A brief history of Silicon Valley from its humble beginnings with Bill Gates and the concept of personal computers to Elon Musk’s revolutionary ideas about solar energy.
This article details how Silicon Valley came to be the world-renowned tech hub it is today. I look forward to you joining me on this journey through time as we take a brief look at how Silicon Valley became the world leader in innovation and technology.
A Brief History of Silicon Valley
Before Silicon Valley became an area, it was a concept. Its name comes from silicon—the raw material that would become a symbol of American innovation. The Brief History of Silicon Valley started in 1957 when Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory was opened by Robert Noyce and William Shockley in Mountain View, California. The laboratory-produced transistors at a time when business leaders were moving their research labs out of cities like Boston and New York to more affordable suburbs like Los Angeles. Before long, high-tech companies like Fairchild Semiconductor (now an Intel subsidiary) followed suit and clustered around Mountain View.
Part 1) Bill Gates
Before there was Steve Jobs, before there was Mark Zuckerberg, there was Bill Gates. In 1975, before he launched Microsoft before he became a billionaire, and even before he had dropped out of Harvard University (he later finished his degree), Bill Gates started Traf-O-Data. It wasn’t until 1979 that Gates founded Microsoft with Paul Allen and in 1995 that it went public. The rest is history. Like Apple and Facebook today, in its early days Microsoft stood alone as a company that seemed like an answer to a question no one had asked—yet it still managed to carve out an entirely new industry.
Part 2) Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is best known as one of the co-founders of Apple, a man who created some incredible companies and changed how we work, play, and interact. But long before he helped create an entire industry—computers and technology—he was just a young man in search of a way to support his family. When he was 12 years old, he walked into California’s Hewlett-Packard office where he found an open job application and simply filled it out on his own (his father signed it without actually reading it).
Through hard work and determination, Jobs went from working odd jobs at HP (and being rejected at Atari) to creating some amazing companies—and became one of history’s most important innovators.
Jobs had a bit of luck early on in his career. He attended Reed College, but dropped out (after only six months) and hitchhiked around India for a while with his friend, returning with an interest in Eastern philosophy and meditation. He moved back home and found work at Atari as a technician, but was fired after he got into a fight with another employee. Jobs joined HP later that year, staying there until he was laid off in 1973—but not before taking several HP employees with him when he founded Apple later that year (with Steve Wozniak). At Apple, he went on to launch some incredible products including one of history’s most famous computers—the Macintosh.
Part 3) Steve Wozniak
Steve Wozniak invented and built, or reverse engineered what is thought to be, among other things, one of the first personal computers. The Apple I computer was released in 1976. Steve Jobs introduced it at a Palo Alto computer club by saying, This is the new board we developed for people who don’t want to build their own computer from a kit. Early versions of later famous Apple models were also built by hand on his dining room table. Wozniak said he got involved with electronics because I had been too lazy to do his homework.
Part 4) Larry Ellison
Fondly known as Larry or by his initials L-E, Ellison is a businessman, programmer, entrepreneur and investor who made his mark on Silicon Valley. Along with two others, he founded Software Development Laboratories in 1977. The company later became Oracle and expanded into a global giant over time. Ellison was CEO until 2014 when he stepped down and was replaced by Mark Hurd. In 2016, Ellison took over as CEO again after Hurd left amid sexual harassment allegations. Ellison began writing computer programs at age 14 and dropped out of college before receiving his degree. He started Oracle with $2,000 from one of his accounts at IBM and has since been named America’s richest man many times over.
Part 5) Jeff Bezos
Bezos was a hedge fund analyst before he started Amazon in 1994. Since then, Amazon has grown into one of the largest e-commerce platforms in existence today. The company is known for its commitment to customer service and innovation, which it instils into every piece of its business. In fact, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll ranked Bezos as America’s most admired CEO and he also tops Forbes’ richest billionaires list—for 2018 and every year since 2012. It’s probably safe to say that we won’t be forgetting about Bezos anytime soon!
After college, he worked on Wall Street in a variety of jobs before going into business for himself with his friend. However, it wasn’t until 1994 that Bezos founded Amazon. Initially an online bookstore, Amazon has expanded into a major e-commerce platform and one of America’s most successful companies. Over time, Bezos has shifted his goals from selling books to selling everything under the sun. In fact, today he is constantly pushing boundaries—one prime example being his Blue Origin space venture which seeks to make space travel more affordable and accessible to all.
Part 6) Mark Zuckerberg
Before Facebook, Zuckerberg built a music service called Synapse Media Player. When he dropped out of Harvard, he worked on Synapse full-time. It was later renamed TheFacebook after adding features like photo sharing and news feeds that Mark’s contemporaries didn’t have. Today, TheFacebook has 1.59 billion monthly active users around the world and is considered one of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories ever.
While Zuckerberg is known for starting Facebook, he isn’t exactly fond of that word. In 2007, he said I don’t think there has ever been a better time in history to be a student and I would encourage all students who are lucky enough to have a computer and an internet connection to take advantage of it. The following year, in 2008, Zuckerberg got some encouragement from Bill Gates when he was named Time Magazine’s Person Of The Year. That year, CNN also named him one of their Top 10 most influential people in technology alongside Steve Jobs and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Part 9) Elon Musk
Elon Reeve Musk is a business magnate, investor and engineer. He is currently the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, chairman of SolarCity, and co-chairman of OpenAI. He also founded PayPal. Musks’ roles at Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity make him one of technology’s most influential leaders. In December 2016, he was ranked 21st on The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans; his net worth is estimated to be US$13 billion as of November 2017. That same month Inc. magazine named him Businessperson Of The Year. Time Magazine named him one out of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2015.
Musk was born in Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa, He moved with his mother to Canada when he was 17. His father was an engineer and his mother is a model. Musk studied at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario for one year before transferring to Stanford University in California. He received an economics degree from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Stanford University in 1995.
Part 7) Michael Dell
The two were working together at Stanford in 1996 when they came up with a new search engine. The idea was fairly straightforward—they wanted a better way to navigate through all of those information-rich websites that had started to pop up during that first wave of Internet growth. Billing it as an expert web surfer’s guide, they called their tool BackRub and made it available on Stanford’s website in May 1996. By late 1997, Google had officially launched its search engine (initially known as BackRub). The company would use Sergey Brin’s garage as its first office but soon moved into nearby offices above a pizzeria. In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin incorporated Google and hired their first employees—Larry’s sister Anne was one of them.
Part 8) Sergey Brin & Larry Page
Co-founders, Google. In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided they needed $1 million in funding if they were going to start a company that made internet search better than anything else out there. A year later they teamed up with Stanford computer science PhD candidate and software engineer extraordinaire, Larry Page’s former professor at Stanford University and Google was born—but it would be a while before Brin & Page had any real success. In 1999 they hired Eric Schmidt who became their CEO because no one else was willing to accept a tiny share in Google as compensation for leading it; but things still weren’t looking great for most of 2000-2001 – even into 2002!