Former Google engineer turned Silicon Valley pariah James Damore on becoming a techie villain.
San Francisco magazine
March 20, 2018
Occupation: Former Google engineer
Residence: Mountain View
San Francisco: Google fired you after an internal memo you wrote leaked. In it you argued that one of the reasons there aren’t more women in tech was that men’s and women’s brains just function differently. Why bring up biology at all?
James Damore: The reason I brought up biology in the memo was simply that a common argument is the problem isn’t necessarily in our hiring. I just felt like it was important to realize that, No, not all of this is socially constructed.
But certainly some of the huge disparities in hiring and promoting talent are related to bias, right?
There’s definitely been discrimination, and there’s discrimination currently. There’s isolated cases that the media likes to bring up, like Uber. I question the belief that men have all the power and that women don’t have any power. Women have a lot of power. I mean, just look at heterosexual relationships. Women have something that men want. If men were in total control, why is it that they generally are the ones who pay for dates and engagement rings? Why are men expected to work and buy the house?
That’s not a very common point of view in the Bay Area.
It’s currently impossible to say some of these things in public. In internal, anonymous polls at Google, about half of the people agreed with me. It’s telling that [Google founders] Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] have never made a public statement about this. I think what they believe would be more in line with what I am saying than otherwise. Sergey and Larry are probably both libertarians. People interpret what I say as being socially conservative, but I am not. I’m more of a centrist.
Did you vote in the last presidential election?
I’m not actually that political. I’m more interested in the ideas.
So you didn’t vote?
[Nervous laughter] No comment.
If you’re not interested in politics, why write a memo that addressed such a charged political topic?
Google prides itself on being intellectual, always challenging its own norms, and having a bottom-up organization where anyone can propose a new policy or change. [The memo] wasn’t meant for general consumption. So many of the things that I brought up are only specific to Google.
Why not just let it go?
I am allergic to BS. I don’t like when people say falsehoods. It might be related to being on the autism spectrum. I’m not sure. I get annoyed if people are saying the wrong things…. Google doesn’t seem to have taken any of my suggestions, which is unfortunate.
Why would you expect them to?
I don’t expect that I have the right to dictate what they do. But at least how the culture was set up with the code review, you would propose some change and someone would review it and then give you reasons that it was good or bad, rather than “I don’t like this politically.” It was always reason-based. That’s why I find some of this tiring—politics is so divisive.
And yet you gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. How do you square that?
Part of it is that people invited me, and they paid for the hotel and the flight. And my lawyer thought it would be a good opportunity. I don’t really know what CPAC is.
Donald Trump gave the keynote address. It strikes me that you’re being, if not willfully naïve, at least negligent.
Yeah. It’s just—I have limited amounts of time.
The Internet is really good at finding techie villains and shaming them mercilessly. Now you’re it. How does it feel?
It’s hard. Some of the villains have contacted me. It’s hard to tell if they are the villains that the Internet has made them out to be or not. I’m so afraid of being associated with that because I feel like my public image is so fragile. Some of them I am sure aren’t these evil people. They can see that the same thing that happened to them happened to me. I don’t think mine was earned. Especially when [Google] asked for this feedback, and I had many discussions one-on-one, and managers said to spread it. Other people made it viral by leaking it. I’m not sure I’m to be blamed for that.
If the memo had not been made public, would you have been fired?
I sent it to HR multiple times. It was only when the diversity advocates within the company leaked it that it put the external pressure on Google and they really didn’t wait at all to see how things would land. They fired me the next working day.
Can’t you understand that decision? You brought them some very bad PR. You’re replaceable. Every programmer in the world wants to work for Google.
Well, not anymore.