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Silicon Valley Sticker Shock

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By Cathy Newman Photographs by Bob Sacha

Techno-wizards still vie for success in this exurb of San Francisco, where networking is a sport, twentysomethings cut million-dollar deals, and a psychiatrist may be your best friend.

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Silicon Valley thrives on risk. Ever since 1933 when Frederick Terman, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, mentored two undergraduates named Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the Valley has been about placing bets on people, ideas, and inventions. Terman’s protégés would go on to found Hewlett-Packard, the Valley’s pioneer high-tech company.

Since then Silicon Valley has attracted the best and brightest from all over the world. It has as intellectual capital two great universities: Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. It is home base to a who’s who of technology and the incubator for hundreds of graduates seeking to emulate Hewlett and Packard. It was here that Pong, the first video game, went from dream to reality, as well as the ink-jet printer, the video recorder, the mouse, the personal computer, and much else we take for granted in the information age. The expertise of Silicon Valley has, in no small measure, wired the world. At its high-flying peak in 2000, 43 of Forbes magazine’s 400 richest Americans lived here. Their wealth added up to an estimated 184 billion dollars, and if you believed the hype, 60 new millionaires were minted each day. Dot-com fever fueled the jackpot economy; secretaries cashed in options and drove off in Porsches.

But in the opening months of 2001 the headlines wept financial woe. The Nasdaq, the technology-heavy stock index, had plunged more than 50 percent from its high a year earlier. Dot-coms foundered and sank. Even solid companies like Cisco, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard hoisted warning flags of workforce cuts and lower earnings.

Still the mood in the Valley registered optimistic, as if the water supply were fluoridated with Prozac. “We call it techno-optimism,” said Jan English-Lueck, a professor of anthropology at San Jose State. “There’s an addiction to opportunity, and if you don’t see it that way, why are you even here?”

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Online Extra
See what paths the pioneers of the Information Superhighway followed in this update to our 1982 article. Click here.

Silicon Valley
VIDEO Photographer Bob Sacha talks about the world of techno-brains struggling to become cyber-somebodies in Silicon Valley. Click Here

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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

If California were an independent country, its economy would be the sixth largest in the world, due in large part to the technology and business Silicon Valley generates. Ideas and innovation drive the entrepreneurial spirit of the area; people from Silicon Valley register more patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office than any other metropolitan area in the country.

—Christy Ullrich

Business Week article
From the beginning of Professor Fred Terman’s vision for Silicon Valley to the hype of the dot-com start-ups, read about Silicon Valley’s history and successes.

Stanford University
Stanford University is the home base for many students who go on to create and innovate in Silicon Valley.

Breaking Technology News From Inside the Tech Economy
Resource for the technology industry offers global news, reports, editorials, and headlines on the financial market and high-tech jobs.

The Nasdaq Stock Market
Track technology investments at the Nasdaq.


Cortese, Amy. “Masters of Innovation: Peer to Peer P2P taps the power of distant computers in a way that could transform whole industries,” Business Week (April 7, 2001).

Frank, Stephen, and E.S. Browning. “A Year After the Peak: Bursting of the Tech Bubble Has a Familiar ‘Pop’ to It,” Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2001.

Markoff, John. “William Hewlett Dies at 87; A Pioneer of Silicon Valley,” New York Times, January 13, 2001.

Sinton, Peter. “Battling the Slump/ High-tech job growth has slowed, not stopped,” The San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 2001.


“Making Mighty Chips,” National Geographic World (March 1987), 12-17.

Johnston, Moira. “High Tech, High Risk, and High Life in Silicon Valley,” National Geographic (October 1982), 458-477.

Boraiko, Allen A. “The Chip: Electronic Mini-marvel That Is Changing Your Life,” National Geographic (October 1982), 420-457.


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