Chaos Monkeys
By Antonio Garcia Martinez


West Maui Book Club DISCUSSION QUESTIONS compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
Jan. 18, 2017

Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site! Please feel free to use our discussion questions online or off with attribution to the West Maui Book Club. All page or location numbers refer to the Hard Cover version.

1. Martinez defines a “chaos monkey” as a software tool created and open-sourced by Netflix, meant to test a product or website’s resiliency against random server failures. (Pg 103) If you were a chaos monkey running rampant through this book, what failures might you uncover, either professionally or socially, if any?
     a. For instance, as the NYT’s states he “mangles” the facts in “describing the mechanics of the Facebook initial public offering” in its review by Jonathan A. Knee dated June 28, 2016.
     b. In contrast, from the same article, his conclusions “to the self-serving verdicts rendered on his allies and enemies” seem “well balanced”.

Are there others?

An aside: Netflix’s tech blog by Cory Bennett and Ariel Tseitlin, dated July 30, 2012, describes a “chaos monkey” as a “service which runs in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) that seeks out Auto Scaling Groups (ASGs) and terminates instances (virtual machines) per group…” Theoretically, and of course tongue in cheek, could the chaos monkey at Facebook have considered Martinez one such ASG instance to be terminated, since in fact he was?

2. Have you ever worked in the tech industry? If so, how does the reading of this book compare? And if not, how has it affected your understanding of it? Of the venture capital industry? The startup industry? The competition?

3. What main understanding did you walk away with from the book? Did you find “Chaos Monkeys” useful, entertaining, or something else all together? Explain.

4. How did reading “Chaos Monkeys” affect your use and understanding of Facebook or online search engines such as Google and Safari?

5. Did this book--as the NYT suggests in the same article mentioned above--suggest to you that its greatest danger would be that it will be “appreciated less as trenchant social criticism and more as a how-to manual” and also that it will be “pored over mainly for clues to getting a job at Facebook or having a venture selected by the Y Combinator”?

6. How Facebook went from “advertising zero to hero is the crux of this story.” (Pg 281) In other words, how did Facebook finally monetize its ads to a “tsunami”-type wave? Discuss.

7. Martinez asks, “What’s the first thing a child learns? What’s the first lesson we impart to a new pet? What makes us snap instantly out of any reverie, no matter how deep? A name.” (Pg 381) And how does “a name” -- your name in particular -- get used as a profit center? Discuss cookies. Discuss also what you learned from Martinez as they relate to apps verses desktop.

8. Where you able to follow Martinez throughout as he explained how the the tech world operates (at least as it applies to his realm of experience)? And, did he efficiently keep you interested through the droppings of his prodigious vocabulary? What words and uses did you find of interest?

For this reader they were: delectation, etiolated, paroxysm, inchoate, pastiche, toff, encomium, pedagogical, empyrean, dragoman, tympanum frieze, tutelary, samizdat, nomenklatura (ie, nomenclature), favela, ontological, legerdemain, droit du seigneur… It was quite appreciated, of course, but sometimes annoying, especially when he’d also swim to the deep end of the vocabulary pool with descriptives like “Poopie, fart-can, etc.” I also got tripped up on his around-about, sideline interjections with what he wanted to say when a simple, straightforward sentence could have sufficed.

9. He also swings wildly between self promotion, bragging rights, swagger, and then self-flagellates, dives into bro-y frat talk (while admitting to dressing like one), calls himself completely clueless as far as cool is concerned, and a cad. So what impression did he leave you with of himself? And at what cost do you consider that he paid, or reaped, to be a part of a startup, and later, Facebook?

Antonio Garcia Martinez

From the PUblisher: Talking Points



• What a “Chaos Money” is and how they stir things up in the high tech industry

• How “the tech startup scene, for all its pretensions of transparency, principled innovation, and a counterculture renouncement of pressed shirts and staid social convention, is actually a surprisingly reactionary crowd.”

• Getting picked by and working with startup guru Paul Graham and Y Combinator, and García Martínez’s take on the perfect Y Combinator applicant: “bomb-throwing anarchist subversive mixed with cold-blooded execution mixed with whimsy, a sort of technology-enabled twelve-year-old boy.”

• What makes a successful Venture Capitalist: “In the day to day, the lifeblood of a VC wasn’t money, it was deal flow. Getting a first look at a potential Uber or Airbnb is what distinguished a first-class VC from an also-ran.”

• How, after selling AdGrok to Facebook, García Martínez’s experienced what it means to be an “acqui-hire” at in the kingdom of Zuck: “being part of a hot startup is your union, and the only dues required are your entire life for the time you’re in the startup.”

• The strange Facebook initiation rite called “on-boarding”: “People joined Facebook, and like immigrants at Ellis Island, left their old, dated cultures behind, replacing them with an all-consuming new one. The on-boarding experience was designed precisely as the sort of citizenship oath that new Americans took in front of a flag and a public official. It was almost religious, and taken absolutely sincerely and at face value. Even in a culture brimming with irreverent disdain, I never heard anyone utter a word of cynical trollery about Facebook and its values.”

• His two years as a Facebook product manager: “you resembled an Afghan warlord or pirate captain: fearsome in appearance to outsiders, the scourge of entire companies and industries, but actually barely in control of your small band of engineer-hooligans, and always one step from mutiny.”

• Why Mark Zuckerberg is a genius—not in the “the Asperger’s, autistic way depicted in the very fictional movie The Social Network” nor as a “Steve Jobsian product genius” but “an old-school genius, the fiery force of nature possessed by a tutelary spirit of seemingly supernatural provenance that fuels and guides him, intoxicates his circle, and compels his retinue to be great as well.”

• Outrageous antics at Facebook, such as…
when Zuckerberg supplied a mountain of spray paint to employees and encouraged them to decorate the company’s new digs, only to personally spend two days walking the entire FB campus, marking everything that was to be taken down.
or the day García Martínez’s home-brewing equipment, which he had moved from his boat to a kitchen at Facebook blew out the plumbing and rained beer on Zuck’s desk.

• Why every day of work at Facebook felt like a year.