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Tech Industry Gets Political

By Denis Pombriant
Jan 31, 2017 2:45 PM PT
silicon-valley-politics

In the last decade or so, the tech industry has become increasingly political, which is different from being politicized. If I had to guess, I'd say that for the most part everyone is on the same page.

However, many of the largest technology concerns have come to the realization that to protect their outlook, they need representation in Washington in the form of lobbyists. In addition, many successful entrepreneurs have been contributing to parties.

That intensified political awareness became obvious over the weekend with the response to the new administration's ham-handed approach to immigration policy.

H-1B Jitters

The reporting has been robust on the subject. Numerous Valley headliners have taken stands, according to a Monday story in The New York Times. Notably, "Netflix's chief executive, Reed Hastings, wrote on Facebook that Mr. Trump's actions 'are so un-American it pains us all' and that 'it is time to link arms together to protect American values of freedom and opportunity.'"

Further, "Sergey Brin, a Google founder who immigrated from the Soviet Union when he was 6 ... [attended] an impromptu protest on Saturday evening at San Francisco International Airport," the Times reported. "'I'm here because I'm a refugee,' Mr. Brin said, according to a Twitter post by the Forbes writer Ryan Mac ... ."

Of course Mr. Social Media also made a point.

"'Like many of you, I'm concerned about the impact of the recent executive orders signed by President Trump,' Mr. Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook on Friday," the article notes.

Cautionary sentiments also came from less expected sources.

"Even some of those working closely with the Trump administration were critical. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, who sits on two of Mr. Trump's advisory committees, wrote on Twitter that the ban was 'not the best way to address the country's challenges,'" according to the NYT report.

All of that might only be preamble if a Bloomberg report gains steam: The "administration has drafted an executive order aimed at overhauling the work-visa programs technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of employees each year."

"Work visa" is another name for the H-1B visa. There are 85,000 H-1B visas awarded each year, and there's always a scramble for them because they enable companies to import talent that they simply can't find domestically.

It doesn't mean Americans are stupid or lazy, but if you want the expert in a small field to work for you, the field is rather sparsely populated and you hire where you can.

Legal Challenge Fundraising

Tech executives got creative in responding to the perceived threat, soliciting donations to the ACLU.

"Early Twitter investor Chris Sacca, for example, was an early one to start the trend and offered to match donations to those who would direct message or respond with receipts," TechCrunch reported.

About a dozen tech executives and venture capitalists followed the lead.

"Google has created a $2 million 'crisis fund' that can be matched by up to $2 million in donations from employees," the publication also reported.

All of this might seem like a small disruption to some people, especially if they believe in the need for the clampdown. However, even though the immigration ban appears to be a temporary disruption, we don't really know what form any H-1B reform might take.

Disruptions drive uncertainty, and that drives other decisions. If you put enough disruption-driven decisions together, you can have a movement or a trend. That's what the tech world is all about, and it's what we innately understand.

So, the events of last weekend are at least troubling. They certainly must be troubling to get billionaire Brin to SFO on a Sunday to take selfies with arriving passengers.

It's hard to say what forms the next actions and counteractions will take. Certainly, there are options, and one of the easiest and best would be for the sides to begin listening to each other. It takes two sides to have a conversation, though, and so far each has been speaking mainly with itself.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.


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What's most likely to cost a company your customer loyalty?
a major product fail
major unethical corporate behavior
public advocacy of social or political views I oppose
a really bad customer service experience
stagnation -- I'm attracted to innovation
none of the above -- I'll stick through thick and thin