Sunday, July 22, 2018

Book Review: "Sophia of Silicon Valley" by Anna Yen

"I'm only twenty-six years old. I'm not sure how it happened. Actually, I know exactly how it happened. Unreasonable immigrant parents, a life is short attitude, and a mouth I can't seem to fully control. I've been trained since birth to get what I want; now I use this "skill" to get my bosses whatever they want. I've made it into the inner circle."

What Sophia Young wanted more than anything was to be a cheerleader for the Golden State Warriors basketball team. But for her status-conscious, overprotective Chinese parents, that was absolutely not an option. So she opted for the career path she was expected to take—finding a job where she would have the chance to meet a handsome, rich man who could provide a good life for her, so she could quit her job, get married, and have children.

After getting fired from her first job for her outspokenness, she became a paralegal at a law firm in the midst of the technology sector. She unexpectedly realizes how much she likes her job, how much her boss depends on her (and tolerates her snarky attitude), and how great it feels to actually be part of something. Sure, she's working crazy hours, which is making it impossible to have a real romantic relationship and it's wreaking havoc with her health, but much to her parents' dismay, she wants to be a working woman.

When she crosses paths with Scott Kraft, the eccentric Steve Jobs-ish CEO of Treehouse, a studio looking to change the world of animated films, she is offered the chance to be Treehouse's head of investor relations, a position right in the middle of tremendous excitement—and stress. She finds she has an exceptional talent being a "nerd whisperer," by navigating Scott's crazy demands and mercurial attitude, and she jumps at the opportunity to help this company achieve Scott's vision. But the harder she works, she discovers that men are threatened by confident women who appear to have their s--t together, and she starts to wonder whether her initial dream of marriage and children is being replaced by her career ambitions.

Although she hits some health-related roadblocks which cause her to rethink the path her life is taking, it also forces her to realize how much she craves the high-pressure environment. Yet when she leaves Treehouse to work for inventor and engineer Andre Stark (fashioned after Elon Musk), she wonders for the first time if all of the stress and coddling high-maintenance executives is really what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

Sophia of Silicon Valley is a great book, a terrific, humorous, heartfelt look at one woman's struggle to figure out what "having it all" really means, and even if she wants "all" of it at once. Sophia is a memorable character, full of fire and moxie and far more intelligence than she gives herself credit for, and her adventures wrangling her bosses and her companies into shape are funny and utterly compelling. (Of course, maybe you, too, will wonder if speaking to her bosses the way she did in the book would really have flown, even in the days of the tech boom.)

Anna Yen does a fantastic job making you care about a character who is a little bit obnoxious at times and definitely self-centered, in the way she treats those around her, but Sophia has a good heart. There are moments you'll cheer for her, and moments you'll want to tear into the characters the way she does. It almost feels a little like the movie Working Girl.

While I understand Sophia's parents were part of the driving force for her to achieve so much, I found her parents a little too stereotypical, and I could have done without endless rounds of her mother simultaneously criticizing, haranguing, and worrying about Sophia. However, I have Chinese friends who say this behavior is utterly realistic, so what do I know?

This story of a young woman surprising everyone including herself is a great find and a terrific read. Give this one a shot!

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