The area known as “Silicon Valley” lies about 40 miles south of San Francisco, California. The fertile land surrounding San Jose was once home to orchards and fields, but that was a very long time ago. Silicon Valley has been ground-zero for high-tech startups such as Apple, Google, and Facebook. As Steve Jobs would say, these are companies that have truly changed the world.
As the new American Experience program Silicon Valley makes clear, the startup-mentality of the area had been going long before Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer in 1976. The show begins in 1957, with a group of eight brilliant men defecting from Shockley Semiconductor to form their own Fairchild Semiconductor. They were led by the visionary 29-year old Robert Noyce (1927-1990) and it is through his life that we see the early days of the region and the industry.
Fairchild were responsible for the integrated circuit, also known as the micro-chip. The micro-chip enabled the rise of the Information Age, and runs everything from your smartphone to your microwave.
While the start-up culture is now an ingrained component of life in Silicon Valley, it was nothing of the sort back in 1957. One of the biggest complaints that the employees had about Shockley was the button-down corporate culture. It was not at all conducive to a creative atmosphere, yet management seemed oblivious to the problem. At Fairchild, Noyce introduced the idea of an open workspace, and changed the corporate culture of Silicon Valley forever.
Following the huge success of Fairchild, Noyce went on to co-found Intel in 1971. With their micro-processor, Intel went on to become one of the largest and most important high-tech firms in the world. The life of Robert Noyce dovetails almost precisely with the rise of the high-tech industry, and of this uniquely important area. He was so important to it in fact that his nickname was the “Mayor of Silicon Valley.” This latest American Experience program details it all, and is another excellent example of why the PBS series is so widely respected.
The 90-minute Silicon Valley premiered Tuesday, February 5, 2013 from 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. ET on PBS, and can now be streamed with bonus material at American Experience.