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Norman Sperling
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The Garages of Silicon Valley

© Norman Sperling, February 1, 2012

We're all familiar with giant computer-industry corporations. Here in Silicon Valley, we have hundreds of them. But they didn't start out giant, they started out basic and bare-bones. I drove around the Valley a couple weeks ago to look at some of their birthplaces. See pictures of these and many companies' first buildings at scaruffi.com. (HP and Google were founded in garages just around the corners of the houses shown.) You can also find them on satellite imagery.

1939: Hewlett Packard garage, 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto: quite rustic, with not-quite-even wooden planks. Narrow 1-car garage (no house had a 2-car garage in 1938!). Were it not for the bronze plaques in front of the house (a duplex, private residences), absolutely nothing would call attention to the garage. Unassuming. It's well-painted because the garage is now owned by Hewlett-Packard and maintained as their honored birthplace. A private tour inside, that I didn't see: by Brian Solis.

1956-57: 391 San Antonio Road, Mountain View: where Shockley Semiconductor got started. This pioneering transistor company was a terrible place to work. Experts fleeing Shockley founded Fairchild, Intel, Kleiner, and others. Now at the corner of a gigantic shopping center (redeveloped in 2012), a WalMart stands on the opposite corner. The building is hard to recognize! It's now an "International Market" selling halal meats. The historic, main part is extremely plain, basic, slab-sided, undistinguished. The newer front segment is much better looking. The Geek Atlas says there's a plaque but I didn't find any.

~1958: 844 E. Charleston Road, Palo Alto: Fairchild Semiconductor , 1957- . Invented integrated circuits. Moore's Law 1965. Begat the "Fairchildren" LSI, Advanced MicroDevices, and many more. Very plain light-industrial building, with only a few faint touches of styling. Modern for the 1950s. 2 bronze plaques out front tell how the commercial integrated circuit chip was invented there, but you'd never notice the building if it wasn't pointed out. 2 suites are for rent as of January 2012.

1975: Apple's garage, 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos. The front actually looks rather like my house, though the spacing between houses is quite a bit wider. It has a double-width garage, where mine has a single. Extremely unassuming, less adorned than most of the houses on the street. No plaque. This front lawn has the smallest tree on the block (perhaps a big old tree had died). The garage is absolutely unassuming.

1998: Google's garage, 232 Santa Margarita Avenue, Menlo Park. Somewhat newer, with a classy mailbox and tile address on the garage. No sign or plaque visible. Clean and trim but plain. Some neighbors haven't been maintained in decades, others are junior palaces.

Nobody would pick any of these as a place of future greatness. These ventures all started very small and plain and unadorned, all hope and work. Nothing big or rich till long after they outgrew these cradles. If the beginning work hadn't fostered sales and expansion, we'd never have heard of any of them. It doesn't matter how tiny your accommodations (I say, typing away in a corner of a closet), what counts is where you take it from there.

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