HBO's Silicon Valley: The one critical thing they left out

The debut of HBO's Silicon Valley TV series got a lot of things right about techie culture, but they left out the single most important thing.

Hollywood has been paying a lot of attention to Silicon Valley lately. But despite large-scale ambitions, most of its attempts to nail techie culture have failed as miserably as WebVan or MySpace. With the notable exception of The Social Network movie, projects ranging from The Internship to Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley got pretty much everything wrong, from the ethos to the environment. 

HBO’s Silicon Valley series, which premiered over the weekend, is different. Although I was prepared to hate it, as a 20-year participant/observer of the Bay Area’s tech scene, I had to admit it was actually pretty accurate. Lightyears better than most of the competition.

Watch the premiere episode free on YouTube, below

And yet, as the first episode drew to a close, I realized there was one essential element of  the real Silicon Valley that didn’t actually make it into the show, at least so far:

Work. Real, actual work. The serious coding and design work that actually creates the stuff that makes Silicon Valley companies successful. 

Sure, there were pitch meetings and other meetings and business calls and so on. But I didn’t see anyone sit down and write a single line of code or sketch out a network topography or design an integrated circuit.

Admittedly, it’s pretty hard to film that in a way that wouldn’t put viewers to sleep. I have no idea how to do it “cinematically.” But that’s why I’m a tech writer and not a TV director. 

And yes,  I know that the HBO series is supposed to be comedy, not a reality show. But while most of the show was relatively kind to the characters creating the fictional start-up at the center of the story, the fact that the app in question seems to have sprung into the world fully formed gives the whole thing an airy unreality that undercuts the entire premise.

Perhaps upcoming episodes will spare a moment for a montage of sleepless nights staring into the screen trying to create something out of nothing, but I kind of doubt it. Silicon Valley seems content to focus on the comedic possibilities of turning creative effort into a product. 

But that shortchanges the hard work and surpassing talent it takes to create groundbreaking apps and products in the first place. It makes it seem like Silicon Valley the place is nothing but a lottery, where lucky winners get plucked essentially at random to be showered with riches and fame (or at least Internet fame). 

Yes, I know there’s an element of that, but the real underpinnings of the Valley’s success is the dedication and creativity of the people that actually make the stuff. Silicon Valley the show misses that entirely. Still, I don't plan to miss a single episode, and neither should anyone who works in the tech industry.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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