Feature: The End Of Silicon Valley, The Rise Of Student Bedrooms

Feature: The End Of Silicon Valley, The Rise Of Student Bedrooms

It’s the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. And in Silicon Valley, it’s the end of an era. The garage days are over. It’s time to move on. The future belongs to the dorm.

Stanford begat Silicon Valley. The history of Silicon Valley is largely the history of California universities: Stanford and Berkeley and Cal Poly graduates. HP, Intel, Apple, Cisco, AMD, Sun Microsystems, and even hoary old Fairchild Semiconductor all grew out of Golden State colleges.

Many of the biggest companies of the 20th century were created by university kids taking a chance. Building crazy technology products with neither markets nor practical applications. Transistors and semiconductors and, by God, linear accelerators. They went for it in whatever cheap spaces they could find. Drafty outbuildings and industrial zones scattered around Stanford. Silicon Valley was made in garages and workshops and unattached sheds.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started HP in a garage in 1939. Almost 40 years later, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built Apple in a garage attached to Jobs’s parents’ home. In between came scores more companies.

Today that Apple garage is a nerd landmark. And the original HP garage is literally a museum. But it might as well be a mausoleum.

With Steve Jobs’s exit from Apple, and HP shuffling out of the personal computer business altogether, this (northern) summer marked the end of the silicon era of Silicon Valley.

Hugely ambitious hardware startups are not launching out of Palo Alto or Menlo Park garages anymore these days. Nor will they ever again. Manufacturing projects are now typically so research and labour intensive that they are beyond the purview of college students. Today, if you want to start up a hardware business, you do it in China.

There are still startups in Silly Valley, of course. The entrepreneurs of yesteryear grew into American Colossi, and ushered in successive generations looking to make their fortunes too, just as surely as Autumn follows Summer. August marked a changing of that guard.

What has happened in Silicon Valley is what has happened to America at large. The knowledge worker has replaced the factory worker. Your gadget may be designed in California, but it almost certainly will never be made there, again. We’re now in the era of the dorm room start up.

Today the Valley belongs to Google and Facebook, companies that launched in off-campus apartments and computer labs. And, yes, dorm rooms. Companies that make software, not hardware Companies that don’t need ventilation. Companies that don’t need expensive investments in real-estate to get off the ground. Because garage space no longer comes cheap in Palo Alto these days.

Stanford and Berkeley and Cal Poly and the great venture capital firms of Sand Hill Road will still feed the valley and the American economy with brains and money, and will continue to drive innovation. But it’s different now. To upend a WIRED maxim, Silicon Valley’s future is the story of bits, not atoms.

The garage isn’t available anymore. There is a Tesla parked there. We hope you had a great Summer. It’s going to be an amazing Fall.

Chris Madden is a New York illustrator and designer. You can see his awesome work here, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.