Book Review

Review: Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Mateo Askaripour’s satirical take on tech company culture hit home for this reader who works in tech. Written from the perspective of Darren (nicknamed Buck since he worked at Starbucks before starting at Sumwun) it recounts how tech’s culture can be unforgiving, cruel, and racist.

I identified with Buck’s introduction to Sumwun, especially when he looked up what the company does right before his first day. Askaripour pokes fun at tech’s self-aggrandizement because even after Googling Sumwun, it’s clear Buck has no clear idea what the company does. When it later becomes clear that Sumwun’s whole business model is connecting depressed Americans with unlicensed therapists from around the world, I chuckled out loud. However, in our incredibly tech-infused world I would be the furthest from surprised to find out someone had tried to start a similar company in real life.

From the minute Buck is “discovered” by Sumwun’s CEO while working as a Starbucks barista through this departure, racism permeates Buck’s experience. He is singled out in training while the white heiress sails through unscathed, faces a manager who is full of contempt for him solely because he is black, and asked to appear on TV with the CEO to improve the company’s “image.”

Much of what Buck experiences is cringeworthy, as good satire should be, but I was constantly reminded that Black Buck portrays events that are barely outside the realm of reality. Black Buck forces readers to grapple with the insidiousness of tech and racism all in one book. Buck changes as a person as he works longer days and begins to makes friends at his company. Soon his life is consumed by Sumwun and he forgets for days to see his mom or girlfriend.

I will note that my current company purchased Black Buck for me and organized a talk with Askaripour. There I heard about the author’s personal experience working as a salesperson in tech and his fluency with tech’s many acronyms (B2B, SaaS, BRD, etc.). For me, this drove home the main takeaways that I think Askaripour is getting at: a job in tech can be all consuming and it has a distinct problem with being unwelcoming and hostile for minorities.

Black Buck served as a reminder for me that these problems persist in my industry and that mountains of work remains to make tech the inclusive, meritocracy that it thinks it is.

Book Review

An American Marriage

An American Marriage is a novel about not only the difficulties of a new marriage but also the pernicious effects of the American justice system. Author Tayari Jones notes that the foundation of this novel was a childhood in which “men are under siege,” specifically black men who are subject to a justice system that “criminalizes black men and destroys families.”

Throughout An American Marriage Jones asks readers to grapple with questions between right and wrong. Is it right for a man to be sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit? Is it right for a new wife to leave her wrongfully imprisoned husband after years of not speaking to him? Is it right to even make a value judgement on the characters given what they’ve been subjected to? Is it right that in America today one’s life can be turned upside down by a racist judge?

In grappling with these questions, Jones shows how systemic racism can so easily wreck lives and relationships.

Selected Quotes

“Six or twelve,” he sometimes said when he was depressed, which wasn’t all the time but often enough that I recognized a blue mood when it was settling in. “That’s your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve.” 1

She had made her choice. I could see it in the determined square of her shoulder as she washed my plate and cup. She had chosen what it was going to be and that was that. Just like a jury in a prefab courtroom had decided that I was a rapist and that was that. Just like a judge in another shabby courtroom decided I was going to prison and that was that. Then a compassionate judge in DC agreed that the prosecutor set me up, so I got free and that, too, was that. For the last five years, people have been telling me what my life is going to be. But what could I do about it? Tell the judge that I’m not going to jail? Tell the DA that I decided to stay? What could I tell Celestial? Could I demand that she love me again? 1

Roy spent the last five years in prison while I’d been writing computer code. 1

But someone was going to pay for what happened to Roy, just as Roy paid for what happened to that woman. Someone always pays. Bullet don’t have nobody’s name on it, that’s what people say. I think the same is true for vengeance. Maybe even for love. It’s out there, random and deadly, like a tornado. 1

  1. Jones, Tayari. An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection) Algonquin Books. Kindle Edition.


Shanghai Urban Garden

This is one of my favorites from Shanghai. It’s a mural painted on the wall of one of Shanghai’s first urban farms. The farm divides two housing communities—one being among the most expensive developments in Shanghai and one being a working class complex. A door was proposed at this spot to link the two communities but never came to fruition. Nevertheless, the farm director told us children and parents from both sides of the wall now tend to the garden and participate in activities. While I really do wish this door had been built—it would have saved me 15 minutes of walking—this mural preserves the hope that one day divided communities will come together.

Also, look at the sign at the top—I really got a kick out of what must be a reference to Platform 9 and 3/4. Maybe someday everyone will be able to find their magical train on Platform 9 and 3/4


Four Months in Shanghai

So excited to get a chance to spend four months in China. Naturally The Bund (外滩) was among the first places we went, and of course I had to get the classic tourist shot of Pudong (浦东).

Long Form

Github Study Shows Gender Bias

A group of student researchers recently released a study of code hosted on, a popular website that computer programmers collaborate on, that aimed to understand the gender biases that surround coding. The researchers expected that there would be bias against code written by women, given the fact that the industry’s gender balance is heavily tilted towards men.1

Interestingly, the researcher’s hypothesis did not hold, and they found that code written by women was in fact more likely to be approved by community leaders on than code written by men. Specifically, the study found that code written by women was accepted 78.6% of the time compared to code written by men which was accepted 74.6% of the time.2 However, this finding only held true when the researchers removed any gender markings from the profiles and code that was submitted. When gender markers were added back in, a gender bias against women was documented. This led to the overall conclusion that women may be more competent at coding but their code faces discrimination anyway.

The researchers were sure to investigate other possible sources for this disparity. Code written by women was accepted more than code written by men across all the top programming languages. Additionally, women were not found to be writing shorter code than their male counterparts, so their contributions were not more likely to be accepted because of their snippet’s length. Women also were not benefitting from reverse bias, whereby coders promote the work of women on purpose to help foster a more inclusive coding community.

The findings highlight the struggles that women face in an industry with a pronounced gender imbalance. This issue, of course, extends into the real world, where women report that they face discrimination in interviews and on the job, with reports of women who feel that they have to work twice as hard as the men at their firm. Anecdotally, hiring managers have told women that they are the most qualified for the position but that they would have to fight to get them on the team because upper management was expecting a man. It is this uncalled-for misogyny that makes even women advise other women against getting into the field because they know the obstacles and boundaries that they will face. In an occupation that is known for its high pay, availability of new jobs and its ability to work from home, this is truly unfortunate. It is widely accepted that diversity is important in creating the best product, whether it is on or at a company in the real world.

I’ve heard some in the industry say that there is a pipeline issue—that too few women are studying in the field—and while this is true, this research suggests that even at the professional level biases still exist. Companies and communities clearly must do more work to eliminate this discrimination, which ranges from the unconscious prejudice to forthright sexism. While it will not happen overnight, I’m hopeful that studies like this will help raise the public’s awareness of the gender imbalance in the technology field and that the industry will be able to realize improvements in the coming years.