Silicon Valley Gripped By Uncertainty Over Impact Of Trump's Victory

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A round of mimosas at breakfast, emotional support sessions at noon, and sleepless nights. Emotions cycling through grief, shock, denial, resistance, and resilience. That’s how some Silicon Valley execs and entrepreneurs are reacting to Donald Trump’s victory on Tuesday night.

For once, a tech sector that has become increasingly powerful and confident in its ability to use data and technology to transform the world’s economy—disrupting everything from transportation and manufacturing to health care and education—had no control over a process.

All they could do was sit back and watch the country elect a brash real-estate developer turned reality-show star to the most powerful job in the world. Some of them, confident in polling and data science that predicted a strong victory for Hillary Clinton, had even been packing their bags last weekend, excited about top jobs in government.

In conversations with Fast Company this week, tech workers across Silicon Valley expressed the same sentiment: fear of the unknown under President Trump.

The vast majority of tech industry donors contributed to Hillary Clinton, who received 60 times more in donations than Trump. By Wednesday and Thursday, they were soul-searching, planning for a new regime, and realizing that their lives are far removed from a vast segment of underemployed Americans—people who use their smartphones and devices but feel left behind by an economy hurtling toward a future of driverless cars and drone deliveries.

And, despite their faith in predictive data science, Silicon Valley workers had little idea of what a Trump administration would mean for their industry. The few hints he’s dropped have been ominous: The president-elect has vowed to force Apple to make its products in America, sided with the FBI and NSA in the debates over encryption and surveillance, opposes net neutrality, and threatened to initiate an antitrust probe of Amazon.

And now tech professionals worry that Trump’s protectionist stance, and his promise to tear up NAFTA and oppose TPP, would damage the economy.

“Some of the things he said during the campaign about trade are concerning, because we live in such an interconnected world now,” Victoria Espinel, president and CEO of BSA/The Software Alliance, tells Fast Company. “I think it comes back to uncertainly, because he really didn’t say a lot about specific policies during the campaign.”

Others are concerned that Trump would carry through his vow to repeal Obamacare. “Changes to health care policies that reduce accessibility or raise the cost of coverage for our employees” would have a material impact on software company Redis Labs, says CMO Manish Gupta. He adds that proposed changes to immigration and trade policy could also have a big impact, but that they won’t know for several months, until after Trump takes office in late January. “For the moment, we are in the ‘wait and see mode’ and will institute appropriate business changes should the new policies require such alterations.”

Julie Crabill, the founder & CEO of Inner Circle Labs, a marketing firm for startups, says she and her staff were shocked and angry when they watched the results come in on Tuesday night. Working in Silicon Valley, with its gender diversity problems, she says she is more than familiar with “how the majority of the country sees women in power.” Crabill adds: “This isn’t the first or last time I will feel like my voice as a female leader is less valuable than that of the men around me.”

Amid the general feeling of an economic slowdown, a Trump presidency only creates “further fear and confusion about how the market will react in 2017 and beyond,” Crabill says. She expressed concern about Trump’s views on H-1B visas and where hardware companies like Apple manufacture their products—that his tough stance on those issues could negatively impact tech innovation at startups on tight budgets.

Ben Parr, the co-founder and CMO of Octane AI, a chatbot platform, was also concerned about Trump’s stance on immigration, fearing that his policies “will deter smart entrepreneurs from immigrating to the United States to start their companies.” But he emphasized that Trump’s victory “doesn’t change our company’s road map or strategy.”

Some workers we spoke with were afraid to even express their opinion for fear of incurring the wrath of the notoriously vindictive Trump. “Not touching that with a 100-foot pole, I’m afraid,” said one rep for a venture capital firm.

One of the few Trump supporters in the industry, longtime investor Peter Thiel, is confident that a Trump administration would be good for the tech sector. And he is encouraging his colleagues to help the president-elect. “He has an awesomely difficult task, since it is long past time for us to face up to our country’s problems,” Thiel said in a statement he gave to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re going to need all hands on deck.”

Meanwhile, some in the industry are trying to tackle the issues brought up in the election: the feeling by blue-collar workers that they are being left behind by the forces of globalization and automation. Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wrote a lengthy memo about Trump’s election, in which he addressed the concept of “acceptable employment” and whether advances in robotics and AI will destroy jobs.

He concluded that it’s important to grapple with these issues but not lose sight of the potential in all of these changes to the workweek, which could allow workers to switch between full-time employment and “lifestyle employment.” (For instance, someone could rent out their home on Airbnb for a couple of days a month and work two days a week for DoorDash—cutting income by 20% and reducing stress but doubling leisure time and their happiness.)

Calacanis ends on a positive note: “Things are moving quickly and it’s confusing for everyone. 2016 is a wake-up call, but it’s our game to lose. We are still the greatest country in the world, and with continued innovation, candidness, and empathy we can lead humanity through this seismic shift in employment.”

With reporting by Harry McCracken, Mark Sullivan, Emily Price, and Christina Farr

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