The Silicon Valley Story

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

I was recruited to work for Intel after business school in Los Angeles. I grew up in Sacramento, only about a 3 hour drive northeast from the heart of Silicon Valley, but the region was a world away from the people and places that were familiar to me. Shortly after I relocated to a sprawling apartment complex in North San Jose, I read through the seminal works on the key players and technological movements that made Silicon Valley what it is today. These books aren’t just for the earnest business school graduate. I passed these books back and forth with my father, a learned man, who loved the rip roaring biography of Noyce - basically a cowboy disguised as an electronics engineer - and the tragic mismanagement at Xerox’s PARC.

The PC is now considered a commodity and the internet is thought of as a basic utility. Today’s innovations stem from an abstracted layer in AI, machine learning, computer vision, and neural nets. But Terman and Moore’s law are the reason why many of us plug away at Big Tech Companies or work breathlessly at a seemingly paradigm shifting start-up. Further, by understanding the history of the Valley we can better predict and decipher the technology of tomorrow.

There have been hundreds of books written on each of these topics, but these are considered to be some of the most important works on these subjects, with several written twenty to thirty years ago, reminding us that some of the best authors are not making the rounds on today’s tech podcasts. Start with this group and read, re-read, and keep as a reference. As I progress in my career, I often find myself thinking back to lessons from these writings.

Listed in rough chronological order:

The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company (Collins Business Essentials)

HP Way is essentially a manifesto. One of the first strong culture companies. Andy Grove looked to HP to fortify Intel’s culture. Similar to the Netflix culture deck, H/P were the first to articulate these unique concepts. This is the closet thing I have to a "primary source" on this list.

Core Values:

  • Profit for Shareholders

  • Employees as human beings

  • Well-being of customers

  • Support community at large

The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution

This book, the story of Fairchild Semiconductors, Noyce, and Kilby, explains how the microchip was developed and why it was so revolutionary. The book is both science and story.

The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley

Robert Noyce is one of the greatest Americas of the 20th century. There is a reason why Intel named the main HQ building RNB - Robert Noyce Building. I believe this book isnt’ even in print, but can be downloaded. If you don’t read the book, at least peruse the wiki page for Robert Noyce. Fun fact - Noyce married Ann Bowers, the first VP of HR at Apple.

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age

The infamous story of Jobs and the computer mouse. The origins of the ethernet. How to go (or not go) from idea to commercialization. While in the Bay Area, I met someone in the Bay Area who worked at PARC. He was impressed I even knew what it was.

Fire in the Valley: The Birth and Death of the Personal Computer

Heard of the Homebrew Computer Club? This book could be renamed, “How Hobbyists Changed the World.”

Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date

Reads like a novel

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet

From the author’s website, “At a time when computers were mainly used as processing machines, one man, J.C.R. Licklider, a psychoacoustician from MIT, saw their potential as communication devices. With the help of a small group of engineers and researchers, Licklider’s vision eventually yielded the Arpanet, which in turn created the foundation for the Internet we know today.”


The only book you need on Jobs. I picked up this copy at this really Readers Bookstore at Ft. Mason in SF. I recall they had a great selection of similar titles. I still remember that overcast San Francisco day!

Only the Paranoid Survive

Read this to prepare for my Intel interview. Groves dissects a critical inflection point in Intel’s history. Groves blessed the world with his writings on his pioneering management philosophies.

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