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The Silicon Office

The Office is a TV series about a seemingly mundane workplace.

This mundane workplace, though, is counterbalanced by the anything-but-mundane situations that happen there — the situations that get us hooked on following it.

Beyond those situations, it’s the workers of the office that we truly fall in love with. Each character has their own distinct personality — lots of them extremely polarising, but we love them (almost) all.

Their workplace, the Scranton branch of a paper sales company becomes a set, the stage on which we follow each story as each episode unfolds. 

If you’re anything like me, you get super invested in each character in their own particular way. We can’t help but root for Jim or Pam, just as we can’t help but feel schadenfreude when DeAngelo leaves for the last time.

Right now Fanny and I are rewatching the series (for the 8th time). And as we watch, I’m noticing more and more parallels with the emotional investment we business/tech lovers feel as we follow the day to day developments of the biggest companies in the world.

We watch their ups and downs, we clap for each big unveiling and grab our popcorn at each scandal that ripples through the Silicon Valley and the tech world at large.

While we sat and cringed at Michael Scott’s constant social incompetence, an idea emerged and became this week’s newsletter: each different character of The Office brilliantly represents each different ‘character’ of Silicon Valley. 

The Silicon Office

In The Office, many of the characters don’t particularly like each other — often getting into petty feuds with each other. Others get on well, forming partnerships against other coworkers. Rivalries, cliques, alliances — this workplace has it all.

Each character is very different. A large part of reality TV is based on putting a bunch of incompatible personalities together and watching the inevitable mess that ensues. Through this lens, The Office follows the same format. 

From an outside perspective, though, so does Silicon Valley.

If there’s one location known for its rivalries and cliques, its polarising personalities and daily intriguing adventures, it’s the Bay Area. 

Today, then, we’re going lighter-hearted. Welcome to Silicon Valley, its top players, and personalities, as represented by characters in The Office.

Michael Scott – Tesla

Michael is as polarising a leader as it gets. Remind you of anyone?

He thrives on getting attention by any means necessary. Sometimes, though, his tactics are questionable, and it often gets him in hot water. 

When he’s not getting the attention he wants, Dunder Mifflin Scranton’s leader might yell incoherently, maybe tell you a relative of yours has died.

Tesla’s leader follows a similar playbook. When his Twitter feed is looking slow, Musk might commit a little securities fraud, or, if you’re a British diver, maybe accuse you of being a pedophile.

When they’re not doing that, they both begin to explore other projects. Just as Elon splits his time between leading Tesla, SpaceX, OpenAI, or tunneling under LA, Michael spreads his interests across his screenplay, working on new characters like Prison Mike, or Michael Klump. He even founded a company, in the form of the Michael Scott Paper Co.

Elon and Michael are both unique leaders.

Dwight Schrute – Facebook

Dwight is largely disliked throughout the workplace.

His social skills are seen as, well… lacking — with a very flexible moral code.

He tends to thrive in chaos. Always plotting new stratagems and sly ideas. Even in the rare times he thinks he’s doing something good for the others, he’s decried for it.

This one wasn’t difficult. Come on, they both even launched their own currency!

Kelly Kapoor – Basecamp / HEY!

Similar to Michael, outside of her actual job, Kelly’s mission statement is to get attention, however she possibly can.

DHH & Jason Fried are renowned through the tech world for their skill in beef-as-marketing. It’s even a staple of Fried’s book!

Just as Basecamp and HEY! are actually good products, Kelly’s seemingly actually good at her job. Beyond their work though, their real skill lies in being the loudest people in the room.

Jim Halpert – Dominos

Okay, in fairness this one isn’t even a Silicon Valley company, but the parallels were too solid to ignore. Just roll with it.

Jim is a consistently good performer. Everyone he comes into contact with loves him. Can you say any different for pizza?

Both Jim and Dominos rarely make the headlines for huge moves. They’re not much known for their drive for innovation or novel ideas. That said, they maintain solid numbers, deliver on time, and always keep us smiling.

Stanley Hudson – eBay

A top-in-class salesman all around.

Stanley isn’t the youngest or most creative of the salespeople in the office. The younger players run circles around him when it comes to innovation, experimentation, and new-school techniques — and yet, Stanley, just like eBay, has remained a solid player from the start.

He isn’t known for surfing on the latest trend, nor is he seen as the most ambitious of the salespeople, but he stays consistent, a known entity.

With that said, the rare times Stanley or eBay make headlines, they’re about as out of left field as they come. While Stanley’s scandals tend to take the form of his (multiple) affairs, eBay’s take the form of cyberstalking, harassment, and “psychological terrorism”.

They rarely make the news, but when they do…

Phyllis Lapin – Tinder

Right, hear me out on this one.

If there’s any one character in The Office who best personifies an app best known for its naughty reputation, it’s Phyllis.

Just as Tinder is known for being a place to find love in the 21st century, or at very least a place to help spend a night, Phyllis has alluded multiple times to her promiscuous reputation dating as far back as High School.

Phyllis, many years into her relationship with Bob Vance, has a burning passion for him — and had to fight to win him in the first place, waiting “naked in his office”.

She’s also been at least curious about one night stands…

Angela Martin – LinkedIn

Here we reach the opposite end of the spectrum, and I think this one needs little explanation.

Angela, just like LinkedIn, puts status at the core of her self-worth, never referring to her husband in any manner less formal than “The Senator”, and aggrandising her and the (state) senator’s positions when talking to well… pretty much anybody.

The LinkedIn parallels are clear. What initially was supposed to be a job description quickly became an open space to brag and flex when —quite literally— nobody asked.

Angela is a hyper-professional, no-nonsense, serious woman in the workplace. LinkedIn is about as vanilla as social networks get — devoid of any potentially sensitive humor. 

A match made in heaven.

Oscar Martinez – Netflix

Oscar is a wise man. While others fight over the latest heated debate of the day, Oscar remains (almost always) calm and collected.

In the same way, just as the streaming war continues to rage, Netflix can hold its crown high above the heads of its challengers with a deserved air of superiority, watching from the sidelines.

Netflix and Oscar are serious, composed workers. Nonetheless, when it comes to the casual break room chats, their inner drama addict comes out.

For Netflix, this takes the form of their Twitter account, regularly engaging in random discussions that, at first view, seem unexpected from a Fortune 500 media company, but quickly become totally on-brand.

Kevin Malone – Robinhood

Kevin doesn’t much resemble the company itself, but rather its userbase, and the comparisons are clear.

Kevin and the average Robinhood user are huge gamblers.

Constantly confused as to what’s going on is a description fitting our favourite fictional accountant just as much as the average Robinhood user? Kevin thinks he’s playing in the same league as the other office workers. To anyone else, though, he looks to be living in a world of his own.

His tendency to gamble dangerously, not really understanding what’s happening, fits quite perfectly in line with the stereotypical Robinhood user.

Somehow, against all odds, Kevin manages to snatch a big win when you least expect it. Unfortunately, on these rare occasions, he seems to stumble ass-backward into luck more often than purposely setting himself up for a win.

Creed Bratton – Roam Research

Nobody is entirely quite sure what Creed… is?

The guy has 100% been in a cult — in fact, we’re not certain he wasn’t the leader of it.

Creed seems ready at any moment to lead a strange Creed-style revolution. @Conaw too is growing his cult with each passing day — though seemingly with less criminal undertones.

Meredith Palmer – WeWork

Meredith’s character, to put it bluntly, is a mess.

With questionable morals, a (until recently) seemingly perpetual loop of bad news and worse decisions, Meredith is surprisingly in-line with the WeWork / SoftBank global strategy.

Pam Halpert – Adobe

Pam is an artist at heart.

Similar to Jim and his pizza counterpart, Pam rarely makes groundbreaking news and announcements, but performs consistently well.

She’s ambitious nonetheless. Just as Pam began as a receptionist and worked her way to being a saleswoman, then office administrator, Adobe’s talents have grown from graphics software to being top players in the VR & technical graphics innovation space.

Competitors come and go, but we’ll always have a soft spot for Pam and her creations, just as we do Adobe and its iconic creative cloud.

Andy Bernard – Uber

Andy never quite shook the reputation of being prone to anger outbursts, scandals, and questionable decisions. The former proved enough to send Andy away for a few months on anger management training.

It’s these same anger outbursts that marked the end of Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick’s reign at the helm of the company.

Despite the turbulent ups and downs that have plagued the company, just as they have Andy, both quickly became staples of the community — either to get us around or to entertain.

Toby Flenderson – GoPro

Toby is actually good at his job.

Over the years though, never quite seemed to get the respect or attention he felt he deserved. 

He’s not much known for being a huge innovator, rather staying in his lane, and struggling to break out of it. For GoPro, this took the form of a subscription services revenue model, for Toby, his crime thriller Chad Flenderman novels.

Ryan Howard – Theranos

Ryan was a young, quickly rising star in his sector. Theranos was being hailed as a revolution in healthcare, led by a strong, young leader.

Ryan climbed the ranks quickly within Dunder Mifflin, going from a temp job at the office, to an executive corporate role in New York within a year.

In his words, a “wunderkind”.

Theranos was being talked about as an era-defining breakthrough in blood analysis, with seemingly nowhere to go but up.

Unfortunately, they went kind of… down.

Both were indicted for lying about their innovations and revenue, defrauding investors. Ryan did a stint in jail, and Elizabeth Holmes is facing similar charges.

Honorable mention has to be given to Wirecard on that front!

And finally…

Nellie Bertram – Nikola

Nobody really knows where Nellie came from.

She has no discernable talents, particular management skills, or past results to lean on, and yet this seemed to do little to hinder her progress.

Somehow, her boss decided to take a gamble, and run with her, as she weaselled her way into the role of manager at Dunder Mifflin Scranton.

Similarly, the market decided to take a gamble, and run with Nikola, pretending it’s a company worth even close to its valuation.

This, kids, is what we call “healthy market activity”.

What do you mean a company with… 0 revenue likely isn’t really worth $30B — more than the entire Ford Motor company?

Just as Nellie somehow won the heart and mind of Robert California and got the job, Nikola somehow won the heart and mind (read: disposable income) of the Nasdaq.

Final Thoughts

Let’s bring this all back around to our story of the characters we follow in Silicon Valley.

We watch from the sidelines as each player carves their tale into the Bay Area and world stage history books.

All the major players, the main characters in the Silicon Valley story coexist in a home they all share. Sometimes they’re at each other’s throats, sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. They gang up on each other to form the tech company clique of the week, just as our favorite characters do in Scranton.

Day after day, just as the Dunder Mifflin team shows up to the office, fueled with new stories, new ideas, and new pranks against each other, the players in the tech world, day after day, plot, make moves and surprise us in a quest for growth.

We watch in earnest as our favorite company makes strides forward, and take to Twitter to voice our schadenfreude as others face new hurdles. 

Regardless of who we root for, the characters keep us on the edge of our seat, eagerly awaiting what tomorrow’s episode will bring.

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