Having lived in Silicon Valley all my life, I’ve seen it transform from an agrarian area dotted by fruit orchards into a technology powerhouse.
When I started my career as a tech industry analyst in 1981, Silicon Valley encompassed San Jose up the peninsula to Palo Alto and Menlo Park; an area known as the Santa Clara Valley. Now it represents cities as far north as San Francisco and as far east as Oakland and Fremont. All told, Silicon Valley hosts over 5,000 tech-related companies, and income from tech companies in San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale alone account for $235 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute.
Until 1995, when the internet kicked off the tech revolution, most people were unfamiliar with Silicon Valley. Until about 2010, when I traveled to much of the Midwest and East Coast, people had no idea where this “Silicon Valley” was in California.
Fast forward to today and Silicon Valley is a household name. For the most part, it’s equated with technology that transforms people’s lives for the better, like PCs, the web, smartphones, and tablets. But thanks to massive data breaches, most recently with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, Silicon Valley’s image is tarnished in ways none of us could have imagined even three years ago. Not to mention sexual harassment issues, a lack of diversity, and pay inequality.
For decades, Silicon Valley execs could fly under the radar of most regulatory bodies. But it is looking more likely now that companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others that deal directly with people’s personal data are about to face serious regulation. The region is rattled.
I’m frequently asked if Silicon Valley can survive the scrutiny and remain the world’s center for tech innovation? As one who has seen Silicon Valley’s many ups and downs over the last 35 years or so, I have no doubt that it will weather even this storm. There’s a lot of brain power in the region, and it’s still at the center of much of the major advancements, from semiconductors to PCs, and is helping drive 5G. Automakers, meanwhile, have beaten a path to the Valley to prep for the autonomous vehicle revolution.
Despite the setbacks, Silicon Valley is doing some of its best work in a decade in areas like AI, machine learning, and robotics. And augmented and virtual reality is at the heart of many of the big Valley-based tech companies’ research today.
Is there anything that should have Silicon Valley worried? China’s tech advancements are clearly a threat, and the cost of living in Silicon Valley makes it difficult for those not earning six figures to live here. But while I think Silicon Valley’s current struggles are far from over, I expect it to continue to be at the center tech advancement that will power every aspect of our future.
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