Despite the infamous song’s question, everyone seems to “know the way to San Jose,” the capital of Silicon Valley—and they keep coming in droves. The worldwide fascination about the region spans more than a century and, now more than ever, it is a mecca for anyone daring to dream big, work hard and try their hand at the brass ring of Silicon Valley success. And for this author, after a substantial career engulfed in its inner corporate dealings, it has now become a powerful muse for works of fiction, as seen in my contemporary Silicon Valley series (first release Fall 2015) and my historical romance novels (first release Spring 2016).
I decided to make Silicon Valley my home from the first day I arrived at Stanford University to begin my college education. The energy, ambition, and rapid pace of change challenged and excited me on all levels.
My experience is not unique. It’s hard to resist the combination of location and mindset offered here. Nestled against the Pacific Ocean’s coastal hills lies a narrow strip between San Jose and San Francisco. Behind the hype and wonder of silicon-based computer chips and clever inventions is a majestic land filled with risk-takers. Like the Gold Rush 49’ers (the ones from the 1800’s, not the current-day football team), dreamers flocked to Northern California from all around the world, eager to ply their skills for a chance to wrestle wealth and success from its myriad resources—whether natural, financial, or human.
Some in today’s generation may not realize the rich heritage of the past, but its ongoing mystique is merely layer upon layer of evolving breakthroughs, happenstance and hubris.
Its heritage is firmly connected to its close proximity to several excellent centers of learning: Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and even more in the surrounding region. College graduates often stay close to their alma mater—case in point: me—and thus have ready-made networks of contacts to rely on as they start their ventures. Even before the educational draw, the risk-taking, gold-making mentality of the Gold Rush emigrants permeating this part of the San Francisco Bay gave its residents a head start in developing an entrepreneurial attitude.
It’s interesting to note that many of the pragmatic businessmen from the 19th century stayed away from the gold fields, having shrewdly recognized there was more money to be made off the foolish gold seekers than from the gold itself. While Levi Strauss hawked sturdy, denim pants to the miners, many of the ranchers and farmers south of San Francisco happily supplied food from their bountiful valley. And down south in San Jose, one of California’s very first companies provided the extremely critical quicksilver (liquid mercury) needed to separate gold from its earthy cluster in order to then purify it. At that time, San Jose’s quicksilver mine was the second largest in the world, coveted by the already-established mining companies in the rest of the Americas as an alternative to Spain, home of the largest source. Without quicksilver to support large-scale hydraulic mining, the Gold Rush would have petered out much more quickly, and possibly left California languishing far behind the East Coast power base rather than becoming the largest, most influential, state in the nation.
Wildly successful, opportunistic capitalism also helped form the financial base of the well-established banking sector in San Francisco. This financial hub for the West coast started in the Gold Rush days as banks flourished by converting gold dust into currency, which then allowed monetary gains to become transferrable in the form of telegraphed deposits sent to families back East. When venture capital money was needed to fund start-ups in the 1960’s and beyond, experienced capital markets experts were already deeply entrenched, and they and their affiliated investors were more than willing to take risks for promised, higher returns.
Happenstance also played a role in building the boomtown aura of Silicon Valley and its surrounds. Defense contractors flocked here both during and after World War II; the fine weather enough to entice any person to consider relocating from the cold-weather, snow-laden corporate headquarters of established firms like IBM, Honeywell and Xerox.
The edginess of Silicon Valley’s hubris comes from people who are driven to succeed. To this day, immigrants to the region arrive from throughout the world, as well as from throughout other states in America, leaving family and security behind in order to take a chance on themselves and their ideas. Some might call this a gamble, but those who flock here do not allow themselves to consider the possibility of ultimate failure (a genetic necessity for an entrepreneur perhaps). And if they do fail—and most do—they simply start over again, willing to learn from this temporary setback, confident enough to regroup and try again. These go-getters are looking for more than just success; they are looking for phenomenal breakthroughs. When you set the goal at 1000%, it’s more likely you may achieve 100%. Judging by its track record, Silicon Valley is an incubator for innovation and the American Dream.
With this rich background and over-the-top spirit, you may see why my chosen home base of Silicon Valley never ceases to expand my imagination with great inspiration.
My novels are all set in Silicon Valley. Everything I wrote above works as some sort of foundation, but I also tap into its past heritage of ranches and fruit orchards. The current-day explosion of business and technology lays the groundwork for a future I enjoy formulating in my mind’s eye.
Tall tales abound between the struggles of the earliest settlers and the more recent debuts of the youngest billionaires, already great fodder for Hollywood movies and YouTube videos. But even beyond the headlines lie stories of real battles over core American values, fought for and won, real dilemmas of ethical choices made by key individuals—and governments grappling with both the positive and negative impacts of technology—and poignant relationships, sacrificed to support the well-known successes.
That is what comprises Silicon Valley to me, an enamored inhabitant and former soldier of capitalism. Real stories, real people, real California. My muse provides an endless source of real inspiration, perfectly ripe springboards for fiction.
(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)