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Don’t Be Evil (and Make More Money)

Justin Barber
3 min read

In my last email I talked about how wealth and transience are two primary factors that make it difficult for community to organically take root, and how these factors raise the question: if I can satisfy my own needs, what role does God play in my life? And more specifically, what is the role of the church in Silicon Valley?

Big tech companies are well known for their perks. During my four years at Google, I had access to an extensive range of resources and benefits. Things like…

  • Free breakfast, lunch, and dinner from over 30 different cafeterias
  • Cafes with baristas who prepared free coffee
  • Gyms, tennis courts, basketball courts, bowling alleys, swimming pools, and fields
  • Free laundry machines
  • Full match 401K
  • Donation matching
  • Instant access to any Google office in the world
  • The best health insurance available
  • Corporate discounts (like 50% off Bose headphones and premium rental car status)
  • Loose work-from-home and vacation policy

And the list could go on – I got a lot from Google!

Of course, big tech companies are only able to provide such benefits because of their astronomical revenue streams. But that doesn’t explain why so much of Big Tech chooses to offer these benefits to their employees – I’m skeptical that every other company in the world would make similar choices given the same opportunity.

The answer, I think, lies in Silicon Valley’s origin story: revolutionary underdogs who change the world. It’s not enough in tech to just build a sustainable business. There’s more to it than that. It’s about life’s purpose. There’s a mythology to uphold.

When Google filed their S-1 (the documents companies prepare in order to go public) in 2004, they wrote in their prospectus summary:

“Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served–as shareholders and in all other ways–by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.”

Earlier this year, Zoom, a video communications tool for businesses, claimed in their S-1 prospectus:

“Our culture of delivering happiness drives our mission, vision and values and is fundamental to everything we do at Zoom”

Don’t be evil. Deliver happiness.

There’s a common Silicon Valley phrase: “bring your whole self to work.”

It’s mythologies like these that Silicon Valley has used over the past two decades to build its reputation as a beacon of goodness. Even, at times, branding itself as society’s moral compass.

The problem is – no matter what a company claims – its fundamental purpose will always be to make more money.

My last two years at Google were dominated by this tension. Employees were furious when news broke that Google was considering building a censored version of its search to re-enter China (despite withdrawing from China eight years ago because of censorship) as well as working with the US government to develop drone technology.

Frustrated employees lined up at the weekly all hands to ask questions around “whatever happened to don’t be evil?” Each time, the implicit answer from Google’s leadership was some form of “don’t forget, we’re a company that needs to increase revenue.” For successful companies, the concept of “enough” does not exist. There must always be more.

In Silicon Valley, companies can provide me a lot. I can get free coffee, a sense of achievement, lifelong friends…but the one thing I can’t get from a company is the truth that I am enough.

That’s why I need church.

There are no job interviews, resumes, or performance reviews in church. It’s the only place where I can come feeling weak and insignificant. It’s the only place where I know that I am enough.

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