Two Think Minimum Podcast Transcript
Episode 010: “Ina Fried, Axios, and Tech Journalism Today”
Recorded on: July 13, 2018
Sarah: Welcome back to TPI’s Podcast, Two Think Minimum. It’s Friday, July 13, 2018, and I’m Sarah Oh, Research Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. Today we’re excited to talk with Ina Fried of Axios, a tech journalist who covers telecom policy. Ina writes the daily newsletter for Axios that many of our listeners may read each morning. According to her twitter account, she is Chief Technology Correspondent for Axios and former Senior Editor at Recode. She’s a huge softball, hockey and basketball fan, according to her twitter. Prior to that, she was Senior Editor at All Things Digital and a senior staff writer for CNET network’s news.com. I’m joined today by Scott Wallsten, TPI Senior Fellow and President, who will start off asking some questions about her thoughts on tech journalism today. Scott, riffing off of Axios, we’ll wrap up our podcast with some Axios still summary points, why it matters, the big picture and the bottom line.
Scott: Thanks Sarah. Actually, I’m going to send it right back to you because just before we started you said I’m going to ask Ina about this. So go ahead.
Sarah: OK then I’ll start. I recently read your piece from June 29th about California’s new privacy law. You posted on Axios, what they’re saying, the mixed reactions to this law and you had takes from five different groups, around praising it, a mixed bag and blasting it. I’d just like to hear a little bit more about your perspective on this new law from San Francisco where you’re based out of, and a little bit about the legislative procedure that this law went through, and also what will happen between now and 2020.
Ina: As you mentioned, there’s a few things going on. To set the context, what we had here was basically an attempt by some folks to take kind of some of the spirit of Europe’s GDPR protections, consumer privacy protections and put them in California law and thereby extension, oftentimes when things are required in California, they become de facto standards nationwide because companies don’t want to have to do one thing in California and another thing in the rest of the states. The process, and taking a step back, is in many ways it’s interesting here is the policy. California is one of those states with a really strong voter initiative process. So voters get enough signatures, they can put just about anything on the ballot and once something becomes a law by initiative, it’s actually really hard to remove because only the voters can remove it.
Scott: It’s part of the constitution.
Ina: Right. It’s opened an interesting avenue, which we saw twice this process and I think has everyone in Sacramento and probably beyond a little worried, which is instead of actually putting something on the ballot, this new technique is get enough signatures so that you could put it on the ballot and then tell legislators, look, if you don’t pass this thing that we want, we’re going to put this piece of legislation on the ballot. And so far they’re at least related. They’re not, but this could be taken even further. In this case, the bill that they would have put, or the initiative they would have put on the ballot, was actually a little stricter but related totally the same topic. But in theory, let’s say what I really want is free sports leagues and unlimited Diet Coke. I could get a piece of legislation and get signatures for it that had nothing to do with that. As long as I got enough signatures and legislators hate it, I could go to them a month ahead of the deadline and say, pass this piece of legislation that I want or I’m going to put this proposition you hate on the ballot. Again, so far we haven’t seen that. We saw two instances of it, this privacy bill, and then also the beverage industry wanted to limit to soda taxes. And so they put a bill that included a ban on soda taxes. But the initiative they got signatures for was actually broader and would have limited and made it harder for localities to raise revenues in all kinds of ways. So they started down this blackmail path. And I suspect if you talk to legislators in Sacramento, they’re really concerned about this expanding.
Scott: So say a little bit more about this. I mean, if they’re related, is the proposition that you’re threatening them with, kind of like a poison pill, it’s more than you want also because if it’s popular issue, why not just get the signatures and put it on the ballot because you’ll win?
Ina: Well, it could be. Certainly, and we’ll see that. Obviously there’s vastly more things right now on the ballot, then there are that where they said, pass or we’ll put it on the ballot, but boy, there’s not necessarily a limit there. And again, I think, you know, the savviest minds are probably going to go, you know, what would freak legislators out even more than my legislation? I think that’s really where you’ll see them go. Again, I think it’s a little scary because I think it’s a dangerous legislative technique. And again, it doesn’t matter where on the political spectrum you sit, it sort of flies in the face of good policy if legislators have to pass legislation for fear of something worse.
Scott: Everyone tends to be pretty good at figuring out how to game the system. What happened to make this possible now, what made someone think this is a good idea?
Ina: Well, I don’t know how the sort of threatened to put it on the ballot. I suspect it was a little bit by accident, which was, I suspect the origins that, especially with the privacy bill, were actually pretty healthy and organic, which is we feel like privacy protections are important, we want them one way or another and we’d prefer to go through the proper legislative process, but there may not be quite enough incentive here. We’re going to gather the signatures so we can get it either way. Again, that’s a pretty healthy process. You know, the problem is I point out in this story is the bill was still pretty hastily written, even the ballot one and the one that was passed was even more hastily written because they were up against the deadline. So a lot of people don’t like it. The ACLU of Northern California thinks it’s bad privacy law. They gave themselves some time. So the things they passed don’t actually go into effect until 2020, so I suspect you’re going to see all the parties that are interested come back to the table and I think that the best outcome for everyone would be if everyone sort of came with, what parts can you live with, what parts are really problematic and the sort of political horse trading actually worked to the benefit and we got a better written law for everyone.
Sarah: Going back to procedure, I know this is really wonky, but how would they change the legislation? Because it’s not just a voter initiative. The governor signed it, so it’s actual California law.
Ina: It is, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2020 and actually laws that the legislature passed are pretty easy, comparatively speaking, to amend, and the legislature itself can do it. So because they went that route, yes, they passed a bill. Yes, it will become law and it becomes law and the provisions take effect in 2020. But in the next session, the legislature could pass something else, superseding it, and the governor sign it. Where would have gotten tricky is had they not passed something, and a voter initiative got on the ballot and approved that’s actually very hard to change. The voters themselves have to approve it, you know, and it’s tremendously expensive and terribly unpredictable.
Sarah: Oh, I see. So the voter initiative is a change to the constitution, is that…
Ina: No, but, unless it’s a constitutional amendment, which sometimes it is, but voter initiatives in the state, I don’t want to say they take precedence, but the only way to get rid of a voter initiative is the voters themselves. The voter initiative takes precedence over something that the legislature, state legislature, passes. I believe, I’m a technology reporter more than a government reporter.
Sarah: Well, you know a lot about California. One final question, how much of a code red is this, is it not a big deal, or a big deal?
Ina: I think the next legislative session is going to be really interesting. I think it’d be really significant if you start to see a significant upturn in this used as a technique. We’ve seen these kinds of things before, where something that could have been exploited for years suddenly gets it, but I don’t really have a sense. It was just what occurred to me, especially with what happened around the soda tax, where the bill that they were putting the initiative that they proposed would have actually gone further than what they were really looking for, which was just a ban on soda taxes.
Scott: I’m going to ask you a question about differences between DC and Silicon Valley.
Ina: There are many, the weather obviously. I’m dying in the hot mugginess, but..
Scott: Yes, my wife still hasn’t really forgiven me for us moving here, from there. But how do you see the two areas, how do they look at tech? How do they view tech? Separately, do you come to DC and think, oh my God, these people are idiots?
Ina: I think I’ve learned a lot, especially being an Axios because we really do cover both coasts and we have a lot of people with deep backgrounds both in the policy side and the tech side, but they are really different. They do approach things as you say really differently. I think for a very long time the tech industry believed everything it did was for the better good and DC didn’t get it, didn’t need to get it, so just leave Silicon Valley alone and they take care of everything. And for a long time DC largely went along with it. I mean, every now and then, particularly on the deal side, something would get too big or a practice, but really up until Cambridge Analytica you didn’t really see this shifting of mindsets. And now I think, you still have two different perspectives, but there’s been a huge shift both here in DC and to some degree in the valley around whether tech is inherently good. The interesting thing is, and this is a fascinating dynamic, is you’re now seeing a lot of cases, tech companies punting on some of the big issues. Just today I wrote a story on Microsoft’s calling on Congress to pass legislation to look into the issue of what should the boundaries be around facial recognition and saying that us tech companies shouldn’t be the ones setting policy, you should, which is a fascinating turn of events because, again, for years and years you’ve seen the tech industry saying, don’t regulate us, you don’t understand, leave us to ourselves. Now they’re deciding that some of the problems which they themselves have created are too big for them alone to handle.
Scott: There are a whole bunch of things that you just said. First going back to kind of when Silicon Valley began to get really involved in DC. You sort of put that around Cambridge Analytica. But we had lobbying spending and spending on government affairs by the big tech companies had gone up a lot well before that too.
Ina: Sorry. No. I think that’s when DC started really getting interested in regulating Silicon Valley’s. No, Sillicon Valley’s probably had its eye on DC, I think, certainly the Microsoft antitrust case really changed companies mindset and I think, largely from a preventative side, but because tech is so global in nature and stuff, a lot of tech companies have had a large DC presence for a long time and there’s two reasons for that. One is just there’s so many different policies that intersect with tech, trade policy, antitrust, patent, all these things at the tech companies care a lot about. And I think to their credit, they did recognize early on that they didn’t get DC. I think for a long time they didn’t want to get DC and by hiring a small contingent of both in-house and firms here, they could do their thing and have someone else who speaks DC speak DC. I think what’s really changed is actually that now companies have to understand policy and that’s really a shift even in the short time, a year and a half that Axios has been going. When I started I made the case that DC, that tech companies ignored DC, they hired a few people in DC so they didn’t have to think about it and I had this conversation with our CEO Jim VandeHei and I think it was somewhat true when I said it and has been less true every day since. I think the fact is tech can’t ignore policy now, they can’t ignore DC and they’ve been made painfully aware of that. Especially Facebook, but Google, Twitter, Apple desperately tries to avoid being tarred with the same brush, but they’ve had a number of issues around encryption and other things.
Scott: Going back to the Microsoft point you made, you said Microsoft is now asking the government to get involved. You framed that as Silicon Valley, at least someone is Silicon Valley wanting to punt on the issue and ask government to do it, but is there more to it than that? I mean, they’re always fighting each other and once you start involving the government, you’re trying to get an advantage for yourself over someone else. I don’t know what it is in this case.
Ina: In this case, it’s actually preventing the opposite. I think the concern is if you as a company act responsibly around one of these new technologies, and there’s not legislation in place, so if there’s no laws regarding what the federal government can do with facial recognition technology and company x gets a lot of pressure because they’re a big company – Microsoft, Facebook, Google, whomever – to not sell the government this technology. Their employees don’t want them to, lobbying groups. So they’re like, okay, this technology is too powerful. I think Microsoft and others are worried that someone’s going to sell it to them. Whether it’s Palantir or a small startup. That if there’s not a rule in place, the big companies, or at least the ones trying to act most ethically, could be the most challenged. The other piece that’s right in the forefront here is China. China, both their companies and their government, are aggressively making use of this technology, so one of the things that Congress and the tech companies are going to have to weigh is yes, we might not want the government making broad spread, big brother use of some of these technologies, but we also have to keep in mind the global landscape. So it’s a really thorny issue, which again is why I think Microsoft wants some help here.
Scott: Do you think that’ll extend to other, in this case biometric uses?
Ina: I do. I think there’s a lot of well-placed concern around some of these technologies. I think there’s a growing understanding that a lot of these technologies have incredibly powerful positive uses, and equally powerful negative uses and we really have to start thinking about what are we willing to use? What are we willing as a society to allow our government to use in terms of that information? Because a lot of these things that had been in the realm of science fiction are not even technically that difficult now. So the kind of tracking that we’ve always worried about, that’s no longer a technological problem, there’s not something on the tech side keeping us from doing it. And we don’t really have a lot of policy there either.
Scott: Adding to this question. I read a news article that Google employees were mad at Google for contracting with the Pentagon for making drone technology or maybe using some AI. So it sounds like there’s also internal debate among the top coders, what are we going to be building? And so do you get a sense that even the employees are grappling with the questions, not just the companies but the talent pool.
Ina: For sure. I think it is a big issue. I think you have a lot of people, in most of these companies. I think we’ve seen it in the last few weeks, in the last couple of months, on two fronts. One has been in the wake of the immigration policy, a lot of employees at these big companies very concerned with is their company helping the government in this child separation policy. And then I think that sort of evolved into this second question that’s gonna be a long term question of, our most advanced technologies, face recognition, biometrics, artificial intelligence, are we setting rules for who we sell this to and what we let them do. And again, most companies don’t have policies or have nascent policies, Microsoft has this committee, Aether that reviews the ethics of all of its AI work but they clearly are saying we need to do more internally. And I think employees are concerned, companies are concerned, employees are concerned, civil rights groups, human rights groups are very concerned. And rightfully so, these big technology changes deserve a smart thought out conversation. And indeed what Microsoft called for as a first step is a bipartisan series of experts to dig into what’s underlying these questions. And I think, I don’t know, this is my Silicon Valley perspective, I don’t see a lot of thoughtful debate where people have multiple perspectives come together and really weigh what are the unintended consequences and pros and cons. I think Microsoft is saying that’s what’s called for. It’s hard to argue that that would be a bad thing.
Scott: How do you take into account the international context? I mean, you hinted a edit and it’s something that we have a panel on a part of this at our upcoming Aspen conference. We all know it takes lots of data to innovate on AI and so on. So what happens if we decide, the US, that we have a particular view of privacy and how we want to use things like facial recognition. China has a completely different policy where the government do whatever it wants. And that allows innovation to go in at least in a different direction, maybe faster, I don’t know, but at least in a different direction than it does here. So these, these things are, it’s a tension, right? Because we don’t want a country to be going so far ahead in advanced technologies. On the other hand, we have our particular preferences here and we don’t want to have policies that go against their own preferences.
Ina: It’s a huge issue and it’s probably one of the top issues that US companies have been struggling with for a while. It’s really central to the, we’ve seen this most come up in the do you do business in China question. Because doing business in China means agreeing to a set of rules very different from what we would expect here, different than we would expect our companies to do here. And so I think that’s the first question. If you’re a big US tech companies, do you take part in China? Where you might be able to test out some of these things in ways that you couldn’t, wouldn’t do here? Um, I think it is a huge question around artificial intelligence. You have to China very committed to furthering its industry. They want to use the technology, they want to use it to be more efficient at their form of government and they want their companies to succeed. You have this thing where they, you know, are using face recognition around a stadium full of people. That’s powerful. I don’t think people would be super happy here if the next game they said, the All Star game, that’s coming up in major league baseball, we turned on face recognition and caught a few people that had outstanding warrants. But I think there’s a concern. Do we want to be the country whose technology allows that or do we want to be dependent? These are really thorny questions.
Scott: Yeah. I was talking to somebody who was stayed at a hotel recently in China that was using facial recognition. As soon as you walked in the door, they knew who you were. He said it was great, but really creepy.
Ina: I mean, you’re already seeing Clear at the airport. There’s benefits to frequent travelers of using biometrics, but that’s all based on biometrics. And then the security of, it’s bad enough when I have to change my password because it got hacked. I’m not going to be able to change my fingerprints.
Sarah: Right. Around here we’ve been talking about 5G as well and the municipalities having to work together with wireless companies to put devices on their poles. I was explaining to some people in the audience of a panel, um, a group of kids from Korea, actually, the reason why we have to do these talks is because we’re a democracy. Municipalities won’t agree, they’re all so different, but in China they can just roll out 5G.
Ina: Well it’s not just democracy or not. It’s also the particular form with not everything being the power of the federal government. We could be a democracy still if the federal government had ultimate authority, and I’m not arguing for that, over these things, or can be one policy and indeed in one of the most far reaching proposals that called, in part, for nationalization of 5G, which we wrote a lot about that was floated for a while by someone in the White House. But part of that was also should we nationalize the rules around local poles and stuff. It’s an issue and I think the telecom firms hate the fact that they have to go city to city and planning commission meetings saying, what about this pole? Would you OK with that? At the same time, I think neighborhoods are right, some people, some neighborhoods, some communities might be okay with, a small cell that very clearly looks like a small cell and others, want it to be as invisible as possible to preserve the character of the neighborhood. And that’s, again, the beauty of America is we have cities that look like both of those.
Sarah: Is it a perk? Can I ask about Nimbyism in San Francisco? What do you think of the Housing Problem in SF?
Ina: Well, again, it’s another field. I’m not an expert other than, you know, as a 20 year resident. I think it’s a problem with school teachers can’t possibly afford. We just have a new mayor that got inaugurated, London Breed, and she talked about how she’s been a renter her entire time in the city because she’s never been able to afford housing. If the mayor and the school teachers can’t afford housing, it’s problem and it’s a problem that’s exacerbated by the fact that nobody wants to allow the dense housing that might help alleviate some of that. So it’s a hugely challenging situation. Again, it ebbs and flows with the tech cycles, but it never gets better. So even in the down cycles of the tech industry, it doesn’t go back to where it was. Hence, you know, for years we’ve talked about it, you know, we joked about San Francisco being more expensive than New York. For the last couple of years, it’s been absolutely true and it’s painful. It’s hard. You lose character of the city and the tech industry is always, they just adjust and the salaries go up, but the rest of the economy doesn’t work that way.
Scott: I think you’re right about being cyclical too. Even as early as the eighties or maybe the seventies, there was talk of Silicon Valley becoming too expensive and companies wouldn’t go there anymore. Of course, that changed and yet it’s got to be bigger and smaller problems. Going back to tech. So you alluded to some of this earlier, but tech used to be seen as sort of just the golden child of the economy and now people think of it as, some people think of maybe even as an emerging sociopath. Is sort of the new attention ultimately healthy, for tech and tech policy or is there a risk of overkill, that you sort of prevent innovation and growth?
Ina: I think there’s always a risk of either too much or the wrong regulations, both of which are separate and important dangers. I think the fact that we’re having conversations around it is a good thing. I think Silicon Valley will largely create things because they can. These big companies do have employees who want them to act ethically and the companies have these positive mission statements, but that alone isn’t enough of a discussion. Like there’s too many big technological advances both happening now and on the way for us not to have a societal conversation around what is it we want and are okay with. So I think the conversation is needed and healthy. Whether the outcome of that is good regulation or a bad is entirely unclear, or no regulation at all. It’s not, to me, entirely clear that even out of all this heat that there is at the moment and a lot of rhetoric and a lot of talk and hearings, you all would know better than I do, but I don’t necessarily know that leads to significant policy changes.
Scott: How does the Trump administration to fit into this? I mean, we hear Trump make these claims about Amazon and we know which company is he hates because he’ll tell us on Twitter every day. Um, is that just noise?
Ina: No, I don’t think it’s noise, but I would say, wildcard is probably the best phrase I can use, because it’s not one consistent ideological thing across, even in the same field. So you have the government fighting AT&T-Time Warner, appealing it now. At the same time, the Disney-Fox thing got tentative approval, in like six months.
Scott: Even before the deal happened.
Ina: So I don’t think there’s an easy to trace ideological line. I do think there’s definitely different, both for the tech companies and DC. Amazon’s another interesting one.
Ina: You know, there, there’s certainly legitimate questions to ask about Amazon’s size and importance. They’re not always the same ones that are being asked. The thing I hear most about Amazon from the White House, I hear two things. I hear the post office, which they’re probably keeping the post office in business. And then, The Washington Post, which they don’t actually own. Jeff Bezos personally owns The Washington Post. That said, if you talk about the legitimate antitrust stuff around Amazon, they’re huge, they’re clearly willing to take losses and not make money in new markets to grow and grow and take over, more and more. I think all you have to do is ask the incumbents in any industry they’re eyeing or the markets of the investors in any industry they’re eyeing to see the Amazon impact. But again, those aren’t necessarily the questions we’re hearing asked.
Scott: You mentioned Jeff Bezos owning the Washington Post. You’ve been in journalism a long time, what do you think about the state of it now? I mean, the research on it seems to show that, well, mostly national and international news, some of the outlets might be suffering, but on the new side we’re actually doing okay. Jonathan Make and David Kaut from Telecom Daily were saying that some of the niche reporting is doing pretty well. But local and state coverage kind of decimated. What’s your sense of what the industry looks like and where it’s going?
Ina: I think that’s a pretty accurate summary from where I sit of how things have changed. I think some of the biggest brands and some of the biggest newsrooms have remained vibrant and healthy. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, still doing great reporting. We have some interesting new entrance even in general news and I think general news is probably suffered the most. But you have things like ProPublica on the national scale, Texas Tribune and some of these nonprofit ventures and different business models. You know on the digital side you have a bunch of new reporting. Buzzfeed news does some great stuff around legal and LGBT issues in addition to great listicles and what have you. And they have a really healthy news department. I’m certainly what we’re trying to do at Axios, bringing smart brevity and a new type of format to all manner of things. I think you are seeing some signs of, that’s the sort of half full side of things, I think where you are seeing a lot of suffering, as you mentioned, state and local, you’re seeing even the big metro dailies that still are around are shells of themselves in a lot of ways and can’t do the kind of reporting that democracy kind of thrives on, is the press acting as a healthy check. And I think that there’s no clear answer to that. Nobody’s figured out a good healthy, sustainable model for quality local journalism that scales.
Scott: I mean, it’s impossible to answer this following question without news coverage to know the answer, but do you think decisions at the state level, state governments are operating in a less transparent manner as a result? They have a less oversight? Are they being more wasteful? Any evidence of an effect of less coverage?
Ina: I think the downside is we don’t know. Because we’re not covering them as well we don’t know. I think there’s not necessarily evidence that there is, but I think the danger is that we wouldn’t know that it would take longer for malfeasance to find the light of day if it did. Just the day to day more subtle things might not. Certainly one countervailing force, you also have, citizen, I don’t want to call it journalism because it’s not really, its citizen sharing sort of social media, things that might not have otherwise had a check on them. You have people posting, police violence comes to mind, is the most obvious example. Before cell phone cameras, there really wasn’t a way for an individual citizen necessarily to share that and those stories get told in a different way. So that’s one force, but I don’t think it makes up for what we’ve lost in local journalism.
Scott: So tech is part of the solution, but hasn’t replaced investigative,
Ina: Teach is a piece but not all of it. And then the third piece, so state and local and then national journalism and international. The other piece is niche. And I think some niches are very healthy. Tech. There’s, you know, a million tech journalists, and a million tech outlets. Sports, business, some of these things where there’s a high passion, a good demographic you’re seeing lots of coverage have, there are probably niches that aren’t getting covered as well, but I think in all digital allows for more niches to get covered. Again, state and local is probably the area I’d be most concerned about, but not too far behind is making sure that national thrives. I can only imagine where we would be at the moment we are already in time without a vigorous and skilled and professional and independent press and one that still is coming under attack every day.
Scott: Every day. Yeah.
Sarah: Related to journalism as well, you said Axios focuses on smart brevity in a new format. So do you think short form journalism is harder or easier than long form because you’ve seen going from a full 800 word article to now shorter, 200 word posts and then even twitter, it’s 140 characters. So what do you think about format as a journalist?
Sarah: Oh, 280!
Ina: Characters. Characters on twitter, it’s doubled. So twitter’s great. I mean I think that it is harder in many ways to capture nuance and complexity in short form, but the fact of the matter is readers weren’t reading further anyway, so I think we’re doing a tremendous service to readers by giving it to them as quickly as we know how. And it really challenges the journalists to say what’s really going on here? What do people really need to know? So it might be a little harder for the individuals journalists. For me personally, I like writing short. It was not a hard adjustment for me. I enjoy it. Then there’s times it’s a challenge, but I think, when you think of our time, I want to be smart on a ton of topics. On tech I’m going to read all kinds of stuff but I want to know what’s going on in health and science, in politics a little bit. Maybe not as much as I got at the moment. S somebody just tell me what do I need to know? And I think we’re hopeful that format will really catch on. And I think it’s really important because as our CEO says, Jim VandeHai, there’s never been more information, there’s never been more topics we need to know about. And people don’t have the time and don’t want to invest the time. And having something that is short, smart and credible, I think is incredibly valuable and people seem to seem to like it.
Scott: You’ve written and spoken a lot about your transition and gender identity over the years. But I wanted to ask a related question that’s a little bit different. Silicon Valley and tech in general, sort of known to be very sexist and that’s bro culture that people talk about. And you’ve sort of seen it, when people perceive you in different ways. What was that? What was that like? Did you, could you see a difference the way people dealt with you, especially in this environment as a man and a woman?
Ina: It’s taken me a long time to really see, personally, the sexism of Silicon Valley, for me as a person. It took me very little time to notice sexism in Silicon Valley. It’s been a big issue. It’s been a largely unaddressed issue for a long time and it’s good to see the start of it, I’m eager to see the industry, not just talk about it for a second and move on, but make the kind of structural change needed to change that. And we’re definitely not there. I think on the personal end, it took me a long time to actually think that people were receiving me enough as female to be sexist to me. I think now I have, there are times where I noticed somebody, talking down to me and it’s sort of one of these, it’s not a mixed thing, it’s bad, but you’re sort of like, on the one hand it’s like, okay, I’m glad they perceived me as female. Not glad that that’s how they treat all females, including me. I think that the conversation that is starting to be had in Silicon Valley around gender bias first and foremost, but bias in general is super important. Silicon Valley long viewed itself and some pockets still see it as just this healthy, pure meritocracy. And I think recognizing that Silicon Valley not only isn’t immune to bias but actually has quite a bit. And I think you’re seeing that, you’re seeing the results of it, you’re seeing the impact of it. And certainly as we confront these difficult problems, Megan Smith, former US CTO talks about, we need to field in the whole team and I think she’s absolutely right. And that team includes men and that includes women and includes nonbinary and trans folks. And it includes people have a lot more cultural backgrounds that are well represented today and it includes different geographies. You know, we talked about this, Silicon Valley versus DC. The future of employment, of good employment, of good jobs are going to be jobs that, doesn’t mean everyone needs to go to a coding school, but they’re going to be technology infused jobs. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be coding jobs, but tech is going to be a big piece of it and we have to get through some of the divides that exist today. There’s still huge barriers for large swaths of our country, both geographically, people that grow up in a certain region are less likely to be employed, people of different ethnicities, people of different genders. Uh, and we certainly have to improve from where we are.
Scott: Do you think we’re making progress?
Ina: Certainly the fact that we’re having this conversation, the fact that we’re having this conversation nationally is a big step. We weren’t having this two or three years ago. We weren’t talking about the structural sexism when Ellen Pao brought her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, she wasn’t successful. That was the initial start of tech’s conversation around this. So it’s great that we’re having it. It’s great that we’ve seen some change. Some of the worst examples have gotten purged, but we’re a long way from a level playing field. And even further from people that never would be part of it in the first place, actually all the things being in place and we’re seeing some great things. I don’t want to be all negative. The work that Reshma is doing with Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, a lot of the things that are getting people interested in tech early on should be hugely positive. What I always say is, and it gives us a couple of years to fix the tech culture itself so that when these great young coders finally get here, they have a decent environment, let alone a job to go to.
Scott: As you’re saying that I’m looking out the window out of the building across the street, which is ICE’s headquarters. Which has become kind of a symbol of the opposite of what you’re saying, let’s say. Do you think this progress can continue in the overall environment that we seem to be anti-immigrant and more evidence of racism or are these things on separate tracks? I mean, that’s popular view in the political
Ina: If you ask the tech companies, it’s not a separate issue. Like the immigration issues are front and center for tech companies. Many, many of the best known tech companies were started by immigrants. All of the big tech companies have large immigrant workforces. And so this is a very personal issue in Silicon Valley.
Sarah: San Francisco… I’ve read articles that people are leaving, companies are trying to go where it’s cheaper. What’s your sense, have we seen peak SF or Silicon Valley? Or is it growing? Is it a whole new world of AI and machine learning and are more coders flooding to San Francisco than ever? What’s your take on SF? Because from here in DC it feels like the tech industry is maturing. It’s like a teenager, I guess, it’s growing up to have DC offices and to have policy questions. What does it feel like in SF now?
Ina: Well, I think there’s two separate things. The DC thing is what we talked about earlier in terms of companies realizing they need to be here. In terms of Silicon Valley and San Francisco, I think for every person that leaves, and some are leaving, someone’s eager to take their place. So I think what you’re probably seeing is a plateau and it gets to the housing thing. There’s just only so much room. So I don’t know that it’s growing hugely, but it’s not shrinking. So somebody is leaving and making noise about how, oh, San Francisco, I can’t raise my family here, it’s too expensive, I’m leaving. And then somebody, probably young and single, is moving in and taking their place. And you’ll see that cycle repeat itself. I think the question is how many tech jobs outside of Silicon Valley get created? I think everyone, all the tech companies, all the people that are pitching other destinations would all be happiest. And we need for a lot of jobs outside of San Francisco to be created, because again, the future of the economy, if it’s to be healthy, is going to be a lot more tech jobs. And there’s no way they’re all going to be in Silicon Valley.
Scott: Sarah’s another Stanford grad who feels like maybe she should never have left.
Sarah: Yeah, well no. I keep watching my peers out in California and what’s going on there and then, being here in DC, it’s a whole different world. But there’s a lot to know about DC that California people don’t really understand either.
Ina: I definitely would encourage people to and one of the things that I was hired to do at Axios is help DC better understand Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley understand DC. If you don’t get my daily newsletter, it’s getlogin.axios.com. And we try and bring that discussion and that sophistication of helping people understand these tech issues from both of those sides.
Scott: That’s probably a pretty good place to wrap it up. Thanks so much for coming over and talking with us.
Ina: Thanks Sarah, thanks Scott.
Scott: Thanks so much.