Start-Ups

New book tells tale of the Yettie: The Yuppie of the Internet age

Meet the Yetties, the culture of geeks who are driving the dot-com industry. In this interview, author Sam Sifton discusses the humorous cast of characters in his new book A Field Guide to the Yettie: America's Young Entrepreneurial Technocrats.


You’re probably familiar with the word Yuppie (Young Urban Professional), a term coined in the '80s. Now the acronym that describes people working in the dot-com industry has arrived: “Yettie.”

No, it’s not the large, humanoid beast reputed to terrorize the Himalayas. That’s a yeti. The new Yetties are Young Entrepreneurial Technocrats, the workers of the Internet economy.

According to Sam Sifton, author of, A Field Guide to the Yettie: America’s Young Entrepreneurial Technocrats, examples of this new species are cropping up everywhere. They are in coffee shops, out-of-the-way eclectic restaurants, and standing in line at airports heading home to San Francisco or taking off for a company meeting in New York.

This book will make the perfect holiday gift for staff members or anyone involved with IT. It offers a humorous look at technocrats, whom Sifton calls, “anyone who has a firm belief in the new importance of technology.”

Image courtesy of Talk Miramax Books

By Sam SiftonTalk Miramax Books, published November 2000176pp. paperbackISBN: 0-7868-8609-9Price: $8.75 at Fatbrain.com .
What to look for
Yetties are easy to spot. They often carry two bags: one with a laptop computer and the other, a large bike messenger bag, brimming with PDAs, copies of The Industry Standard, Wired, and Red Herring, and a change of clothes for an unexpected business trip.

Sifton’s new sub-species wears box-shaped, dark, rimmed glasses for men and dark, cat-eye glasses for women. They hum the mantra of business casual and work dressed head to toe in Banana Republic. They have a hard time explaining to their parents what they do for a living.

While the largest concentration of Yetties exist in California’s Silicon Valley and Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, the Yettie habitat ranges from Boston to Seattle, from Minneapolis to Miami, and anywhere in between.

Most Yetties are the nerds and geeks who were laughed at in school. But they took their countless hours staring at monitors, turned a 21 percent return on an investment in to anything ending with “.com,” and are the ones laughing all the way to the bank. However, not all Yetties are the same; many sub-species exist.

In his book, Sifton, a senior editor and writer with Talk magazine, identifies 21 different Yetties. They range from CEOs of start-ups and venture capitalists to beta testers and industry analysts. Sifton gives each persona a title and comical, yet believable characteristics. For example, the Code Writing Geek wears a T-shirt that says, “Chicks Dig UNIX,” and the Cyberlord CEO wears large, geeky glasses a la Bill Gates.

This photo provides examples of The Crossover Geezer, the Venture Capitalist, and the Marketing Geek. (Image courtesy of: Talk Miramax Books)


Three categories of Yetties
Sifton classifies the 21 different Yetties into three categories:
  • ·        The Nerd Made Good: These Yetties played role-playing games in high school and were code hackers in college. Many started out writing code for Microsoft when it wasn’t hip and now are dot-com millionaires in their 40s.
  • ·        The Neo-Yuppie Prepster: This Yettie was lured away from law firms and insurance companies by the “siren song of the dot com.” He holds a managerial position that “defies simple job description” and often partners with The Nerd Made Good to start a new dot com.
  • ·        The Mouse Jockey: To these post-grunge gurus, “the Internet is rock ‘n’ roll.” This Yettie is proficient at Quake, designs Web sites, and writes Internet content. Tattoos and body piercings make this Yettie easily identifiable.

A different sub-culture
Yetties represent a new business sub-culture that is as unique as its predecessors: the Hippies, Preppies, Yuppies, and Generation Xers. Sifton’s book is a humorous attempt to explain this sub-culture to those unfamiliar with the dot-com industry. For those in –the know, the book is an amusing, yet truthful look at the colleague in the next cubicle or the head of the “biz dev” team down the hall.

Sifton adds a glossary of Yettie Speak and a list of acronyms commonly associated with Yettie professions to his entertaining description of Yetties in the wild.

Like their precursors, Yetties will have a lasting effect on our culture in general. “On the most basic of levels, the arrival of the Yettie and the New Economy has forever changed the way people look when they go to work,” Sifton said in an interview with TechRepublic. “The emphasis on youth culture and business casual attire means the true radical wears a suit to work. Everyone else is wearing khakis.”

However, the Yetties’ legacy will go beyond business casual. “I think the ethos of the Internet economy has invaded the ‘not-com’ companies as well,” Sifton said.

The appearance of the Yettie has changed perceptions of greed and profit expectations. “My Yettie peers believe that there is some certain inalienable right to a 20 or 21 percent return on any investment they make. That’s ridiculous,” Sifton said. To the Yettie, “greed is good.” Greed in the realm of dot coms isn’t wicked, and many Yetties feel greed is simply their right.

“That sense of entitlement is, I think, a pretty strong part of the success story that has been the New Economy. And this success story is going to continue even with market slowdowns.”

Not all Yetties are equal
Sifton’s book also highlights the gulf that exists between professions within a dot com. For example, the differences between the Salesbot, a salesman of Internet and dot-com products, and the Code Writing Geek are night and day. The Salesbot doesn’t care about writing code or beta testing. He wants to get the product off the shelf and hit quotas. For the Code Writing Geek, it’s all about creating the code that exceeds expectations. To him, it’s aesthetic.

While differences between the Marketing Geek and the Professional Beta Tester exist, Sifton believes the 21 personas rely on each other and “their relationships are entirely symbiotic.” The Salesbot needs the Code Writing Geek to produce a superior product to sell. The geek needs the Salesbot to sell the products so new projects are commissioned.

Sifton works in the Old Economy of bricks-and-mortar and print journalism, but has enjoyed some of the changes the Yettie has brought so far. “I look like one, but I don’t earn like one, and I don’t get laid off like one.”
Are you a worker in the New Economy? Do you know someone who is? Tells us about it. Share a funny Yettie story about yourself or one you saw “in the wild" with us. Drop us a line or post a comment.

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