4. What we're reading: "Whistleblower"
Susan Fowler burst onto the public stage in February 2017 with the most momentous blog post in the history of the internet.
- Her 2,900-word "reflection on one very, very strange year at Uber" precipitated the downfall of Uber's founding CEO Travis Kalanick.
- It also marked the point at which the entire national conversation about technology companies shifted from cheerleading to skepticism.
Fowler went quiet after her blog post was published. But now, three years later, she's back with a memoir, "Whistleblower," that deserves to start a new conflagration of its own. This time, the system being indicted is not Uber, or even Silicon Valley more broadly, but the entire American patriarchy.
Fowler is a truly extraordinary woman. As a girl born into deeply religious poverty, she home-schooled herself through high school while being allowed "no female friends who did not go to church, no male friends whatsoever, and certainly no boyfriends."
She fought her way into Arizona State University and then the University of Pennsylvania through the sheer force of her thirst for knowledge, but continued to encounter appalling sexism.
- Penn treated Fowler atrociously. She encountered serious sexual harassment and discrimination and found herself the person punished — the school prevented her from receiving an M.A. in philosophy and a B.A. in physics, and dashed her dreams of getting a physics Ph.D.
Unable to remain in academia, Fowler went to work as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, but the sexism persisted — first at Plaid, then at PubNub, and then, famously, at Uber.
- Fowler's first-hand account of the duplicity and dysfunction at Uber is genuinely shocking. The company would have gotten away with it, too, just as they had countless times in the past, were it not for Fowler's unique background. As a serious philosopher, she felt compelled to speak out; as a meticulous scientist, she had all the receipts.
While the media narrative is dominated by #MeToo stories of sexual assault, "Whistleblower" masterfully pulls back the camera.
- Fowler reveals a world of sexual discrimination, retaliation, and a broader culture where women's careers are simply not valued as highly as men's. Hers is not a story of Bad Men; in fact, much of the sexism she encountered was at the hands of women.
The bottom line: Fowler's left arm is tattooed with a phrase from Ovid: "Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata." American society did its very best to prevent her from succeeding. Her life, and this excellent book, represents her triumph over almost inconceivable odds.