Lauren Goode: Yeah. It’s what Kara Swisher calls, assisted living for millennials. Here-
Virginia Heffernan: Assisted living for millennials.
Lauren Goode:-in San Francisco tech companies. Yeah.
Virginia Heffernan: It’s perfect. But I said, I said, “So wait, do they have advantages here?” to one of the HR people. And they said, “Oh yeah. They get, let’s see, 10% off at 7-Eleven and 10% off at Burger King. That’s another one they get, 10% off at Burger King. I just like 10 percent 10 percent!
Lauren Goode: To good old BK. And you drank the 7-Eleven coffee, and it was perfectly, you wrote, perfectly drinkable.
Virginia Heffernan: It was perfectly drinkable, and especially when you know that the guy got it at 10% off. I mean, it was a dollar and it was 90 cents, and I tasted every penny.
Michael Heat: Good.
Virginia Heffernan: So the culture of absolute precision and obsession inside fabs, and then this aesthetic that I’ve heard called “chabuduo” – that’s enough, anyway outside of fabs. No one mentioned the food. No one said where we should get anything, go eat. Nobody swept me off my feet for something farm to table. It was just mediocre, weird flatbreads from Starbucks or that thing at 7-Eleven. I got so used to it. I mean, my luggage had been lost anyway, so I had to wear these clothes I bought at a mall and it was maybe a little Old Navy-ish, seconds – the stitches were a little wrong and I just gave in. I was like, “Okay, save your energy for the heavy thinking and heavy lifting and try to figure out this engineering and drop the lifestyle part of things.”
Lauren Goode: Meanwhile, American engineers would say the culture is more like a sweatshop.
Virginia Heffernan: That’s it. They said so. We just opened, you probably know, TSMC opened a fab subsidiary, to much fanfare, but Joe Biden was there in Phoenix, Arizona, and it’s going into production next year and in Taiwan, again, off the record, I’m like, “They’re never gonna make it. They’re babies.” And while that’s happening, some of the training engineers are already saying, “It’s a sweatshop. We can’t do it.” And there’s an element of racism in describing like, “Oh, this job is so monotonous.” Well, it’s monotonous as it is something monotonous if you don’t have a hearing good enough to hear the variety, the symphony in the note. And I feel like it’s a failure.
Lauren Goode: What do you mean?
Virginia Heffernan: Well, just as we cannot see the electrons and atoms that are the work of lithography, we cannot hear the rich variety and imaginative possibilities. I know I can’t. I have to have them explained to me by doing atomic constructions. Apparently, it is like making an umbrella on a line for American engineers, when for them it is not a greater privilege, not a greater privilege. I mean, they were talking about their work, I’ve never heard people talk about their work that way. I mean, maybe like a poet or a painter who somehow lives off of it. No resentment. They are billionaires. I said, “Where do they live?” And somebody said, “Oh, I don’t know. An apartment over there.” No lifestyle. One of the company’s leaders works in his church. A guy, another billionaire who developed this particular photolithograph, had just repaired his own roof. He is 80 years old. They are playing tennis. They wear pretty much the same clothes every day, very light, just light, flexible, imaginative, fun, not rushed. I mean, I left and went there thinking of Elon Musk as we all are. And I just walked away thinking, “That’s just not an engineer. That’s not a tech company.” I can’t imagine one of those guys saying, “This is my day. Be with my wife, watch my kids, go to my church, and volunteer. Go study the face of God under a scanning electron microscope with someone else is into it too, and I know I’m doing the right thing. Play a few games of tennis with a grad student and go home and fix the roof, then cook a nice meal. pretty modest setting, and then there are people with 10 wives who marry Grimes and are on Twitter, and we think…