Last year saw an unprecedented number of successful protests by tech workers against controversial projects -- signaling an important shift in the balance of power at some of the largest US tech companies.
Their bosses say they maintain control and that their decisions will not be swayed by employee protests, but it's not true. For example, just a few weeks ago Google stopped all work on its Chinese search engine project codenamed Dragonfly and shut down its development teams following employee protests.
Dragonfly was a major priority for Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and the company had invested significant resources over the past two years. Yet despite Pichai's claim that he is still the boss "and won't be constantly swayed by staff uprisings" he couldn't find a way to continue development of the Chinese search engine.
Google workers also shutdown Project Maven, an AI drone project for the US military.
It's not just at Google; When making any important decision, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Amazon bosses will have to consider the existential question of: "What will our workers think?" Every company employing a large number of software engineers will have to ask itself this question.
And any company that contracts with a tech company on a potentially controversial project will be asking itself if it trusts any organization with an activist tech workforce.
Some tech workers have demanded representatives in the boardroom, or the formation of a tech workers union. There's no way that decisions will be shared with workers -- especially at Google and Facebook, which are completely controlled by insiders. Google even issues a special class of non-voting shares to its workers (Facebook tried to do the same).
- Google workers found voice in protest this year CNET
- How to use Google's Digital Wellbeing TechRepublic
Yet tech worker representatives would make it easier for management to make critical decisions and not have to second guess their reaction.
Tech workers don't want to be seen as gentrifiers, free lunch eaters, and private bus riders. They care about social issues, and they have shown that they will take action if their bosses don't understand.
In 2019, we will undoubtably see tech workers increase their power. How will their bosses handle this? By firing people? Blacklisting? It's going to be an interesting year.