The Evolution of the Bay Area Tech Scene
It’s an industry. It’s an attitude. It’s a $3 trillion dollar neighborhood. It’s Silicon Valley, and it wasn’t always synonymous with innovation and success.
Read on to learn where Silicon Valley came from, how it grew into a global icon, and where it’s headed next.
The Pre-Tech Days: 1769-1936
In 1769, a group of Spanish explorers landed in San Francisco Bay, which was to that point inhabited by the Ohlone people. These would be the first western Europeans to set foot in Silicon Valley.
For most of the next two hundred years, Silicon Valley was a sleepy farming community known for its world-class fruit production. A few notable events during this time were the founding of Stanford University in 1891 on an old horse farm in Palo Alto, and the first successful utilization of the vacuum tube to amplify sound in 1912.
This technology became the basis for radio, radar, television, tape recorders and ultimately electronic computers. And these two events would set the stage for the tech revolution that was to follow.
One Man’s Vision: 1937-1969
A handful of men can be called “the Father of Silicon Valley,” but perhaps none more rightfully than lifelong academic Frederick Terman. Terman completed his undergraduate work at Stanford but went to M.I.T. for his Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
After returning to Stanford to join the faculty in 1925, he noticed that most Stanford grads had no choice but to follow in his footsteps: after receiving a top-notch education in electronics and electrical engineering in Palo Alto, they had to return East to find their next opportunity.
In 1937 Terman began encouraging Stanford faculty and graduates to start businesses locally. This led to Silicon Valley’s first and most consequential firm, Hewlett-Packard (created, of course, in a garage).
Terman eventually rose to the position of Dean of Engineering at Stanford, and created an industrial park on 660 acres of Stanford-owned land that would amalgamate several more businesses into the high-technology industry. A few years later, the transistor (aka the computer processor) was invented. The post-war boom was in full swing, and Silicon Valley was ready for take-off.
From Semiconductors to Software: 1970-1990
With the foundation of modern computing laid, the next two decades would see an explosion of innovation in Silicon Valley. The vision for the internet was born, graphical user interface and ethernet computing were developed, and semiconductors gave way to software. Names like Apple, Oracle, Intel, and Atari would go from Silicon Valley startups to household names.
In the ‘80s, Silicon Valley would produce even more homegrown companies and attract some of the biggest names in tech, like Microsoft and Cisco. It was now the widely-accepted center of the tech industry.
Fun fact: in 1971, journalist Don Hoefler published a 3-part report on the semiconductor industry. This would be the first time that the name “Silicon Valley” entered the consciousness.
The Dot-Com Bubble: 1990-2000
In the early ’90s, advances in connectivity, uses of the Internet, and computer education led to an almost overnight explosion in dot-com start-ups. A few hugely successful tech IPOs had heady investors throwing money at almost any idea… no matter how far-flung (remember Pets.com?). Capital came quick and business plans were fast and loose. “Get big fast” was the new mindset as marketing and promotion spends often outpaced development and testing. The tech industry became synonymous with excess as spending on lavish offices and elaborate employee benefits skyrocketed. Like all bubbles, this one burst, and hard lessons were learned by founders, investors, the government, and the public alike.
Silicon Valley Today: 2000-Present
To say that Silicon Valley weathered the storm and came back even stronger would be an understatement. This century alone, companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have changed the way we live. Decades-old business models, industries, and ways of thinking have been completely disrupted. Silicon Valley’s hiring practices and culture have inspired companies all over the world to re-think their own identities. And even though billion-dollar valuations are now a thing, there’s a new social consciousness that’s pervasive amongst tech companies and their CEOs. There’s never been a place like today’s Silicon Valley, and it’s thrilling just to consider where it might go next.
The Silicon Valley of Tomorrow...
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