Silicon Valley Generation Shift
Silicon returns to Silicon Valley, and RIP Gordon Moore
This newsletter issue was delayed because I was in San Francisco for a couple of days, for the first time in 4 years, mainly to attend a party. The trip got me reflecting on how the region has repeatedly transformed itself over the 20 years I’ve been orbiting it, and how it’s transforming yet again. What was a soft-edged vibe shift 4 months ago has now turned into a full-on generation shift.
I am not a party person, and don’t normally accept invitations to the few parties I get invited to, even if they’re in my own neighborhood, let alone ones I have to take a flight to get to. But I made an exception for this one because it was the launch party for Atomic Semi, which is probably the first startup in more than a generation to bring actual silicon fabrication back to Silicon Valley. It felt like a bit of history in the making, and worth a plane ride to witness. Maybe in a couple of decades this will seem like as significant a moment as say the Traitorous Eight quitting Shockley Semiconductor moment in 1957 to create Silicon Valley, or Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos moment in 1968, which marked the birth of personal computing.
And speaking of the historic moments, Gordon Moore, member of the Traitorous Eight, co-founder of Intel, and most famously, the formulator of Moore’s Law, just passed away. So there is a very real sense of a generation shift in the air in tech at the moment. Gordon Moore is gone, just a couple weeks after a somewhat less venerable institution, the Silicon Valley Bank, exited the stage. But at the same time, there are interesting signs of genuine renewal, and the launch of Atomic Semi feels like one of them.
It is news to a lot of people, but there hasn’t been much actual silicon manufacturing in Silicon Valley for decades. The fabs mostly moved to Asia, and the few significant manufacturing facilities left in the US are not actually in Silicon Valley. While there is of course a ton of design work and specialized laboratory work that happens on the campuses of Intel, AMD, and other chip majors and minors in the region (mostly concentrated around the southern tip of Silicon Valley), actually making the chips has been a business for other geographies.
Speaking of geography, if you’ve never been to Silicon Valley, the layout of the region is actually quite interesting from a technology perspective.
The geography, counting in layers up from the southern tip in San Jose, looks rather like a vertical cross section of the modern computing stack.
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