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Paul Graham and the Manic Pixie Dream Hacker, by Kate Losse, Medium

Stashed in: Silicon Valley!, YCombinator, Zuck!, Sexism, Medium

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Kate Losse writes about Paul Graham's fantasy of a founder:

If what Paul Graham and his VC ilk want is coders, entrepreneurs, and founders, they could find them across a wide range of age and gender demographics. But, as Graham’s youth- and masculine-focused comments reveal (e.g. regarding the superiority of “hardcore hackers” who start coding at 13, along with a phantasmatic belief that girls don’t have native interest in computers), that’s not what they are looking for. What they want amounts to a fantasy figure, a person who embodies their idea of what a founder is.

The founder in Graham’s mind “looks like Mark Zuckerberg”, a statement which unpacked means: boyish, hoodied, white, hyper-focused on his startup, eschewing other interests and distractions. But even in the case of Mark Zuckerberg, Paul Graham’s fantasy is phantasmatic: as a matter of fact Mark did not learn to code by himself at age 10, but rather was taught by a tutor in high school — a no-no in Graham’s fantasy of what a hacker rightly is, where being taught by someone else is suspect and each year of one’s childhood that goes by without learning to code is a costly entrepreneurial error.

Real founders come in all types.

Kate Losse explains why the myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Hacker matters:

It matters because there is money attached to this fantasy of technical boyhood— hundreds of millions of dollars in salary, equity, and VC funding earmarked for and only for people who briefly embody in age, race, and attitude the boyish dreams of Silicon Valley. And those who don’t, because they are too old (“after 32, investors start to be skeptical,” Graham notes, though one has the feeling that anyone over 23 would be a disappointment ;-) ), too female, too nonwhite, too interested in a variety of non-technical things — are being continually marginalized and alienated culturally and economically in the Valley and in tech.

And this is why the fantasy of the Manic Pixie Dream Hacker isn’t harmless: for every year that it reigns and goes unanalyzed, classes of potential founders, programmers, and employees are overlooked because, to VCs working from this unquestioned fantasy of what a hacker looks like, they simply look wrong.

Well said, Kate.

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