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Art by Clark Miller.
Art by Clark Miller.

From Instagram’s First Employee to Tech’s Newest Thriller Writer

Josh Riedel was employee No. 1 at Instagram, and watched the company warp under Facebook ownership. His breakout new novel tells a similar tale.

Art by Clark Miller.
Jan. 13, 2023 9:00 AM PST

Josh Riedel was getting hit by a bomb cyclone. From his home in San Francisco’s Mission District, the former Instagram manager and first-time novelist found himself in the eye of one of California’s endless storms. Driving through the city near SoMa, he passed cars halfway submerged in murky water, huge limbs torn off trees and other scenes of climate dystopia. These kinds of extreme events define a particular time and place: San Francisco 2023. They are, like the company that launched Riedel’s career, both ephemeral and epochal.

Employee No. 1 at Instagram, Riedel once helped his friends and fellow 20-somethings Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger redefine self-expression for a digital age. Now, in his debut novel, “Please Report Your Bug Here” (out January 17 from publisher Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan), Riedel renders a Silicon Valley both real and surreal. One moment you’re in a 2010 San Francisco startup office, populated by employees with dark eye bags, clutching Red Bulls; the next you’re entering a magical portal to a distant beach or a field of tall grass—a mirrored, uneasy meta-reality.

The novel follows the life of Ethan Block, an early employee at the dating startup DateDate from 2010 to 2011. The business, run by an eccentric, self-absorbed and often demanding leader referred to only as the Founder, is acquired by a large company called the Corporation in a surprise billion-dollar deal. Unfortunately for Ethan, he gains little monetarily from the sale and is left with a job at the Corporation that he doesn’t particularly want. Plus, there’s the discovery that a DateDate glitch can involuntary transport users to other worlds, where, perhaps, they might get permanently trapped.

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