The swagger has been gone for a while now, as the valley finds itself struggling with recession, foreclosure and terrifying unemployment, just like every other part of the country.
I have to admit I felt a little nostalgic watching the recent NBC11-TV’s weeklong series on the state and the prospects of Silicon Valley.
There, right off the bat, was 1999 footage of champagne corks popping at a dot-com IPO. Dot-coms. IPOs. Remember them?
Sure, those days were the best of times leading straight to the worst of times, but they were fun. The valley had swagger then. I like swagger.
I miss the days when the valley was Newsweek’s cover story every other month or so. (In fact, I miss Newsweek, which is another story.)
Most Read Business Stories
- Long Before Divorce, Bill Gates Had Reputation for Questionable Behavior
- 7 steps to take now to catch up on retirement savings
- Female biker was a 50-year-old man using FaceApp. After he confessed, his followers liked him even more.
- Is it OK if I never update Windows 10?
- Skyrocketing lumber prices add costs for new Seattle-area homes. Will buyers continue to pay?
The IPO days were not very grown-up days. They were days of giddy selfishness. Times of arrogance before the collapse. But all eyes were on Silicon Valley. This was the Hollywood of technology; the place people came to make it big. And many did.
But the swagger has been gone for a while now, as the valley finds itself struggling with recession, foreclosure and terrifying unemployment, just like every other part of the country.
“Our area has problems,” Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, tells NBC11 reporter Scott Budman at one point. “We’re not solving our basic problems.”
Budman’s five-part report, “Boom, Bust and Beyond,” touched on where some of the swagger went, focusing on the condition of commercial real estate, venture capital, startups and immigration.
The series, “Silicon Valley: Boom, Bust and Beyond,” offered a good news/bad news mix. There were somber interviews with experts talking about the vast number of empty office buildings and companies’ “near-death” experiences. There was talk about venture capital being tight, which holds down growth and job creation.
One segment pointed out that globalization and anti-immigrant sentiment has meant more bright Indian and Chinese engineers are launching careers and companies in India and China rather than making the pilgrimage to Silicon Valley. But the series also included the story of a startup purchased by Intuit for $170 million, and another that moved cross-country to be near the valley (San Francisco), and a third that took a beating in the recession but is growing again.
Budman, who’s covered the valley for 15 years, told me he came away from the series feeling optimistic. He reeled off the bright spots, such as the way the valley is becoming the center of smartphone innovation. And he pointed to venture funds dedicated to investing in companies working on smartphone apps.
“All of a sudden that becomes a new platform, which the world outside says, ‘That’s sexy and exciting,’ ” Budman said. “We haven’t had that in a while.”
No, we haven’t had that in a while, and I wish we’d get it back soon.
But to do that we need to get on a new track. Consider that for all practical purposes, the valley’s tech giants already have made their comeback from the recession.
Yet unemployment remains high. In fact, it appears valley companies prospered by dumping their employees and cutting their way to nearly unprecedented profits.
The truth is, the interests of the valley’s companies and those who work for them have never been as aligned as tech executives would like us to believe. Their work forces have always been disposable — hired up in good times, laid off in bad times. But the disconnect seems to be growing.
And unless we narrow that gap, we can pretty much forget about the swagger’s return.
Mike Cassidy is a columnist
at the San Jose Mercury News.