Get email delivery of the Cadence blog featured here
I think the person who has the strongest claim to putting the silicon in Silicon Valley is William Shockley. He was one of the three people, along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, to invent the transistor in 1943, for which they subsequently won the 1956 Nobel prize for physics. This early transistor was a point-contact transistor and didn't involve the kind of FET transistors on which IC design has been based, although it evolved into the bipolar transistor. They did come up with the FET idea, too, but the idea had been patented in 1930 (although with a design that would never work in practice). All this work was done at Bell Labs in New Jersey (now Nokia Bell Labs, through Nokia's acquisition of Lucent via Alcatel).
Another claimant for putting silicon in Silicon Valley, as opposed to New Jersey, was Shockley's mother, who was a mining engineer, which must have been an odd profession for a woman in that era. She fell ill and so Shockley moved from New Jersey to California to be near her, and started Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. He was unable to persuade his Bell Labs colleagues to move west and join him, so he hired a group of PhD graduates mostly from Stanford, thus also pioneering the type of startup model that floods Silicon Valley today. Maybe he put the startup in Silicon Valley, as well as the silicon. Although transistors were still up in the periodic table near germanium in that era, not silicon yet.
But Shockley's management style was domineering and paranoid. Eventually it led to a crisis.
A group of eight people wanted Shockley replaced and when it didn't happen, they left and created Fairchild Semiconductor, a subsidiary of the East Coast-based Fairchild Camera and Instrument. Those eight people were Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Sheldon Roberts. They became known as the traitorous eight and Shockley told them that they would never be successful. That has to be one of the least accurate predictions ever. Several of them would go on to invent the integrated circuit, and the world would never be the same again.
Eventually they, and other engineers that they had hired, left Fairchild and created a number of companies known as the "Fairchildren", most notably Intel (Moore and Noyce). You may not know, but when you drive down 101 and get to the San Tomas/Montague Expressway exit, that big blue and white building on your left is the RNB, the Robert Noyce Building. He died in 1990 and the building was named after him. His wife's last name was Bowers and I've heard, but don't really know if it is an apocryphal story, that Bowers Avenue (the next freeway exit north) is named after her. Intel was originally located there.
Of course there isn't much silicon in Silicon Valley any more. When Intel closed their development fab a few years ago, it was apparently the last fab remaining in the valley. There is more software than silicon now. I was at VLSI Technology for years, and our original fab was in San Jose on McKay Drive. But our second fab (also now closed) was in San Antonio, Texas. And they (I'd left by then) were exploring doing a joint development fab in Malaysia when NXP acquired the company. That was a pretty typical progression.
So all politicians in the world want their own Silicon Valley. They come here to find out the secret recipe. I was listening to the a16z podcast Software Programs the World a few days ago when Marc Andreessen talked about the constant stream of visitors looking for the key:
The bad news is that we frequently have delegations of folks coming to the valley from all over the US, and all over the world. Economic delegations, politicians, whatever. And they say “What can we do to have our own Silicon Valley?” Then you kind of sit down with them and you go through a, b, c, d, e, f. You want rule of law. You want ease of migration. You want ease of trade. You want deep investments in scientific research. You want no non-competes. You want fluid labor laws to make it easy for companies to both hire and fire. You want the ability for entrepreneurs to start companies very quickly. You want bankruptcy laws that make it easy to move on and start another company. At some point, the visitors get this stricken look on their face and ask "What if we want Silicon Valley but we can’t do any of those things?" I would argue that the formula is fairly well known, but people don’t want to apply it for reasons that have a lot to do with politics, and a lot to do with other issues...
The good news is that it can be done. And the other good news is that there are very exciting things happening throughout much of the world. There are now very active startup scenes all through South America: Brazil, Argentina, Buenos Aires. Amazing things are happening in India. There’s all sorts of startup activity throughout the Middle East. Startup activity in Africa. Obviously China’s a big success story. Lots of interesting stuff going on in Korea. So there are lots of early indications of what’s possible all over the world. That said there are many big political questions about whether or not those founders are really going to be able to succeed to the level that they are capable of doing.
That last remark seems to say that there is a reason that Airbnb started here, not in Korea or Japan. There are winners in other geographies. Angry Birds is Finnish, for example. But the societally changing things like the gig economy (Uber, Grubhub, 99designs) seem to start here. For example, most of 99designs designers are in India and China. But they are based in Oakland.
And the weather. I genuinely believe that the perfect weather in Silicon Valley, no harsh winters or summers, is another part of its success. But let's go with Shockley. He invented the transistor, came here, hired a bunch of young PhDs, and sent them out (by accident, not design) to create the companies, that created the companies, that created the companies that we see today.
Next: Provisioning Devices Securely
Previous: Wearables: Growing at 38% CAGR?