In Mike Trigg’s debut novel, Bit Flip, tech executive Sam Hughes navigates the morally questionable terrain of Northern California's Silicon Valley. The 40-something Ohio native moved to the Bay Area full of unbridled ambition and a desire to make the world a better place. But after years in the industry, Sam becomes disillusioned and increasingly discontent with the tech bubble’s artificiality and dubious ethics. Then, Sam’s world turns upside down when he discovers financial fraud and blackmail at his company.
“At its core, Bit Flip is a critique of Bay Area tech culture, but Sam goes through a change of heart akin to one that many Silicon Valley professionals are facing,” Trigg says. “That sentiment is expressed in the book’s title. A ‘bit flip’ is a metaphor for changing one’s mind 180 degrees.”
Before writing the corporate thriller, Trigg, a Wisconsin native, spent 25 years in Silicon Valley working in numerous roles, from executive to investor, in dozens of technology startups. But the author says that Bit Flip is not a roman à clef.
“This is a novel, not a thinly veiled memoir,” Trigg says. “That said, the behaviors, mannerisms, and opinions of the characters are all ones I have observed in real life. Rather than basing the characters on individuals, though, I created composites derived from all the people and situations I’ve experienced over my career. I believe this approach is what makes the characters feel credible and authentic despite being fictionalized.”
In addition to being a cultural critique, Bit Flip is a cautionary tale. “Sam is forced to walk an ethical tightrope throughout the story,” Trigg says. “But the tension of that moral dilemma is not only between his own values and the advice of his mentor Peter and other characters stoking his worst behaviors. The more interesting conflict is between Sam’s inner emotions—with his more base desires of ambition, greed, and pride on one side and his best intentions to uphold his values, provide for his family, and make his parents proud on the other. I believe this internal conflict is one many professionals, particularly those in the tech industry, face.”
Trigg began writing Bit Flip in 2017. By the start of 2020, he had a completed manuscript. Then the pandemic began. “Initially, that felt like a giant setback,” Trigg says. “But the pandemic ended up having some silver linings for me. First, I took the time to step back from the book and started working with a developmental editor who helped improve it dramatically. But, more importantly, the professional disruption of Covid emboldened me to take the leap into writing full-time.”
The author says that the biggest challenge he faced during the writing process was determining what not to include in the novel. “My early drafts were over 120,000 words and got into too much detail about tech startups that I thought was interesting but didn’t matter for the plot,” he says. “As I widened my circle of beta readers, I was able to identify those less engaging sections and focus the story.”
At the suggestion of his developmental editor, Trigg made the original last chapter of Bit Flip the first chapter in the final novel. “In the original version, Sam, the protagonist, fully comes to realize his skepticism of the tech industry at the end,” Trigg says. “But, once I wrote it, this scene proved to be much more interesting as an opening for the novel. In essence, in the final version, Sam has come to his ‘bit flip’ moment at the start of the book, dramatically rejecting the gospel of Silicon Valley in an uncharacteristic onstage rant. What that set up was a much more compelling journey of self-discovery and internal conflict that Sam goes through as the story progresses. It also made the story come across as less preachy and more realistic.”