In only a few months, Ellen Pao went from being the face of gender discrimination in the Silicon Valley to a symbol of censorship. While some will blame sexism, her downfall is the classic story of why tech companies should be lead by techies.
After a crackdown of controversial subreddits in a move seen as an act of censorship and the dismissal of a popular administrator, the Reddit community was demanding her resignation. After much debate and damage control, Ellen Pao stepped down as CEO of Reddit on July 10.
Given her high profile discrimination lawsuit against, many have been quick to blame sexism of the Reddit community for Pao’s resignation. However this “social justice warrior” outlook is the most fallacious specter to examine her downfall (if you could even call it that). This instead is another classic example of why the leadership of tech companies should always be in the hands of the techies and not business figures.
Under the leadership of Bill Gates, Microsoft was both a dominating force and a leader in the tech industry. That all changed when Steve Ballmer took over and the influence of the company began to decline. During his leadership, Microsoft failed to get a foothold in the emerging consumer tech market while most of their products failed to gain traction among consumers. When Ballmer left in 2014, Microsoft is only surviving because of Microsoft Office and the Xbox game consoles.
During Microsoft’s decline, Hewlett-Packard was having its own problems under the leadership of Carly Fiorina. Known as the company that established the Silicon Valley, HP fell into dismay with a series failures, bad acquisitions along with massive layoffs. Today her legacy remains controversial as many in Silicon Valley consider her one of the worst tech CEOs.
Another tech titan that fell from grace was Electronic Arts under the leadership of John Riccitiello. EA was once a leader of innovation in the gaming world, but that all changed when Riccitiello became CEO in 2004. Thanks to a series of gimmicks in an attempt to change the concept of the gaming industry, stock prices dropped while once loyal fans made EA earn the title “Worst Company In America” two years in a row.
Pao’s failure at Reddit is exactly the same reason why Ballmer, Riccitiello and Firoina failed miserably, none of these leaders were techies. When these companies were first established and during the height of their prosperity, it was the computer engineers who held most of the leadership positions. They had executives and managers with experience in business offering guidance but it was those who had a background in technology that had the real leadership roles.
However when the leadership role was passed to those who had no real experience in tech or were more business-focused, that is when it started to go down hill. Pao is a lawyer with experience in the finance industry; she had no real credibility to lead a tech company. Ballmer and Riccitiello were only involved in the business section of their respected company, they had no real understanding of how that technology aspect functioned.
On the other side of the specter are tech companies that are changing the world while being very profitable. Yet the leadership of these companies is still in the hands of those with a strong background in technology and computer engineering.
While Microsoft prospered in the 90’s, Apple was limping under several leaders who had little to no experience in managing a tech company. Everything changed when Steve Jobs returned to transform the company he established into the iconic brand that we know today. When Tim Cook took over in 2011, he had some experiences in managing a tech company but made the strategic choice to have techies like Scott Forstall advise him. This move paid-off as Apple has continued to prosper several years after the death of its founder.
At the same time, Google grew from a search engine service to become one of the largest tech service companies in the world. Besides maintaining the most popular search engine while providing a verity of digital services, its also one of the most popular companies among employees and job seekers. Google has a reputation of encouraging innovation while highly valuing and respecting its employees. Yet its leadership has been controlled by those with a background in computer science and while the current and former CEO were at one time a computer engineer. With a combination of progressive values and ignoring the advice of old Wall Street, Google has grown to become a leader in the global tech market.
Ellen Pao is a person with many talents and plenty of opportunities in the future, however having an Ivy League education does not make someone a “Jack/Jane of all trades.” History has shown that only the techies know how to manage a successful tech company while Pao is better setting up roots in another industry that will allow her to utilize her skills and knowledge.
Written for Digital Journal
Original Article: Op-Ed: Ellen Pao showed why only techies should manage tech companies