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'Techies': Snapshots from a long, lonely road to Silicon Valley

"I want to know how hard it was for you to get here and why you stay." That's what one photographer asked techies who've faced hurdles due to race, gender, age, health and poverty. And they opened up.

Emily Eifler: "I have forgotten most of my life actually. I found out recently my husband and I had a wedding that I don't remember. There are pictures and everything."
Helena Price

Chanpory Rith, who worked as a Gmail designer, was born in a refugee camp following the Cambodian genocide of the '70s. Upon immigrating to the US, he and eight family members lived on welfare in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.

Emily Eifler was disabled by gas poisoning as a child and still struggles with headaches, memory loss and balance as she navigates her work as a VR researcher.

They're just two of the 100 faces captured in "Techies," a new series of portraits of Silicon Valley employees by photographer Helena Price that aims to highlight the untold stories of those who work in tech. Stories of people like Rith and Eifler. And of transgender tech employees, workers without a degree, and executives who struggle to care for chronically ill children while advancing high-profile careers. Tales of hurdles and setbacks, but also of triumph.

"The project has two main goals: to show the outside world a more comprehensive picture of people who work in tech, and to bring a bit of attention to folks in the industry whose stories have never been heard, considered or celebrated," reads the site. "We believe storytelling is a powerful tool for social impact and positive change."

The portraits, shot in Price's San Francisco home, have a uniformity -- subject against blue background -- but the corresponding interviews cover a range of personal and professional observations that could fill volumes.


Chanpory Rith: "It's very tough when you don't have much of a plan B, but it makes me more driven to make the business succeed."

Helena Price

"My biggest struggle is social anxiety, which progressively got worse as I got older," reveals Rith, who went on from Google to co-found Mixmax, a productivity suite for Gmail and Google Inbox. "There were times when I would have panic attacks in public streets or just walking into a room. It was a huge barrier to becoming a leader. That probably held me back a little bit, actually probably a lot, at Google."

Rith would later come to understand how trauma, especially among survivors of genocide, can be passed down biologically. "It really helped explain why depression, stress, and anxiety is so prominent in my family, so it's something I continuously watch out for in myself and my family," he says in the interview printed alongside his portrait.

Eifler faces formidable physical struggles. "My body is usually in pain. I get a ton of migraines, a f**k ton actually...I am basically a grab bag of neurological issues: Alice in Wonderland Syndrome to Post-­Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's hard."

Such painfully raw revelations emerged repeatedly during the course of the interviews, said Price, who tailored her questions for each subject. But why would so many people be so open and vulnerable with a stranger?

"All of the people in this project have felt alone in this industry, and they know what it's like to not know anyone else like them," Price told CNET's Crave blog. "You see it over and over again in these interviews: 'I wish I had known someone like me in the beginning.'"

Price is a longtime tech enthusiast who worked at several start-ups before becoming a full-time photographer in 2013. She put out a call for subjects on the content-sharing site Medium earlier this year. Within two weeks, she heard from 500 people.

"I want to know how you made it to Silicon Valley and joined tech in the first place," she wrote. "I want to know how hard it was for you to get here and why you stay. I want to know what you are proudest of and the setbacks you fear you'll never overcome."

Price is still accepting submissions via the Techies website, though her pace has slowed since the project's frantic beginnings. She hopes to publish the photos as a book one day and mount a show in a physical space where all the subjects can meet.

"This project is definitely turning into an organism," she said, "and I'm really curious to see how it's going to grow."


Helena Price wants to show the true face of tech.

Helena Price/CNET