Techie in the Headlights

I have an impression that people who work in the technology sector tend to skew liberal, with a certain disdain for politics. The tech world, largely in line with the scientific community, is populated by science geeks and nerds*, with strong emphasis on reason and intellect; highschool popularity be damned. Both contribute to a strong belief in meritocracy and egalitarianism, that everyone should be judged according to their achievements regardless of race / gender / sexual orientation / nationality. The superstars of tech world today are mostly self made billionaires, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Brendan Eich was carving his way to be one of these superstars – he was the inventor of JavaScript, cofounder and CTO of Mozilla, and for about 11 days he was the CEO of the company he helped to create. The disclosure of his past donations to anti-gay campaign in California and other right wing politicians have resulted in public relations disaster, employees calling for his resignation and more than half board members resigned over his promotion. On the aftermath of Eich’s resignation, opinions abound on whether he should not have been lynched for his personal views or he should not have been appointed in the first place.

I call this a techie in the headlights problem – much like a deer caught offguard in front of a fast approaching car, we (speaking from experience here) don’t always comprehend the treacherous field of human relations. With utopian ideals of a workplace like Google campuses or ideosyncratic one like Mozilla, techies often regard having difference in publicly held opinions and privately held ones as a fatal flaw in integrity. Eich offered a reserved apology but did not recant his views, writing blog entries reassurancing inclusiveness but granted media interviews reiterating his freedom of opinion and that Indonesian mozilla developers with “different opinions” that supported him didn’t have “megaphones“. Geez, thanks for namedropping us Indonesians, Brendan, but it didn’t sound like your charm offensive would’ve worked anyway. Moreover, if your employees decide to revolt in full media glare and none of the other board members backed your selection, it’s likely that you didn’t have enough political capital to become the CEO in the first place.

In the ideologically meritocratic world of tech, people often forget that the CEO is a political role, not simply the best engineer in the company or the most influential contributor for the community. The CTO’s candid remark about product naming being “a marketing scam” may be overlooked, but the CEO’s may not. Aside from being the most powerful person in the organization, the CEO also represents it to the outside world. A brand ambassador and also a lightning rod*, if you will, because the job also includes deflecting undue distractions from outside the company. This should be a lesson for techies who aspire to play the game of thrones : acquire the dark art of so-called people skills. If people don’t want to work for you it’s a dead end, no matter how brilliant you are technically. Offer an unreserved apology when it is required of you. Sure, self righteously holding on to your beliefs felt like standing on higher moral ground. You might, however, lose your head over it – but you know that already, don’t you?


(* exception that proves the rule




The basic answer is common to many of Indonesia’s problems: For decades, the country’s leaders have been selfish and corrupt, lacking vision and initiative.

via Jakarta Globe

This week, our country has been going through a plethora of bad news. With a flashflood in Wasior two weeks ago and forest fires in Sumatra that had choked Singapore with a thick smog last week just receded from the headlines, the worst Jakarta gridlock ever kicked off the week, followed by a tsunami in Mentawai and volcano eruption in Jogjakarta. Adding fuel to the fire are the Cabinet Minister and House Speaker’s rather insensitive remarks, and the headlines about parliamentary members on field trips to tourist destinations, allegedly to experience firsthand some pedestrian concerns, such as whether the parliament members in Greece are allowed to smoke during sessions. It seems as if the stream of bad news is endless, and indeed plenty of these searing headlines originated from or aggravated by the corruption and complacency of our self serving government.

It’s easy to get cynical about the government and political class when we read the newspapers these days. We are the third biggest democracy in the world, but twelve years of it has made a lot of people so disillusioned that the idea of making our longest serving president a national hero is not considered a political suicide. Plenty are feeling nostalgic over the perceived stability and prosperity during the days of our national hero candidate – and disgusted with the daily bickering, power struggles, and shameless corruption of the politicians. It’s a limbo in which the light of hope flickers timidly amidst a hailstorm.

However, power and politics has never been a game for the idealist – no matter which system that we have to govern. Power tends to corrupt, and especially so in systems which does not have transparency the way a real democracy provides. Yes, decades of corruption have happened in Indonesia, it is so common that it practically is a part of our culture. But the pervasiveness, persistence and its scale was only known through the riotous uncensored media of the democratic eraOur government may be a big problem, but should we fall into indifference and apathy, it would be an even bigger problem.

For all its downsides, democracy enables people to be rightfully aware of the political process that concerns them – from the election of Corruption Eradication Committee to the anti pornography laws. The adage of democracy says no one gets their way, but no one should get home empty handed either – it is about checks and balances, in which no party can act without consequences. Right now, these checks and balances embodied in the government and parliament seems to be not working well – but at least the blanks can be partly covered by shortcutting the feedback mechanism using the media – press and social. 

Freedom of information and opinion may still be unfamiliar to a young country like us, and it is something that we should learn to treasure. The press brought us the ills and the daily gripes of a modern country, but it should be something we feel grateful for. It is the first ingredient by which we can change the course of government and the country – this time, to the right direction.