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Let’s be honest about our tech industry privilege

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A lot of tech workers don’t even realize the amount of privilege and perks they have. (Courtesy graphic)
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Thank god I haven’t had to worry about where I am getting my next meal. The guy who I’m sharing a Lyft line with doesn’t either because his tech job pays for it. He doesn’t have to pay for a gym or health insurance. He’s also white, 27 years old and graduated from HBS after leaving MIT. He’s got it all.

But really, he does. We all have a tremendous amount of privilege in the tech industry. Compared to other tech cities, we live a relatively outrageous lifestyle. Let’s break it down and explore our privilege:

We have ACCESS.

This is by far the most important category. Access can mean many different things. Most notably for the tech industry, we get everything first. New iPhones, new apps. We were the first to get Uber, Postmates, Caviar, Prime Now, Google Express … the list goes on. We also have access to some of the most talented people in the world. The other side of it is that the competition is so fierce that at the end of day, performance trumps all.

We also have access to the most lucrative social and professional networks. If someone tells you that you have a separate personal and professional life in the tech scene, they are lying to you. Your social network is your professional network.

You can get access to people, whether a member of the press, VC or founder you admire or want to work with. Hell, TK lives in my neighborhood and drinks at my favorite bar. I see Ron Conway at my favorite hotel work spot on a weekly basis. These people may not know who I am, but I am among them. There are also places like The Battery and Founders Den that require memberships based on a recommendation or baller status.

We get free stuff.

I used to work for a startup that had every meal catered. By no means was it at the level of Google, Facebook or Dropbox, but it was free. So are the office snacks, drinks and happy hours. If you don’t have a gym at your office, you probably have a free or discounted gym membership. In addition to all of these things, I know of a company that has an in-house masseuse and jam room with instruments. With that said, I am not even going to go through the benefits at the big hitter startups or we would be here all day.

In that same vein, you have offsites in Tahoe and rent party buses to get drunk in Napa. Or maybe your boss pays for an airplane to take you to Vegas. These startups exist. If you don’t know, you should ask somebody.

We have pedigree.

This is one of the most competitive places I have lived in. If you didn’t go to Stanford or have wealthy parents, you are at a disadvantage. Why? Because you probably have loans and less professional growth opportunities. People make the assumption you are logical, ethical and smart. You played sports that allow for a higher level of networking (ie. golf, tennis, crew). You probably have a name that sounds good on a resume. Most importantly, you have a safety net of family, fellow alumni and job prospects.

By no means does this classify all people who are wealthy and went to good schools, but it does beg the question: What would your life be like without those things?

We live in an opportune location.

If you drive 30-45 minutes in any direction (besides West), you can go hiking in the mountains, sit by the pool or go to the beach. If you want to drive for 1-5 hours, you will end up in Napa to drink, in Point Reyes to surf, Big Sur to camp or Tahoe to ski. This is almost year-round. We bask in the sun on a regular basis, and never have to deal with snow or intense heat.

Our location enables us to have the best “artisan” coffee, beer and food, since we have some of the best restaurants in the country (and world). Our location gives us culture. Some would argue that the culture of San Francisco moved to Oakland, but even so, we still live one Bart ride away.

We have personal freedom.

Along with the perks of working for a tech startup, we get incredible salaries. Maybe not the bootstrapping, preseries A founders or employees, but just about everyone else. There is practically no dress code and it is perfectly normal to take off work for Burning Man. You can also dress up however you want and legally drink in the streets a few times a year. That is the spirit of S.F. that we hope to preserve, the ability to be who you want to be.

It’s pretty clear all of the advantages we can possibly have in the S.F. tech scene. But what about the techies that don’t have it all? No one talks about the lack of privilege for black men and women, or for women in general. What about the people who went to state school for undergrad and never went to grad school? And the people who didn’t get into YC and are trying to raise money?

These are the people that are scrappy, creative and persistent. They have more to prove. They have to turn a no into a yes. They don’t know what impossible is because they have nothing to lose. I have been willing to crawl through mud to get to a better place. I swallow my tongue. I’ve gone into debt. I’ve eaten microwave popcorn for dinner. We pave our own way.

But compare our struggles to the underserved populations of our city, and every single one of us has a tremendous amount of privilege. We are all fortunate to be here.

With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.

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