I’m writing this from Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
I first came here in 1979. I drove a beat-up old van from Madison. I went via Eugene, where I had a friend from school, and drove down the coastal route. The brakes on the van failed, on El Camino, near Castro St. That’s how I ended up staying at a huge campus-like temporary apartment community before moving to the hills outside Los Gatos.
I had mixed feelings about the Valley then. It was a burn-out, everyone worked all the time, or so it seemed. It wasn’t like school where there was a mix of fun and work. And I ended up staying until 2003, almost 25 years. There were lots of ups and downs. It didn’t take long to rise to the top, that was the good thing. But there wasn’t much substance to the place. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t have done better climbing ladders in a comfortable east coast job. Might have left me more plugged-in at the age of 57, which is where I am now.
I feel a lot of resentment from this place. I don’t think they like me — at all. I have what have become extreme ideas, but which in the beginning were the norm. That computers are tools of self-expression. That users are supremely important. When I came here I doubt if anyone had thought of running an ad on a computer screen as a way of supporting development. That didn’t come until much later, after a few booms and busts.
These days when a young tech person comes here, there’s all kinds of structures that didn’t exist when I arrived. There were angel investors and VCs, but nothing like the various incubators that take applications and have “classes” and graduates. I’m sure I would have liked those, but I wonder if they would have taken me in.
I recently met a writer-in-residence at a famous university who said I should have no trouble landing a job in academia teaching young people how to do what I do. I encouraged her to give it a try at her school. Nothing happened. For whatever reason, I doubt if I would now be accepted in these programs. Yet, if I look back at my career, much of it right here in the Valley, it seems something would have been lost. Which is how I feel about my contributions now. Lots of missed opportunities. And maybe that’s because the world isn’t as open as it once was, and maybe that was the strength of Silicon Valley that has been lost. In 1979 there was a way for me to get involved.
So I put this question out there, esp to young people who feel brilliant and driven to create real tools for personal expression, if there are any — do you love this place? If not, where do you go? When I was young, this place was like Memphis or Nashville for country musicians, or Hollywood for actors or screen writers. Do you feel drawn to, and love for, Silicon Valley?