A 14 Year Old’s Tour of the Silicon Valley

Golden Gate
When my wife and I started planning our vacation in California, we were both surprised when our oldest son, Jake, said with great enthusiasm he wanted to “see the Silicon Valley.” There are not many things a 14 year old says with enthusiasm, so we knew immediately he must be serious. Since our plan was to drive down the coast from San Francisco to San Diego, a trip to the suburban towns inland was not in our plan. But as the date approached, I could see he was very serious, and so we decided to give him his tour.

I have been traveling to the Bay area for many years on business, but never thought of touring it. So we booked a hotel in Palo Alto, and I drew up a list of sites Jake could choose from. So below is Jake’s personally selected tour of Silicon Valley, which we started Sunday afternoon and finished Monday.

#1 - Steve Jobs House

In cutting through Palo Alto to get to the Computer History Museum, we passed down the street that has the home of the late Steve Jobs. I knew Steve Jobs lived on the street, but didn’t know the address, so it took a quick Google search by Jake to find the secluded and modest home of the late CEO of Apple.

#2 - Computer History Museum

We arrived at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View just as a public tour had started. We took the tour and then wandered through the facilities ourselves. The museum has an amazing collection, including the UNIVAC (first digital computer), ENIAC (first digital computer built by a computer company), the Alto (first personal computer with mouse and graphical display), Apple I (still in the wooden chassis), Apple II (my first computer), and lots more. Jake’s highlight was the UNIVAC, with all its vacuum tubes sticking out. Not to make a Boston plug, but I think the term “bug” came from a moth being found in the relay of one of the early vacuum tube computers at Harvard.

#3 - Buck’s of Woodside

For lunch we stopped at Buck’s of Woodside, a famous Silicon Valley eatery that is the location of many famous deals and company foundings (e.g. Ebay, Tesla, Yahoo, Hotmail all have history here). Almost all the luminaries of Silicon Valley have been to Buck’s at one point or another. But today it added a more important claim to fame to its history: my youngest son thinks they make the best BLM (Bacon Lettuce Mayo) sandwich ever.

#4 - HP Garage

The HP garage is where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built their first product for the company we all know today as Hewlett Packard. Jake had his picture taken with the garage and national registry plaque. The HP legend looms large in the Valley.

#5 - Facebook

Jake deleted his Facebook account for lack of interest in the service, so I will confess this stop was driven by the fact we were in the area. The “Facebook house” is where Mark Zuckerberg and friends lived when they left school to hack on the social network they had created at Harvard (just like in the movie The Social Network). My favorite story from the “Facebook house” is that Zuckerberg focused on a video sharing application called Wirehog instead of The Facebook, thinking it had more commercial potential.

#6 - Fry’s Electronics

Fry’s wasn’t on my list until Jake asked the question: “Is there an electronics store near here?” If you haven’t been to Fry’s, it is an electronic store like no other outside the Silicon Valley. The store is the size of a warehouse, and stocked end to end with electronics. It’s the only store I know where you can buy a PC, a dishwasher, a DVD, a microprocessor, a transistor and an oscilloscope, all in one place. It’s decorated in a campy western theme, with chuck wagons, cowboy manikins, and western town wood paneling. Jake spent almost an hour to pick out a 32GB USB stick, and left with a smile on his face.

#7 - Triode Vacuum Tube

We stopped briefly at the site where in 1906 the first device to amplify an electronic signal was invented (a triode vacuum tube). This device marked the beginning of modern electronics, and is the predecessor to the silicon-based circuits we use in all our digital devices today. A plaque marked the location and date of the invention, and the building now serves as a Jewish community center. The visit was a reminder that contrary to popular history, the Silicon Valley didn’t go from fruit orchards to a technical mecca with the creation of HP. Instead the area grew gradually through multiple decades of investments in vacuum tubes, test equipment, microwaves, and then eventually integrated circuits.

#8 - Google

Google
Our next stop was the centerpiece of our Valley trip: a tour of the Google campus in Mountain View. Unfortunately Google doesn’t provide public tours, so I had to set it up through someone I knew. We arrived early and sat in a beautiful courtyard near the company paid for food trucks and an employee managed vegetable garden. My friend Bob came out to greet us and gave us a great tour, visiting sites that included his office, the bowling alley (yes they have their own bowling alley), one of the many company subsidized restaurants, laundry service, store, volleyball court, and much more. The basic idea of Google facilities is to eliminate the need for employees to ever have a need to leave the campus to do something other than work. The most amazing example of this for me though were the employee beehives. As you move through campus, blue, green and red company bikes dart throughout the campus, making it easy for employees to navigate around in a green way. The parking lot also included hook ups to recharge electric cars. If you head over to building 44, you can see giant statues for each of the Android releases.

#9 - Apple Garage

Jake is a big Apple fanboy, so we headed to Los Altos to see the house Steve Jobs grew up in. The house used to belong to Steve Jobs’s parents, but is now a private residence. The garage is an important site primarily because this was where Apple was created, and where Steve Wozniak produced the Apple I.

#10 - Apple

Apple
From Los Altos we did a quick stop at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, the headquarters of Apple since 1993. We made a quick visit to the campus Apple Store, and snapped some pictures in front of the main building.

#11 - Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)

If you haven’t heard of PARC, it was a research center created by Xerox in the Silicon Valley to investigate the technology required for the office of the future. The list of inventions from PARC is staggering, and includes the mouse, the graphical user interface, ethernet networking, object-oriented programming, the laser printer, the personal computer, and more. The only thing PARC didn’t invent in those highly prolific years was a way to get Xerox to make money from their ideas. Instead Xerox did a deal with the founder and CEO of a nearby computer company called Apple, and as they say, the rest is history

My Uncle Jack was a chief scientist and early employee of Xerox (joining when it was located upstairs from a drug store). I’m sure he’ll get a laugh out of seeing his nephew’s son - who uses a Mac, carries a Google phone, has a Dell monitor, and owns an HP printer - interested in getting his picture taken in front of PARC.

#12 - Stanford

We didn’t time it right for a full public tour, so our Stanford visit was just a quick drive and a campus walk.

Last Notes

I’m a self-confessed tech history geek, so if you do plan your own Silicon Valley tour, you might want to check out some of my previous posts on books to read (e.g. What’s In My Bookbag). Over dinner in Monterey I asked Jake what he thought of the Silicon Valley. “Great,” he said. He is a man of few words. His favorite stop was Google, and his greatest surprise: “That it’s actually a valley.”

So after almost 20 years of traveling to the Silicon Valley on business, it took a 14 year old to make me see the suburban homes, office parks, and campuses for what they can be: a tourist destination for the next-generation of tech entrepreneurs.


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