Wednesday, February 06, 2013

"Silicon Valley", a new film by PBS American Experience, goes back to the 1950s

 



Tuesday, February 6, 2013 PBS “American Experience” aired a 90 minute film “Silicon Valley”, tracing the history of the microchip industry back to the late 1950s, in the Bay Area between San Francisco and San Jose. 
  
The film starts with the story of William Shockley, who coinvented the transistor and started a company (Beckman) in Santa Clara, the first business that would lead to what we call “Silicon Valley”.  But he ruled a dictatorship (and believed in some ideas like eugenics), so some key employees, most of all Robert Noyce, left and formed their own company, to become Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957.  Later Noyce would found Intel.
  
The film discusses the tedium and manual labor (by women) of making early semiconductors, and how the slightest problem (hands not washed after urination) could contaminate them.  By the early 60s, the companies had invented and patented automated processes to make them more reliably, especially the Planar Process.  The film would also cover the long term rivalry with Texas Instruments. 


The ability of the industry to meet the needs of the space program and put man on the Moon in 1969 is still astounding.
  

Watch Silicon Valley Preview on PBS. See more from American Experience.
  
The film makes an interesting point about how Silicon Valley workplace culture evolved:  it would be less authoritarian, and loyalty to one employer was not expected as it had been in the past.
   
The film is directed by Randall MacLowry. 

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