The Code by Margaret O’Mara [Book Summary – Review]

All of us are familiar with the narratives of how Steve Jobs created Apple right from his garage and also Mark Zuckerberg fiddling on Facebook from his dormitory room. 

These narratives make it seem as though digital innovation was driven by a small number of masterminds who were hit by influence from heaven. However, the narrative is much more complex as well as intriguing.

Although it is correct that few innovations were launched in school dormitories and even garages. However, these startups just turned into a huge stronghold that they are nowadays as a result of huge sums of institutional backing as well as funding from the government. 

Also, these technologies that have transformed the lives of humans were not formed by lonely people. Instead, they happened all thanks to serious partnerships among unexpected groups such as teachers as well as politicians, entrepreneurs as well as engineers, hackers as well as advocates. 

In the following chapters, you will discover the actor stories of Silicon Valley – which is the legendary place that has now turned into a representation of the technological revolution as well as entrepreneurship. 

As we go further in this book, you will learn about 

  • how Silicon Valley gained from the war as well as the American pursuit for the   supremacy of     the universe;
  • the reason why women were permitted to turn into coders, even though they were not allowed to venture into engineering; and also,
  • how the valley was impacted by the 1960 radicalism that happened in the 1960s. 

Chapter 1 – There is a need for us to understand the myths of Silicon Valley.

At this moment, when a lot of us see our mobile phones as a part of our bodies, it is difficult to think that in the past few decades, the internet was not in existence, and just a few computers were in existence at that time contained the whole places. 

As it was predicted in the year 1988 by Ronald Reagan that this technological change as a matter of fact been a “revolution.” Technology has transformed our means of communication and also how we sort out ourselves. It has also basically changed our political setting in means that nobody could have thought of.

Also, this whole technology started in Silicon Valley- a part of Palo Alto, California that was once sleepy. Now, Silicon Valley is beyond just an area. It is now to with an international network, a startup sensitivity, as well as a disrupting manner of reasoning and working.

However, what did Silicon Valley do to turn into such a technological driving force? There are a lot of its emerging narratives. A romantic story pushed by Steve Jobs and a set of other people is that, Silicon Valley turned into a source of revolution due to the cause that it has constantly been anti-establishment and immersed in counter-cultural notions during the 1960s.

Other people will say that the reason why Silicon is extremely prosperous is as a result of it being very encouraging to its entrepreneurs. In the absence of domineering business beliefs as well as government meddling, intelligent engineers such as Dave Hewlett and Bill Packard were allowed to change promising thoughts into key companies and work based on their own peculiar concepts of how a business should function.

All of these stories are not incorrect; however, there are not complete. They concentrate just on the intelligence of selected people however disregarding the political as well as institutional organizations that permitted them to form their concepts and turn them into reality. For instance, Steve Jobs’s groundbreaking business Apple would not have turned into reality without the discovery of little and cost-effective computer chips. The people that created these chips wouldn’t have gotten the capital to market them if not for the huge amount of money they got from the federal for research as well as growth in the time of the Cold War. Also, Steve Jobs turned into a household name partially as a result of Steve being born into a structure that compensated men who are white with each opportunity, whereas hindering access to women and black people. 

For us to actually know about the accomplishment of Silicon Valley, we have to get past the misconception of the entrepreneur as being independent and examine the social, political as well as institutional structures that permitted certain tycoons in tech to thrive. 

Chapter 2 – Silicon Valley businesses assisted in the creation of ammunitions of contemporary war.

The internet is usually labeled as being really democratic, an “infinite frontier” of information as well as finding. However, all of these explanations conceal the truth that its beginnings are very much darker: the creation of electronic communications technology is closely related to the creation of nuclear ammunitions and more technology of contemporary war. 

Therefore, how are these things related? As a matter of fact, creating fresh technology is costly and it also needs huge backing such as funds, infrastructure as well as workers. These backings were obtainable for the development of electronic communication tools since there were required for warfare.    

It has been a long time since Silicon Valley has been a place for the military. In the year 1930 in Santa Clara, a key US Naval blimp station was built; after that, in the year 1933, there was an establishment of a huge center for research in aviation as well as aerospace.  

During the Second World War, a lot of fresh military installations as well as airplane firms enticed masses of gifted engineers who remained even after the warfare and kept on doing their work there.  

Years after the war, expenses increased since the government of the US battled to have a technological edge over the Soviet Union in the time of the Cold War. In the year 1949, after Congress found out that the Soviet Union really made their personal atomic bomb, they allocated a massive finance box for research as well as the creation of ammunition and electronic communication gadgets.  

This funding that was donated by the National Research Foundation was channeled into weapons workshops, research laboratories as well as universities all around the nation. Silicon Valley got a huge portion of this fund. The government of the United States had used $45 billion on military acquisition at the end of the year 1951. Since the refined military approach that was subjugated to President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed from using ground soldiers to very refined methods, electronic gadgets – from walkie-talkies to large-scale radar networks – powered all parts of the contemporary military. 

Those exact technological growths – as well as the great funds in laboratories as well as universities – would bring about actual growth of the electronic communications networks we use today as well as the wonderful boom of the internet in Silicon Valley. 

Therefore, although the myths of Silicon Valley mention revolutionary inventors, producing – as if it came out of nowhere- technologies to improve our liberty as well as democracy, this is essential to know the place they really originate from a strong urge for technological control as a means to strengthen supremacy of the US in the globe. 

Chapter 3 – The achievement of Silicon Valley is also related to the active role of Stanford University.

How was it that a sleepy valley that had a lot of vineyards turned into an international center for electronic communication?

We cannot provide an answer to this question without mentioning the part that Stanford University played.

At Stanford University, both science, as well as technology, has constantly been a significant emphasis there. In the year 1909, David Starr, who was the first president of Stanford assisted in the creation of Federal Telegraph, a wireless radio firm. Also, in the year 1937 at Stanford lab, William Hansen, a faculty member, created klystron, a “wave frequency technology.”

However, the stern dedication of Fred Terman who was the dean of engineering at that point was the one that changed Stanford into a leader in these industries. After the Second World War, during the burst of federal finance that was gotten, Terman came to the realization that Stanford has to be extremely ambitious as a center for electronic communications – or be in jeopardy of forfeiting ground to universities such as MIT as well as Harvard. 

Fred Terman together with the backing of J. E. Sterling who was the Stanford president then, fundamentally reshaped Stanford’s academic programs, with emphasis on innovative programs in engineering, physics as well as science, and establishing Stanford Electronics Labs. 

Also, that wasn’t the end of it all. In the year 1952, Terman together with Sterling made the decision of using a section of Stanford’s huge school to establish a park for business. This project a lot was assigned 350 acres of land. They enticed occupants by assuring them that they will be granted entry into Stanford’s laboratories as well as a few of the smartest people in the field. It was a really enticing offer and some of its first occupants were Hewlett-Packard as well as Varian Associates, with reputable corporations such as General Electric and Kodak joining in afterward. The business park was already full of occupants by the year 1957, and there was a regular connection between businesses as well as the campus.

Startups made use of the laboratories and the students of Stanford were motivated to take up internships with indigenous firms. This important deal among the academic as well as business industries was extremely valuable. The relationship fostered a technological revolution in firms and also allowed the students of Stanford to know the real-life issues they had to fix. Not too long, Stanford turned into one of the biggest receivers of federal research finance, taking a vital part in developing technology example of it is signal jammers made for military men.

Different nations have attempted to imitate Stanford business park, and now a lot of institutions have used this approach. Stanford University gave a plan for a fresh type of institution, which is one that strongly accepted the universe, rather than withdrawing to the “ivory tower.” 

Chapter 4 – The startups of Silicon Valley startups are backed up in form tax reductions.

Embedded with the myth that Silicon Valley is the knowledge of the innovative businessperson who begins not a single thing and tries to make ends meet through pure skill and determination.

However, startups always require huge sums of investment for them to flourish. And usually, all thanks to the large funding of the government through tax cuts are they able to flourish.

During the 1950s, the first tech businesses to establish their firms in Silicon Valley then gained from people through investment and what we now refer to as venture capitalists – nonconformist bankers as well as rich entrepreneurs were grateful for tech, and a knowledge of how profitable specific innovations could turn into.

If not for the involvement of Lyndon Johnson who in the year 1958 was the leader of the US Senate majority, venture capitalists could have stayed as a little, niche group. He assisted in the passing of the Small Businesses Investment Act, an act that gave huge tax cuts as well as federal loan agreements to people that wanted to invest. The impact of this Act was huge and as of 1961, there were about 500 “small-scale business investment firms” – where all of them wanted to invest in fresh startups. 

Tech investment has gotten mainstream in the year 1969. About 500 brand new firms became public, and also, venture capitalists were summing up to $170 million in fresh investment on Wall Street. However, in the year 1970, the boom came to an end as a result of the market getting harder, and tech investments were regarded as an extreme risk.

A lot of venture capitalists as well as the leaders in the field put the blame on capital profits for restraining development. These taxes concentrated on the profits the investment brought; hence, it became not as profitable for investors to grab an opportunity in tech companies.

The tech field held a zealous campaign in order for the government to reduce taxes. As a result of ardent petitioning, they succeeded in making the capital profits tax reduce to 28% in the year 1978. During the second part of the 1980s, the taxes even reduced more since Ronald Reagan promised to do anything he could to back up business people.

The tech field has been a key receiver in government funding by getting significant tax cuts – an edge they still have, despite the fact that a lot of firms have changed from inexperienced startups to huge enterprises collecting millions of dollars yearly.

Chapter 5 – Computing changed when the creation of silicon computer chips came about. 

How did Silicon Valley get the name it is using? The name was invented by a journalist that wished to create something interesting; however, it was stirred by something that probably remains the most significant discovery to originate from that valley: the silicon chip.

Nowadays, it is difficult to think that the oldest computers were the dimension of a room, also that engineers needed to queue one after the other for an opportunity to type in data on keycards. Key universities and firms were the ones that owned computers then. It looks very impossible for someone to have the idea of having a personal computer.

However, thankfully to Fairchild Semiconductors, all of these changed. William Shockley a Nobel Prize-winning innovator came to the realization in the 1950s that the germanium utilized to make electronic circuits was very feeble, and silicon would be a durable substance for it.

Shockley gathered a group of intelligent engineers together and established a shop in Santa Clara Valley. However, not too long after, his workers came to the realization that their unconventional employer was not doing things in the right manner, making use of approaches that would bring about great outcomes. When their boss didn’t take note of their concern, the gang, called “the Traitorous Eight,” left their boss to form their own firm and named it Fairchild Semiconductors. 

The timing was perfect. The Soviet Union founded the Sputnik missile only three days after the Traitorous Eight created their company. This Sputnik missile powered space warfare where billions of dollars were channeled into R&D projects. Fairchild got their first government contract in just three months, to develop 100 silicon chips. The year after, 80% of Fairchild’s business was from federal contracts.

Fairchild had a key discovery the year after when it succeeded in discovering a means to connect various transistors together, forming an “integrated circuit,” or IC for short. These IC could power quicker, smaller computers, allowing them to form supposed “microcomputers.”

However, these computers were extremely costly for a normal individual. The amount spent on the first set of chips was $1000 per one. This was altered when NASA chose to utilize chips to fuel the Apollo space mission. Thankfully to this increased request and investment, Fairchild was able to reduce the production price to only $25. Instantly, people could afford it generally.  

The creation of silicon chips transformed computing for life by giving opportunities to people to have their own computers they can use in their houses. It is appropriate that the valley was named after the chip.

Chapter 6 – In the 1960s, the radicalism that happened then oozed into Silicon Valley.

During the 1960s, it was an era of extensive global change. Students all around the United States assembled to protest racism as well as discriminatory laws to back up the civil rights movement. Additionally, later on in the 1960s, there was a severe social drive against warfare, with group protests against the Vietnam War breaking out.

As a matter of fact, the electronic communications field was not invulnerable to these protests. Fortifies with a freshly aroused political awareness, the students of Stanford University began protesting against the cozy affiliation between the federal government as well as university administration, and the vital part of university research laboratories in assisting to create ammunitions.

About hundreds of students were in the Stanford Applied Electronics Lab in April of the year 1969 – this laboratory is a key receiver of the United State government research funding – to attempt to press the institution into stopping the project. Even though they were not successful, the protests were strong to persuade the Stanford University leadership to dissociate from the lab.

Although a lot of activists were not sure about technology and what it is used for as an instrument for surveillance as well as war, other activists accepted the vision of a technological ideal. To them, the issue wasn’t with computers, but, with individuals who made use of them. Rather than not using technology, there were keen on exploiting it to promote their utopian purposes, and to make the instruments obtainable as much as they could.

A wide-ranging set of hackers, previous engineers, educators as well as advocates came together to look for means to change computer technology for their personal aims – and to offer other individuals the instruments to do the exact thing.

For instance, in the year 1972, Bob Albrecht who was the previous business engineer established the People’s Computer Company. Its aim was to teach individuals how to operate computers for their personal use. LO*OP, also known as Learning Options Open Portal was established by Educator Liza and it had an aim that was related to that of Bob. Liza’s walk-in spot provided practical teaching and targeted explaining computers for average individuals.

The famous Homebrew Computer Club saw the coming together of a bright range of programmers, hobbyists as well as anarchists to exchange ideas as well as abilities in forming programming one’s own computers.

These whole determinations revealed that technology has limitless potential. True, it did begin as a comprehensive creation technology of uncertain start. However, it could be utilized to gain any kind of ends – provided the technology was made cost-effective and adequately obtainable.

Chapter 7 – Having one’s computer changed from being in the garage to the boardroom.

There is a difference between stating that computers should be used by normal individuals for their personal use and making it actually possible.

Nevertheless, the Altar computer gear cherished by the Homebrew Club needed to be completely self-assembled, needing a huge amount of time and enormously technical expertise. It definitely was not obtainable to a normal individual.

Taking computers to the groups was a difficulty that Steve Wozniak as well as Steve Jobs, friends and people of the Homebrew Club, welcomed with delight. In the year 1976, they created the Apple Computer Company and established their completely amassed microcomputer known as Apple 1.

Both Steves from the beginning knew the significance of storytelling and good branding.

According to their story, Apple wasn’t just a computer. It was a way to liberty and a way to a better creative life.

Apple had returns of $200 million by the year 1980 – twice the amount of the whole market only three years before. The Time Magazine called the personal computer the “machine of the year” in the year 1982, and Jobs turned into a tech superstar.

However, Apple’s market power was confronted with the assistance of a different popular person known as Bill Gates. He grew up swayed by computers, and he learned programming by himself. Gates noticed a significant crack in the market. Even though individuals now had access to the hardware of personal computers, they still didn’t have great software.

In order for Gates to close this crack, he and his roommate in the college established a simple software known as Microsoft, which can be put on any computer. Not too long after, their invention became an interest to a computing guru IBM. For several decades, IBM had ruled the mainframe computer industry, and also, they were keen on entering the personal computer field. They went to Gates to offer software, and in the year 1981, the 1BM PC enter the market.

As a result of IBM’S profile as well as its status, its entrance into the market left an imprint. And not too long, with a market share of 26% it surpassed Apple. Although in the year 1984, Apple would make progress with the creation of the Apple Macintosh, a lot of small-scale startups folded up.

Four decades after, up till today, IBM, Microsft as well as Apple still control the personal computer market. Personal computers are totally accepted, and the intelligent hackers of the Homebrew Club have turned into clever billionaires.

Chapter 8 – Women as well as minorities have constantly been prejudiced against in Silicon Valley. 

Tech firms usually boost their devotion to diversity as well as unique liberty. Still, the majority of them are completely white and men. However, this issue isn’t something that hasn’t been there- it is as ancient as the field.

Let us look at the case of Ann Hardy who was given birth to in the year 1933. Hardy was very intelligent and captivated by the tech field. She was hindered at each opportunity she got; however, she would have become a great tech worker. When she was still young, women were not permitted to go into engineering or take part in MBA programs.   

Eventually, Hardly got an offer as a coder at IBM. This was a means to get into the tech industry for a lot of women – coding was regarded as low, manual work, such as translating, and, as such, it was regarded appropriate for females. As a result of Hardy’s excellent skills, she was promoted and became middle management-  however, she was not able to move forward unless she obtains an MBA. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t a possible fit.

Women in the tech field were not given promotions or offered stock opportunities, or added to retreats held in the corporation. Women in tech dealt with a misogynistic as well as sexist work environment that added no benefits to the lives of families and needed workers to work for as long as 80 hours per week – something that was close to impossible for the women of that era when they needed to also do domestic works. 

It was an even worse situation for black people. During the 1950s, even though the huge request for engineers had given opportunities for skilled Black veterans, these people were never for once given the opportunity to be promoted or develop their own firms as well as inventions. As a matter of fact, they were not even permitted to partake in a lot of clubhouses as well as meeting rooms where several important judgments were finalized.

The initial “buddy-buddy” work ethic of Silicon Valley is regarded as one of the significant aspects associated with its achievement. Different in other aspects of tech, workers were permitted to change from one boss to the other, also, there was an incredible readiness to exchange information among firms, which brought about a significant inventive, cooperative habit.

However, the exact same ease has embedded the overwhelming evenness as well as consistency of workers in the field. Nearly 50% of the openings at .com companies were occupied as a result of worker recommendations towards the end of the 1990s – mostly for individuals who resembled them.

Chronology reveals that a huge part of the population has never been permitted to get into the tech industry. Silicon Valley will remain a supremacy in name alone except this issue is solved.

Chapter 9 – Social networking was facilitated by dial-up networks as well as the Internet.

Nowadays, the young people in our midst might not be able to recall the distinguishable squeal of a dial-up modem linking to the line of a cellphone to permit networking among different computers.

Although it was clumsy and a really slow means to pass information; however, it celebrated the beginning of an innovative fresh means to make use of computers for connection as well as means of communicating.

All of a sudden, it was possible to link with an unknown person across the globe to talk about, or even gardening, or about innovation, or any certain subject you were interested in. It was even possible to share emails, even though it took a few days to get to its final place – during the early beginnings, data was sorted out in groups at specific hours of the day.

During the early times of the Internet, a predecessor was present and it is what we now refer to as Internet forums. The people on that forum could drop subjects on the group with the use of a bulletin board system or BBS for short. Only in the United States, there were already 70,000 BBS in the year 1995. It is a result of a rush of user-made content and also, it was totally uncensored, permitting anybody – for instance, Riot Grrrls to cyberpunks to corporate networking groups – to come together and discuss.

The development of the internet made communication between these associations thrive, as a result of connections getting faster and stronger.

ARPANET was a kind of internet that was used in the past and the US Department of Defence backed it up. Although ARPANET has been in existence since the year 1969, at first it is restricted to pick military as well as academic consumers. This wasn’t the case anymore during the mid–1980s when the network was controlled by the National Science Foundation, or NSFNET for short. They expanded the coverage of the network to include a broader set of universities to gain access,  offering a fresh kind of networking to interested learners.

Social networking forums started to grow during the late 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. Seeing networking sites such as, Facebook, Myspace, Reddit, LinkedIn, and Friendster offering chances to form online characters, communicate, make our newsfeeds personal, start a long-distance relationship, or argue about something. Websites such as Wikipedia maintain a joint project of exchanging ideas that started way before the internet – in the parking lot of people, on real bulletin boards, as well as in newsletters.

Chapter 10 – Since Silicon Valley has developed, it has experienced unforeseen difficulties 

Silicon Valley has painted a picture as a field that allows innovative thoughts, and kind bosses as well as a place that is free of pollution. However, as a matter of fact, it is more complex than what is said. As a result of the growth in the tech field, Silicon Valley has experienced challenges that the creators of the 1950s couldn’t have predicted.    

As a matter of fact, the neat, pollution-free field they boasted of has changed into an industry that isn’t neat whatsoever. During the 1980s, it was found out that the production of the entire silicon chips as well as other constituents had totally contaminated the groundwater in the valley, causing an abnormal rise in birth defect numbers as well as stillbirths in the neighborhoods that are close by. Cleaning actions persisted, while the majority of firms have now transported the unclean doing to places like China as well as India, where this can be carried out at a lesser price – and there won’t be a need for Americans to bare the repercussions for the pollution made.

Even though globalization has permitted Silicon Valley to transport works that are unpleasant, globalization came with fresh complications as well, while the valley’s tech firms have experienced contesting with forceful global rivalry from nations such as Japan.

Additionally, the field of tech has been attacked on how it handles its employees. Although the startups of Silicon Valley have stopped the obligation to be dressed in suits, kitted out their workplaces with the use of pinball machines, and also stopped giving their workers natural lunches; they are as well known for requiring ridiculously extended work weeks and disregarding the rights of their employees. Gradually, unions, as well as employees, are beginning to scrutinize these working criteria, and also to examine prejudiced employment as well as promotion acts too.

However, maybe the main difficulties have been how to manage the social effects of ground-breaking technologies such as the internet that Silicon Valley was really involved in forming. So far, federal lapse as well as commercial control has been extraordinarily absent in the internet. As a result of that, there has been incredible liberty – which is utilized for both good and bad. Furthermore, it signified that businesses such as Facebook possess an uneven extent of influence to make choices that affects the politics of the globe. As the breaching of privacy, fake information, and hateful comments are under growing inspection, the apparently unending influence of these firms may eventually be restricted.

In the long and event-filled story of Silicon Valley; it has been all of these; smug boys’ club, innovation hub, social justice advocate, dirty contaminator, unending frontier, and supporter of the military. The actual narrative is very more remarkable than the myth told.

The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America Margaret O’Mara Book Review

The achievement of Silicon Valley was formed by an unusual combination of events. The huge sums of federal wartime finance, together with a revolutionary university dedicated to science, made it possible for the creation of a structure for research, also, the smartest engineers were fascinated to that part. Tax portion as well as a political climate that backed up entrepreneurship offered new startups the chance to change intelligent and at times unusual concepts to something that come to pass.

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