The Devil's Guide to Silicon Valley - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Devil's Guide to Silicon Valley

The Devil's Guide to Silicon Valley

By Sean Culligan and Sean Braswell


Because valleys are susceptible to damp and rot.

By Sean Culligan and Sean Braswell

In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece The Devil’s Dictionary, the 19th-century American writer Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age.

In the latest installment of The Devil’s Guide, we channel Bierce’s sardonic spirit to examine the eccentricities and innuendo of Silicon Valley, from angel investors to zombie startups.

angel investor, n. A fool with whose money you are soon parted.

bandwidth, n. A precious commodity in the modern workplace whose supply is invariably proportional to the attractiveness of the new task being assigned.

bleeding edge, n. The point at which a product is perched so far out on the cutting edge of technological development that it has to cut itself to get your attention.

blogger, n. An invasive species with no natural predators. – The Verge, The New Devil’s Dictionary

BYOD, n. Bring Your Own Device, often to work, aka watching livestreams of Warriors games without worrying about all the data-collecting, productivity-inducing, outsourcing-threatening mechanisms that could be in a work computer.  – Michael Moe, The Global Silicon Valley Handbook

crushing it, n. That fleeting 45-minute period at your desk when an injection of caffeine or dopamine allows you to temporarily transcend the boundaries of chronic mediocrity.

daily active users, n. Headline measure of success calculated by taking the number of one’s own family members and adding it to the number of imaginary persons that a Bangladeshi click farm can generate in one 24-hour period.

daring, n. One of the most conspicuous qualities of a man in security. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

deep dive, n.  A shallow dive that can wait until later.


disruption, n. The act of replacing a rusty nail with a crooked one.

entrepreneur, n. Someone who fails with other people’s money.

evangelist, n. An ardent supporter whose enthusiasm for your product is matched only by their ignorance of the alternatives.

fuck-you money, n. The level of income at which you feel comfortable being yourself.

incubator, n. Device through which young companies are provided with free internet, office space and supplies in return for a promise to fail at a later date.

ideate, v. To engage in a form of brainstorming, minus the brains.

Kickstarter, n. A contemporary take on the marketplace wherein people exchange money for lies. – The Verge, The New Devil’s Dictionary

opportunity, n. A favorable occasion for grasping a disappointment. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Palo Alto, n. Spanish for “tall tree.” English for “overly priced land.”  – Silicon Valley Dictionary

pivot, n.  When an explorer, after years of going in the wrong direction, decides to stop and open a map business.

rockstar, n. A laboratory rat whose exalted virtuosity at routine tasks engenders a mystique among one’s less-well-fed peers.

runway, n. A unit of measurement, charting the time and distance before the gravity of your company’s ineptitude catches up with its mass.

startup, n. Term of art for a company without any noticeable assets, income or paying customers.

stock options, n. Form of voluntary servitude that allows employees the opportunity to forgo actual compensation today in favor of much larger imaginary benefits in the future.

sweat equity, n. The value added to a horse by whipping it.

thought leader, n. One who inspires others by talking about themselves.

Ubercorn, n. A startup worth more than $10 billion, not to be confused with an abnormally large yellow vegetable. – Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

unicorn, n. A $1 million show pony with a $999 million horn stapled to its forehead. 

venture capitalist, n. One who sets fire to a pile of money on the off chance it will heat the entire planet.

visionary, n. A salesman with one eye on the future and the other on the inside of your wallet.

work-life balance, n. A magical fairy-tale that startup employees are told on their first day. – Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

zombie startup, n. See startup.

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