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?
I live near Boise, Idaho. Lots of people here like it for the outdoor activities, mountain biking, skiing etc. You could probably get 8000 square feet for what you'd pay for 800 in the valley. I do probably suffer from some technical skills that would be easier to get in a saturated tech environment but there are a fair amount of designers/developers and opportunities to get together. Parts of town are even more Democratic than not but you can get a bumpersticker which covers the rest "Blue Girl, Red State." I used to live in Seattle but the winters were a bit rainy as I imagine is the valley. One time I was driving around the valley feeling almost clausterphobic that every square inch was covered in ashpault and concrete. Anyhow a lot of conferences are streaming now and with collaboration tools and such there's really not an overwhelming need to subject oneself to the conjestion, cost of living and weather of the valley or other major west coast cities.
I remember the first time I visited Silicon Valley. It was a beautiful place to be. I understood immediately why all the tech companies wanted to be based out there. I actually seriously considered moving there, but I never did.
When we started our company, we decided to remain in Dallas for a few reasons. One was purely financial: Dallas has a significantly lower cost of living than any of the cities in the Valley. We would have burnt through our money much faster had we relocated.
Seriously, compare a $1 million home in Dallas vs San Francisco.
The other was cultural. Being outside the Valley kept us outsiders and kept us more objective. There seemed to be nothing but hype coming out of the Valley: lots of companies getting lots of investment money with no clue how to build a business. We feared that we would lose our perspective if we got immersed in that.
Silicon Valley still is a great place to visit. It's kinda cool to have a lot of the tech giant companies in one geographical location. It's also fun to spend time around other tech-entrepreneurial types. There is a good energy to that place, but I fear that, with prolonged exposure, it can become toxic.