Saturday, February 15, 2014

1%: environment is destiny


johnkurman |  But Perkins as miraculously inerrant self-made man who's every word should be unquestioningly lapped up, like some child's turd dropped in a doggy dish? He just appeared fully formed out of the shining void with all powers and talents intact? Credit where credit is due, I never deny intelligence and hard work  for success, but LUCK, luck and circumstance, and social position, have to be accounted for as well.

I've been through this before, but, where did all the money come from? Hmm? The very taxpayers and progressive policies that created the basic science R&D, and all the engineers and technicians that made Perkins, and a lot of others in Silicon Valley, rich.

Because if you are going to talk about Perkins and Silicon Valley, then you have to talk about Hewlett-Packard, Stanford U, MIT, and massive government subsidies from the Defense Dep. And if you have to talk about Silicon Valley, then you got to talk about Fred Terman 
Fred Terman was the founder of Silicon Valley, if any single person can be given credit for it. He was one of the most successful American administrators of science, engineering, and higher education in the 20th century. He made the Stanford engineering department one of the best in the country and laid the foundations that would make Stanford one of the world’s preeminent research universities. He single-handedly created the university, government, private industry partnership model that still characterizes Silicon Valley in the twenty-first century. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were two of Terman’s favorite engineering students, and certainly his most successful protégés. They left behind a Global Fortune 50 company that in 2010 sold products around the world (it is Silicon Valley’s largest corporation by revenues) and multiple multi-billion dollar charitable foundations.
The history of the three is best combined, as is the partnership of Stanford University with the federal government and private industry; the Hewlett Packard Corporation (HP) provides the best example. Their friendship and admiration for each other was genuine. David Packard showed it at Terman’s Memorial Service in January 1983, in Stanford California, when he mentioned knowing Terman for more than 50 years. Packard said he enjoyed Terman’s “friendship and benefited in many ways and on many occasions from his council, his advice, and his wisdom. . . Fred Terman was an engineer’s engineer.” Terman was unique in that he loved technical theory but also loved to build useful products and companies, to see practical things get done.[6]  
Bill Hewlett showed the depth of his affection after hearing of his best friend Packard’s death in a March morning in 1996. Another friend came by to pay his condolences. The friend went into the kitchen and saw Hewlett sitting on his wheelchair by a table in the breakfast nook. Hewlett was staring into the distance; his staff watched him sitting there from the early morning into the afternoon hours, with a deep and sad look on his face.[7]
The HP history is an admirable one of two close friends building a multinational company which during their lives was one of the world’s most admired companies for both its profit growth and its employee-oriented culture.

Fred Terman Settles in California

In 1905 the Terman family moved to Southern California from the Midwest, as Terman’s father needed the warm climate to get over tuberculosis. Terman’s father took a Stanford Education School professorship in 1910, and so the family moved to the place where Fred Terman would both grow up and die. Terman went to Palo Alto High School just as Federal Telegraph Corp. (funded by Stanford President David Starr Jordan) became a major radio company in Palo Alto.

Federal Telegraph is important for both the Valley and Terman. Cy Elwell‘s company convinced the inventor Lee DeForest to leave the East Coast and come to Palo Alto to be his Chief Scientist. DeForest created the electronic amplifier (found in so many electronics devices today), but was still being persecuted and had even been sent to jail for stock fraud charges for a previously failed New York startup.  Elwell had to post bail, and California was a much more amenable place to work for a risky electronics venture. Federal Telegraph went on to have the first intercontinental radio broadcast in 1919 (Annapolis Maryland to Bordeaux France) and was one of the major radio manufacturing companies in the US. Alas, the glamour of Federal Telegraph didn’t last, as it slowly faded around a handful of products till Marconi acquired it in 1931 (two entrepreneurial employees left to found Magnavox).

Federal Telegraph was doubly important because all the neighborhood techie kids became amateur radio enthusiasts, hanging around Federal Telegraph’s labs. In fact, ham radio may have been the first Silicon Valley boom, with its low cost of entry and simple technology, and hence accessibility to a large group of technical-minded people. The inspiration of radio never left Terman environment was destiny in his case. 

Do I need to talk about Fred Terman? I just gave you the link, but, come on, without Terman building up Stanford's School of Engineering, and without HP taking a rather progressive attitude (due in no small part by Terman's influence) of "share the company’s prosperity with workers" (SOCIALISM!), Perkins could have just as easily been some nobody jerkoff. And no one would care if he violated Godwin's Law.

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