of Silicon Valley women in tech in the past year, and I have to say that Martinez hits the nail on the head here. The pandemic has demonstrated in spades the neuroticism of many of these women. There has been very little get-up-and-go demonstrated, instead just a whinyness and cowering that makes one despair for the future of the human race. If there is any criticism of Martinez here, it's that he omitted that many men in tech exhibit the same characteristics, which is maybe even less excusable. Interestingly, you don't see the same weakness in most of the Bay Area natives, nor in tech immigrants from Central / Latin America or the former Soviet states - India too, to a lesser degree. It is mostly a white-women-in-and-around-tech thing.

It's notable that Martinez contrasts this with the self-determinism of a number of interesting women he encountered and dated / screwed during his time in the Valley. He clearly isn't a misogynist in this respect - he just doesn't like a bunch of people.

The aforementioned janitor cupboard fondling also upset the Apple whiners, especially the description of his facilitator:

PMMess, as we’ll call her, was composed of alternating Bézier curves from top to bottom: convex, then concave, and then convex again, in a vertical undulation you couldn’t take your eyes off of. Unlike most women at Facebook (or in the Bay Area, really) she knew how to dress; forties-style, form-fitting dresses from neck to knee were her mainstay.
...[and later, when he's about to be let go]...
There were few women one would call conventionally attractive at Facebook. The few there were rarely if ever dressed for work with their femininity on display in the form of dresses and heels. A fully turned out member of the deuxième sexe in a conference room was as clear an angel of death as a short-barreled .38 Special revolver. Gokul [the manager firing Martinez] gave an awkward smile, and bolted out the door the moment I sat down. I looked across the table. If her look was supposed to disarm me, she needed either more cleavage or more charm.
Two things about this stand out: a) boy, Martinez knows how to write, and b) he is an astute observer of the unsayable. Techies have never been famed for their dress sense, and most women (and men) in a tech role do not really try to dress up. There's a principled thing here where they want to let their work speak for itself and not be judged by conventional metrics of attractiveness - but you can't then turn around and get annoyed when someone observes, correctly, that you aren't attractive. I'd imagine that it would be a very different experience in banking where how you dress can be the line between success and mockery.

He also observes:

It occurred to me that perhaps this most recent experiment in fertility—and the first—had been planned on British Trader’s part, her back up against the menopause wall, a professional woman with every means at her disposal except a willing male partner—in which case I had been snookered into fatherhood via warm smiles and pliant thighs, the oldest tricks in the book.
Would the Apple employees like to content that this is not, in fact, one of the oldest tricks in the book? Is it unacceptable to say precisely because it is the truth?

Go and read "Chaos Monkeys". It is a highly enjoyable book, it gives great if biased insights into Silicon Valley for both startups and Big Tech, and more importantly does so for the companies, the technology, and the humans involved. You won't regret it. And despite being fired because of it, I expect Martinez does not regret writing it.

As for the prissy Apple employees who signed the petition: I'd hire one Martinez over ten of them, any day.

Apple used to say "Think different." I guess those days are long gone.

Update: Garcia himself speaks without specificity on the firing. I'm guessing he got paid very well for signing that non-disclosure agreement, unlike the one he was offered (and declined) at Facebook. If it was less than six figures, I'd be very surprised.

A really ballsy move would be for Google, Oracle or even Twitter to hire him, to stick two fingers up at the pusillanimous HR skirts at Apple - and at their own self-important neurotic engineers. Won't happen, of course, but if you happened to have a division that you wanted shot of, and it was infested by this kind of person, hiring Martinez into it - and standing behind him - would be nothing short of hilarious.

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