clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Time for Some Silicon Valley Self-Reflection?

As the second Code Conference approaches ...

In many ways, this has been a hard year for Silicon Valley, which has had it relatively easy for the last decade. Despite the hypergrowth of its products, the rich valuations of its companies, its role as an engine for the U.S. economy and the celebrity status that its leaders now hold, the pressure for self-reflection about the kind of community being built here is increasing.

Consider the high-profile example of this year: The contentious gender discrimination trial pitting former partner Ellen Pao against the storied venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It was a complex case, to be sure, with no clear heroes or villains, and one in which there were most definitely no clear-cut answers. But, while Pao lost, the fact that the trial happened in the first place sent reverberations through the tech sector and beyond.

Among the many questions raised by both men and women, who had some different perspectives:

Why is the tech industry, long known for its fast-forward attitude and social tolerance and flexibility, so lagging in extending its leadership beyond white men?

How can the sector encourage more racial and gender diversity?

Who is at fault for the clear lack of diversity, evidenced by a spate of recent reports from tech companies about the makeup of their workforce?

What tools and techniques can be employed to change the numbers?

And, perhaps most importantly, is the system really the meritocracy it purports to be, or is it gamed so that those in power stay in power?

Heavy questions like these require heavy answers, which we hope to elicit from the many speakers at our second Code Conference. While we typically never have a single theme at our big annual event, we hope to find out what people onstage think of the landscape and soul of tech as it moves to further dominate the national and global conversation. If mobile is eating the world — another important theme of the past few years — we want our speakers to reflect on the responsibilities that come with all that power.

Power is something the two opening-night speakers know something about. Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel represents the new power in tech, leading a company that is operating on all innovative cylinders and quickly attracting a worldwide audience with its ephemeral messaging and more. He’ll be followed by perhaps the most compelling political figure today: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. In an audience that regards disruptors as heroes, Warren should fit in well — she is holding Washington’s feet to the fire on a number of key issues, such as income inequality and trade situations.

We’ll open Wednesday with our annual speed-lecture by Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker on the Internet trends that will be on deck in the year ahead. She’ll be followed by Jonah Peretti and Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, who will discuss the fast growth of the saucy online publisher. And CBS’s longtime leader, Les Moonves — who appeared on our stage many moons ago — will weigh in on the many challenges facing the broadcast industry, and how the old media giant is managing its new spate of digital offerings.

Jeff Williams of Apple — sometimes referred to as CEO Tim Cook’s Tim Cook — is an exec who has been behind the scenes at the tech giant, but is responsible for great swaths of its operations, including the Apple Watch. Onstage after him is Ellen Pao, who is also now running Reddit, which this year has had its own share of controversies around gender, hate speech and more. Mary Barra of GM will be onstage to talk about how the auto industry is responding to the vast changes sweeping through the market, including competition from Apple and Google. And Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky will discuss how his company is disrupting the hotel industry, and what’s next in its evolution.

It would be hard not to get some perspective from Google — business and sales head Omid Kordestani will join us onstage to talk about where it is headed as its search business morphs and mobile reigns. That is, until there is a new computing paradigm like virtual reality, of the kind Oculus’s head Brendan Iribe is pioneering with the help of Facebook. Changing markets are also on the mind of new Target CEO Brian Cornell, who faces a retail landscape that’s vastly different than ever before.

The mobile industry itself seems to change by the millisecond, which is one of the things new Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure will address. Among the issues there is a boom in video sharing, spurred in part by the inventions of GoPro CEO and founder Nick Woodman. Visual is also a key element in the success of Pinterest, although the startup led by Ben Silbermann must find ways to monetize and expand the service. And how to make traditional television viral is a challenge for the industry, which is why we invited those responsible for this year’s breakout hit, the Fox series “Empire,” to talk about how they made it so.

We open Thursday with Hugo Barra, the former Google Android executive now in charge of international expansion of Xiaomi, which is trying to make its innovative mobile devices as popular across the globe as they are in China. Longtime tech vet Paul Maritz will walk us through the changes in the enterprise space, as it must adapt to how business practices are shifting. And speaking of shifts, we wanted to end the show by talking to the CEOs and founders of this year’s breakout startups: Stewart Butterfield of Slack, Adi Tatarko of Houzz, and Patrick Collison of Stripe. All three have been disrupting the spaces they are in, even as they try to craft a viable future.

One of the most exciting — and also controversial — innovations of late has been the resurgence of livestreaming. Both Meerkat and Periscope (bought by Twitter in March) have seen quick growth, as the tools have become much easier to deploy and use over mobile. But there have been issues with some content creators, who are fretting about copyright infringement. That’s why we have invited Periscope’s Kayvon Beykpour and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, onstage to talk about it all.

What the future will look like, of course, is unclear, as Silicon Valley makes its way into the next phase of its development. What is clear is that the journey will be just as interesting as the destination.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.