When I told different friends I was going on a self-guided tour of the Silicon Valley, I received the same response from everyone including those who live and work there: “Where will you go?”
The Silicon Valley, the informational technology center of the world, isn’t one town or one valley, it is a conglomeration that continues to expand. Originally named for the silicon chip creators in the area, it now encompasses all high-tech businesses.
Since I was heading to San Jose for a visit with friends, I decided to carve out the morning to do some investigating. Silicon Valley (SV) is mostly in and around Santa Clara County and San Jose in northern California. There are, however, many other cities, towns, universities, and businesses that are part of the SV community.
With only a few hours to spare, we focused on three places that morning: the Computer History Museum, Google, and “The Birthplace of Silicon Valley.”
Just like the first computer, The Computer History Museum had a small genesis, a closet. Through a series of different names and locales, it ended up in Mountain View in 2003. The history of computers is extensively covered here, starting with the slide rule and abacus, and advancing to today’s myriad of devices. You can also tour it online.
I liked this museum because it was vast, informational, interactive, and not dumbed-down for children. We were here about two hours but it could have been the whole day. The striking message was how quickly computer technology has progressed in the past few decades, as evidenced by the ENIAC exhibit.
Very briefly, the ENIAC computer is the first computer. Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer was completed in 1946 and occupied 1,800 square feet. At the museum you see photos of this once-celebrated huge machine occupying numerous rooms, scientists, and staffers juxtaposed with a photo of the same machine after it was consolidated into one nickel-size microchip. That’s progress! For more information about ENIAC, click here.
Just a few minutes drive from there is the “Googleplex,” the Google corporate headquarters, also in Mountain View. Public tours are not offered, so a short drive on the public streets around their campus was an entertaining and revealing look at this innovative and ever-growing corporation. Dominated by a playful and youthful atmosphere, you see multicolored bicycles everywhere for employees’ use on campus, as well as a candyland theme outside one building. Google’s signature bright, bold colors could also be seen on patio umbrellas, signs, and outdoor relaxation areas in this sunny, tree-lined complex.
At one point a ruckus on the street caught our attention and we watched from our car as a multi-wheeled cycle glided by. It held six employees squealing with laughter. This is called the conference bike. Employees hold a meeting on this bike–one person steers and all team members pedal. Never have I seen a more uproariously fun-looking meeting in my life.
Onward to “The Birthplace of Silicon Valley,” a third venue we visited was the garage where William Hewlett and David Packard created the first Silicon Valley product: an audio oscillator, in 1938. A California Historic Landmark, this garage is in a residential neighborhood near Stanford University where the two students lived. Not open to the public, we took these photos from the sidewalk on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto.
I liked going here because it is a grand reminder that everyone starts somewhere, and in this tiny garage is where Hewlett and Packard began a revolution that has never stopped.
For more information on companies and cities comprising the Silicon Valley region, I refer you to the final pages of this Wikipedia overview, click here.
From the most humble beginnings in a small garage, here in Silicon Valley are the roots of the information technology revolution of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Next time I visit the area I will check out The Tech Museum in San Jose, the Intel Museum in Santa Clara, and whatever else comes up when I google this mind-boggling area. It’s so fast-growing, I know it will be different tomorrow than it was today.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander