San Jose's Technology Obsession

Learn all about why this city calls itself the capital of Silicon Valley.
By: Kim Boatman Nauman

The very name Silicon Valley is a reference to a key material used to manufacture semiconductor chips. That’s a strong clue that technology defines San Jose, which proudly proclaims itself the capital of Silicon Valley.

This is a region that celebrates technology with a major museum in downtown San Jose, the hands-on Tech Museum of Innovation on South Market Street. The Computer History Museum, on North Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View, includes an exhibit on the history of the Internet that starts in 1962, when the world had just 10,000 computers. Intel’s own museum, on Mission College Boulevard in Santa Clara, includes a tour of a chip fab, or factory.

And the 12-by-18-foot garage at 367 Addison Avenue, in Palo Alto, is on the National Register of Historic Places, as it’s where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched their company, the electronics industry and Silicon Valley.

But although its history has a few showplaces, Silicon Valley rarely looks backward.

This is the home of Hewlett-Packard and Intel, Cisco Systems and Apple, Google and Oracle and hundreds more. Computer scientists, engineers and an occasional genius look for innovations that will impact how we work and drive, listen to music and read news, watch movies and share family photos.

Consumer electronics, information technology (IT) and the Internet have paced Silicon Valley’s boom for decades. And now cleantech, with its emphasis on renewable energy and alternative forms of transportation, has begun to emerge. Tesla Motors, a maker of electric sports cars, says it will build a factory in San Jose, while SunPower Corp., a maker of solar panels for homes, businesses and huge power plants, continues to expand its reach.

How does tech define Silicon Valley? It’s not just the people hunched over laptops at Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, or the conversations over lunch at the Chinese restaurant in the nearby strip mall. Over on Sand Hill Road, in Menlo Park, where many of the world’s venture capital firms have headquarters, pitches from entrepreneurs with new ideas and well-tested Power Point presentations end up with handshakes and million-dollar investment. Often, the goal is changing the world and making money doing it.

To understand the geeky galore of the appeal of high-tech, visit one of the local Fry’s Electronics stores on a weekend afternoon. Yes, the chain has locations in Southern California, Texas, Arizona and few other states, but its hometown is San Jose. With tens of thousands of products -- from memory cards and MP3 players, from routers to Raisinettes for techies pulling all-nighters to complete projects -- Fry’s is full of customers who live and breathe all things wired and wireless. It’s a gadget-lover’s dream, and a technophobe’s nightmare. Aisles are full of people from all over the world speaking the same language, using words like RAM, bandwidth and download.

The local newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, calls its Monday business news Tech. It also runs the SiliconValley.com website, focused on tech news. Recent stories celebrated the 25th anniversary of Apple’s Macintosh computer, while another story had the headline "Vatican 2.0: The Pope Gets His Own YouTube Channel."

A 2008 study showed that San Jose had the third-highest number of high-tech jobs, behind only New York City and Washington, D.C. And it had the highest concentration of high-tech workers, at about 29 percent of private-sector workers. In a recent speech, San Jose mayor Chuck Reed spoke about how technology has defined his city. "For generation, San Jose has answered the call to change the world," he said. "Our innovations have helped move the world from industrial age to the information age."

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