Young professionals in the tech industry are pushing back against TikTok influencers branding themselves as “tech girlies,” accusing them of overly glamorizing their jobs and questioning their credentials to give career advice.
Under the hashtags of #womenintech and #techtok, daily vlogs of early 20-somethings and their materialistic lifestyles are as abundant as they are viral. Videos like “Day in my life: 24 year old working at a tech company” or “day in my life as a 22 year old living in nyc and working at google” are an advertisement for all the exciting benefits of being a girlboss and working for a tech giant, with peaceful music overlaying smash-cuts of free food and sleek office decor and bags of luxury goods bought on a six-figure salary. “I’m taking you along to show you how I spend my $3,000 wellness benefit,” one vlogger said. “They had a pasta bar with a gluten-free option,” another said at the in-office hot bar.
But in the past week, other people in tech have begun calling out the lack of transparency in these viral videos about what it takes to get a high-paying job and other realities of the industry. The debate ignited after TikToker Mitchie Mitchie, a “tech girlie” influencer, posted a now-deleted video describing her frustration with being looked down on because she works in marketing instead of a more technical role, calling it elitist. That divide between employees who code and those who work in areas like sales or recruiting is present at some companies, other TechTokers acknowledged, but they also pointed out that the vlogger has at times looked pretty elitist herself; she previously sold coffee chats to her followers, where “high intent” followers could pay to chat with her about her career. (Mitchie Mitchie didn’t immediately respond to questions from BuzzFeed News.)
Those in technical roles then accused #techtok influencers at large of misconstruing the reality of working in the industry for personal gain. “[The influencers are] showing you all these over-the-top benefits, isn’t there elitism involved in that, too?” said one user. “What I spend in a day — it’s zero because my company paid for it.”
“There's not a lot of clarification in these videos,” Dominique Defoe, an influencer who posted about her #techtok frustrations, told BuzzFeed News. “And I think when you're giving career advice, especially if people are paying you, it could be a lot of misinformation because your career path could be completely different. And I don’t think it’s fair to profit off of it.”
Tech has for years been an attractive industry for young college grads, particularly with companies making so much fanfare about the benefits, freebies, and perks. TechTok influencers tend to center their content around those perks without getting into what they actually do, often prompting viewers to ask “what is your job?” in the comments section.
Though the dispute may have begun with an issue of respecting coworkers with different skills, it’s turned into a debate about influencers hyping up the industry to followers who then might have false expectations of a job and its demands.
“Whether or not you say you work in tech, I personally really don't care,” Nhon N., a TikToker known as @NhonsWorld who made a viral video about the drama, told BuzzFeed News. “It's actually an issue about elitism and disingenuous content. They are pushing a lifestyle. But just because you break into tech doesn't mean like, your lifestyle is going to turn into this. I think it misrepresents the tech industry in that way.”
Defoe told BuzzFeed News she believes stereotypes about nontechnical roles and technical roles in the industry go both ways, which has also contributed to the drama. “In some of the videos, creators will write snarky things in the comments like, engineers need us because they can’t communicate, they don’t have social skills — trying to prove their value while putting other people down,” she said. “These stereotypes have existed for a long time. And it's really divisive, because it's not true. But I think it’s part of why this is all happening.”
And some are frustrated that the girlboss content is glossing over the challenges that women still face in STEM jobs. Women continue to be underrepresented in tech roles, and lumping every woman working at a tech company into #womenintech “kind of dilutes the struggles that women in tech specifically go through breaking into a male-dominated field,” Nhon said.
In some ways, Nhon said the vlogs have provided a positive bit of awareness, showing a realm of career possibilities that some viewers may not have been aware of. But she still believes there’s a “danger” of misinformation in the flood of #techtok vlogs, especially to an audience of young people who take the content at face value.
“Many influencers bring ‘working in tech’ up from a place of superiority or as a buzzword to prey on a vulnerable audience,” Nhon continued. “We want to break down barriers, not put up more, and that requires authenticity and accountability from both sides.”