Picturing ‘techies’: photo project captures the unseen diversity of Silicon Valley

Picturing ‘techies’: photo project captures the unseen diversity of Silicon Valley

Prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recently wrote that “software coding is quite possibly the most inviting, inclusive profession ever” and linked to a study reporting that many coders are self taught. What he didn’t notice: the study also says the profession is 92.8% men.

Helena Price, a photographer and former startup worker, is on Monday launching the largest oral history of discrimination in Silicon Valley – a series of 100 portraits of “techies” who fall into those forgotten categories.

In portraits and long interviews, she profiles the black coders, women, and older techies who have been pushed to the fringes of the boom – and some, such as Pinterest’s Tracy Chou and investors Om Malik and Tristan Walker – who have made it to the center.

“I chose the title ‘techie’ because it’s negative. It’s kind of derogatory. I expect people to roll their eyes,” Price said. “I want people to see that word and then this grid of faces. I love that it fucks with your head.”

The stories are both shocking and completely normal here. One woman describes having a child.

“Apparently it’s impossible to have kids and continue to care about technology,” said Lisa Dusseault, a lead engineer at Stubhub. “When I was childless, I could be a geek – almost like people said, ‘Well, she must be basically a man in a woman’s body because look at how much she loves protocols, and architecture, and systems.’ But then when I got pregnant and I very clearly was not a man, I noticed that was just overwhelming to people.”

I have only met one other black female designer in tech in the past six years

“There’s sexism and racism in every industry but in Silicon Valley we have the fewest excuses in terms of blaming history or institutional problems,” Price said one recent day at her downtown San Francisco live/work studio. “All of this around us is new. So it’s like, you had the chance to set your values right away and you didn’t. And yet there are still people who believe it’s a meritocracy here.”

Former Googler and now co-founder of a startup called Mixmax, Chanpory Rith, a gay Cambodian Mormon, said he would probably leave town for some place a little more diverse.

“I used to think I’d live in San Francisco for the rest of my life because it’s just so open, diverse, and you can live how you want to live. But when toast is $5, it’s kinda crazy,” Rith said. “I actually love the $5 toast, but when that’s the norm, and there is not much deviation, it’s obscene.”

Originally from New Bern, North Carolina, Price does commercial photography for Uber, Airbnb, Facebook and Microsoft, where she sees the tech world up close. One of the most discriminated groups she’s found are older women.

“Guys don’t want to hire someone who looks like their mom,” Price said. “If you’re all 22 years old, having your mom around doesn’t sound fun, right?”

In the span of a week I moved across the country, came out of the closet, and started a new job


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