Silicon Valley memories

Silicon Valley memories

My friend Sara Molina (@SaraMolinaPT) told me a few days ago that it might be a good idea to share the reasons why I started my personal journey to embrace the digital world.

After considering it for a while, I came to the conclusion that my two months stay at Silicon Valley in 2012 played a key role in such transformation. I went there to provide legal support to the Firefox OS project (a brand new operating system for mobile devices). The project failed but it gave me the opportunity to see how it was like to live and work in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities I have visited, and also to find out why Silicon Valley is the center of worldwide innovation today.

Below are my impressions regarding these topics which was published in my personal blog back in December 2012.

Silicon Valley way of working

Time flies when we are doing what you like. I arrived here a few weeks ago and now I´m about to return to Madrid in a few days. My idea was to dive as deep as I was able in the Silicon Valley waters and I believe I have done it. It´s been a pretty intense experience. I worked hard but had time to travel around San Francisco and the Bay area as well.

I did also have the opportunity to attend some meetings and events and hence visit the headquarters of Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, Hewlett Packard, Mozilla and Twitter. Not bad for such a short stay!

Leaving HP aside, the offices of the other companies mentioned have a similar look&feel and share many features. All employers try to keep workers as happy as they can and make their lifes easier. Having fun in the office is a must. Goes without saying that all these amenities are free of charge.

Facebook and Google serve three meals a day. At a different level, many companies have a kitchen where you can grab a soft drinks, coffee, snacks, etc. at any time. Gym, laundry and maid services are common benefits. Googleplex has even an outdoor swimming pool. It is easier to figure out after watching this video. Flexibility plays a key role. They believe innovation arises in relaxed atmospheres, with makes total sense in my opinion. Everybody dress casual and many use bikes (combined with Caltrain) to commute.

Leading companies dedicate huge amount of money to develop appealing environments in order to attract and hold talented people as employee turnover is very high here -18 months in average. By the way, this years it´s Facebook and not Google who was ranked #1 best place to work according to Glassdoor report.

What surprised me is the external look of these offices. I was expecting astonishing design building like Oracle HQ everywhere but they are quite ordinary. Actually Pinterest, Mozilla or Zynga offices in SF look like factories from outside. The magic is inside!

Origin and rise of Silicon Valley (originally published in December 2012)

One of the ideas I had in mind when I came to Silicon Valley was to understand why San Francisco Bay area is the technology powerhouse of the world and reasons behind its huge success. I have been reading articles, news and browsing many web pages but my visit yesterday to the Computer History Museum  has been super helpful to figure out the situation. Obviously I won´t try to tell the complete history of the Valley but just focus on the most appealing issues for me.

There is unanimous consensus about the essential role that Stanford University has played in the rise of Silicon Valley. It was founded in 1891 in Palo Alto and from the beginning there were a mutual benefit interaction between Stanford and the industry.

One example of this spirit of cooperation and assistance was 60 years ago. The University had abundant land -8,100 acres- much of it pasture. Money was needed to finance the University’s rapid post-war growth. The original bequest by founder Leland Stanford prohibited the sale of the land. However, the University could lease the land to industry. Thus, Stanford created the Industrial Park. The goal was to develop a center of high technology close to a cooperative university. Eastman Kodak, General Electric, Lockheed and many other companies moved quickly into the first building of the Park.

Professor Fred Terman of Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering is considered the father of Silicon Valley. He was concerned with the great lack of opportunities for Stanford Engineering graduates to find jobs in the area. He began to encourage some of his students to start companies near the university. In 1939, William Hewlett and David Packard, two very bright young men among his students, founded Hewlett-Packard in a garage in Palo Alto.

Lee De Forest played also a major role in this history. He moved to Palo Alto in 1910. He was an American inventor with over 180 patents to his credit. De Forest invented the triode, a vacuum tube that amplifies electrical signals and was the trigger for the later widespread use of electronic devices.

De Forest works were improved by William Shockley, also credited with being the father of Silicon Valley. He awarded Noble Prize in Physics in 1956 for his research on semiconductors and the discovery of the transistor effect. Schockley´s professional life is curious. He left Bell Labs to create Shockley Semiconductors and started scouring universities for the brightest graduates to build the company from scratch, one that would be run «his way». «His way» could generally be summed up as domineering and increasingly paranoid. Definitively, he was not an easygoing person.

In late 1957, eight of Shockley’s researchers resigned and started Fairchild Semiconductor. The «traitorous eight», as they called themselves, included Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, who would later leave Fairchild and form Intel Corporation. Actually, over the course of 20 years, eight of Shockley’s former employees started 65 new enterprises, which then went on to do the same. These spin-offs (called Fairchildren) formed the core of what became Silicon Valley. The following interesting video explains quite well the evolution from the triode to chips.

It is important to note that it was in California (and only in California) that a particular law emerged in 1872 that defended the employee’s freedom of movement, the right to leave his or her employer at any moment, even to immediately go to work in direct competition with their former employer or to create a competing firm on their own.  You can read the interesting history of this Gold Rush derived regulation here.

Another key element for the development of Silicon Valley was Government´s support to many Stanford projects and their investments in the surroundings (e.g. NASA Research Center in Mountain View).

Finally I believe that the creation of PARC in 1970 should also be considered as another relevant milestone. Hanging out on bean bag chair and enjoying a relaxed job atmosphere, Xerox PARC researchers invented Alto, a groundbreaking computer that brought the mouse, the graphical user interface (that inspires and influences Apple´s Macintosh) and other innovations like Ethernet or laser printing.

This is my personal view regarding the main reasons behind the boom of the San Francisco Bay area from the 40´s. Current situation is well-known. 40 miles around Palo Alto are located the headquarters of world leading companies such as Apple, Google, Oracle, HP, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Yahoo Netflix or ebay.

As a conclusion, we may say that Silicon Valley is a state of mind and not a physical place.

Foto del usuario de Flickr Marcin Wichary

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