Of all the rituals of modern life that Silicon Valley technologists have burrowed their way into — eating, exercising, communicating, doing the laundry — one ritual that’s stayed largely undisrupted is religion. Despite its other advances, Silicon Valley remains one of the least religious parts of the country.
Vincent “Skip” Vaccarello is trying to change that. A 30-year veteran of the tech industry, Vaccarello was an executive at VisiCorp, an early PC-software-maker, and has been the CEO of Applied Weather Technology and Communications Solutions Inc., as well as a division manager for 3Com. He’s also a Christian, and has spent the last two decades trying to spread the gospel to Silicon Valley’s masses. He’s the chair of the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, and the author of “Finding God in Silicon Valley,” a blog containing interviews with prominent Silicon Valley Christians that he is hoping to turn into a book.
I spoke to Vaccarello about his blog, his efforts to evangelize Silicon Valley, and what makes it hard to convert the tech-savvy. Here’s a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
Tech workers in Silicon Valley tend to be young, progressive, and very secular. Is this the hardest community in America to convert?
It is. George Barna [the evangelical pollster] did a survey and indicated that on any given Sunday, less than 5 percent of the people in Silicon Valley go to church. Silicon Valley people are smart skeptics. They also tend to live isolated lives. There are many transplants from other countries and states. Many of those people have not developed deep relationships. They desire to be successful. They want to change the world.
But at the same time, people are very skeptical of Christianity. Among the more successful, there’s a complacency. They think, Life seems great, I’ve got my stock options.
The guiding principle of Silicon Valley seems to be that the world can be perfected through technology. That hope seems to substitute for religious purpose in a lot of the tech people I know. Is that something you’ve seen?
I’d agree with that. I have a friend who did a book called Soul in Silicon, and his conclusion was that Silicon Valley is actually a very spiritual place, but that some of it is what you mentioned — people are, in a way, worshiping technology and success.
What I’ve found is that God is at work in Silicon Valley in the lives of many people. There really is a very committed group of people who have the desire to help others in their faith, who are committed to charity, who want to make the world a better place.
For a lot of people in Silicon Valley, though, the attitude seems to be that doing the work of technological advancement itself is a form of charity — that the world is better because they’re succeeding.
I’ve had many people say that. But people go through setbacks. It might be a divorce. It might be that stock options that were worth millions are now worth nothing. Or maybe they get fired from a job. When that happens, there are opportunities to talk about something that’s more important.