More than a decade of grousing about product management

The Uber Whistleblower, thoughts

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Whistleblower’s experiences expose flaws in HR and the lack of support for employees in toxic work cultures.

The Dude remembers when Susan Fowler (@susanthequark) published her fateful blog post on her year at Uber, nodding his head at her portrayal of the Bro culture in Silicon Valley. The Dude had seen and heard much of the same sort of antics, perhaps with less alcohol and drug fueled excesses, but since he married someone who worked at Atari in the early 80’s who tells stories of people using their ID card to prep lines of coke on their desks, he was not too surprised.

Uber had a long reputation of being over the top, and irreverent in many ways, yet it was typical of the high-octane startup culture.

When the Dude heard that Susan was writing a book, he knew he would be buying a copy, and last week, it arrived on his iPad on release day.

While the Dude hasn’t finished the book (he will do a more thorough review later) he would like to point out the lesson that Susan learnt early in her career.


Her experience at Penn, when the student she befriended as an outsider went full nut-job was a taste. In this tale, a bit of a loner/outcast student whose she worked to help him integrate into the research group that she was part of, went full infatuation. Truthfully, from the tale Ms. Fowler relates, he appears to be an incel, or at least has incel tendencies. Regardless, she was put in a difficult position when the dean and administrators of the school point the responsibility for this suicidal whack-a-doodle on Ms. Fowler.

What Susan should have taken from that episode is that the administration in a large university will prioritize the institution, and the professors over students.

Every time.

Later, after her dreams of high energy/particle physics PhD and research are shredded by the incident and aftermath of the university crap she dealt with, she moves west, and joins a small-ish startup.

There, she gets a bird’s eye view of the crap behavior of the ‘Bro’ developer culture, and as a small company without any real HR, realizes that she has little or no recourse, and bails.

Then it is off to a larger startup, but again, the same ‘Bro’ culture that is dominant. However, being larger, there is HR there, but like many small companies, the HR team is more focused on the executives and the company, and not so much on arbitrating conflict.

Then comes Uber. A larger startup, in 2015 when she joined, it had become a ginormous startup, a true Unicorn, valued at insane levels, but with a fairly robust administrative culture. And big company HR, at least on the outside.

I will spare you the gory details (do buy the book, it is a fascinating read, and engaging) but on her first day with her permanent team, her new boss sends her completely inappropriate messages, and essentially propositions her to go on a romantic (ha ha) holiday getaway over the Christmas break.

She dutifully reports this to the HR team, who while taking notes, and offering platitudes of being on her side, and that an investigation will be taken, Susan feels satisfied that it finally will be taken care of.

Except that it isn’t. Turns out that HR decided that since her boss was a “high” performer, and this was his “first” offense, that they wouldn’t be taking action. In fact, HR does the full fucking court press on Ms. Fowler, essentially telling her that she could stay in his team (where her skills would be hugely helpful in their transition from an in-house data center to a cloud deployment) but was warned that she would likely get a bad performance review, or she could be moved.

Yada yada

Not wanting to give more away, the Dude wants to point out the lesson that Susan painfully learned. A truth that is core to success in business. And one that I have blogged about in the past.

Repeat after me: “Human Resources is not on your side

Human resources exists to:

  1. Protect the company from negative repercussions and
  2. Protect the senior leadership (Executive Staff)

All the rest is window dressing, and if it wasn’t demanded by employment law, it wouldn’t get done.

Sure, HR talks a good game. “Our most valuable asset is our PEOPLE”, but at the end of the day, if you are an Individual Contributor, or a low/mid-level manager, you are expendable. While retaliation is illegal, the forced arbitration contracts and employment agreements, and the extremely low odds that you can either afford to fight the retaliation in court (how many hours of an attorney can you really afford?) or the unlikeliness that you will get any meaningful award. Especially since by bringing a case, you will essentially become unemployable in the field.

Yep, this is fucked up, but it is reality.

Buy the book. Read it. Follow her on Twitter. Her origin story and background are fascinating and engaging.

Alas, if you know a woman in tech, particularly in the engineering side of the house, just ask them, and they will almost universally have some hairy story like this to share. It is a fucking epidemic in Tech, and the Dude fucking hates that.

Written by

A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude