Eleven years ago when I first visited the Bay area for a job interview, I was not ready for what I was about to experience here. I arrived in San Francisco Airport late in the evening and drove to Santa Clara, Calif., where I checked into a hotel overlooking the 101 freeway.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and it was still dark outside. As usual in my travels, I wanted to take a look at the almost-deserted streets at this time of the morning. But nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. From my hotel-room window, I observed vehicles moving bumper to bumper in both directions for as far as the eye could see. It felt as if the city’s entire population was on the move.
Though I had visited many cities around the world, I had never seen a rush hour so early in the morning. After my interview, I drove around the quiet streets in the area and could not believe the amazing concentration of high-tech businesses everywhere I looked. These were not obscure companies, but rather the world’s icons in every imaginable discipline of the semiconductor, computer and software industries and myriads of their supporting businesses. It felt like a very deep spiritual experience. “This is where I want to be for the rest of my professional life,” I told myself.
That was not the end of my experience in this amazing place. I moved to California to start my new position where, as a part of my job responsibilities, I visited some of the companies on that iconic list of the Bay area’s distinguished businesses. Through these visits I learned just how truly special the Bay area is. I was continually dealing with some of the most talented engineers, technologists and scientists I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Some of these usually-unpretentious guys were actually world-class leaders in their own disciplines. Then it dawned on me, what makes this area so special is not the company names or their dense concentration, but rather the people with their talent, hard work, dedication and, for some, sheer genius.
One of the most direct consequences of this rich and vibrant environment is that technical interactions tend to accelerate everyone’s professional development at an amazing pace. That in turn feeds the engine of research and development, which continuously churns outs the implements and devices of the entire world’s material civilization.
In our modern world, breakthroughs are not very frequent. Instead, there is a continuous flow of innovations or “micro breakthroughs” that come out of Silicon Valley on a daily basis. To most nontechnical people, this daily flow is not easily observable since the majority of the micro breakthroughs take place in disciplines that support the electronics we use on a daily basis. They make them better, more portable, more powerful, more feature filled.
The other thing that takes place here is the creation of startups. Almost on a daily basis a small pool of talented engineers and scientists decide to take their new ideas and, most importantly, their destiny — their own destiny and in some cases that of the entire world - into their own hands and chart new ways to add to our collective technological riches. A case in point is Google.
These new ideas are the way the principals of this very unique Silicon Valley culture pay homage to the rest of the world for accepting their contribution to technological advancement. This technology enriches so many lives by offering the world the new building blocks and micro breakthroughs that fuel our unrelenting struggle to improve our way of life.
Today, Silicon Valley looks much the same as it did when I first arrived. But the technological world we live in looks totally different. In 1997, CPUs ran at 233 MHz and each had 4.5 million transistors. Today, CPUs run at 3 GHz and have 167 million transistors; a 13-fold increase in clock rate and a 37-fold increase in the number of transistors. Think of how widespread processors are and of all the technologies that support them. This all happened in large part through the efforts of the engineers and scientists who went to work in great numbers at 5:30 in the morning in Silicon Valley, the dreamland of technology.