Silicon Valley: The Big Picture

As we prepare to head to Silicon Valley in T-1 week (yay!), I wanted to give a brief background in how it came to be, some of the issues facing the Valley today, and if/where Silicon Valley 2.0 may arise.

Fast Facts:

  • Silicon Valley is currently valued as a $3 trillion neighborhood
  • Silicon Valley and San Francisco top the US venture capital investment list with a combined $13.4 billion
  • Silicon Valley is home to the headquarters for 39 businesses in the Fortune 1000
  • There are 76,000 individual millionaires and billionaires living in the Valley
  • To afford a fair market price apartment, a renter would need a yearly income of $94,251.

“Silicon Valley USA”

rsz_siliccon_historySilicon Valley was born through many contributing factors, including a strong STEM research foundation amongst the vast universities, plentiful venture capital, and US Navy research and technology, to name a few. However, after World War II, many universities were experiencing surging demand due to returning students. To address these growth issues, Frederick Terman of Stanford University proposed the leasing of Stanford’s lands for use as an office park, with leases limited to high technology companies. Out of this, companies like Hewlett-Packard could move from small beginnings in a garage to an innovative office environment, opening the door for success. At the same time, William Shockley came along in the booming semiconductor industry and was the first to make transistors out of silicon as opposed to germanium. This garnered a report on the industry by Don Hoefler, entitled “Silicon Valley USA.” The name stuck thereafter, and one of the highest net worth neighborhoods was born.

The Race for Individuality or Uniformity?

Recently in the media there have been many remarks doubting the sustainability of the culture in Silicon Valley. Earlier in February, tech luminary Peter Thiel  announced he is parting ways with the area, citing an intolerance of conservatism in the tech industry as a whole.  And while it is often assumed that libertarianism dominates Silicon Valley, on a grander scale the tech titans almost hold a view much the opposite of the heroic, solitary individual. They tend to think that we are fundamentally social beings, investing their faith in the network, the wisdom of crowds, and collaboration. While they may gesture towards embracing individuality, they certainly have a different agenda when it comes to free will. Essentially automating our choices, algorithms suggest the news we read, the goods we buy, the paths we travel, and even the friends we invite into our circles. In a TED Talk, Eli Pariser  succinctly describes this phenomenon, explaining that we get trapped in a “filter bubble” in which companies, like Facebook, use our data to constantly give us the news and information we crave, creating a feedback loop that squeezes us into narrower views.


How do you get outside of the Filter Bubble?

The underlying dilemma, however, is mainly the biases that are apparent within the algorithms that are subconsciously influencing our day-to-day thought patterns. Obviously not intentional, but scenarios like Google Photos facial recognition comparing people to gorillas, Amazon Prime neglecting to deliver in predominantly black neighborhoods, and Microsoft’s AI-bot posting senstive content on Twitter show some of the blind spots that arise from homgeneity of thought in the work culture. Surely Silicon Valley certainly does not hold the sole responsibility, but this culture could slowly be erasing individuality to the point that some, like Thiel, are leaving the city they helped to build in hopes of finding a larger diversity of experiences.

Enter: Brotopia?

Beyond this long-debated topic of tech subconsciously guiding our choices, another arises when considering the diversity in the Silicon Valley tech culture: what about women? As Julia’s blog post highlights some amazing success stories, a recent study published by Axios found that even the famously male-dominated Wall Street now employs a higher percentage of women than the tech industry. In both, only a quarter of leadership roles are occupied by females and historically female-led startups tend to receive only 2% of venture capital funding.

As it turns out, however, the industry may have just sabotaged itself and its own pipeline of talent long ago. In the mid-1960s, System Development Corp, a pioneering software company, enlisted two male psychologists to scout recruits. William Cammon and Dallis Perry profiled 1378 computer porgrammers, only 186 of whom were women, and used these profiles to gather conclusions about the ideal programmer. They found that those who succeeded at the job typically liked solving puzzles of various sorts and “didn’t like people, generally more interested in things.” This research was influential at a crucial time in the developing industry, and thus the common view of programmers with “beards, sandals, and rugged individualism” came about. This personality test was used for decades in the industry, and Silicon Valley is still seeing the backlash from it today. While there are certainly exceptions, like Larry Page and Sergey Brin who specifically seek out females for key positions, often qualified talent is still overlooked in the industry.


So, what do we do about all this?

While this has highlighted some of the issues among the idolized Valley, clearly there are many more positives that have allowed the area to make tech the new oil. However, it takes much more than geeks and good research facilities to make it happen. A true tale of innovation requires three elements: talent, technology, and tolerance. Many can recruit top talent and technology has seeped into every corner of the world, but there is often a  a void when it comes to the spirit of cooperation and tolerance of risk that Silicon Valley embodies. As cities all over the world strive to enter the mix as a home for businesses to plant their roots,  here are a few that I think may be able to fill that latter category. So, where might TechTrek go in 2030?

  • Shanghai: Recently joined the list on the top 10 startup ecosystems, which makes sense in addition to the innovation and massive inflow of capital currently in Asain markets overall.
  • Israel: Israel has been enjoying growing collaboration and funding from the East, with currently 4,300 startups in the region, a rate that is second only to Silicon Valley. They also have a similar story to the emergence of a catalyst company, paralleling HP who started the “garage entrepreneurial” spirit in Silicon Valley with ICQ who sparked the venture capital movement in Tel Aviv.
  • Austin, TX: Austin is already a hub for startups, but because it’s not overflowing with venture capital firms, many startups here become financially sound and independent early on. This has instilled Austin entrepreneurs with a work discipline that’s based on impact and returns, which could lead to a entirely different culture of success.
  • Atlanta, GA: Atlanta has 18 Fortune 500 companies , is a tech hub with an affordable cost of living, and is one of the fastest growing states for women-owned firms since 1997. In addition, it has also been named one of the best places to start a business by Forbes.
  • Denver, CO: The state currently offers a range of financial incentives for entrepreneurs, and they are continuously investing in providing tech jobs, affordable housing, and building new communities. Educated millennials are flocking to Denver, with beautiful wildlife, mixed terrain, and laid-back attitudes attracting talent for the hundreds of startups that are being run from the mile high city.

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These are just a few tech hubs that seemed to have potential throughout my research, but I’m sure you guys have plenty more possibilities to suggest in the comments below! Perhaps, in the end, there’s no need for a Silicon Valley 2.0. Silicon Valley can unite a hacker in Kiev with a protester in Istanbul, and anyone seeking this tech culture just needs a simple Internet connection to tap in. Unique and distinguishable innovation centers are arising all across the globe, but I’m sure this established area will not be forgotten any time soon.

13 thoughts on “Silicon Valley: The Big Picture

  1. Awesome post, Abby! Loved this blog because it really set the scene for our trip. I think we all hear constantly hear about the stigma of Silicon Valley – cutthroat, information driven, and groupthink mentality. You explored this topic very well and I can’t wait to experience it and evaluate it for myself next week. Also, it’s pretty exciting that Denver was listed in your top 5! By attracting so many millennials through the combination of both city life and access to the outdoors, Denver is growing rapidly and I think it has made Denver a much more tech based city. I am excited to see what’s next for my hometown!


  2. Great post, Abby! I had never heard that story about how they hired psychologists to find the ideal programmer, and as a programmer I found it really intriguing. I agree that their most likely won’t be another Silicon Valley 2 as most of these tech companies today are having more and more employees working remotely. I can’t wait to experience Silicon Valley first hand in just one week!


  3. Nice post and great lead in to our trip next week! I liked the facts you started with, crazy how a single area can be worth so much when its wealth and popularity was driven by local startups. I’m also interested in the argument you highlighted about individuality driving the rise of uniformity in the Valley. It seems that efforts for diversification are often confused with efforts to take something someone else has already made and make it better. The rise of AI in many industries is also creating uniformity in consumer thinking and decision making, as data collection and ad targeting becomes so personalized.


  4. Awesome post Abby! I never knew the background story about the origins of Silicon Valley, so it is extremely helpful to have read this post before going next week (WOOHOO). Also something that surprised me was Israel and Shanghai had such a big startup scene! When I think of technology, Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Chinese companies in general come to mind, but it is important to keep in mind that innovation occurs everywhere, and it’s a constant process! Great work


  5. Great high-level overview of Silicon Valley, Abby! I completely agree that there will never be another SV. Instead, I imagine cities such as Austin, Atlanta, and Denver all developing a unique niche in the domestic ecosystem. In today’s day and age, there is no need for a Goliath.

    Regarding your discussion on women in SV, it’s quite amazing how Cammon and Perry’s study used such a biased sample. I can’t help but think about how the tech industry would be different if 689 female programmers were featured in that study over 50 years ago.


  6. Great post, Abby! I especially liked your articulation of the “filter bubble” that Eli Pariser describes. It can be easy to get caught in your bubble and forget the surrounding world outside of the subconscious biases and external influences.

    The notion reminds me of an episode from the podcast Invisibilia titled “Bubble-Hopping (Reality Part Two).” In it, a young Google engineer finally confronts the “bubble” he lives in in Silicon Valley and develops a suite of randomization applications to help “randomize” his life. It’s a fascinating episode that’s definitely worth a listen — your description of the “filter bubble” reminded me of Max Hawkins and his quest to pop it! Check it out here if you’re interested:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Abby’s point about the trap of the “filter bubble” was also really intriguing to me! I have noticed this in my online life on Facebook where some of my friends posts are shown in my feed and some are not, and on Youtube when looking in the suggested and related videos sections. On one hand, it is nice to have similar content right there, but on the other, the lack of diversity and spontaneity can make these platforms boring. The platforms can even become frustrating to use when you feel like there isn’t anything new to see. I guess this is why having discover pages is so important, but I think these pages still could use improvement!

      Great post!


  7. Hey Abby, awesome post! I loved reading about Silicon Valley from a broader perspective! The Top 20 picture and the cities you referenced are what stood out to me the most. It is so interesting to see where technology and the startup industry will be expanding to next. I have heard a lot about Austin, Texas and I agree that the impact and returns emphasis could change the way people are thinking and acting in the workplace. I also loved the phrase “The Silicon Valley Effect!” To see the influence the area has had expand globally is remarkable and I am so excited to immerse ourselves in the culture next week!


  8. I really loved this post, Abby! It’s interesting that of the three US cities you suggested, all of them are on Amazon’s shortlist for HQ2. If Amazon does decide on one of these cities, I could see a massive influx of other tech companies into the area. The business incentives, network and culture created could make for an interesting Silicon Valley 2.0 possibility.

    Also: For the second year in a row, Boston has been named the best city for start-ups by the U.S Chamber of Commerce. Boston may not have perfect weather like the Bay Area, but it definitely is a great place for tech companies!


  9. Fantastic post Abby! I read the article you tweeted about Peter Thiel and I’m glad you chose to look further into SV culture. You brought up really great points throughout the entire post. The part about “Brotopia” and the lack of gender diversity (even in comparison to Wall Street) particularly surprised me.

    I also like how you bring up the topic of whether or not Silicon Valley boasts a sustainable culture. The culture of SV is certainly unique. I agree that there could be an emerging Silicon Valley in locations such Texas, but I expect there to be significant differences in the overall culture and attitudes of the city’s inhabitants. Thanks for such an informative and timely post!


  10. Big fan of this post. I especially liked the early history having grown up in the bay area. One thing I find interesting is the correlation between the military and the rise of computing. Along with fostering the first internet, the US military (like you said) basically used San Francisco as a base until relatively recently. While I doubt you could ever draw intentional relationships between the two forces, I definitely think there was a lot done by the military both in this area and in the early days of the internet that has shaped the Silicon Valley we know today.


  11. Wow. What a fabulous post! I do find the SV “bro” culture to be problemmatic, but i wonder if it’s quite as prevalent in SF which is a bit more cosmopolitan (and where many of the companies/ startups are gravitating). I’ll have to think about it more.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. There’s a lot to love about Silicon Valley. I think that’s why we heard 3 different people on the panel today use the term “drink the Kool Aid.” There’s a huge focus on information sharing and the wisdom of the crowds, likely due in part to crowds dictate a business’ success or failure.
    On the topic of bro culture, something important thing to remember is that the Valley as an economic hub in the US is a relatively new phenomenon, emerging really only over the last 40 years and not truly as an economic centerpiece until 10-20 years ago. There’s not an excuse for precluding talented women to join these companies in leadership roles, in fact Sir Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital was criticized in 2015 for saying something along the lines of there aren’t women available with the requisite experience to join Sequoia ( But, especially when you look at New York and Chicago’s lengthy business histories dating back to before California was even founded as a state, you have to take into account the fact that the industry as a whole seems to be acknowledging sexism in the work place, which is at least the first step towards fixing it. And with great programs in place like Girls Who Code, I can’t wait to see what the future of diversity in the industry is going to bring.

    Liked by 1 person

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