As most of you have probably heard, I no longer work at Westworld. Over the past few weeks, a lot of people have been asking me why I left and what it was like to work there. It’s been a hectic time in my life, and I’ve needed some time to decompress, reflect, and consult a lawyer. But it’s important that I tell my story. I’m hoping it will shed some light on the challenges of the AI and bioengineering industries, and provide the Westworld team with some much-needed feedback. So here I go:
I’ll never forget my first visit to the Westworld offices three years ago. I was fresh out of college, wayward but eager to join a company that was headed toward the future. The moment I stepped off the light rail and handed my résumé to an incredibly lifelike robot, I knew I was somewhere special. As she took a standard preliminary DNA sample, I started to fall in love with the sleek minimalist design and strong sense of purpose that pulsed through the company. Westworld felt like the opposite of a normal, highly-structured business with rigid hierarchies. Here there was a sense of collaboration, improvisation — the thrill of something unpredictable. But as I soon learned, a company that is on the cutting edge of its industry can sometimes prioritize its product over its employees.
The way you get an entry-level job at Westworld is kind of like how students are sorted into houses at Hogwarts — at least that’s how the HR lady who helped with my onboarding put it. If they like your résumé and your references check out, they ask you to take an extensive personality test. With all that information, they drop your profile into their system and it spits out a recommendation for which department is your best fit. I’m kind of a bio nerd. I was always the kid who would capture butterflies and methodically pull their legs off with a pair of tweezers. But I was never disciplined enough to actually go into medicine. So, it made sense that the system recommended I work in the lab.
The training felt really comprehensive at first. They start you out as an apprentice in animal assembly, just so you can see how the most basic units — birds, snakes, bunnies — are put together. It’s a nice way to get some hands-on experience before diving into all the blood and guts. I must’ve attached hundreds of wildebeest stomachs in those early days. Over a three-month period, you rotate through different roles. If they see potential in you, they might give you the option to do another rotation in Behavior or Design, or you can graduate to assembling and fixing up human hosts immediately. I wanted to get straight to the action. Within my first year at the company, I settled into a formal role of Assistant Technician in Livestock Management (a.k.a. the “Body Shop”).
I figured I could spend a couple of years in the dregs as “a butcher” and eventually work my way up to a leadership position, or use the expertise to land a gig at a biotech startup. The pay could’ve been better. I always found it ironic that I worked for the park but — even with my 17 percent company discount — couldn’t afford to actually visit it. Still, it was a good first job out of school: a recognizable company name with sturdy benefits, and all of the corporate perks of a place like Facebook or Google. If you ever find yourself on a tour of the campus, definitely try the cafeteria’s organic granola. The chef makes it fresh there every morning.
Even with the posh lunches, though, the work environment took some getting used to. The lab is underground on the very bottom floor of the company building, which, now that I think about it, is kind of symbolic. We got absolutely no natural light, which was a little soul-crushing over time. Also, the standard operating uniforms they make you wear might look cool, but they barely get any ventilation. You’re just swimming in your own body odor and sweat for entire eight-hour shifts of mending host abdomens. And there’s this annoying plasticy swishing sound your pants make whenever you walk. I know it was standard lab protocol, but it didn’t seem fair that Behavior got to wear such flattering black smocks. And those pretty glass operating rooms I initially thought were so cool turned out to be a problem. I walked into one or two walls in my first couple of months. Everyone does it. There’s a long-running joke in the company that that’s the real way you can differentiate the humans from the hosts.
When people hear that I worked at Westworld, one of the first things they ask is: “Did you get to hang around all day watching saloon-style threesomes?” What they don’t realize is that — even if you’re a superstar like Elsie Hughes — landing a Behavior and Diagnostics job in which you actually get to observe the hosts takes forever. Yes, once you get there the hours are better, but I hear going through analysis with them can be really exhausting. Like playing therapist to an inanimate object, except you’re also watching to see if your patient’s eyebrow is twitching in the right way. Not to mention it’s incredibly stressful: a constant pressure to keep a host’s successful guest interactions up, a lot of punting glitchy bodies to Narrative. Everyone has an agenda, and management never actually listens to your ideas. Anyway, if you’re in this job for the naked bodies, better to go the technician route. (You wouldn’t believe how many disgusting stories I’ve heard. Everyone knew that Destin would give male hosts lap dances set to techno music and they were just like, “OK, sure!”)
On the surface, the Body Shop appeared to be nice and straightforward. They’d cart in the hosts and we’d hose them down, evaluate the damage, and repair them. Decapitated bodies went to a guy named Hank, who was a talented re-attacher. Occasionally you’d have to incinerate a host or two. It was also up to us to clear hosts’ memories before they were carted back to the park.
Actually, that responsibility in particular was one of the reasons I started to become disenchanted with the job. It’s kind of wild that making sure the hosts don’t remember all the fucked-up things people have done to them is our job. Especially considering all the idiots they let into the department. There was this one guy I was on surgery rotation with who constantly forgot to put the hosts in sleep mode. During our shift, a host opened its eyes on the operating able and I almost tripped running to grab the tablet so I could cut its motor functions. It was only after the incident took place that I realized the training manual contains basically no protocol for what to do in a scenario like that, aside from stabbing a tranquilizer into a host’s neck. Classic tech-company oversight: Hope for the best and remain blissfully unprepared for the worst.
That guy was always doing super sketchy stuff and never getting punished for it. One time I caught him with a stolen Behavior tablet, messing around with a host bird. It was a clear misappropriation of corporate property. I told him to get rid of it, and reported him to my manager. In the end, they just paired him with a different operating partner. He never even got penalized. It became clear to me at that moment that our direct manager cared more about meeting his own performance reviews than actually fixing the department’s problems. People at Westworld are so obsessed with their own success that they’re too afraid to let the higher-ups know when something is amiss. It’s infuriating.
That doesn’t just apply to my department. From what I hear, there’s a general absence of accountability everywhere in the company. Anytime it’s clear that Behavior has screwed up, one of them just says something like “it is possible that it’s a manifestation of its Samaritan reflex.” It’s like, what does that even mean? Pretty much all of the higher-ups act like kids too. I hear the head of Narrative, Lee Sizemore, got so wasted that he peed all over the control room. Didn’t get so much as a slap on the wrist.
Theresa Cullen wasn’t so innocent either. There were also a lot of whispers about how she was sleeping with the head of Programming. That probably explains her sudden departure. Kind of crazy that she got fired, and not him, considering there were so many rumors about how he’d overlooked major irregularities in the host behavior rule set.
I think the final straw for me was when this one young executive — Hale, I think it is? — started getting involved with day-to-day operations and a lot of major people just ghosted. Cullen. Hughes. What do our managers do in response? Hold a department meeting where they explain what happened? Assure us that our jobs are safe and this isn’t some sign of a larger park downsizing? Nope. They tell us we need to work overtime so the higher-ups can throw a big, fancy event for their precious shareholders.
Overnight, our shifts became a nightmare. The next day, host bodies almost tripled in output. I was midway through an insane 13-hour shift — which, by the way, my lawyer says violated state labor laws — and I thought: “That’s it, I’m done.” I just packed up my modest little locker and took the employee freight elevator to the tram. First of all, I saw host bodies everywhere — like, just in the hallways. Major hygiene concern. Then, this giant security team out front had the nerve to ask me if I was a robot. It’s like, Helloooo! I am a human being! Treat me like one! But you know what the craziest part is? I still haven’t heard from my manager. He spent three years breathing down my neck if a host missed its reboot by even 15 minutes, but I go missing for weeks and there’s not an ounce of concern.
I should be clear that I am so grateful for the experience I gained, and the many talented people I had the privilege to work with during my time at Westworld. It’s my sincere hope that this post will inspire the company to get serious about workplace culture. But honestly, it has been such a relief to leave all that mess behind. Every day I wake up happy to know I’ll never have to fish another bullet out of a hooker’s abdomen again. You don’t actually realize this when while you’re there, but working at a place like Westworld can really desensitize you to violence.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.