Tucked away in the deep Mission/Potrero — whatever you call it — there was music, lights and a complete and utter satire of my life as a techie. “South of Market: The Musical” debuted last Wednesday to a full house of founders, engineers, marketers and non-tech folk. With the articles I’ve been writing, it was perfect that tickets to this show fell right into my lap.
It was show tunes for stereotypes. This may sound a bit critical, but they are stereotypes for a reason: They called out everything I have seen since Day 1 of my San Francisco startup experience, from ridiculous office snacks to buzzwords to what it feels like to be the only girl, surrounded by men.
What struck a major chord in the show was the idea of accomplishing certain milestones before you are 30. The Forbes “30 under 30” list was a centrifugal point of the the show — measuring your self-worth by whether or not you make the cut. It was portrayed as a frivolous competition in which almost anyone with a pulse got it, except the main character. They even laid out the math of the Forbes contest, with 27,000 people making the list a year. It’s just not that special.
I turned 30 this past year, and it was a bit scary. What had I done up to this point that matters? Have I gotten public recognition for it? Forbes list or it didn’t happen? While all of these people were making the list around me, it felt like I was the odd girl out, and everything I had worked for didn’t matter unless it was validated. Then I realized I didn’t care, because the ship had sailed. I didn’t make it, but I am still worth something.
The musical tackled various things very unique to San Francisco. When have you actually be able to walk down the street here without having vacate the sidewalk for a new construction project? Or what about the coffee shops filled with archetypes, from the girl in yoga pants not going to work out to the guy sitting there pretending to do work.
More disturbing was how they represented me the divide between the people who work in tech and the on-demand economy that serves tech. My favorite character, “Sarah 4.9 stars,” was the quintessential hustler. She worked as a Task Rabbit, a food deliverer and an Uber driver among many other things. She shed light on not only the horrors she had to endure, but the fact that despite the “5 stars” she had been busting her ass for, all she wanted sometimes was to have someone listen to her. It was funny, but truly sad.
Of course, the next act was an ode to women in the workplace. As the female lead held her co-founder accountable for his irresponsible behavior, he almost snapped and called her a ‘B.’ Sadly, this is a subject I do not even touch, for the fear that an employer will see what I have written and not want to work with me as a result. The fact that I have to avoid commentary on this subject is enough to understand how it can be for a woman in tech.
The musical contends that the reason we have such a visceral reaction to tech in San Francisco is because, “this industry turns people into weird versions of themselves.” There are companies that spoil their employees rotten — to the point that they turn into self-entitled ogres who treat delivery people like shit. There are women that are not heard, no matter how loud they scream. There are people just here for the ride, not to solve real problems. And the idea that I would feel like a failure about not making “30 under 30” is ridiculous.
Failure happens, and we need to get used to it. The pressures of working in tech are extreme and we need not base our self worth on wealth and recognition. While satirical, “South of Market: The Musical” makes us all aware of what we can be.
With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.