Culture

Feeling Misunderstood, Bill Gates Tells People to Watch HBO's 'Silicon Valley' to Learn about Tech Industry

Bill Gates took to his blog this week to tell the world that he feels misunderstood, lamenting that people don’t really know what it’s really like to work in Silicon Valley.

“Considering the huge impact that Silicon Valley has on our lives, I’m surprised by how rarely pop culture really gets it right,” Gates complained. “I can count the best stuff on one hand.”

While he said that the book  Fire in the Valley did a good job of capturing “what things were like back in the early years, and the relationship between Steve Jobs and me,” and Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is “terrific,” he said people need to watch the HBO series “Silicon Valley” if they really want to understand California’s tech industry.

The show, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, is about a group of millennials who create a Silicon Valley startup called Pied Piper. Hooli, which is also featured in the series, is an international corporation that Pied Piper hopes to never emulate. The company seems to be modeled after Google, Microsoft, Apple, or another tech behemoth — or maybe a combination of all of them.

“The show is a parody, so it exaggerates things, but like all great parodies it captures a lot of truths,” Gates said. “Most of the different personality types you see in the show feel very familiar to me. The programmers are smart, super-competitive even with their friends, and a bit clueless when it comes to social cues. Personally, I identify most with Richard, the founder of Pied Piper, who is a great programmer but has to learn some hard lessons about managing people.” 

One of Richard’s notable quotes takes a swipe at Steve Jobs’ programming skills: “Jobs was a poser, he didn’t even write code.”

The “Silicon Valley” Wikia describes Richard in further detail:

Richard Hendricks is a software designer, creator of the Pied Piper app and algorithm, and the protagonist in HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Richard invented and built the start-up Pied Piper, a program designed to find music matches, while living at Erlich’s Hacker Hostel alongside his best friend Big Head and fellow geeks Dinesh and Gilfoyle. Pied Piper’s compression algorithm triggered a bidding war and ultimately garnered funding from Peter Gregory’s company Raviga. After winning TechCrunch Disrupt — and $50,000 — Richard and Pied Piper are in the spotlight more than ever, which for Richard means non-stop thrills (read: nausea and debilitating panic).

Gates said that the show is very accurate and that the writers and producers spend a lot of time researching ahead of each new season. That research included interviewing Gates to discuss the history of the tech industry and to “kick around some of their ideas” for season 5.

Even though it’s a parody, Gates said some of his friends in Silicon Valley refuse to watch it because “they think it’s just making fun of them.” He tells them, “You really should watch it, because they don’t make any more fun of us than we deserve.”

“You can believe, as I do, that tech companies really are improving life with amazing tools and also admit that sometimes, who wins and who loses is pretty arbitrary,” he said. “Somebody gets an idea almost right, but not quite, and their business fails; then someone else does it just a little bit better and they are viewed as a genius for the rest of their life. The show captures that perfectly.”

He does complain that “Silicon Valley” portrays small companies like Pied Piper as “mostly capable” and shows big companies like Hooli as being “mostly inept. “Although I’m obviously biased, my experience is that small companies can be just as inept, and the big ones have the resources to invest in deep research and take a long-term point of view that smaller ones can’t afford,” he said. “But I also understand why the show focuses so much on Pied Piper and makes Hooli look so goofy. It’s more fun to root for the underdog.”

The show is currently in its fifth season, and HBO announced in April that it had been renewed for a sixth season. You can catch it on HBO Now, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudo.