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Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Time to update that LinkedIn profile.
MOVING ON

How the former employees of Theranos explain themselves on LinkedIn

By Liz Webber

When Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing startup Theranos were charged with fraud, many rank-and-file workers were put in a tough spot—and not just because the company laid off much of its staff in the aftermath before finally shutting down in September 2018.

Even if an employee left Theranos years before the company’s astonishing deceptions (paywall) were exposed, seeing the infamous name on a resume might still make hiring managers think twice.

Or would it?

At its peak in 2015, Theranos had 800 employees. Many other people had stints at the company before or after that time. Quartz tried to find out what happened to all of them by analyzing the LinkedIn profiles of anyone who listed Theranos as a “past company” on their accounts on the networking site.

There were a total of 804 such accounts; 46 were private and could not be accessed, one was a Holmes parody account (since deleted), and one person had two accounts. We accessed the profiles from April 14-20 and found that while some former employees have had trouble landing new gigs, many ended up employed at some of the best-known companies in the world.

These are the companies that currently employ the most Theranos alumni, according to our analysis of the personal LinkedIn profiles:

CompanyNumber of ex-Theranos employees
Apple20
Roche20
Cepheid14
Alphabet11
Facebook11
Thermo Fisher Scientific10
Amazon8
Iora Health8
Microsoft8
BD6
Verb Surgical6
Illumina5
Maricopa Integrated Health Systems5
Tesla5
Uber5

In the table above, subsidiaries are grouped with their parent company. The count for Alphabet, for instance, includes employees of Google, Verily Life Sciences, Waymo, and YouTube; Facebook is combined with Instagram; Microsoft incorporates LinkedIn; and Roche includes employees at the pharma company’s biotech subsidiaries Genentech and Ventana.

Fifty-nine of the ex-Theranos employees have no current job listed on LinkedIn. However, many of them appear to have had other jobs after they left Theranos, and the lack of a current employer listing doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t find work. It’s possible they just never got around to updating their LinkedIn profiles (we also found110 LinkedIn users who still had Theranos listed as their current company) or they may have stopped working for reasons that had nothing to do with their recent employment history. For example, two said they were retired; one was listed as “deceased.”

Quartz also identified 36 Theranos alums that we put in the category of “self-employed.” These people are either founders of companies or going it alone in some sort of consulting capacity, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Biotech and self-driving cars

Given their backgrounds, it makes sense that many ex-Theranos employees ended up at major health and biotech companies like Cepheid and Roche (and its subsidiaries Genentech and Ventana). Two former Theranos employees are now at Verily Life Sciences, Alphabet’s biosciences division.

At its peak, Theranos also ran dozens of “wellness centers” in Arizona, and many alumni ended up in hospitals or medical practices in the region. Maricopa Integrated Health Systems, for example, is a major operator of medical facilities in the Phoenix area.

But there were also a lot of software developers and other tech workers at Theranos, and its headquarters was after all in Silicon Valley. Along with the companies listed above, the current employers of Theranos alumni include tech mainstays like Oracle and eBay, unicorns like Airbnb and Pinterest, and hot startups like Juul and 23andMe, the LinkedIn data suggests.

Several have landed jobs working on self-driving cars, either at bigger names like Tesla, Google’s Waymo, GM’s Cruise Automation, or Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Lab, or at startups like Argo AI and Zoox.

Some people got creative in their Theranos job descriptions

The LinkedIn profiles of former Theranos employees also provide a window into how to handle things when you have what ended up being a giant dumpster fire of a company on your resume.

Though the majority of the profiles Quartz reviewed had cut-and-dried explanations of their duties (or more often, none at all), a few attempted to explain what it was like working at one of tech’s most notorious failures.

  • “Oh, Theranos.” That’s how a former development engineer for Theranos begins the description of their role at the company.
  • “Well, that was an adventure,” starts the blurb for a director of brand strategy and insights.
  • “Didn’t really do anything there! But did experience an ‘interesting’ startup and Silicon Valley,” said someone listing a job as Theranos’ VP of human health solutions in 2009-2010.
  • “Yes, I was a top producing sales executive for Theranos. It was a challenging and confusing experience,” a senior account executive wrote.
  • One Theranos employee, who listed their role as “research and development,” plainly said, “I left the company in 2011 after having conflicts regarding ethics in the workplace.”

At the other end of the spectrum, there was an ex-Theranos recruiting coordinator who viewed their time at Theranos as a positive: “Theranos was the perfect tie in between my career in recruitment and my love of biological sciences. I loved coming to work everyday, ‘doing the best work of my life,’ and knowing that I was making a real difference. Working at a fast past [sic] biotech startup such as Theranos also really evolved my skills in the recruitment world.”

Some people tried to hide their time at Theranos

Not surprisingly, some of the users whose profiles popped up during our “past company = Theranos” LinkedIn search had made efforts to disguise the name of the company. Eight people listed something like “Private Biotechnology Company” or “Biotech Startup Company” instead of Theranos—but the Theranos logo still showed up next to that job listing (according to Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood about the Theranos scandal, employees were told to write this instead of naming Theranos as their employer on their LinkedIn profiles, as part of the company’s culture of secrecy). Two of the profiles that came up in our LinkedIn search did not list Theranos by name nor display its logo. Yet, somehow LinkedIn still knew.

Perhaps these ex-employees learned a thing or two from Elizabeth Holmes’ father, Christian Holmes IV, who was once an executive at Enron—a fact that is conspicuously absent from his LinkedIn profile.

Some people said they worked at Theranos when they meant a different company

One person said they had worked at Theranos but it appears they may have meant Alacris Theranostics. Another (incorrectly) listed Theranos as the current name of a company they had worked for called TheraSense; the real TheraSense was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2004.

These seem like really unfortunate mistakes.

Some Theranos investors and board members have kept the company on their LinkedIn profiles

Hatch Graham says in his LinkedIn profile that he was a “venture capital investor” in Theranos from 2010 to 2018. Graham is managing director of ATA Ventures, which participated in Theranos’ $9.9 million Series B (pdf) and $28.5 million Series C (pdf) funding rounds in 2006, according to SEC filings. ATA Ventures also still lists Theranos as one of its investments on its website.

When asked via email about his decision to keep Theranos in his LinkedIn profile, Graham said it was “a company with fantastic vision, coupled with successfully receiving FDA approval on technology of landmark importance to healthcare. The media exposed fundamental issues that needed to be corrected, however little airtime was given to the dramatic advancements the company had achieved.”

Fellow ATA Ventures managing director T Peter Thomas lists his stint as a Theranos board member, from 2006 to 2010, on his LinkedIn account. We can’t say the same for the company’s more prominent ex-board members—like Bill Frist, heart and lung transplant surgeon and former US senator, who definitely does not mention Theranos in his LinkedIn profile.

Thomas did not respond to a request for a comment.

Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani seem to believe they still run a company called Theranos (on LinkedIn, at least)

Though the profile appears to be private, it seems likely the account listed as “Founder / Owner / CEO at Theranos” belongs to Holmes.

Her ex-colleague and ex-boyfriend Sunny Balwani’s LinkedIn profile still says his current job is president and COO of Theranos, despite the fact that he left the company in 2016.

And that Theranos shut down in September 2018.

And that Holmes and Balwani both are being investigated by the US Department of Justice and could face decades of prison time.

Maybe it’s time to update those LinkedIn profiles.