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Tech employees rallied Tuesday to urge their employers to get woke

A number of attendees said tech companies should pay more attention to the space between the coasts.

Tech Stands Up rally, March 14, 2017
Tech Stands Up

Around 350 people, mostly tech workers, showed up at Palo Alto City Hall Tuesday at a tame afternoon rally promoting political engagement at tech companies.

The crowd, which dwindled as the afternoon wore on, held signs with slogans saying “Silicon Valley, powered by diversity,” and “Tech Stands Up to 00101101,” which is binary code for 45, according to the poster. Donald Trump is the 45th U.S. president.

The group was more diverse than what you might see at many tech companies in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. While the overarching theme was a desire to see tech companies react more strongly to Trump’s policies, a number of attendees expressed a desire to see companies educate and train more people for jobs in tech.

“I think that tech hasn’t been doing its job in sharing its riches,” said Arman Garakani, 57, a computer vision architect for Danish skin condition research company LEO Innovation Labs. “I’d like to see Google invest in Idaho.”

“Think about a second office in Columbus, Ohio,” rally speaker Dilawar Sayed, president of customer support software company Freshdesk, told the crowd.

Roopal Shah, 37, who works on the business side of insurance software company Guidewire, said she wanted to see tech companies invest in giving people in “flyover country” skills to compete in the tech world.

“I feel like the holes are just going to get bigger and bigger and the gaps are going to get wider,” she said, explaining she was upset by Trump’s promises to bring back dead industries like coal when coming decades will see existing jobs such as those of cashiers and truck drivers eliminated by advances in artificial intelligence.

She also said she felt efforts by tech companies to oppose Trump’s new policies around things like immigration were inconsistent and had tapered in recent weeks.

Brad Taylor, an engineer for website optimization startup Optimizely, created a Facebook page for the rally in late January, organizing the event with a group he started called Tech Stands Up.

Facebook RSVPs ballooned to 1,700 by the day of the event, far more than the number that came at the start of the rally, with 10,000 Facebook users responding that they were interested in attending. (Update: Organizers estimated the total turnout over four hours at 1,000 people, while the Palo Alto police put the number at 500 at the rally’s height.)

The aim of the event was to encourage tech employees to organize themselves and use their leverage as software engineers to pressure tech companies to take stances against the policies of Donald Trump’s administration.

Many in Silicon Valley see Trump’s policies as discriminatory against immigrants, women and the trans community.

“We are trying to utilize the fact that there is a very limited supply of engineers,” Taylor told Recode, clarifying that the goal was not to unionize employees.

“It’s one thing to respond to the media, it’s another thing to respond to 100 angry engineers,” because engineers have more influence on their employers, Mark Rose, a product manager at Alphabet smart-home subsidiary Nest, told Recode. Rose, 46, said he was a co-founder of Tech Stands Up, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit.

He said he was among five employees from Nest attending the rally and that he took half a vacation day to come out. While neither Nest nor Alphabet endorsed his involvement, he said they were supportive.

He said he saw about five Google employees and two Apple employees he knew at the rally.

Speakers mostly came from small and mid-size companies like Freshdesk and online travel startup Hipmunk, bought by travel and expense platform Concur last year. LinkedIn’s vice president of growth, Aatif Aswan, was also scheduled to speak.

One speaker, Facebook janitor Maria Gonzalez, said through a translator she would like to see tech companies make their campuses sanctuaries for immigrants who may face legal issues with their status, such as undocumented immigrants.

The Tech Stands Up group is just the latest example of tech employees organizing themselves to oppose the new presidential administration’s policies.

Google employees at multiple campuses protested the travel ban in late January. Tech employees and leaders including Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Y Combinator president Sam Altman also joined in protests of the ban at San Francisco International Airport.

Companies have taken official stances in court, signing onto legal briefs opposing the travel ban and in support of a transgender 17-year-old who has a case before the Supreme Court.

Taylor said he organized Tuesday’s event in late January after reading about Uber CEO Travis Kalanick defending his decision to remain on President Donald Trump’s business advisory council to employees at an all-hands meeting. Kalanick later resigned from the role.

Later the same day, after the Facebook event was created, the Trump administration announced the first version of its travel ban on immigrants from a list of predominantly Muslim countries, according to Taylor.

“I was just frustrated that none of our tech leaders were saying anything,” he said.

The Tech Stands Up rally was scheduled for March 14 for fittingly nerdy reasons: March 14 is known as Pi Day because the date is 3.14, the first three digits of the mathematically significant number pi, which equals a circle’s ratio of its circumference to its diameter.

The rally started at 1:59 p.m. — those are the next three digits of pi.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Dilawar Syed is president of Freshdesk, not CEO.

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