Ever wondered why Silicon Valley is in California?

Silicon Valley, the part of California just south of San Francisco may be home to the largest concentration of hi-tech firms on the planet: Apple, Google, Intel, …. We take this for granted, as this has been true for a while. But I am reading Broken Genius, a biography of Bill Shockley. Perhaps more than anyone, Shockley is responsible for Silicon Valley being in California.

Shockley set up the first company that aimed to develop the semiconductor transistors that he co-invented, and that are now are at the heart of all computers, mobile phones, tablets, tvs, etc. He did this in Silicon Valley, and he attracted some fantastically talented people to work for him, people like Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce.

That’s the good news about Shockley. He was a genius, and clearly recognised talent when he saw it. The bad news is that he was a terrible manager of people. Very few people are good at everything, and this was certainly true of Shockley.

Moore, Noyce and many of the others left within months for another company in the same area. Moore and Noyce also didn’t move far when they went on to found Intel, maker of both the CPU and graphics chip on the MacBook Air I am writing this on.

The location of Silicon Valley is not solely due to Shockley, nearby Stanford University was and is important. But I do wonder what if Shockley has stayed in New Jersey and founded his company there. Maybe we would now be talking about Silicon Garden*.

* New Jersey is called the Garden State.

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