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Uncanny Valley: A Memoir

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  266 ratings  ·  75 reviews
The prescient, page-turning account of a journey in Silicon Valley: a defining memoir of our digital age

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener—stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial--left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco,
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 14th 2020 by MCD
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I thought I was burnt out on reading about tech, but many parts of this excerpt made me laugh out loud:

Job listings are an excellent place to get sprayed with HR’s idea of fun and a 23-year-old’s idea of work-life balance.

Also, this!!!!!!

To solve our problem, management arranges for a team-building exercise. They schedule it on a weeknight evening, and we pretend not to mind. Our team-building begins with beers in the office, and then we travel en masse to a tiny event space at the mouth of the
Anna Wiener's memoir follows her departure from the New York publishing circle and change of career where she takes up a position in a tech start-up in of Silicon Valley.

This suffered from unrealistic expectations on my part: I've seen the book billed as a number of things - comparable to Joan Didion, a brutal expose on the sexist bro culture of the tech start-up business - and while, yes, the writing is good, companions to Didion are going a bit far. I don't know much about start-ups and while
Oct 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anna Weiner’s Uncanny Valley is a memoir of working in Silicon Valley in her mid-twenties; for me, it felt like a good online article that had been stretched out into more than three hundred pages. Weiner has nothing especially insightful to say about tech, and rehearses familiar critiques: the dominance of young white men, the lack of concern for data security, the distance from the ‘real world’. I also found the way Weiner presents herself as totally unrelatable; she seems to think it’s a ...more
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Jan 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
Anna Wiener left behind NYC and a job in publishing for a position at a Silicon Valley startup. With no experience in tech, her position in customer service / data analytics isn't valued by the industry.

It's a boy's club supported by venture capitalists and dripping in extravagance. There are ski vacations, open bars at the office, and flexible schedules while demanding corporate fealty above the personal lives of employees.

The lifestyle perks and salary lure Wiener in to the bubble but not
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Thanks to NetGalley for an advance review copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest assessment.

Anna Wiener is a young woman with an English degree and no technical experience. Her memoir starts as she enters the heady and often overly optimistic world of start-ups. Sky high budgets, charismatic founders, lots of misogyny and non-diverse hiring make for a work bubble that glorifies the technological boom and downplays the downsides of the new world.

Wiener is good at
Nov 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Uncanny Valley is a memoir about Silicon Valley, about being a woman there, and about the changing tech landscape. Anna Wiener left being an assistant in New York City publishing to work in a startup and soon ended up in Silicon Valley, working in data analytics. The memoir charts her time there and then at an open source repository company, as she looks at how she became deeply embedded in some of the mindsets of Silicon Valley and still felt like an outsider in others, particularly as someone ...more
Jenee Rager
Sep 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
Try as I might I could not get into this book. I think the story itself was informative, and it could have been interesting had it been written in a different style. I really struggled with the lack of names. Instead of just calling her co-workers "John" or "Mary" or whatever name she felt like, the author referred to them by their job description, making it impossible for me to connect with any of them. This was a goodreads giveaway and I appreciate the opportunity to try reading something new ...more
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I often felt teased here. There are moments of the life being shared that I felt connected to. But, a lot of that was drowned out by generalities in the experience and in the disparagement of that world.
Admitting their own part in it all feels much like the person saying 'no offense', before insulting you: as if they're mostly trying to assuage their own guilt.

Probably I'm being defensively triggered.
I need to start a new Goodreads shelf: books that make me glad to be a poor, white trash, introvert. Of course, this is all said tongue-in-cheek. Although my experience would have been different, being Generation X, I was offered the chance to become a computer programmer. Coming out of my first two years of college, with some kind of skill for higher levels of theoretical math and science, I was actively recruited by my college's math department for their computer programming degree program. I ...more
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is badged as an inside look into the world of tech bro’s by a woman who was there. However, the books main insights, that the men who work in Silicon Valley are mainly white, middle-class and supremely confident men who think that every idea they have has value, are nothing you didn’t already know.

I kept on reading, expecting that there would be a ‘gotcha’ moment, an insight into a well-known public occurrence, but it never came. It felt like it was written for people who don’t follow
Afton Montgomery
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
With this memoir, Anna Weiner had me laughing and groaning out loud in equal measure. Uncanny Valley is really a collection of her observations (so precise and detailed that her attention feels almost uncanny itself) as she shifts her life from the New York publishing scene to San Francisco tech at the beginning of the startup boom. She’s as cutting as the sharpest knife but never for the sake of her own superiority; rather she includes herself in every comment and critique and invites the ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Wiener is a very good writer, and I really liked the original essay that inspired the book. But this felt too much like a long-form essay extended into a book, with little narrative arc. I never felt that invested in the narrator (Weiner), or what would happen in the broader world she's inhabiting. Just when you think a subplot is developing it peters out, or is muted by a lack of elaboration (eg Pizzagate).

The narration felt very distant, like someone who's chipping away at a core truth, but
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019-rc
I think my respect to big tech companies are diminishing day by day.
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fast-paced, witty, and unflinching account of the Silicon Valley-San Francisco tech ethos in the years leading up to the infamous 2016 election. Wiener's story lends significant insight into this world, which at times feels very much like an alternate reality from the rest of the country. A truth she seems aware of and as the memoir progresses, hyper-aware of ...

I lived and worked in the Bay Area for 5 years, only a very small part of that time at a major tech company. What I learned from this
Jessica Doyle
Nov 26, 2019 rated it liked it
This one was just ok for me. I enjoyed Anna's writing style and that cover is , but I didn't connect with Anna herself. I also thought I would gain more insights in to the workings of Silicon Valley and what women experience in this very male dominated place, but the insights Anna provided felt very surface level when it was clear she could have offered me so much more. ...more
Kris Fernandez-Everett
Really 3.5 stars — would have been 4, but the NDA shadow dancing around the use of proper nouns made its point early in the book, but really, really came to annoy me by the end.

I could be blithe and say this is everything I hate about technology and the online world — and it is. The smug self satisfaction of white male millennials constantly trying to biohack and systems-optimise their ways to some professed state of perfection, which is a lie. They’re optimising their optics so that they’re
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
mmmm bleh. i enjoyed the first half way more than the second half. i just really wanted the book to end differently, in a more confronting-complicity-in-tech kind of way but this really wasn’t that kind of book unfortunately. i thought i’d read this and feel a little better about some of the ppl in tech and the state of san francisco but i really fooled myself! lol

anna is a good writer but i just wanted more complicated FEELINGS.

my only notable thing to take with me is this little passage i
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Silicon Valley, a place in which Anna Wiener was overwhelmingly outnumbered by men in the technological sphere, is still as dominated by white males as it was decades ago. Minorities and female workers are present but not as often as you might believe. Wiener certainly has some mettle to overlook these issues and decide to add at least one more woman to the Silicon Valley workforce. She details some important topics and discusses just how prevalent sexism, unwanted sexual advances and sexual ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
At the beginning of the tech boom in the early 2000s, Anna, disenchanted from working in the super-low-paying world of book publishing (ahem), First dips her toe in the tech world by working at a company with a reading app. But when that job doesn't work out, her contacts help her land a job in San Francisco working customer support (because even the very, very few women in tech still work gender-role based jobs) for a company that provides data to app companies. It's like selling jeans to the ...more
Kasa Cotugno
In this her first book, Anna Wiener has nailed the world of tech culture from her vantage point of being an insider yet feeling like an outsider. She moves to San Francisco after being a Brooklynite for most of her 25 years and experiences the dislocation blues acutely like most people. For those of us on the outside, it's not really clear what her high paying job entails or what the startup produces. For that matter, what do any of the startups she eventually works for do to amass the enormous ...more
Jay Gabler
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Uncanny Valley is literally a memoir insofar as it recounts the author’s lived experiences, but never quite connects the dots between her personal journey and the environment it moves through.

It’s understandable, of course, that Wiener might want to hold herself at a distance even in the pages of her own book, since a recurring motif of her account is the commodification of personal information. One of the author’s tech jobs is at a company that helps other companies analyze their users’
Marcella Wigg
Like Antisocial, by Wiener's New Yorker colleague Marantz, this book is beautifully written, and the "not naming any names" sociological approach to her life in a non-developer role in tech is intriguing, especially for the tech news initiated.

While she hinted at it possibly being used for practical reasons, I would argue the conceit makes this book less accessible for those with no foreknowledge of the industry; the "litigious company from Seattle" and "search engine" will both be familiar to
Nina Berman
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When we first meet Anna Weiner in this memoir, she is an underpaid Brooklynite trying to eke out a decent living in publishing. She and her friends are trying to figure out if the shabby glamour of book publishing is worth the low wages, the long hours, and the very unclear career path forward. So when she has the opportunity to jump ship and move into the tech world, she jumps. She is skeptical about San Francisco and the tech world, but seduced by high salaries and the optimism of tech. For ...more
Sarah at Sarah's Book Shelves
Thanks to MCD for an advanced copy of this book.

Wiener has the unique perspective of joining the tech industry (first at a data analytics start-up, followed by an open-source software company) from publishing (an old-school culture that couldn’t be more different from tech), so I enjoyed her quasi-outsider’s perspective on the cult-like, all-encompassing, over-the-top, child’s playground culture of Silicon Valley. She railed on what you’d expect (i.e. the male and youth dominated culture, the
Andrea Laurion
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
To sum up: A lit world person goes to work for several years in Silicon Valley in customer support roles. It's the type of book that's written for a very particular audience on two separate sides of the country. Whether anyone outside of that will be interested, I'm not so sure.

The writing is solid and the humor is dark. The anecdotes are bonkers, which is what you want in a tech world memoir (the more dirt, the better, imho). Still, I think it would have been a stronger book if it was written
Valerie Brett
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
This book is erudite & self aware; somehow both startling & unsurprising; and imposible to put down. It’s one woman’s story, but through her story she show us how we all may have been complicit.

The one thing I don’t understand is how a writer so smart & observant could be so stupid (as she describes herself). She is sort of a naive outsider who stands in for the reader; this works well for the book, but really, she’s eventually an insider, and very well-educated, and very thoughtful
Melissa DeLong
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
*Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux + NetGalley for the ARC!*

Job listings are an excellent place to get sprayed with HR’s idea of fun and a 23-year-old’s idea of work-life balance.

I identified with so much of this book - not necessary the tech piece, as I've never worked in tech - but the boy's club mentality highlighted throughout the book and perks from upper-management who have no idea what employees really want had me actually laughing out loud. Turns out being a woman is pretty much the
Jen Ryland
I was a big fan of Silicon Valley (the HBO show) and like memoirs so decided to try this out.

As the book opens, the author is working as assistant in NY publishing. She's overworked, underpaid and not getting promoted, so she decides to take a (non-tech) job at a Silicon Valley start-up.

I liked the writing and found the author's observations sharp and insightful. But the book felt long for something that's really just a LOT of observation. I kept wishing for more structure. It felt too long for
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is being marketed as 'defining' - I think you'd get more than that out of Emily Chang's book 'Brotopia'. The memoir offers very little with the exception of exploring the life of a woman who worked in Silicon Valley - a story that could have been written by any of the women who work there. Similarly, Wiener's tone comes off as preachy moments - there's a particular brand of white feminism that seeps into the pages where politics and social change come into play. Whilst it's ...more
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uncanny Valley is a coming of age story set against the backdrop of our generation’s very own gold rush. It’s a story about the tension between old and new, between art and tech, between the quest for money and the quest for meaning – about how our world is changing for ever.

Anna left the world of New York publishing to move to Silicon Valley, with no real tech experience. So follows her journey through the tech boom as public awareness of privacy, the NSA and security is on the rise. As someone
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“or the stack of data-driven T-shirts I kept” 0 likes
“Being the only woman on a nontechnical team, providing customer support to software developers, was like immersion therapy for internalized misogyny. I liked men—I had a brother. I had a boyfriend. But men were everywhere: the customers, my teammates, my boss, his boss. I was always fixing things for them, tiptoeing around their vanities, cheering them up. Affirming, dodging, confiding, collaborating. Advocating for their career advancement; ordering them pizza. My job had placed me, a self-identified feminist, in a position of ceaseless, professionalized deference to the male ego.” 0 likes
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