The Seattle area is home to thousands of technology workers. What impact, if any, will they have on the November elections? We talk to some.
Daniela Luzi Tudor left Romania as a 5-year-old girl, shortly after the fall of communism. She and her family bounced from their home country to Germany, to Portugal and finally to Washington in 1996 when Tudor was 11 years old.
Her father’s dream was to get her to the U.S., a country he saw as “the land of opportunity.”
“Growing up in communism in theory sounds awesome, but practice it is not,” Tudor, now a 31-year-old Seattle tech entrepreneur, said.
Behind the Vote: About the series
The Seattle Times is exploring how the state’s political geography — from farm country to Seattle’s tech centers, from suburbia to pulp-mill towns — is shifting in this historic election year.
“… Politics have been intertwined in my life since I was born.”
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Tudor, who got a green card and later became a citizen, sees voting as a privilege. Inspired by the stories her father told her of British business magnate Richard Branson, she became a technology entrepreneur, and now owns an app that helps people recovering from substance abuse.
She pushes hard for candidates who commit to destigmatize and decriminalize substance abuse. Tudor went through treatment for cocaine and alcohol addiction and wants to make sure others have access.
She usually votes Republican, embracing her libertarian outlook, but this election she’s backing Hillary Clinton. Clinton has said she will work to end treating drug abuse as a crime.
Tudor is not crazy about either choice for president, she said, echoing the thinking of many people interviewed by The Seattle Times who work in technology in King County.
Technology’s explosion across the Puget Sound region has brought in thousands of software developers and entrepreneurs. One study says tech workers number more than 260,000 people in the state.
But it’s unclear how they will affect the November elections, or whether many might vote at all.
It’s a largely male, largely white and often affluent group — a software developer in Seattle makes a median salary of $113,242 per year, according to Glassdoor, an employment and recruiting website.
The tech industry is known for its progressive social views and sometimes libertarian leanings. Several leaders, including the heads of Apple and Yelp, came together last year to criticize an Indiana law that many felt would allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples, for example.
Many company executives, concerned about the economics of their businesses, support Republican candidates. In this year’s presidential election, though, interviews by The Seattle Times of local tech workers found very few publicly supporting Donald Trump.
Politics don’t generally come up much in the halls of Microsoft, said Ron Critchfield, a 51-year-old program manager. This year is different.
“What surprises me is just how openly derogatory people are toward Trump,” he said. “That’s something I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen in an election season before.”
Tech and politics, oil and water
The inherent grayness of politics often doesn’t mesh with the data-driven way of thinking that comes with tech roles.
Some techies are uncomfortable with anything that is not an absolute, said Henry Rose, a 33-year-old engineering manager at Seattle home-improvement startup Porch.com. Software engineers like to approach problems with an understanding of what will happen: If the input is x, the output will be y.
“When we’re not talking in absolute terms, it’s wildly frustrating,” he said. “And then to have a politician who is talking in lots of generalities, it’s super frustrating.”
Heather Redman has encountered this type of thinking as she tries to raise money for candidates. Redman, chief legal counsel at startup Indix, works with Democratic candidates and has been involved in efforts to encourage techies in King County to vote.
“They want to make sure they’re doing more good than harm,” Redman said. “They don’t just want to blindly vote for all the Democrats or all the women.”
Corey Cook, now the dean of the School of Public Service at Boise State University, spent 10 years studying voter habits in San Francisco, particularly those of tech transplants to the city.
“We saw very, very little engagement in local politics,” he said. “Very little upticks in voter registration.”
This could be the year to change that, he said, as 2016 brings the first presidential election without an incumbent since the height of the most recent tech boom.
Startup founder Diego Oppenheimer, who runs Algorithmia in Seattle, is joining a push started in Silicon Valley that encourages employees to vote by giving them Election Day off from work. More than 315 companies have signed up.
Oppenheimer doesn’t care which candidate his employees support. He just wants them to take some time thinking about the ballot. It’s partly symbolic in Washington, given the state votes by mail-in ballots, but he’s hoping the meaning sinks in.
Oppenheimer grew up in Uruguay, where voting is mandated by law, and cities shut down on election days.
“The theory is, ‘How can it be a democracy if not 100 percent of people voted?’ ” he said. “I grew up with that mentality.”
A common adversary
Reetu Gupta doesn’t believe Donald Trump would make policies that advance gender equality, a big problem for the 44-year-old mother of two daughters. Gupta is trying to teach her daughters that they can do anything, be anything, and she wants to see policies that advance women in STEM fields.
As a small-business owner, she also is concerned that Trump would stifle the growth of tech companies. Software doesn’t see borders, she said. Tech companies need to be able to expand seamlessly into countries around the world.
“We need to have geographic boundaries that are more fluid,” she said.
Trump has said he would close U.S. borders and consider renegotiating trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some view the comments as anti-immigrant, a hot topic in the high-tech community, where many hires come from other countries.
Gupta is founder of Redmond-based Cirkled in, an education tech startup that she someday plans to take global. An immigrant from India, she emphasized the importance of hiring employees from other countries to understand local mindset while expanding globally.
Gupta appreciates that Clinton is a feminist, and that her presence in the White House will show her daughters what they can achieve.
Gilad Berenstein, founder of travel startup Utrip, once said he didn’t think a Trump presidency would be as bad as some of the horror stories, though he never supported the Republican candidate. But after Trump’s comments about the voting system being rigged, Berenstein is against him.
“I would never bet the future of the country on him,” he said.
Only a handful of tech workers in King County have donated to Trump’s campaign this election cycle.
Several of those donors did not return calls for comment. One man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he is voting for Trump because he emigrated to the U.S. legally from China, and he believes others should have to follow the same laws.
Jeff Fatora said he can’t support either candidate.
The 48-year-old retired Navy officer and solutions manager at Porch.com worked as an aide for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, for three years.
He has seen the impact a vote can make.
But Fatora says he won’t vote for president this year, marking only the second time in his life that he has abstained.
He will vote for other issues and candidates on the ballot, he said, but he just can’t stomach a vote for Clinton or Trump. Clinton is in Wall Street’s pocket, he said, and Trump is dangerous. Fatora supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Your average tech worker is smart,” he said. “And if you look at the choices they’re being presented with, there’s not a lot of intellectual, thoughtful, ethical candidates.”