Book cover: Wizards of the Web.

New book: Wizards of the Web

| 8 September 2021

What is it that unites the ideals of hippies with those of start-up entrepreneurs? In a new book, Jakob Svensson studies the people behind algorithms and automated systems: the people that create them, the wizards of the web.

The power of big tech companies is a topic often discussed and debated. In the new book, Wizards of the Web: An Outsider’s Journey into Tech Culture, Programming, and Mathemagics, Jakob Svensson instead studies the people behind the screens: the people who create the codes and algorithms upon which so much of our society depends.

A complex culture

To understand the people behind algorithms, we need to understand the very complex culture in which these people exist. In the book, Svensson dedicates an entire chapter to the different cultures co-existing in Silicon Valley. And while business ideology and making money has become increasingly important, tech culture is not monolithic.

"On the one hand, you have the influences from the hippies, and on the other, you have the values and ideals of libertarian entrepreneurs”,  says Svensson.

Young men dominate

Although it’s not a monoculture, it is largely a culture populated by young, mostly white, men. The age, gender and ethnicity of the people behind the screens all have a bearing on what algorithms and codes are created.

“With this book, I want it to initiate a discussion about programmers, their cultures and values, and the importance of this in our contemporary societies”,  Svensson explains.

The book is based on interviews with 39 software engineers and programmers, as well as observations at tech conferences and seminars in Brazil, India, the US, Germany and Sweden. The book is part of the research project Behind the Algorithm (funded by the Swedish Research Council, 2018–2020). Jakob Svensson is part of the research program Data Society at Malmö University.