Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Silicon Valley

Posted by hyperpat on March 15, 2007

Why does Silicon Valley dominate the world of electronics innovation? Not that there aren’t many things that are developed elsewhere, but for the last thirty years or so this place has been the leader in developing new products, manufacturing methods, and even whole new industry segments. Other places have sent people here to see just what the ‘formula’ is, and to a certain extent have managed to copy it, but they are still trailing this place in terms of patents granted or almost any other measure of success.

Now clearly part of the reason is the local great schools: Stanford and Berkeley are both world-renowned schools that year after year graduate brilliant and usually well-grounded students into the local businesses. And this doesn’t even count the network of various local community colleges and places like San Jose State. But having these students wouldn’t do any good if the local businesses couldn’t induce them to stay in the local area, not so easy when you consider that this area is one of the highest cost of living areas in the country, and is plagued with some of the worst commute traffic.

Business inducements range from relatively high starting salaries to the incredible number of start-up businesses that offer stock options and other perks, along with the opportunity to work on something new and different to new employees. Money alone isn’t all the answer, though. Another major piece is how employees are treated: here, most companies really believe in empowering their ‘little people’, giving them the authority to make meaningful decisions about the company direction, and treating them with some respect rather than as interchangeable cogs. Flexible working hours, corporate game and exercise rooms, memberships in athletic clubs, help with day-care and other family obligations are all part of the parcel.

There is a positive feedback effect working here, too. With so many high-talent people working here, an idea percolates from one group over to another, sparking additional ideas. Networking between people in multiple companies is common, happening anywhere from the corporate cubicle to the evening watering hole.  And of course, the very fact that things are happening here attracts more people who want to be in on the action.

Now it doesn’t hurt that the Bay Area has what some people would consider the world’s best climate: never too cold, you don’t get soggy-drenched in the winter, hurricanes and tornadoes are almost unheard of, and typically there are only a few days in the summer that it really gets hot.  And if you really want to go flop in the snow, there are some really great ski runs located only a few hours by car from here. There are some pretty good cultural/artistic places/theaters/museums here, too, allowing you to be a geek and art-lover at the same time.

I first moved to the Bay Area in 1972, when I was still in the Air Force, and got stationed at Mill Valley Air Force Station, located atop Mt. Tamalpais, about ten miles north of San Francisco. This, however, was not the place to experience the Silicon Valley revolution, as, with 169 curves from the top to the bottom of the mountain, plus another sixty miles to get to the heart of Silicon Valley,  it was a major chore to make the trip. However, when I left the military in 1980, I got an immediate job with a firm in Sunnyvale working on (as one small aspect of their overall business) microcomputers for use on the Galileo space shot.  This was my first real experience with the excitement and rewards of working in the valley (besides instantly doubling what I had been making in the military).  It was also my first experience with something known as environmental testing; clearly, if you expect a circuit to work in space, it makes sense to test it here on the ground at both very hot and very cold temperatures, in a vacuum, pure oxygen or nitrogen atmospheres, drop it a few times (the g-stress test), shake it up some more, and in general abuse it in every way you can think of. This is a field I’m still involved with today.

But since that first experience with the Silicon Valley way, other than one side trip to Florida to get married, I’ve remained in the valley, one among many others who find this environment a great place to work.

2 Responses to “Silicon Valley”

  1. Peter said

    Is there any kind of servicable public transit out there? I have been making an effort to use it our there (Philadelphia area). We are lucky to have commuter rail and buses. What I really love about the train-bus, is it gives me a precious 2 hours each day to read (whereas I would be stuck in the car that time).
    Philadelphia now has bike racks on each bus, so multi-modal transit is possible – extending the range of commutes.

  2. hyperpat said

    While there is public transit, both buses and light rail, in general they are only good if you need to commute to downtown or otherwise somewhere relatively close. The big problem is most of the businesses are scattered over a pretty wide area, and commute times via public transit can be excruciatingly long. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is quite good, fine for commuting between, say, Oakland and San Francisco, but unfortunately it doesn’t go all the way into San Jose or otherwise service the heart of Silicon Valley, and it doesn’t look like the voters will approve an extension any time soon.

    At the same time, public transit within San Francisco is quite good – my son, who attends the Academy of Arts in San Francisco, rarely has need for his car. So something of a mixed bag, but not, I think, on par with the systems available in the Eastern cities.

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