The Big Fat Lie About Silicon Valley's "Great Geniuses"

The Big Fat Lie About Silicon Valley's "Great Geniuses"

Avatar of Alejandro I. López

By: Alejandro I. López

March 24, 2017

Technology The Big Fat Lie About Silicon Valley's "Great Geniuses"
Avatar of Alejandro I. López

By: Alejandro I. López

March 24, 2017

In the southern part of San Francisco, facing the Pacific Bay area, there is a region nestled among the hills.
In this once hidden corner of the world we'll find a city of love and freedom, an open space that stands between the sea and the mountains, and where the thousands of fruit trees blossom every spring as a living legacy of the main economic activity that prevailed until the Second World War. From that dark moment onwards, this city became the ideal hotspot for the great industries, and the manufacturing of military weapons, ship decks, and power engines. 

silicon valley skyline

This region is Santa Clara Valley, better known as Silicon Valley. Its nickname comes from silicon, a semiconductor material that, due to its abundance and low costs, became the base material for the integrated circuits called chips.

At the start of the 1950s, technological companies began to flourish and their growth was supported by the presence of local universities. This perfect cocktail of talented human capital and settled industries
positioned this region as an unprecedented center for technological development.

In the midst of the twenty-first century, the land known as Silicon Valley began to be seen world-wide as the Mecca of technological innovations. Articles, movies, series, and books depict Silicon Valley as a space where anything can happen with a little bit of effort, a great idea, a pinch of rebelliousness that characterizes any entrepreneur, and enough creative genius to build a giant with multimillion dollar revenues like Apple, Google, or Facebook.

silicon valley google
This idealization has been nurtured by all those stories on success, geniality, and risk taking done by all who dared to "think differently." There are plenty of examples to pick from: Google founders, Larry Page and Sergei Brin; YouTube creators, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen; or Mark Zuckerberg himself. What do they have in common? They all fashioned themselves as rebellious dreamers with an unbreakable wish to become their own boss and revolutionize the industry. Most of them decided to drop their studies and work full time on their projects, and after many upheavals, establish world-renowned companies from scratch.

However, there is a special name among these modern icons that belongs to the confounder of one of the richest companies in the world. His name has become enveloped by mysticism and idolatry, synonymous of innovation and perseverance. In popular culture, Steve Jobs is to technology what Picasso was to Twentieth Century art, Chaplin to humor, or Jordan to basketball. Jobs is an enshrined genius and an entrepreneur par excellence who has inspired countless films and books. He is the epitome of the rebellious young man who decided to follow his ideas, regardless of his presumed economical hardships and finally succeeded in founding the legendary Apple Company

silicon valley geniuses

He was already a legend even before his passing in 2011. The products he spearheaded began to be known for their elegance, simplicity, and overall superiority to what was already available in the market. It made Jobs a household name, and his success story was touted across Silicon Valley. His accomplishments gave way to the creation of "garage myths," stories that idealize an entrepreneur's brilliant ideas and their humble origins.  

Are these stories true and how much of them are glossed over with cotton candy idealism? As we look closer, Silicon's Valley facade of success and admirable values begins to crack. This region is staged as a paradise for young dreamers who, in compliance with current economic systems, acquire vast amounts of wealth thanks to an innovative product. If you look closer at the shared stories of these creative geniuses, we see the following common factors: strong relationships with investors, influential connections inside the industry, and access to elite universities. 

We all know those Silicon Valley myths: the young man who had to drop out of school due to economic hardships and went on a journey to India before creating the first Mac computer, or the rebellious boy who decided to leave Harvard and created Facebook alongside a group of young, idealistic men.  Or how about the two partners who rented a garage and developed the most powerful search engine in the world. 

silicon valley jobs

Jobs developed the first Mac computer after an internship at HP and Atari –and with it, the secrets of his rival, Microsoft– and by deceiving Apple's cofounder, Stephen Wozniak. Zuckerberg established the biggest social network in the world along with some of the richest young men in the United States. YouTube founders, Hurley and Steven, were partners with PayPal, and Hurley's father-in-law was founder of the Netscape Navigator. As for Google's creators, they confessed that when they rented their famous garage, the company was already backed-up by nearly a million dollars.

What keeps alive all those garage myths? Its actually a matter of paradigms that reinforce Western cultural values: free market and the illusion that anything is possible if you're ambitious, hard working, and have complete and utter faith in your goal. The path that is suddenly conjured up leaves out all the pesky little details that take away that magical sheen. 

silicon valley wozniak

The logic behind the garage myth matches the American dream perfectly. These myths reinforce the ideal of social mobility and the illusory nature of capitalism, which can easily be summed up with: "anyone can get as far as they wish, regardless of their race or social class, with determination and a little bit of effort." Capitalism hides the fact that knowledge is tied to social constructs, and if you want to develop any of these technological breakthroughs, then you need access to higher levels. In no way are we turning our noses up at the accomplishment of these creative geniuses. We are simply accepting the fact that more is at stake on the road to technological nirvana. 

Translated by Andrea Valle Gracia