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De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley
De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley
De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley
Ebook138 pages1 hour

De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley

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Stories of the dot-com boom-from everyone but the techies

No shuttle buses here: De-Bug, a new collection of true stories from the social justice organization of the same name, shows a side of working in Silicon Valley that you won't read about in the business section. As tech moguls land the cover of Forbes, the South Bay's working class is making ends meet as metal scrappers, factory workers, club bouncers, hairstylists, rickshaw drivers, ice cream cart pushers. The stories in De-Bug are poignant, often very funny accounts of bootstrapping in the land of angel investors and thought leaders. A construction worker predicts which of his customers are about to strike it rich and which are on the edge of bankruptcy based on the states of their swimming pools. A "secondhand hustler" travels the garage sale-flea market circuit in search of treasures to resell online. A temp worker at a medical device manufacturer sells his blood, at the company's request, to test the equipment. These storytellers are frank when discussing their own flaws, but are equally up-front about the rigged system in which they operate.

Disruptive in the truest sense of the word, De-Bug offers valuable insight into California's latest boomtown.
Release dateNov 5, 2015
De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley
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    De-Bug - Raj Jayadev




    It is seven in the morning, and I start my day by cleaning my workstation—my ice cream cart. I am part service provider, part entrepreneur, and what most people here in East San Jose call a paletero—the neighborhood ice cream man.

    I have my supplies ready, and I check the weather for one of the most important ways to increase sales: a hot day. In some ways, the job is straightforward—push, walk, and more walking and more pushing. Having an entrepreneurial spirit is one of the things that made me get in the business of cold sweet treats. Roaming the empty streets during morning hours is part of the hustle. Sometimes it’s so dead that I’m the only one cruising these empty streets, just wringing my bells loud enough to let people know I’m in their streets, ready for business. The bells are a part of the soundtrack of any working-class neighborhood in California. After the sound waves reach their ears, a few people come out to meet me for a cold treat. As I greet them with a warm smile and a hello, they usually have already made up their minds about what they want. But some are just plain indecisive and can’t make up their minds about the ice cream they want. For them, it’s part of the experience—the searching through the cart for their elusive treasure.

    I consider being a paletero the tastiest green job in Silicon Valley. And while it can be fun and fulfilling (you are a hero to children), not everyone is cut out for this work. The walking is demanding, and the amount of miles that I put on my shoes is a reflection of my hustle. The troubles out there at your workplace, the streets, are also very real. You have to be careful due to the fact that someone might mistake you for a walking ATM. It can get very dangerous in certain areas of the city, to the point that you might have to be ready to defend yourself or to make sure they don’t take your earnings of the day. The risk lives at any corner and pretty much in anything that might be hidden out there in the streets. But for the most part, the gangsters respect your hustle, because they might have seen you long enough in the streets that they know you’re not stepping on toes or there to take nothing from them. The hood is always going to be the hood, so never take it personal. Life happens and you just have to adjust or learn how to deal with the situation that it may present in the daily basis.

    The cops sometimes can be a hassle and very disrespectful because of the street peddler status of paleteros. Not all of them are bad, but a lot of them look down on you because you’re not in a fancy cubicle or doing what we think is a good job. Their usual gripe is, You can’t be selling here. Some cops are just looking for any excuse to search you or to look for a probable cause to put you down. They know that the majority of paleteros are immigrants that might not have the proper documentation, so to them we are easy targets to harass.

    The challenges, though, are not only cops and robbers—it’s also the clock. The job is a race against time because once the dry ice and the ice cream are in the cold box, the stopwatch starts. So that means that break times, lunch, anytime you are not selling is costing you money. To add to that struggle, people don’t always have enough to pay at the sticker price. You just got to work with them; this game is a give and take. Sometimes your product might be a bit damaged or it’s that point of the day that you have to liquidate the inventory—mainly because it is already turning into liquid.

    And the competition can also be pretty fierce at times, though I never looked at it that way. When you see another fellow paleta man, the first thing you do is give a heads-up on what’s going on in your route—any danger, hot spots like a birthday party at the park, or people to avoid. Some can be greedy with a spot, and they try to outdo you. There have been a number of times when I’ve seen some paleteros, and rather than say hi, they sprint ahead to jump my route. But I just keep it pushing, and let them know that there’s enough pie (or ice cream) for everyone.

    By the end of the day, my legs are exhausted, and my body is overheated from the fierce sun. I store any remaining product for the next day. The earnings might not be the equivalent to the hard work that you put into the trade, but the satisfaction of making someone’s day from a walking freezer has no price.



    Growing up in California, I always wondered how people could afford to have underground pools in their homes. Today, I work for a pool construction company, and as I demolish some pools and dig holes for new pools, I am getting a window into who’s swimming and who’s drowning in the Silicon Valley economy.

    Having done this for over a year, the pattern I see is that those who want pools made are new money—young techies on their way up. The ones demolishing are old money—former bosses of companies and industries, some that don’t exist anymore. The truth is that regardless of the unemployment rate, or the stock market, in Silicon Valley there are some that are coming up and some whose times have passed. I see who they are while digging holes in their backyards. Based on the type of pools I have to dig, and the locations we go to, I can see why I never had one growing up. This business is expensive. The price for renting the tractors, the wood, the steel, the cementer—it all gets pricey, and I’m only the first step. There are still the landscapers, the steel guys, the permits, and more. The average pool will run anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000.

    I go all over Silicon Valley seeing these pools built and demolished. The craziest one I saw was in San Jose. I didn’t even know there were huge homes like that on my side of the city. New money in an old part of town.

    Most clients who want their pool demolished, first off, have a dog or two, are over fifty, and have kids who have moved out of the house. Those who want a pool built, on the other hand, are up and coming. They either already have money or started making lots of it through one of the many jobs now flourishing in Silicon Valley. The differences between the two groups—in age, outlook, prospects—are pretty clear.

    I met one woman after demolishing a pool at her house in Santa Clara. When we finished she cooked up some BBQ and began telling us stories of growing up on a farm. She talked about how living the city life was different than what she was used to. She said she missed talking to people in person, like she did when she was a kid, versus all the online communication that happens now.

    I met another guy, an architect, who told me about how he came to his status in life. I was still new on the job, and he came up to show me how to water the mounds of dirt in his yard to keep it from getting dusty. He told me his secret was that he was a leader and not a boss. He helped his workers when times were hard, like digging with them and staying long after shifts were over to make sure the job was done correctly.

    My own boss, Jake, treats us pretty fairly. I won’t make you do anything unless I either did it or do it now, he tells us. But when the economy sank and work dried up, even that wasn’t enough to keep my coworker, Alvin, from leaving the company.

    Alvin is in his forties and from Mexico. He’s one of the hardest working people I know, one of those guys you can joke around with at the workplace but still get the job done. He always sported his hat backwards and was the main driver for the bulldozer. He had a million stories, and told me about his working days before working with our boss, Jake.

    Alvin rents an apartment in the East Side of San Jose and lives with some of his cousins. While digging pools, he also worked another job at the time, putting stucco siding on houses. All of that was to support his daughter, who recently had a baby, his nephew, who is going to college full time to be an accountant, and his cousins, all of who work as hard as he does. But like a lot of immigrant families, Alvin lives check to check, so when the pay began to dip he left to find other

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