- The furry fandom, based around anthropomorphic animal characters, has flourished on the internet.
- Today, furries have tight-knit communities at Big Tech firms like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.
- Insider spoke to seven people in the fandom who work in tech about their experience.
When HashiCorp went public in December, it decided to mark the occasion by celebrating its workforce in a very public way — displaying photos of each of its employees, one at a time, on Nasdaq’s billboard in New York City’s Times Square.
Among the rotation of smiling photos of the men and women who work there was a shot of someone wearing what’s known as a fursuit: a head-to-toe costume representing the snow-leopard “fursona” of Kieran, a HashiCorp software engineer who’s worked for the company since December 2020.
—kieran (@homphs) December 9, 2021
Kieran is a furry, the self-given name for a subculture with an interest in anthropomorphic animal characters. Like many in the furry fandom, Kieran has a fursona, or animal persona; like a relatively smaller group, he owns and wears an elaborate fursuit meant to manifest his fursona in the real world.
Kieran wears his fursuit to the many conventions and community events where furries share art and make friends, and says he chose to wear it for the Times Square billboard photo opportunity because it represents his truest self. He says he enjoys the opportunity to “make spaces weirder.”
“Some people have actually pulled me aside to thank me,” Kieran told Insider. “Especially at tech events, because they can be very uptight and full of themselves.”
Furries have long found themselves as a punch line, which is largely attributed to what the community sees as misrepresentation and distortion in the media and online discourse over what they’re all about. But many say that the tech field, which has always prided itself on valuing those who “think different,” has proven to be more willing to embrace furries than the world at large.
In turn, furries have come to play a major, influential role in the development of the tech industry over the last several decades: A long-running in-joke holds that if all the furries disappeared, Silicon Valley would simply cease to function.
—Evil.Iguana (@EvilIguana966) October 26, 2021
There’s a ring of truth to the joke. While hard data on the demographics of the furry community is hard to come by, a 2011 report by furry research group Furscience showed that half of the 1,761 furries surveyed said they chose careers in science, engineering, or tech. Anecdotally, there are reports of active groups of furries at titans like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, as well as at smaller tech firms.
Microsoft, Amazon, and Google declined to comment on the presence of furry communities at their firms.
Insider spoke to seven people in the fandom who work in tech, several of whom asked only to be identified by their fursonas because they don’t want their coworkers to know about their private hobbies. Their identities are known to Insider.
For many furries, the fandom is both a crucial support system and a vital networking tool. Those who spoke to Insider described the furry community as a place where they feel welcomed and supported, even if they’re misunderstood or underappreciated in other places in their lives.
“That was a place where I felt like I could be someone a little bit different and still be accepted regardless,” said a former software developer who goes by the fursona Martinisoft, a fox. “That was one of the first places I felt at home.”
That sense of community has helped furries in the business world, too. Zik, a San Francisco-based programmer whose fursona is a blue otter with a third eye, says that whenever he’s had to relocate for work, he’ll stay at a “furry household” until he can get established in the new city.
Another, who goes by Shard Wolf, tells Insider that his connections in the fandom helped him land his first gig at Microsoft after graduating — and says that he’s still an active member of the company’s furry group. Indeed, a furry named Nican — an “evil” red bunny who commissioned his very own theme song — said furs are a tight-knit community at Microsoft.
“They have furs inside each department of Microsoft and you are in a chat room,” Nican said. “You start hearing stories from the other departments like, ‘Hey, this drama happened in this one team.'”
He even gave a presentation to leadership at Microsoft about the inclusiveness of furries in the workplace during a monthly managerial meeting. It was a joke, he told Insider, but his managers were very supportive of the prank. He even commissioned art for the stunt, which ran him $80. The fursuit he sported at the event, he added, cost $4,200.
—Nican (@Nican) October 31, 2019
“I’ve worked in a lot of environments, and the tech sector is definitely spoiled as far as how ‘okay’ it is to be open about,” said Zik.
Furries have long been a force in tech
While it’s impossible to know the size of the furry fandom, CNN estimated in 2018 that it was about a million people. One of its largest conventions, dubbed Midwest FurFest, boasts some 11,000 attendees every year, and some of its biggest social-media influencers like Chise, a white-furred pine marten who was involved in the development of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, boast several hundred-thousand followers.
The origins of the modern furry fandom date back to the earliest days of the internet. Born from the earliest message boards and chat rooms, furries have long carved out their own corners of the web — including early concepts for online meeting spaces that look a lot like Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent vision for the metaverse.
The community quickly established itself as a welcoming space for anybody whose interests or identity made them feel marginalized or unsafe in the mainstream society of the 1990s.
It encompassed fans of anime, science fiction, and fantasy, well before Marvel and “Game of Thrones” made those genres cool. It embraced those who prioritized spending time online, in the days before social media and smartphones made it almost impossible to log off. And, perhaps most important, the furry community has always been “heavily queer,” in the words of programmer Kyle Machulis, also known as an arctic fox named qDot, providing a rare safe space for the LGBTQ community, online and off.
“In the ’90s, furry was also sort of a way to normalize the queer movement within sort of nerd subcultures, like sci-fi and anime,” Machulis said. “So it was like this combination of nerd and queer, but we were also living during the AIDS epidemic.”
That sense of belonging, and the value the community places on computer skills, helped the furry fandom garner the reputation for fostering top tech talent that it still holds to this day. Some tech companies actively recruited at furry events as early as the late 1990s.
April White, a systems engineer at a Seattle-based internet company who’s been working in tech since 1998, says that the furry fandom embraced and encouraged the interest in tech that made her ostracized by her high-school classmates. These days, White will sometimes show up to work in her purple rabbit fursuit, under her fursona name Bunny Mickley.
“It’s just having that safe place is important,” said White. “I was never a popular kid in school, I had very few friends and furry gave me a chance to meet people.”
White also says that her years in the furry community, and the connections she’s made, have helped to push her further in her skills and her career.
“We’re always pushing each other to come up with newer and creative ideas,” White said. “And a lot of that in my life carries through into my technology ideas, too.”