Atta Ikede

May 6, 2008

I finally went to Silicon Valley

Filed under: San Francisco — attaikede @ 10:19 am

I took a little road trip through silicon valley last week.

I dunno how familiar you are with the geography of this area, so let me give you a quick lesson. Very roughly – Imagine a U. The empty area in the middle of the U is the bay. The top left of the U is San Francisco. Imagine a bridge going north from San Francisco to … above the U. That’s the golden gate bridge. If you keep going north that way you’ll end up in seattle. There’s nothing on the left side of the U except the pacific ocean. Then imagine a bridge connecting the two top parts of the U. that’s the Bay Bridge. The right top of the U is oakland. There’s land to the right of the U. That area is called the “east bay” and includes a bunch of small towns, the most famous of which is Berkeley. The bottom of the U is, very roughly, San Jose. The area down around San Jose is called the “south bay”. (The reason i’m telling you these terms is that sometimes people will say they live in south bay, or work in east bay, etc. I used to think those were actual cities. Nope! Now we know!) The area between San Francisco and San Jose, the entire left side of the U, is silicon valley. Nowadays the south bay and the east bay also have lots of tech companies and startups too, so don’t be surprised if you lookup where tech companies are located and you find they aren’t in the core silicon valley area.

Silicon valley is made up of a string of small towns. Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Cupertino, etc. At one point they were probably distinct cities. Nowadays, that the entire strip is really just an endless suburbia of strip malls, roads and housing with no distinguishing city-features aside from slightly nicer road signs or lamp posts in the tonier ‘burbs. Palo Alto, in particular, is known to be a rich city. Stanford is located in Palo Alto. I was surprised to find that Stanford has a gated campus! I didn’t venture in there, but I drove by and I was impressed by the iron fence and trees I saw. Made Waterloo’s campus seem decidedly pedestrain in comparison! The Palo Alto of Palo Alto, if you will, is an enclave called Atherton. Some fancy pants people live there. I drove through there briefly. It was nice.

The bigger tech firms have enormous, eye catching campuses. They are usually recognizable by a giant logo on a building. Most of the action here though, is with smaller companies. Whether they’re little startups or medium sized firms like where I work, these companies just occupy space in non-descript office buildings. You won’t even know you’re driving by the next Google, cuz it’s just in some lame office above a dental clinic.

Overall, the interesting thing about silicon valley is how boring it is. Considering all the venture capitalists, startup parties, startup horror stories, U-haul driving nerds, avante-garde new media types, bloggers who follow people around waving video recorder cell phones, and bloggers who blog about bloggers, etc., you’d think there was at least SOMEthing exciting, somewhere. But no. It’s plain old boring vanilla suburbia punctuated by Macy’s and Safeways. I guess that makes though, considering it’s a tech community. All the fun stuff happens on whiteboards! :)


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