In 2012, journalist Dan Lyons was laid off from his job at Newsweek and wound up working for Massachusetts email marketing firm/jargon volcano HubSpot. His disastrous 20-month tour -- with a leave of absence to go write for HBO’s Silicon Valley -- provided the grist for his scathing best-selling takedown of the tech industry, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.
Here he answers some questions about making the jump from working at an email markting firm to writing for Silicon Valley, dealing with a whole lot of jargon and wanting to fit in.
Tell me about the jargon situation at your old job.
Oh, they had their own language. It amazed me. We had things like “G.S.D.” Are you a G.S.D. player? Get shit done. Gotta be G.S.D. all the time! We had “H.E.A.R.T.” -- humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable and transparent. Oh, “TOFU” and “MOFU”: top of the funnel, middle of the funnel. The whole funnel. I always thought the funnel deal was kind of crazy. Oh, and “delightion.” That was one of my favorites, man.
That must have taken some getting used to.
It was really shocking. At Newsweek we were all trained to take technical speak and put it into English. Our bias was always against jargon. We were always trying to undo it. These guys, on the other hand, took English and put it into jargon. I didn’t understand at the time, but I had jumped into the deep end of the jargon pool.
Did you ever feel like you were being gaslighted?
Like, are they pranking you? Are they making shit up to see if you’ll fall for it? I had a lot of moments like that. And the thing was, no one ever rolled their eyes; there was no one you could pull aside and say, like, “Dude, we both agree this is stupid, right?” I think they actually liked it. I remember early on I was in a meeting. I didn’t want to embarrass myself and ask what some of the words were, but afterward I had to ask someone. And they looked at me like, You’re an idiot. Everyone knows that.
Did you resist?
No. I bought in and started trying to talk like that. I really wanted to fit in. I wanted to sound like I knew what I was doing. I think part of why jargon works is because it’s a way of showing, I’ve been around the block. I’m not wet behind the ears. I know all these terms.
Did you keep a list of your favorite words?
I didn’t, but the funny thing is, the whole company operated on a wiki, and they actually had a section of the wiki just for jargon. So when you joined HubSpot, because it was so strange how they talked, you could just go look at the wiki rather than going around asking everybody. The journalist in me was appalled. Horrified. But there were definitely moments where I had fallen into this pot of comedy gold. Like, this is just too good.
What was it like going from that to writing for Silicon Valley?
It was a return to sanity. It was like I’d returned to my tribe. I would tell them about all this stuff and they would be like, “No fucking way!”