Valley Speak

A local tech guru helps HBO's hit startup sitcom speak the right code. —By Scott Kearnan

dan lyons

Illustration by Gluekit

Last year, Dan Lyons, a marketing fellow at the Cambridge software company Hubspot, took a 14-week leave of absence to head for Hollywood. But unlike other aspiring showbiz types, he already had a gig: The writing team of the Emmy- and Golden Globe–nominated HBO sitcom about startup culture, Silicon Valley, had tapped Lyons to bring authenticity to the characters. Lyons knows the startup world well: The veteran tech journalist has worked for Newsweek and Forbes, and is currently the editor of Valleywag, Gawker’s innovation-focused vertical. But Lyons really became a god among geeks when he created the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, an industry-spoofing blog apparently written from the (skewed) perspective of Apple’s founder.

“I was the lowest man on the totem pole,” says the Winchester-based writer of his time working on Silicon Valley. Perhaps, but when season two premieres this month, all we’ll be thinking about is Boston.

How he got the gig: “My agent also reps [executive producer] Mike Judge. I’m one of the little peon clients,” says Lyons, who got his own unproduced scripts for a startup sitcom in front of the (evidently impressed) Silicon Valley creator. “The tech world has been crying out for a good comedy for a long time. People are fascinated by the worlds of Google, Facebook, and Apple, but no one knew how to make it into a show. These guys cracked the code.”

On keeping it real: “You don’t have to make stuff up,” says Lyons, who helped the writing team stay true to startup culture. “The reality is already so kooky, you don’t even have to bend it to make it funny. Just present it as it is.” More important, he adds, a show’s success hinges on compelling characters. “I love Entourage. I’m sure people in Hollywood watch it and go, ‘That would never happen in a meeting.’ But it seems fair enough to me, so I don’t really care.”

How Kendall Square scored a cameo: “We brought in techies to share their great stories,” Lyons explains. “One was a woman from Dropbox who had worked at two Kendall Square companies. Her anecdotes were gold mines. So you could say there’s a little bit of Kendall Square in season two.”

Which Silicon Valley character is most like his “Fake Steve Jobs” persona: “The company CEO, Gavin,” Lyons says. “I could latch onto that character: the arrogance, the fake humility, his little guru who is always telling him what to do. The show is a piss-take. It’s satire. I guess Fake Steve Jobs was good practice.”