Are Silicon Valley techies lazy? Prominent Bay Area VC goes to China, suggests answer is yes


Moritz also took aim at purported over-spending and a lack of thrift at California tech companies. — AFP

Moritz also took aim at purported over-spending and a lack of thrift at California tech companies. — AFP

While Silicon Valley techies have become "unhinged" over issues such as work/life balance, paternity leave and the politics of speakers invited to companies, their Chinese counterparts are working 14-hour days and making firms in their country easier to do business with than companies in California. 

That's the conclusion of Michael Moritz, a managing partner at prominent Menlo Park venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. 

In an op-ed apparently written from China and published in the Financial Times on Jan 17 – and illustrated with a photo showing tech workers in Beijing slamming down noodles during a "midnight work break" – Moritz opened fire on the Valley's tech culture. 

The industry is rife with "soul-sapping discussions" that seem like "unwarranted distractions," the Wales-born, Oxford-educated, knighted-by-the-Queen billionaire wrote. 

"In recent months, there have been complaints about the political sensibilities of speakers invited to address a corporate audience; debates over the appropriate length of paternity leave or work-life balances; and grumbling about the need for a space for musical jam sessions," according to Sir Mike. 

"These seem like the concerns of a society that is becoming unhinged. These topics are absent in China's technology companies, where the pace of work is furious." 

At Chinese tech firms, managers arrive at 8am and often don't depart till 10pm, Moritz wrote. 

"Most of them will do this six days a week – and there are plenty of examples of people who do this for seven," he wrote. 

Engineers, well, they come in later, around 10am – but they stay till midnight, according to Moritz. 

"If a Chinese company schedules tasks for the weekend, nobody complains about missing a Little League game or skipping a basketball outing with friends." 

It's not just the work ethic in China that makes the tech business different there than here, Moritz suggested. Chinese tech workers have more time, because they're not so concerned about exercise, he wrote. 

"Some of it is also due to the disregard paid to physical fitness – a pursuit that can chew up eight to 10 hours a week in Silicon Valley," he wrote. 

Moritz was willing to admit that some companies in the Golden State start off with Chinese-style toil: "In California, this sort of pace might be common for the first couple of years of a company, but then it will slow." 

To be sure, some of the "chatter" in California's tech industry concerning "the inequity of life" has validity – "especially for women," Moritz acknowledged. 

Moritz also took aim at purported over-spending and a lack of thrift at California tech companies. In China, he wrote, a "deep-rooted sense of frugality" prevails. 

"You don't see US$700 (RM2,755) office chairs or large flat panel computer screens at most of the leading technology companies. Instead, the furniture tends to be Spartan and everyone works on laptops," he wrote. 

"It is also striking to the western eye how frequently a tea bag is reused or how, in winter, employees dress in coats and scarves at their desks to ward off the bone-chilling temperature." 

All in all, Moritz concluded, "in many respects, doing business in China is easier than doing business in California." — San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service