What Steve Jobs Means to Silicon Valley

What Steve Jobs Means to Silicon Valley

You can’t truly understand the life and career of Steve Jobs without understanding the culture and history of Silicon Valley.

Steve Jobs was a child of the valley. And the spirit and energy of Silicon Valley coursed through his veins and was imprinted on his DNA.

Steven Paul Jobs was born in the city of San Francisco on February 24, 1955. He was adopted by a couple who lived, and who raised their children, in the idyllic Silicon Valley town of Mountain View, California.

If you were forced to choose an absolute geographic and cultural center of Silicon Valley, it’s possible that Steve Jobs’ childhood home might be the exact location.

Within a year of Jobs’ birth and within a mile or two of Jobs’ home, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory became the first company to develop silicon semiconductor devices. A near mutiny of young, brilliant engineers from Shockley would go on to found Intel, AMD and other chip giants. The “silicon” in Silicon Valley all began within walking distance of Jobs’ early home.

The Silicon Valley that young Steve grew up in, of course, was dominated culturally by the mighty Hewlett-Packard corporation. As a child, Jobs considered the founders of HP his “idols.” At the age of 12, Jobs called president and co-founder William Hewlett and told him that he wanted to make a frequency counter for a school project, and asked if Hewlett could spare some parts. Hewlett personally gave Jobs a bag of parts and a summer job.

In high school, Jobs attended lectures at HP. When he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak built their first computers and started Apple, Wozniak was an employee of HP, a dream-come-true job for him at that time.

While the Steves were casting around for a Big Idea, they profited mightily from the local trash. Dumpster diving at various Silicon Valley companies gave them the technical manuals and information they needed to invent and learn.

In the 70s the Steves attended meetings of Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club, one of the two biggest such clubs in the world at the time, and every couple of weeks or so freely passed around schematics of the Apple I, with the computer-in-progress being a major topic of interest and conversation. Before the Internet and social networking, access to the club proved an invaluable source of information and feedback not available to people outside Northern California.

Less appreciated than the many technology influences, Jobs’ formative years were also affected by San Francisco’s intense hippy culture, Berkeley and Oakland radicalism and a profound sense of California optimism and a belief in the future.

Steve Jobs’ remarkable achievements and storied career were made possible by his innate personality, but also that personality turned loose in the epicenter of the nascent technology revolution and the heart of the counterculture movement.

Everybody wants to be like Steve Jobs

The Silicon Valley of today is a very different one than the place Jobs grew up.

Today, people come from all over the world with the hope of doing exactly what Steve Jobs did with their lives. They want to meet brilliant friends, invent something incredible in a garage, get discovered — and funded — by venture capitalists, launch an exciting new company, build that company into a financial powerhouse and change the world with incredible and cool technology products.

Success in the valley is identical to achieving any one of the many things Jobs achieved. Just to co-invent an awesome product. Just to launch a hot startup. Just to get funded. Just to found a company that grows large. Just to rise to CEO of a big technology company. Just to affect the evolution of technology.

Any of these achievements will make your entire career in Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs achieved them all.

And any technologist or product designer becomes a historic icon in Silicon Valley by creating a culture-shifting product line. More than 99% of successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs fail to hit one out of the park — just one — in their entire careers. Those who do are lionized for generations.

Steve Jobs is primarily responsible for not one but four mega-hit, monster success stories: The Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Even the Apple products that don’t make this list are incredibly popular.

As an example to live up to for new entrepreneurs, you can’t do any better than Jobs.

When Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin accepted $25 million in venture funding from two of the largest Silicon Valley venture firms in the late 1990s, they agreed as a condition that they would hire a CEO. Months later, they changed their minds, saying that they could run the company fine by themselves.

So famed venture capitalist John Doerr decided to give the two founders the ultimate education — he would arrange for them to meet with the very top CEOs in technology — Steve Jobs, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Intel CEO Andy Grove and several other rock star CEOs. His belief was that these CEOs would help convince the young grad students that they really did need a seasoned veteran.

After the meetings, Page and Brin enthusiastically agreed that they needed a CEO. And the CEO they needed was Steve Jobs! No other CEO would do. Of course, once Doerr convinced them of the perfect impossibility of hiring Jobs, they eventually hired Eric Schmidt.

The entire valley is driven by the goal to emulate Jobs. Steve Jobs’ career is the gold standard for how to launch a startup, how to invent a product, how to give a presentation, how to market consumer products, how to design a web site, how to design anything, how to develop and build products, how to build a company, how to create a retail experience, how to create a development ecosystem and above all, how to create passion in the hearts of users. He always gave Apple fans everything they wanted. And then one more thing.

Everybody is in Silicon Valley is trying to do what Steve Jobs did. But Jobs was the perfect person at the perfect time in the perfect place to accomplish what he did in his incredible life. He can never be equaled.

Steve Jobs was born and raised a child of Silicon Valley. But he died in a Silicon Valley that was in many ways a child of Steve Jobs.

  • paisano

    Wonderful tribute Mike. On top of all the amazing achievements you covered, add the monumental work he did with Pixar and how he changed that industry too. He so believed in that dream that he spent a million dollars per year for 5 long scary years after he was ousted from his own company. Truly amazing human being.

  • Colin Yeung

    Exceptional tribute Mike. Thank-you.

  • Guest

    Besides what has already been covered by CNN and others, Apple’s iTunes has shaken the music and video game industry

  • Linda Stephenson

    Nice piece, Mike. Well done. I’m sitting here writing on my Mac while the “kids” stream a Ken Burns show from a retired MacBook. I have a Nano in my pocket. And I’ll never forget that day in Cupertino when Steve unveiled (literally) the first Mac — it was so cute and friendly — I begged to take one home with me (he said no). Those were the days, eh.

  • Paul Golding

    Whilst growing up as a teenager in the UK, I read about Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley and decided that I wanted to become a chip designer, as I thought that this was the “entry ticket” into that world. When I joined Motorola in 1990 as a young chip designer, my first desktop machine was a Mac with the incredible Apple LaserWriter. I ended up designing GSM chipsets, which I still contend are among the most influential, yet underrated, silicon product lines in history, as there are more mobiles than computers. You can imagine my excitement when Apple brought their incredible chip design expertise to re-create the GSM phone, which goes unnoticed behind the consumer gloss of the brand. And that is the genius of Jobs. We no longer talk about MIPS in the way we used to obsess about it in the 80s and early 90s. The ability of Jobs to convert high-tech into consumer desirability is a talent that we have yet to see anyone else match.

    It is very moving for me to arrive here today – in Silicon Valley – on the day of Job’s death. I am reminded that the only reason I have any association with the Valley is because I fell in love with electronics after reading about the antics of Steve Jobs.

  • Mark Nankman

    Beautiful tribute Mike. Really well said. I own only one Apple product: an iPod Classic. I got it 4 years ago and I still use it every day. The day I got it I wrote this raving blogpost about my new prrrreciousss and how it changed me: http://blokmark.blogspot.com/2… My iPod still works like a dream and still looks extremely cool. Steve is a genius. 

  • Mark Nankman

    Beautiful tribute Mike. Really well said. I own only one Apple product: an iPod Classic. I got it 4 years ago and I still use it every day. The day I got it I wrote this raving blogpost about my new prrrreciousss and how it changed me: http://blokmark.blogspot.com/2… My iPod still works like a dream and still looks extremely cool. Steve is a genius. 

  • Anonymous

    Well put. This article really reminded me why I will miss Steve so much…

  • Peter Butler

    Nice to read Mike. Kinda sad :(

  • Galacticsenate

    Well said Mike, thank you!

  • Mario Carangi

    Memorable.

  • Dnelms44

    Great read and  very well written… we all need to remember that we did get to see a great inventor during our time here. We read about Ford, Edison, Einstein, but we watched Jobs… how lucky were we?

  • Raj

    RIP Steven Paul Jobs

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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