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Am I a Tech Bro?

I recently started baking sourdough. If you’re aware of the “tech bro” stereotype and my chosen profession, you might find this to be on-the-nose, but just like running, baking as a hobby seems to have seen an upswing since we the quarantine started.

My first loaf was a dense mess so I took to my friend-group Slack channel to ask for advice. Had I folded it enough? Had my proving heat been too high? Why was my crust gold when the one in the recipe had been a “deep brown”? One of my friends, also a software engineer, admitted he too had began feeding a starter and shared some photos of recent creations. He also sent me a link to an article in Eater and admitted it made him “feel real bad” about his decisions.

The article, “Do You Even Bake, Bro?” by Dayna Evans, was an instant read. (I too respond well to negging.) It was well researched, made some valid points, and had empathy for all the men it joked about. But I found myself struck by its insistence on using the “tech bro” label. Its 12 instances were each a jab, knocking me out of the piece and forcing me to examine my own fragility.

“Why did ‘tech bro’ bother me?” I wondered allowed to my decidedly non-bro partner, Emily. “Was I a tech bro?”

Her averted eyes told me she had to think, which meant defeat.

I tried salvaging the situation. Was there something wrong with a term used for a group of people who did not identify themselves as such? A racial slur is bad, but race is an imposed construct. Working in tech is a choice, often a lucrative one.

So then what did it mean? Were all men in tech “tech bros”?

I went back to the first time I heard the term.

My career began during the 2009 Financial Crisis, the years when millenials were taught to stop striving and embrace brunch. But after experiencing its own crash a few years before, the tech industry that embraced me was abnormally optimistic.

Much of the in-office hedonism I witnessed was intoxicating. Nights were late and so were mornings. We frequently worked from noon to midnight. But every Friday was capped off by shots, beer pong, and games of Rock Band. “Did I join a fraternity?” I shamefully wondered over email to a friend who was teaching ESL abroad.

Most of us were nerds. We had avoided the term in high school and then embraced it in college. Now we were nerds who’d found a way to profit off of our obsession with computers. But there were some amongst us who didn’t foot the bill. They were handsome and partied a little harder. They lifted. Enter the “brogrammer”.

I was never called a brogrammer, but I knew them. They took it in stride. That year, the Apatow milliue canonized “bromance” with the film, I Love You Man, and popularized the Bro Code through a lovable Barney Stinson. Being a bro was obnoxious to some and goofy to most. All that tank-top-revealed muscle, just to type on a keyboard.

But some of the nerdiest amongst us resented the brogrammers. After my first year a large gaming company, a backlash began. Mostly it was journalists and SF residents rightfully wondering about our practice of the “fast follow”, the morally dubious practice of carbon copying someone else’s intellectual property, but in a legal way. One laid off developer wrote a screed about how our company was ruled by air headed brogrammers who were promoted above more competent colleagues. It was the first time I’d heard them maligned.

Kyle Warren

Kyle Warren's personal blog. You're sensing a theme here.