Nerds are the stars of Silicon Valley, the HBO series about the technology industry in California. Creator Mike Judge, writer Alec Berg and actor Thomas Middleditch talk about the tech culture as the third season of the show begins.
Why are people in the tech business seen as being socially awkward? Berg: "There's something about the personality of the engineer that pervades the tech business. Engineers are much better at things than people. If you're seven, eight, nine years old and developing an interest in computer programming, it's probably because you're not playing sports, you're not the greatest social person. You gravitate to objects or things."
How has the tech scene changed the formerly isolated status of boy geniuses? Judge: "You see it affect the social world of high schools. I have daughters who are 24 and 21. I think for people their age, it's like, 'Don't pick on that kid, he might be richer than all of us, the next Zuckerberg or something like that.'"
How has the portrayal of nerds on television changed since the 1980s? Berg: "The difference is that 10 or 20 years ago, we were making movies about the wealthy captains of industry and they were all wearing suits and worked in banking. If you look at all the newly minted billionaires of the past 10 years, the vast majority of them are in the internet space. I think that the word 'nerd' has come to mean something different in the last 20 years. If you told somebody you could be a nerd and that would make you a billion dollars, I think a lot of people would sign up."
Were you already well versed in technology before playing computer genius Richard on the show? Middleditch: "I just grew up liking computers and stuff like that. Mainly cool stuff, like video games. But definitely being on the show has been educational. Whether or not I actually understand some of the words I'm saying, that's TBD. I can sort of understand conceptually some of the things, but when they get into the nitty-gritty math, it's way above my head. I'm not in Hollywood because I'm good at math."
What has been the response from the real Silicon Valley? Middleditch: "People who work in Silicon Valley will come up and be like, 'This show is very true to life.' Some people quote scenes and will be like, 'That has happened to me almost verbatim.' But no one's come up and been like, 'Thank you for what you've done for nerd culture.'"
Do you believe the real Silicon Valley is changing the world for the better? Middleditch: "Some things, yes. I love that [Tesla chief executive and internet mogul] Elon Musk is trying to create essentially battery storage for the sun. That sounds great, and I think that is game-changing. I laugh at stuff like Snapchat thinking it can change the world."
Season three of Silicon Valley premieres on HBO tomorrow, at 10am, with a same day encore at 10pm.