The two words “Silicon Valley” immediately stir up stereotypes, stigma and maybe an HBO show. The name has become a cultural reflex, and that’s what photographer Helena Price wants to change with her ambitious, large-scale portrait and interview series. Techies Project, launched today, is a collection of 100 in-depth interviews that breaks this idea of the “sameness” plaguing the area. Turning the camera toward those often less heard or considered, Prices speaks with women, POC, LGBT, people over 50, the disabled, people from different socio-economic backgrounds and more who share their personal experiences, motivations, struggles and proudest moments—lifting up the veil and showing the “outside world” that the tech industry has a place for them, too. But it’s also holding a magnifying glass up to problems that the industry needs to step up to, beyond quantitative diversity initiatives.
“This is my first personal project. I’ve never done anything like this before. I am way into oral histories and origin stories, and the idea of referencing libraries of human experience to solve problems,” Price tells CH. “I thought I’d apply that methodology to explore the issues plaguing Silicon Valley right now, particularly diversity in tech and the implications of tech on the world immediately surrounding it.” There are some higher profile interviews mixed in (like John Maeda and Om Malik) as well as a lot of stories culled from those who’ve worked at Apple, Facebook, Google, Airbnb, etc. But most exciting are the perspectives you’ve rarely heard. Kent Brewster talks about being “almost always the oldest living thing in the building” and working in tech for 38 years without a computer science degree. Design and Mixmax co-founder Chanpory Rith discusses being gay, Cambodian, Mormon and a refugee of war—not even having a passport until his 20s—and living with the lack of a “safety net.” Robyn Exton describes what it’s like “fundraising for an app for queer women to dudes who are mostly white and straight.” Github engineering manager February Keeney shares her experiences post-transition: “Can tech avoid teaching everyone from diverse background[s] to simply behave like the status quo?”
Price’s own story? Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, she jumped headfirst into the unfamiliar tech industry. “I ended up moving to SF at 21, landed my first tech gig through a random person I met at a coffee shop, and spent the next four years working like a madwoman in Silicon Valley to build my tech career and make a name for myself.” Shifting between different roles, from PR to business development to content strategy to creative campaigns, Price left the tech industry in 2013 to transform her lifelong hobby into a full-time job—and is using her experience in the industry to tell stories from the inside.
“I was surprised at the variety of backgrounds in the applications. I had people who were undocumented immigrants, people who grew up in absolute poverty, refugees of war, folks in foster care, teen moms, you name it,” recalls Price of the process, which kicked off with an open call for subjects back in January. “Maybe the biggest surprise was when one participant, Georgiana Arriola, someone who has identified as trans for over 20 years but has presented as a man up until this point, decided to begin her transition during the course of this project, because of this project. To be a catalyst for that is incredible, heavy and humbling.” (Arriola was previously featured on CH for her work on the future-thinking Runcible phone.)
Price is looking forward to continuing the project, albeit not at the pace of 100 people every three months but more organically. “I want to see what other people do with the content—I want people to dig into it, analyze it, tear it apart and build new things with it. I want to see people in the project get interviewed by other people, get speaking gigs, get new work out of this,” she says. “I want everyone in the project to meet each other and grow into a community. I think at this point it’s growing into an organism that will live way beyond the work I put into it.” Techies Project is worth many revisits and weekend reads—and if anything, you’ll have a ton of interesting new people to follow on Twitter.
Images courtesy of Helena Price