Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Chaos Monkeys - A Review

I found this book, Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez ( @antoniogm ) by accident.  I was just paging thru some sites in my RSS feed and the cover scrolled past.  I didn't have time to get to it then and when I did I couldn't find it again so I resorted to Google and came across a couple lukewarm reviews (such as this one).  Being a fan of Silicon Valley and Disrupted by Dan Lyons and based on the blurb I read I decided to take a chance.

Glad I did.

So lets be upfront here first -

1.  I have preconceived notions about most tech companies Some of it is based on personal experience.  Some on stories friends have told me.  Most of my impression of the new wave companies (2007 forward) is not real positive.

2.  I am a fan of crude humor.  I know that in the present day and age that makes worse than a concentration camp guard who did double duty shooting puppies after his shift at the gas chamber, but I am.

3.  I read a lot of somewhat geeky inside story econ books like Too Big To Fail or Liars Poker.  I don't know why, the world's greatest economic expert, Monty, has proclaimed me too stupid to understand them.

Basically I think I am this books perfect target.  Probably why I enjoyed it so much.

Chaos Monkeys starts with the Great Recession.  Martinez was working as a quant at Goldman Sachs in 2008.  Things were coming apart so he jumped ship to an internet advertising start up in Silicon Valley.  After a little less than a year there he and two engineers leave and start their own internet advertising startup.  Less than a year later it sells to Twitter and he cuts a side deal to go to Facebook.  He picks the wrong side in a political fight on monetizing Facebook's data and 2 years later he is out of there.  An epilogue and the book ends.

That's the story in a nutshell.  Most of the reviews I have read have been mostly positive about that part of the book, but find the description of the deal making and inner workings of the ad tech tedious.  They also all find the humor misogynistic (some is) and crude / childish.  It is, but a lot of the crude / childish stuff is also extremely funny.  Especially the drag race with the Tesla, and the descriptions of the Facebook cult(ure).   For me though the meat of the book was the descriptions of the various deals and life at companies like Facebook.  It's like an immersive primer.  I'm not saying it is a B-school replacement, but it gives you some insights that a lot of people paid dearly for.  This goes for the discussions of the ad technology also.  If you read that and aren't a little freaked out about how much of your identity is exposed, then you weren't paying attention.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you are headed out on a vacation and need something to read around the pool or on the beach.

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