Asperger’s In Silicon Valley

I have always thought about the amount of work and insight it would take to become a decent programmer. Usually I begin to shudder at the thought of spending hours cranking out code on my computer. Maybe a lot of coffee and Paul Kalkbrenner can keep me going on Excel, but I don't think that formula applies for programming.

So what type of person really enjoys coding away for hours?

Recently, Gawker and Wired came across an interesting hypothesis on the type of person Silicon Valley attracts.

To get to the point, Asperger syndrome has been on a "staggering" rise in California by the Valley. Apparently the issue is not just central to Silicon Valley, but other technology hubs across the country as well.

Wired:
The disorders seemed to cluster in other tech hubs, too. Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft was the first major U.S. corporation to offer insurance that covered autism-and-Asperger's-related behavioral training. In Rochester, New York, the local school district advised the mother of a child with Asperger Syndrome to move to the northwestern part of the city, because there were a large number of affected kids there. The northwest quadrant is "where the IBMers congregate," the mom told Wired.

Bill Gates has always been pinned by the press for having some form Asperger's, and recently, Mark Zuckerberg's social awkwardness has come into the diagnosis as well. There definitely is a very specific culture to Silicon Valley, as there is with high finance. But do the cultures of these tech giants attract people with Asperger's Syndrome?

Gawker:
"You have all these Internet companies over the past decade," he said, "and the people who run them are sort of autistic. These mild cases of Asperger's seem to be quite rampant. There's no need for sales-the companies themselves are weirdly nonsocial in nature"

Basically, is it a Pull or Push effect? And does this make Mark Cuban right in saying "[firms in] Silicon Valley have very specific cultures that I think can be more limiting than freeing."?

Comments (29)

 
Mar 28, 2012 - 4:00pm

I don't get it - who the hell cares? All that matters is whether you can fit into the culture in the field you're getting into. Which you should be able to do if you put effort in, regardless of what type of culture that is.

 
Best Response
Mar 28, 2012 - 4:32pm

I'll be the first to come out and loud and proud (and autistic) on this one.

It has it's perks and downsides. Due to the fact we live in a world where only extremes rise to the top, i'm not surprised on this. The computer has made our lives infinitely easier and we can contribute a lot more to the world with them (because they are the definition of logical, we understand them and think in a similar way - when asked recently about marriage my answer involved dataset too small and therefore statistically unlikely to come to a reasoned decision)

Not going to go into a big long ramble about this but I get really pissed off when people refer to it as a disability. It's not. I'm just as human as everyone else reading this. They've found a name for people that have an affinity for numbers and logic at the price of interpreting social signals well. They've also shown that an autistic brain cycles significantly faster (more than a power of 10) than a "normal" brain. Suckers. Given that my aspie alumni is Einstein, Newton, Gates and Zuckers, you can take your disability and shove it.

P.S. Agree wholeheartedly about Mark Cuban's comment, if you're an aspie, working for someone else is pretty incompatible unless they leave you to your own devices. Silicon valley companies are probably started by a bunch of autistic kids but they shouldnt employ any outside of the "brain" jobs.

 
Mar 28, 2012 - 4:33pm

Bollocks.

The social skills, like programming skills, require practice. If you're truly clever, you can master both. The average joe however tends to struggle with one or the other. I guess that's the difference between wall street coders and say - Silicon Valley guys - Wall street guys tend to have much more advanced social skills, though in my opinion, very often their code sucks...

But Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought bravely. And Rhaegar died.
 
Mar 28, 2012 - 4:43pm

Anomanderis:
Wall street guys tend to have much more advanced social skills, though in my opinion, very often their code sucks...

yeah, b/c we don't give a shit how ugly a hack is if it makes it easier to get shit done lol
Get busy living
 
Mar 28, 2012 - 6:02pm

UFOinsider:
Anomanderis:
Wall street guys tend to have much more advanced social skills, though in my opinion, very often their code sucks...

yeah, b/c we don't give a shit how ugly a hack is if it makes it easier to get shit done lol

Hahaha, true. We're evaluated on speed to market, and how efficient the app is.

Edit: Not how efficient the app is.

But Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought bravely. And Rhaegar died.
 
Mar 28, 2012 - 5:28pm

bigtool05:
I feel like the definition of Asperger's is constantly expanding. Now it seems to include anyone socially awkward?

Exactly what I was thinking...

If your dreams don't scare you, then they are not big enough. "There are two types of people in this world: People who say they pee in the shower, and dirty fucking liars."-Louis C.K.
 
Mar 28, 2012 - 6:25pm

RagnarDanneskjold:
Asperger's is the new ADHD. You have to give everyone a label. Bad with people, good at math? You suffer from Asperger syndrome! There's no way that people could be naturally diverse and unique...

Call is a "syndrome" or not, a ton of kids seem to "have" it these days....

But yeah, honestly, this prevalent lack of social skills has to be at least somewhat attributable to increased technology and decreased parenting. It's the youtube, absent parent generation. You didn't have these "syndromes" 300 years ago when kids were taught to hold a proper conversation from day one. Conversation skills truly mattered back then. Most wealthy 10 year-olds in 1700 England could probably communicate better than most modern American 16 year olds.

 
Mar 28, 2012 - 5:52pm

^what kind of meds do the aspergers people get?

If your dreams don't scare you, then they are not big enough. "There are two types of people in this world: People who say they pee in the shower, and dirty fucking liars."-Louis C.K.
 
Mar 28, 2012 - 7:05pm

I just looked it up and apparently the estimates vary, but it's generally considered that something like 1 in 200 people have it. That means that most of these "aspie" people aren't actually aspies, they just have personality or skills defects (which is cool, nobody is perfect). I have a couple of friends that legitimately have Asperger's (as officially diagnosed) and they are fucking wicked smart. You can learn to adjust to social situations if you apply yourself, even if you have the syndrome but from what I'm told it's from more of an intellectual stand point rather than the intuitive sense that most people have. In fact, there really is no excuse for not learning basic social skills even if you are special.

But yeah, point is, a lot of people are weird, and most of them don't have Asperger's, they're just weird people.

 
Mar 28, 2012 - 8:41pm

Add Mike Burry to the list of successful people with Asperger's.

If you can channel that obsessive focus into something productive, then that's a huge advantage when it comes to fields (especially technical fields) that don't demand the ability to have good social skills. Most programming pros that I know who went on to work for top tech firms are odd and socially awkward, but they live and breathe code so they're really good at what they do. It takes a certain personality to be that obsessed and dedicated with something. Honestly I don't even know how "normal" people can compete with them (when it comes to technical and scientific fields).

 
Mar 28, 2012 - 8:37pm

Apparently introverts rule the world...

INTJ, what up!

- Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered. - The harder you work, the luckier you become. - I believe in the "Golden Rule": the man with the gold rules.
 
Mar 29, 2012 - 6:18am

Genetic:
Ske7ch:
Apparently introverts rule the world...

INTJ, what up!

lol not at all. They just stick out the most


depends how you define rule, gates and buffett are introverted and the richest kids in town(next to slim)

politicians kind of rule the world and are extroverted, but they don't really have power in the same way that buffett/gates do. Unless your talking about running an authoritarian state, that's where you do have power.

What I never understand is where M&A fits into the whole thing, you need to be pretty weird and obsessed to be able to pay attention to footnote consistency and formatting, but also sociable later on to do deals?

 
Mar 29, 2012 - 9:48am

Genetic:
Ske7ch:
Apparently introverts rule the world...

INTJ, what up!

lol not at all. They just stick out the most


No, they do. Extraverts take turns grasping at the limelight (think Madonna or Newt Gingrich), but introverts are better at building durable influence. Comparison: Hillary v Bill Clinton.....one is off doing who knows/cares what, the other is still running international programs and has direct influence over operations. Both are necessary, neither is better, they're just different, but extroverts would do well to take this into consideration because they often assume that silence means a lack of mental activity.

It's like my MD said: "these politicians in NYC, they come and go, they're disposable after a cycle or two. But year after year, decade after decade, we do our thing and it doesn't MATTER what they say about us on TV, we have more influence over our world than they do over everyone else's".

.....and back to aspergers, I just wanted to throw that in there without getting too off topic.

Get busy living
 
Mar 29, 2012 - 3:02am

Being a nerd is apparently a syndrome now :\

I've learned not to listen to anything coming from psychologists/psychiatrists. I've seen statistics claiming that around 40% of the population has suffered from a mental disorder at some point in their lives. Total bullshit, in most cases it's all about the pill pushing and money.

 
Apr 1, 2012 - 3:27pm

Buffett is far from socially awkward or introverted. He just doesn't give a shit about conventional bullshit like some of these "lesser billionaires" (Trump, Cuban, etc.) and lives his life on logic. Doesn't make him or the 25-30% of misdiagnosed aspies out there "special," just different. 99% of the time I hate people, but I function fine around them and I would never pretend to have some sort of disorder because I'd prefer to be alone. It's all relative though, some people feel better when they can put a name to their behavior, hence the rise of the ADHD craze and a few others...

I hate victims who respect their executioners
 
Apr 1, 2012 - 3:35pm

Aspies can learn to adapt over their lifetimes, making later age diagnoses very difficult. If you read Buffett's biography, he showed a lot of the signs from an early age and learned to adjust by reading Dale Carnegie and through his wife's help. He was practically hopeless early in life. And he still exhibits a lot of the characteristics, like extremely picky eating habits, obsession with a special interest, muted social skills (outside of his band standing, which is an act), and so on. Pretty sure he has it but it's possible that he is just very unique.

 
Apr 1, 2012 - 4:01pm
If your dreams don't scare you, then they are not big enough. "There are two types of people in this world: People who say they pee in the shower, and dirty fucking liars."-Louis C.K.
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