The Arcology Garden

Four Years in Startups



An Essay extracted from Uncanny Valley. Just fucking full of whiplash and "i'm seen", describing a world I was steeped in for years during the height of ridiculous unicorn decadence. Some of this could've been about me, but I know it's not. A lot of it is just surreal, though, tbh.

This person did their time around when I did. Some of it is … incredibly on point, more than I was expected.

Maybe I would take up pottery. I could learn to play the bass. I could have the sort of creative life that creative work would not sustain. It was easier to fabricate a romantic narrative than to admit that I was ambitious—that I wanted my life to pick up momentum.

I think about this Quote a lot

He struck me as the kind of person who would invite women over to listen to Brian Eno and then actually spend the night doing that.

I began wearing flannel. I incorporated B Vitamins into my regimen and began listening to E.D.M. while I worked. The sheer ecstasy of the drop made everything around me feel like part of a running-shoe ad or a luxury-car commercial, though I couldn’t imagine driving to E.D.M.

Gold Club snapshots:

After two months, the Solutions manager took me for a walk around the neighborhood. We passed a strip club, a popular spot for parties during developer conferences, which my co-workers claimed had a superlative lunch buffet. We circumvented people sleeping on steaming grates.

This is a pretty common anti-Privacy trope in the industry that I don't think people know about:

The simplest way to solve users’ problems was by granting the Solutions team access to all our customers’ data sets. This level of employee access—some of us called it God mode—was normal for the industry, common for small startups whose engineers were overextended.

In the office, we never talked about the whistle-blower—not even during happy hour.

Even so, when I ran out of work to do on nights and weekends, I felt free, invisible, and lonely. The city’s green spaces overflowed with couples jogging next to each other and cycling on bikes with matching panniers. I spent hours in bed, drinking coffee and thumbing my phone. On a dating app, I made plans with two men, both of whom seemed boring and benign, before deciding that I couldn’t go through with it. I deleted the app.

when a pallet of electric skateboards arrived at the studio, Ian and his co-workers knew that the deal had closed.


“Do you disagree with my decision?” the C.E.O. asked me. I shook my head, face hot. Of course not, I lied.

Later, the C.E.O. denied that this meeting had taken place—it wasn’t something he would do, he said. At the time, it had seemed perfectly in character.


Talk turned to self-driving cars. How plausible were they, really? I asked. I had finished my beer, and I was bored. I also wanted to make sure everyone knew that I wasn’t just an engineer’s girlfriend who stood around at parties waiting for him to finish geeking out—though that’s exactly what I was doing. The group turned toward me, the Scout leader looking amused.

“What did you say you do?” one of them asked.

I said that I worked at a mobile-analytics company, hoping they would assume I was an engineer.

“Ah,” he said. “And what do you do there?”

Customer support, I said. He glanced at the others and resumed the conversation.


At the beginning of my tenure—a decade earlier, in Startup Time.


By the time I started looking for other jobs, I considered my blind faith in ambitious, aggressive, arrogant young men from America’s soft suburbs a personal pathology. But it wasn’t personal at all; it had become a global affliction.

For years, in emulation of the tenets of open source—transparency, collaboration, decentralization—the organization had been nonhierarchical, and the majority of employees worked remotely. Until recently, employees had named their own compensation, determined their own priorities, and come to decisions by consensus, including some related to interior design.

Me too:

For the most part, the other women at the open-source startup were glad that the years-long party seemed to be winding down

Ah so that's not just me then.

The name-your-own-salary policy had resulted in a pay gap so severe that a number of women had recently received corrective increases of close to forty thousand dollars. No back pay.

"the day's true work of toggling between tabs" was a deep pit of depression and anxiety for me. It's really easy to look busy in a medium-to-large size startup environment while being too exhausted to get nearly anything done except to keep balls rolling down and up the hill. Sickening stuff with the help of some perspective…

Some days, clocking in to work was like entering a tunnel. I would drop a waving-hand emoji into the team chat room, answer a round of customer tickets, read e-mail, process a few copyright takedowns, and skim the internal social network. In the chat software, I moved from channel to channel, reading information and banter that had accumulated overnight in other time zones. After repeating this cycle, I would open a browser window and begin the day’s true work of toggling between tabs.

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