They didn’t compete in these Olympics, but they still contributed to the success of the industry, the thousands of women who worked in the valley’s microchip manufacturing plants and other manufacturing facilities from the 1960s to early eighties. Some were working-class Asian and Mexican-Americans whose mothers and grandmothers had worked in the valley’s antebellum orchards and fruit canneries. Others were recent migrants from the East and Midwest, white and often college-educated, in need of income and interested in technical work.
With few other technical jobs available in the Valley, women would work for less. The preponderance of women on the lines helped keep factory wages in the region among the lowest in the country. Women continue to dominate high-tech assembly lines, even though most factories are now thousands of miles away. In 1970, a first American-owned Mexican production line employed 600 workers, nearly 90% of whom were women. Half a century later, the pattern continued: in 2019, women made up 90% of the workforce at a huge iPhone assembly plant in India. Female production workers make up 80% of Vietnam’s entire technology workforce.
Adventure: “The Boys Club”
Chipmaking’s fiercely competitive and unusually demanding managerial culture proved highly influential, seeping through the first generation of semiconductor millionaires as they deployed their wealth and management experience in other companies. But venture capital was where semiconductor culture cast its longest shadow.
The original venture capitalists in the valley were a tight-knit group, mostly young men who managed the money of much richer, older men. At first there were so few that they reserved a table at a restaurant in San Francisco, calling the founders to introduce them to everyone at once. So many opportunities flowed in that it didn’t matter much if a deal went to someone else. Founding members like Silicon Valley venture capitalist Reid Dennis called it “The Group.” Other observers, such as journalist John W. Wilson, called it “The Boys Club”.
The venture business was booming in the early 1970s, although bear markets made it a terrible time to raise money. But the companies founded and led by semiconductor veterans during this period became industry-defining. Gene Kleiner left Fairchild Semiconductor to co-found Kleiner Perkins, whose long list of successes included Genentech, Sun Microsystems, AOL, Google and Amazon. Master bully Don Valentine founded Sequoia Capital, making early investments in Atari and Apple, and later in Cisco, Google, Instagram, Airbnb and many others.
Generations: “Pattern Recognition”
Silicon Valley venture capitalists made their mark not only by choosing who to invest in, but also by advising and shaping the business sensibilities of those they funded. They were more than bankers. They were mentors, teachers, and father figures to young, inexperienced men who often knew a lot about technology and nothing about how to start and grow a business.
“This model of one generation succeeding and then turning around to provide the next generation of entrepreneurs with financial support and managerial expertise,” writes Silicon Valley historian Leslie Berlin, “is one of the most important and little-recognized secrets of to the continued success of Silicon Valley.” Tech leaders agree with Berlin’s assessment. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who learned most of what he knew about business from men in the semiconductors, compared it to passing the baton in a relay race.