How the Silicon Valley exodus relates to ongoing culture wars


  • Since the onset of the pandemic, tech’s elite and major firms like HP and Oracle have begun moving out of the Bay Area.
  • Palantir, Oracle, and HP have all moved their headquarters to other states, and Elon Musk, Drew Houston, Larry Ellison, and Keith Rabois have all decided to leave for cities like Austin and Miami. 
  • While the exodus might seem sudden, it’s the direct result of a culture clash that’s been simmering below the surface for years. 
  • It dates back to at least 2017, when Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey was ousted at Facebook over the news that he was financing an anti-Hillary Clinton meme group. 
  • That same year, Google engineer James Damore was fired after he wrote an anti-diversity memo.  
  • Both situations highlighted a growing population of tech workers fed up with the region’s culture. Now, more than three years later, the pandemic seems to have freed those who feel frustrated by Silicon Valley’s culture to leave the area for good.  
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Silicon Valley exodus is real. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, billionaires, venture capitalists, and even major tech firms like HP and Oracle have started to flee the Bay Area. What at first seemed like a one-off response to our new remote-work reality has become a trend: Tech’s elite are leaving, and they’re citing a mixture of high taxes, state regulations, and a homogenous, liberal culture as their reasons for decamping to Texas, Colorado, or Florida.

While the departures of Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, and Keith Rabois are new, the reasons that seem to have nudged them out the door date back years. The pandemic may have spurred a migration away from the West Coast, but the writing has been on the wall as far back as 2017.

Now, as we approach 2021, it seems that a long-simmering culture clash is finally coming to a head. 

Read more: The tech elite are abandoning Silicon Valley in droves because of ‘monoculture’ and high taxes — here’s where they’re headed

palmer luckey

Oculus and Anduril founder Palmer Luckey in 2018.

Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images


The onset of the so-called culture wars 

While it’s likely that facets of Silicon Valley’s culture had been starting to splinter for several years prior to 2017, the most public instance of a culture clash coincides, roughly, with the beginning of President Donald Trump’s presidency. 

In September 2016, Palmer Luckey, then the 24-year-old millionaire cofounder of virtual reality company Oculus, was discovered to be the main benefactor behind an anti-Hillary Clinton meme group. By that point, Luckey had already sold Oculus to Facebook for $2 billion and launched the Oculus Rift, the company’s first major product. 

According to reporting by The Daily Beast, Luckey had been financing a group called Nimble America, which described itself online as having proven “that s—posting is powerful and meme magic is real.” The group had put up a billboard in Pittsburgh with Clinton’s face that read “Too big to jail.”

Luckey told The Daily Beast at the time that funding the group “sounded like a real jolly good time.” 

After the report came out, several female employees resigned from Facebook in protest and Luckey stayed out of the spotlight at Oculus events. By March 2017, he left Facebook — in subsequent interviews, Luckey has said he was fired

Luckey’s departure was viewed, by some, as a politically motivated firing. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a Senate hearing why Luckey was fired, implying it was over his politics, which Zuckerberg denied. 

While that was the first and most public instance of ideological differences becoming a sticking point in Silicon Valley, it wasn’t the last. 

The same year, Google engineer James Damore made headlines for writing an anti-diversity manifesto that spread like wildfire through Google’s ranks. Damore argued that the search giant shouldn’t be aiming to increase racial and gender diversity among its employees, but should instead aim for “ideological diversity.” Damore also argued that the gender gap in tech is due to biological difference between men and women, not sexism. 

The memo resulted in Damore’s firing, but it also sparked a groundswell of support among white, male engineers at Google who felt that conversations about diversity were offensive to white men and conservatives. Around the same time, far-right communities online began revealing the identities of Google employees who identified as part of the LGBTQ community. Damore then sued Google, alleging the company discriminated against white, conservative males (Damore later dropped the suit.) 

Both Luckey and Damore ended up without a job. But the reactions to their situations and the support they both received highlighted that there was a growing population of tech workers fed up with the region’s culture. At the time, Business Insider’s Steve Kovach argued that Silicon Valley’s “liberal bubble” had burst and that the culture wars had begun. 

Elon Musk

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images


Tech millionaires and billionaires are leaving the Bay Area in droves

More than three years later, it seems as though that undercurrent of dissatisfaction is coinciding with the secondary effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In years past, those who felt disgruntled, overruled, or otherwise disenfranchised by Silicon Valley’s predominately liberal culture had few options. They could leave, of course, but the tech world was still firmly rooted in the Bay Area. Those who wanted a career in tech still felt like they needed to put up with skyrocketing rents and hours-long commutes. 

But when offices shut down and major tech companies asked their employees to work remotely, there was no longer as strong a tether to the Bay Area. Some companies, like Twitter and Slack, freed their workers to live wherever they wanted with no expectation to ever return to their San Francisco offices. Others, like Facebook, have said employees may work remotely forever with manager approval. 

Read more: An inside look at how Slack is planning to readjust salaries and retrain managers so it can let employees work from home forever

These decisions seem to have encouraged a larger shift among Silicon Valley’s elite. 

Palantir has moved its headquarters to Colorado and HP and Oracle moved to Texas. Palantir CEO Alex Karp told Axios in May that the company wanted to move away from the West Coast and described what he saw as an “increasing intolerance and monoculture” in the tech industry. Karp, for his part, had been living in New Hampshire for much of the pandemic. 

Since then, venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have moved to Austin — Lonsdale tweeted that the region was “more tolerant of ideological diversity,” and Musk made the move after warring with California over the state’s coronavirus lockdown measures. 

Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison has left the region for Lanai, the island he mostly owns in Hawaii, and investor Keith Rabois is decamping for Miami, citing high taxes in San Francisco and a political culture he abhors as his reasons for leaving. 

And of course, all of these moves follow venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel’s famous departure for Los Angeles in 2018, a move seemingly spurred by his dislike of Silicon Valley’s liberal ideology.

Notably, Lonsdale, Musk, Rabois, and Karp all have ties to Thiel and PayPal, and Ellison is close friends with Musk and sits on Tesla’s board. 

So while the wave of departures from arguably the most famous tech hub in the world are, for better or worse, being spurred by the pandemic, the exodus didn’t being out of the blue — it’s a direct result of political and ideological differences that have been building just below the surface for years. 



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