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What a Trump presidency means for the tech industry.

I waited a few days to write and publish this piece in order to allow the post-election chaos to settle somewhat. Some might say that the chaos has only grown, and looking at the response to the election around the US and the world, I might have to agree. Regardless, a decision was made on November 8, 2016 that will have ramifications for years if not decades to come. Many people will comment on what this means politically, socially, fiscally and in terms of international relations in the coming days and weeks (maybe months), but my area of focus is the tech industry. What does this mean for us in tech, and how will it impact us in the long and short term?

The first thing we need to address is where the tech industry lies on the political spectrum. This is not as simple as it may seem. While the heart of the industry is in Silicon Valley, in the very liberal San Francisco bay area, the industry itself is made up of many transplants from other parts of the country and the world. The tech industry flourishes with an abundance of talent from all over the world, many here on H1B and other visa types. Most of the patents filed within the tech industry over the last few years have been by immigrants. The tech industry, by nature of its diversity and inclusiveness, is also perceived as very socially liberal. This does not mean that the industry is a one-sided echo chamber. Most people in the tech industry are not California, let alone Silicon Valley, natives. Many come from other parts of the US that are not of the same political leanings, yet they all manage to get along and do great things together. My point here is to illustrate that the tech industry is not one homogeneous political entity. It is a large collection of very different cultural viewpoints, cultural backgrounds, nationalities, religious affiliations (or lack thereof), gender identities, sexual orientations, political viewpoints and social viewpoints. The two main things that almost everyone in the industry share are: high levels of education and high levels of tolerance and acceptance. This is key in framing what this election means for the tech industry going forward.

In the short term, I don't think there will be much change in the tech industry. We do need to address some very glaring issues we saw with respect to social media manipulation and the proliferation of false "news" stories, especially on Facebook, but that will all be resolved by the time mid-term elections happen in 2018. Startups will continue to derive value from their inherent ideas and execution. If a startup was on a pathway to success on Monday, they will still be on that path Wednesday and for the foreseeable future. I can't think of any technologies that face immediate scrutiny from a change in political figureheads, nor can I think of any reasons that the tech industry should fear for immediate changes that would cause potential problems. Some of the toxic rhetoric around immigration could potentially have some spill-over into the H1B visa situation, upon which the tech industry thrives, but the likelihood of that is low at this point. From a financial perspective, the tech industry is one that tends to fund itself, and rarely cares what Wall Street says or does, so any fallout from that angle seems low. Again, because the heart of the industry is in Silicon Valley, in California, it is relatively insulated from the toxic rhetoric against people of different nationalities, faiths, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, etc. The people of the tech industry will be able to continue working to change the world, relatively isolated from what has transpired.

Bradley Tusk, of Tusk Holdings, also laid out some potential upsides to the change in political leadership.
The odds of seeing activist, tough-on-business, cabinet members who aggressively pursue regulatory action are lower. This also means that pending mergers are far more likely to be approved, charter schools will not face federal opposition, the sharing economy will not risk being shut down by new federal worker classification regulations, the SEC will not aggressively involve itself in private, illiquid companies and assets, and peer-to-peer lending will not face significant federal opposition, among many, many other issues."

In the long term, I think we face some more serious challenges. Going back to the issue of visas and immigrants, there may be a conflict at some point due to how other industries use and perceive the H1B and other visas. While H1B visa recipients in the tech industry are often well paid and major contributors to the industry and the world, other industries have been caught abusing the program. Disney was recently caught using the H1B program to replace higher paid American workers with cheaper replacements. (Note that while the Disney scandal also focuses on tech workers, this is not the same as the larger tech industry in Silicon Valley. That is an entirely different and long story which does not belong here.) If there is to be an overhaul of the H1B program, and many in the tech industry feel there should be, it has to take into account the differences in industries and how they use the program. The abuse needs to stop, but we cannot afford to have a negative impact on the tech industry due to abuse from a few bad actors.

The other area that is slowly becoming an issue is the relentless pace at which technology replaces human beings in most jobs. Many Americans have felt ignored and disenfranchised as they have watched their jobs go overseas. Many of these jobs were manufacturing jobs. Current politicians make a big deal out of this and promise to 'bring the jobs back to America.' They ignore two important facts when they say this. First, the main reason that the jobs left was due to cost. Even if they were able to bring the jobs back, they will never pay a livable wage. Businesses would not be able to generate a profit, so they will elect to close down rather than lose money. Second, and more important to the tech industry, is that technology and automation are now starting to displace workers, even in these low labor markets. Ironically, the manufacturing sector may have come back to the US anyway, but done mostly or entirely by automatons. Technology currently touches nearly all sectors of the US economy and American lives. As technology progresses, increasing automation and artificial intelligence (machine learning) will dramatically increase the efficiency and output of each of these sectors of the economy. Much of this efficiency will be at the cost of human participation (which can be very inefficient), and this can further alienate people who feel they are being left behind. We will need to become better at working with elected officials to transition people out of these roles, before they are forced out.

Other long term concerns have to do with privacy, government surveillance, a fundamental lack of understanding by politicians and non-technical people of encryption and its necessity in the modern world, and the increasing prevalence of hacking by foreign state actors and individuals. I'm not sure how this new administration will approach these issues, as they have been notoriously vague about everything. This is usually a bad sign, as when you start to see vagueness and ambiguity within a startup or company, it usually means the leadership has no idea what they are doing. This new administration will be in over its head from day one, but hopefully there will be some outreach from the leaders within the tech industry to help guide the ship from a tech perspective. As it becomes more apparent how this new administration will approach these issues, I will publish new articles covering how the tech industry can and will respond. Overall, I don't see too many areas for serious contention, but then again, we are in uncharted waters at this point.

In the end, I think Mark Zuckerberg phrased the sentiment in the most positive light, speaking of how he watched the election with his daughter Max.

Holding Max, I thought about all the work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children. This work is bigger than any presidency and progress does not move in a straight line. The most important opportunities of Max's generation - like curing all disease, improving education, connecting everyone and promoting equal opportunity - will take long term focus and finding new ways for all of us to work together, sometimes over decades. 
We are all blessed to have the ability to make the world better, and we have the responsibility to do it. Let's go work even harder. - feeling hopeful. 


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