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Back from the dead, Silicon Valley icons hitchhike across the US

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Silicon Shockley

It's our belief that Silicon Valley came into existence because of William Shockley.

In 1947, Shockley shared the credit for inventing the transistor, which John Bardeen and Walter Brattain actually created while working under Shockley at Bell Labs. While the nature of Shockley's contribution to the original transistor design is often disputed, his other contributions to the technology are not. A genius, Shockley made key advances to transistor designs that turned them into useful, reproducible devices. He also picked silicon as his substrate of choice and founded the first transistor start-up in Mountain View in the mid-1950s.

Shockley had grown up in Palo Alto and Los Angeles and longed to return to California to live close to his mother near Stanford. Fred Terman, ever persuasive, further convinced Shockley that locating near Stanford would be a good idea since the university could exchange talent and ideas with the workers at Shockley's new semiconductor lab.

So, in 1955, Shockley gutted a Mountain View fruit packing plant and turned it into Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Among the many very bright people hired to staff the lab that first year were Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore - who would go on to found Fairchild Semiconductor and then Intel.

At first, life at the lab seemed to be going okay. The talented scientists were learning about semiconductors and transistors - very fresh concepts at the time for all but Noyce. But then Shockley's eccentric side began to undermine the start-up.

Shockley, for example, forced his staff to take personality tests and played them off each other by keeping secrets between different groups. He also struggled to decide whether he wanted to be a businessman or an academic. Shockley would try and push product development forward and then all of a sudden stop the work to concentrate instead on new techniques or publishing papers. The likes of Noyce and Moore became frustrated as they just wanted to make transistors, while Shockley instead looked past the transistor to the four-layer diode - his pet project.

In 1956, Shockley shared the Nobel Prize with Bardeen and Brattain and his notoriety reinvigorated the lab for a short time. These youngsters were indeed working with a giant. But Shockley's impressive intellect and knack for explaining difficult concepts were not enough to keep his staff happy. Eight of Shockley's employees, including Noyce and Moore, broke off to form Fairchild.

The creation of Fairchild had a huge impact on Silicon Valley. For one, it established a successful transistor powerhouse in Palo Alto. Secondly, the creation of Fairchild fostered the idea of venture capital since financier Arthur Rock formed a unique funding deal with Fairchild Camera and Instrument to nurture the semiconductor start-up. The very existence of Fairchild also made it seem okay to leave your employer and form a new venture. Myriad Fairchildren would break off in the years to come, filling Silicon Valley with semiconductor start-ups. This entrepreneurial urge continues here today.

So, Shockley essentially brought silicon here and then indirectly fostered the silicon diaspora via his eccentricities.

Shockley's lab eventually folded, and he went on to teach at Stanford. Sadly, Shockley's later years were dominated by his controversial opinions on race and genetics. He favored the idea that Nobel Prize winners such as himself and those with high IQs should do most of the breeding, and in fact donated his sperm to the so-called Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. He was mocked in a 1980 Saturday Night Live skit called "Dr. Shockley's House of Sperm."

Nonetheless, Shockley was a true genius, and Moore penned a nice piece on him that you can catch in Time.

The Shockley figure takes off from the Any Mountain store on Saratoga Avenue in San Jose on Aug 6 and is trying to get to the site of the original Shockley lab at 391 San Antonio Road in Mountain View. Rather ironically, the site has been turned back into a fruit stand.

The Termanator

It's hard to find a more likable Silicon Valley personality than Terman.

He started out as a young professor at Stanford and went on to become the school's dean of engineering and then provost. Along the way, he turned Stanford into a powerhouse in a number of scientific fields.

During the 1930s and 40s, Terman befriended many of the electronics pioneers in the area, including Russell and Sigurd Varian, Charlie Litton and Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the television. Terman encouraged his students to follow the lead of these pioneers and start their own businesses in the area rather than scampering off to the Midwest or East Coast for jobs following graduation. He would often facilitate this process by finding summer job for students in the area and performing a type of networking service.

Hewlett and Packard were close friends with Terman and took his advice to start HP.

Later, Terman pushed Stanford to ease its financial burden by leasing university property to technology-focused businesses. The university's charter forbade the sale of the land, but the school could let companies set up shop via the leases and then hire Stanford students and share equipment and expertise with the university. So, in the 1950s, the Stanford Industrial Park (now the Stanford Research Park) was built, and companies such as Varian Associates, GE and HP opened offices there.

In 1943, Terman wrote in a letter, "The years after the war are going to be very important and also very critical ones for Stanford. I believe that we will either consolidate our potential strength, and create a foundation for a position in the west somewhat analogous to that of Harvard in the East, or we will drop to the level somewhat similar to that of Dartmouth, a well thought of institution having about two per cent as much influence on national life as Harvard."

That's remarkable foresight on Terman's part. Luckily for Stanford, the university sat in the midst of a type of perfect storm capable of pushing Terman's vision toward reality. Unlike the blue collar, unionized San Francisco, Silicon Valley was full of suburban, well off and well educated types who could fill out the electronics companies here and supply bright children to Stanford. In addition, Terman, who was a student of Vannevar Bush, managed to make the most of his political connections and pulled government funding toward Stanford. Soon enough, the school was well on its way to surpassing underwhelming institutions such as Dartmouth.

The wealthy founders of Sun Microsystems, SGI, Cisco, Yahoo!, Google and many others can thank Terman.

Fittingly, the Terman figure is due to make his way back to Stanford.

"Hopefully, he won't end up being trapped at a frat house," Newdoll said. ®

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