BOOK REVIEW - Chaos Monkeys : Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine - Antonio Garcia Martinez

I’m not a techie - I use a minimal amount of my smartphone’s many capabilities and survived the introduction of major technology into my chosen career with a bit of luck and much help from friends and colleagues – but I am interested in the business of technology. That’s to say, how the introduction of electronic technology has transformed industries I’ve known and worked in and how it has introduced new businesses I couldn’t have dreamt of when I began my working life. I know (or knew) little about Silicon Valley, other than an awareness that it’s the home of mega-companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple. So this ‘insider’ exposé, from a man who had worked his way up the ladder from launching his own start-up company to holding a prominent role at Facebook, seemed like the ideal place to commence my education.

Antonio Garcia Martinez quit his PhD studies in Physics to earn some lucre working for Goldman Sachs. His job was to model prices for credit derivatives (he explained this but I’d have to say it flew way over my head). After becoming disillusioned with banking he used his skill set to set up a new technology company in the field of advertising and after it’s sale to Twitter he took up a role within the Facebook hierarchy. By this stage he’d developed some expertise in linking data streams (e.g. Facebook’s own knowledge of it’s members and their personal internet browsing history) with which he hoped to leverage monetisation of the business through the improved ability to supply a more focused advertising approach. Well, that’s my own interpretation/understanding of what he was trying to achieve – in truth, one downside of this book is that there is a lot of technical language here with dozens of acronyms thrown in for good measure and consequently I’m sure his own one-liner on this would be much more colourful.

Aside from this, there is a good deal of interesting insight here. For instance, how new technology businesses are typically funded and how the entrepreneurs are ultimately rewarded for their efforts is explained in some detail. Also, the way in which online advertising has become increasingly targeted to individuals is brought to life. This is good stuff and it’s interspersed with the account of the author’s own life and experiences, though there’s not a lot on Martinez’s life outside of work simply because there wasn’t much life outside of his work. It’s clear that if you’re going to be a success in Silicon Valley then work is your life! There are some humorous moments too, but in truth these are few and far between.

Possibly the most interesting section for me was where he lifted the lid on the culture inside of Facebook. For instance, I didn’t know that meals were (and maybe still are) provided free to all workers - either as purely benevolent act on the part of the company or possibly to remove a reason for workers to head home or outside of the workplace for their next refuelling stop. And in the eager push to land new projects mantras such as ‘done is better than good’ and ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ were thrown about with abandon. 

Overall I enjoyed my time with this book. I do think that the tech-savvy reader/listener will extract more than I was able from this account but there was certainly enough here for non-techies like me too.