The Founder of Silicon Valley

How to amass power, expand human leverage, and give birth to a modern empire

The rise of a visionary leader

On a great day for a visionary, in a September, a renegade chemist named Will, and his good friend Arnie, quit Bell Labs together to start a new lab. They were interested in a new type of wire that their upstart lab would experiment with; an invention of his, that their ex-employer did not allow him to commercialize.

By the December of the year after, Will and friends had invented a device with that type of wire; a device so important to the world that earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics. Will's vision had proved righteous. [1]

Imagine his thrill, joy and pride: in two short years Will had defied the expectations of the world. He became so confident in his ability to envision and invent the future that he started immediate work on the next invention, a new type of switch using that special type of wire.

His employees disagreed with him; they thought that he should get into the business of selling what's been already invented; but he was confident that he was riding to the throne of invention victory again.

The Founder vs. The CEO

"His way", as described by his employees, could be summed up as "domineering, and increasingly paranoid". After receiving the Nobel Prize, "his ego may have gotten the better of his his genius, as evidenced in his increasingly autocratic, erratic and hard-to-please management style." In a word, he saw himself the leader, and his employees as followers.

Late only in the second year of his lab's history, eight of Will's scientists quit on the same day. His prophecy once again proved right; but this time, it wasn't the use of Semiconductors (the special type of wire) to invent the Transistor (the basic block of the computing revolution). It was that his employees must become followers. They did. They followed each other, into the unknown, and out of his company.

William Shockley's Traitorous Eight scientists quit his company, Shockley Semiconductors, in late 1957 and formed the nucleus of a competing company called Fairchild Semiconductors. And for the next 20 years, they started and owned other new companies, which eventually became 65 enterprises.

The offsprings of Fairchild, which the Traitorous Eight founded, became the ecosystem known today as Silicon Valley, world's capital of technology.

The Founding Fathers of Silicon Valley (at Fairchild)

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Their names, from the left to the right of the photograph, are as follows:

Gordon Moore

Chairman of Intel Corporation. Author of "Moore's Law", the infamous explanation that computing becomes twice as powerful every two years.

Sheldon Roberts

Co-Founded Amelco with Jay Last and Jean Hoerni, which was later acquired by Teledyne. It is now a US-based global conglomerate in Digital Imaging, Aerospace, Defense, NASA Space contracts, Navy helicopters, and more.

Eugene Kleiner

Co-Founded Fairchild Semiconductor as the first person who quit and prompted everyone else to do the same. Later in 1972 co-founded Kleiner Perkins, the Venture Capital firm that every entrepreneur knows today.

Robert Noyce

Co-founded Intel Corporation. "His follow-your-bliss management-style set the tone for many success stories" modeled after him and earned him the nickname "the mayor of Silicon Valley". (in sharp contrast with his ex-employer's style)

Victor Grinich

Introduced the world to Integrated Circuits (the processor inside every computer) and later founded and commercialized RFID tags.

Julius Blank

Among other things at Fairchild, he established what we know today as the Stock Option model for startups. Every startup entrepreneur today is compensated using his template for risk-taking compensation.

Jean Hoerni

Made "the most important innovation in the history of the semiconductor industry" according to one historian, which made the internals of the modern day computer processor possible.

Jay Last

Founded The Archaeological Conservancy, which has preserved and protected over 150 archeological sites in 28 U.S. states.

The very device you're reading on, right now, is probably powered by these former employees.

The leader that became a follower

William Shockley (Will), failed to see his employees as leaders. He wanted them to follow. So follow, they did, one another, into shaking humanity with the Digital Revolution. They became some of the most important world leaders that 20th century has ever known.

Shockley continued pursuing his vision for that divisive "next invention", the semiconductor switch, in his lab, without his original scientists. He never realized a profit.

His friend Arnie, Arnold Beckman, sold the operations to Clevite Corporation in 1960. Shockley became a professor of electrical engineering and applied science at Stanford University. He died in 1989, spending the rest of his absolutely brilliant working life in the landscape shaped by the inventions of his former employees.

The virtuous cycle of ambition

When you manage employees as if they're the leaders, they make their own decisions for your benefit. When you treat them as followers, they will learn to follow the first person who quits to become his own leader.

The brain drain caused by William Shockley's infantilization became Silicon Valley's gain, in the currency of inventors and scientists.

The brain drain, caused by many authoritarian regimes' infantilizing attitudes towards their educated class, become the American Dream's gain, in the currency of the world's best immigrant minds.

And to this day, the brain drain caused by outdated styles of dis-empowering management plant the clustered seeds of leaders who start tomorrow's economic revolution from their bedrooms and garages.

The father worthy of monumental remembrance welcomes the ambitions of its renegade sons and daughters with open arms.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, 1883
(on the base of The Statue of Liberty)


  1. 1956 - Silicon Comes to Silicon Valley : Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory develops Northern California's first prototype silicon devices while training young engineers and scientists for the future Silicon Valley. (Computer History Museum)

Amin A.

Written by

Amin Ariana

A software entrepreneur from San Francisco