Silicon Valley is an idea that represents an industry, analogous to Hollywood, Wall Street, MSM, academia.
Sometimes these concepts are geographic, sometimes the geography is totally symbolic. For example, there are people who are definitely part of Silicon Valley who live and work in New York. And there are people in New York also who are part of Hollywood.
Saying Silicon Valley thinks college is a waste is like saying Hollywood is fighting piracy. Or Wall Street supported Romney in 2012. Believe it or not I am part of Silicon Valley, and I sure don't agree with the idea that college is irrelevant, so it's not an absolute or unanimous thing.
We say things like this all the time, often to explain what we don't agree with. It doesn't make sense to spend a few paragraphs stating exactly what all the people in tech think in all its variants. Even if Paul Graham hasn't heard that Silicon Valley thinks college is a waste, the students have. I went to his Startup School and talked with a few of them. I worked at NYU for a couple of years, and saw all the energy drawing students out of school and into startups. That pull totally came from tech. The students hear it even if Peter Thiel is saying something subtly different.
So that's what I wanted to respond to. And I think I wrote a pretty good essay. It's certainly resonated with a few people (except in PG's backyard). I believe there's something there.
Hodskins Simone & Searls, the advertising agency I co-founded in 1978, was by 1980 a tech-focused company, primed to grow along with the tech boom around Research Triangle Park, which promised to make Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, a "Silicon Valley" in the Southeast. We succeeded, with clients spread all over the place, and not just in the Triangle. But the future for tech in North Carolina was still decades away. This was made clear by one of our clients a brilliant and funny guy named Earl Gillmore, who was working on "machine-independent software" decades ahead of his time. One day, in 1984 or so, Earl said to us, "You know boys, there's more action on one street in Sunnyvale than in all of North Carolina." So my partner, David Hodskins, went out to Palo Alto, saw this was so, and opened a small satellite office for the agency there. In the summer of '85 I came out to run the office, and to lead the prospecting. In June of '86, we got our first two clients, and within a few more months we moved the whole agency out there, jumping into the fray with both feet. We never looked back. Silicon Valley geographically, economically, culturally... was home.
In those days there were two geographical Silicon Valleys: the original one, and the belt around highway 128, circling Boston and the universities there, especially MIT. That can be argued, of course; but that's how it played at the time. Digital, Wang and many other big serious tech companies were there. So was a lot of the early work on hacking and networking that laid the groundwork for the Internet. But for tech, Silicon Valley was it. If you were in the game, you had to be there.
Paul Graham once wrote about how, getting off a plane at SFO, one can feel the presence of an invisible generator, producing tech energy. That generator is still there, somewhere under The Bay. But the energy is in lots of other places too: Boston, London, New York, Chicago, Copenhagen, Atlanta, Austin, Houston, Denver, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Los Angeles. It's even in the flyover states: witness Silicon Prairie News. None of these other places are Silicon Valley, nor should they be. But the Internet has made tech a universal thing.
Yet the Net is not equal everywhere, and that will be an issue for Silicon Valley in the coming decades. Because doing what's best for the Net hasn't been a top priority there, with one notable exception: Google. But with Google, the exception is actually in Kansas City, where Google Fiber is being deployed. Right now it looks like yet another cable+internet boxed services play. But that masks a different agenda: attracting new business, new uses and new innovation in boundless variety.
Today, while Big Data gets the big buzz, few talk about how little that data is worth if the pipes it travels are biased as one-way sluices for "content" mills, which is what most cable connections are optimized for. It will take a few years for the tech world to smell the coffee brewing in Kansas City, Lafayette, Chatanooga, and a few dozen other enlightened places that have troubled to get ahead of the curve. Here's a new years toast to them.