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A novel of Silicon Valley and other madness

Offices at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

Image of This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness
Author: Ken Goldstein
Publisher: Story Plant, The (2013)
Binding: Paperback, 530 pages

Picture a Silicon Valley that includes a radio shock jock, a corporate kidnapping gone bad and a business deal that hangs in the balance. And, of course, hoodies. 

In "This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness," Ken Goldstein pulls from a career’s worth of business deals with Silicon Valley types.

"What I want people to see is the other side, to get inside a board room … to see what the discussion is and to see how people react during crisis," says Goldstein.

Success in the world of tech start-ups can feel amazing, "but the fallout [from failure] can be extreme and then the question is really what happens to those people that gave everything to you, do they get another chance?"

On using Silicon Valley as the setting for part of the book, Goldstein says "there's no place, it's really a frame of mind."

And that frame of mind is front and center in the book.

"Internet time is extreme. It just doesn’t stop. And your competitor is coming at you with a better solution and you have to be responsive," he says, "and if that means it's going to be another all-nighter, it's another all-nighter."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness
Author: Ken Goldstein
Publisher: Story Plant, The (2013)
Binding: Paperback, 530 pages
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@RT, your comments reflect YOUR experiences in Silicon Valley. I too lived and worked in Silicon Valley in the 1990's, and author Goldstein's descriptions of the high-tech campuses accurately reflects my experiences. I lived near the Eastern apex of the Golden Triangle and, over the years, watched the construction of the Cisco campus. That developmental feat certainly belies a description of "strip-mall" or "tilt-up". And you're correct; that particular complex reflects the importance of hardware as well as software.

I was never privy to the mascinations of a major start-up's board of directors, nor the games of venture capitalists, but I trust that Mr. Goldstein has realistic experiences that inform the credibility of his novel. Based on your next to last paragraph, I believe you would truly enjoy the novel. To use your words, this IS a "good read". I enjoyed it very much.

jrudisill

jrudisill, I had a similar experience, actually. Though much utilitarian architecture appearing here since the latter '60s is decidedly undistinguished other than being "economical", I worked at SGI for ten years and watched the building of what became the Google headquarters (B40 -B43; these were numbers inherited from SGI; the Computer History Museum at Shoreline and La Avenida was built by SGI as B20). It was my first experience with the "Edifice Complex" that is often the harbinger of dark days to come. That's why I'm reluctant to be too quick to judge modest architecture here. By the time SGI built those buildings, it had learned that 36-hour days at the end of every quarter, with a midnight rush to literally throw product into one filled-up truck after another, green-eyeshade auditors standing by, to meet revenue targets was BAD business practice. Unfortunately for SGI, it figured out a lot of things at right about $4B a year, a little too late.

Start-up pitches to "angels" in the serene board rooms of Page Mill Road are a mystery to me as well - I've been working here a long time and have never even met anyone I respect who had that kind of experience - which was sort of my point. I can't say the word "entrepreneur" out loud properly - it always comes out "entepremanure", a word invented (as far as I know) by me to describe the high-nitrogen nonsense peddled by the vast majority of such wheeler-dealers.

In the late '90s, as Mr. Ryssdal mentioned, there was a boom in Internet retail, followed by a bust. I never met any colleague or vendor or customer who was involved with any of it. It consisted, apparently, in a flood of know-nothing communications majors piling up in "live-work" lofts in the Mission of SF and other such places, displacing worthy bums and honest working-class hookers. They were all involved in making jaunty web pages, and so forth. They did NOT produce any new technology, of any kind. They came and went, leaving little else other than enriched real estate brokers and empty buildings where a few of my favorite restaurants had been priced out of lease renewal.

I take your recommendation seriously. If Goldstein's book can give me a new perspective and offer an accurate hint of recognition, it may be worth checking out.

I sound like a bitter old geezer! I'm not! I've had a great time in my business and I love living and working here. But I've often said that if the orchards were still here (sans the horrible smog from the SO2 drying sheds and tailpipe emissions from all the pre-catalytic jalopies), I'd still be here, in the prune business.

This feature is another in a long string of profound mischaracterizations of my industry, my coworkers, my neighbors and my home I've encountered in the media, including on organs of NPR.

I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley and have been a working engineer here for a long time. I live within walking distance of Intel (a hike) and AMD. Xilinx occupies a woody campus in part of a former golf course a few hundred yards from my childhood home.

I have little interest in Mr. Goldstein's novel, but I have no reason to impugn it. He's entitled to tell any kind of story he pleases and it might be a good read.

But the inaccuracy of the profile and the mis-description of our community provided in this short interview is so complete that it amounts to a parable of how utterly misinformed by journalism we are about *everything*, about things and events everywhere. Perhaps it's impossible that it were otherwise.

Journalists think that the business of "Silicon Valley" is limited to startup application software providers. Not only is this not the case, it doesn't even describe a significant fraction of the work done here.

Journalists imagine that writing software is like writing an essay - like something they can imagine doing themselves. It's NOT. It's like engineering. It's like building a bridge. When it's done competently (less and less often, alas), it IS engineering. But that's the reason journalists ONLY talk to software types - they falsely imagine that making software is like making journalism. They can't imagine what electrical (or mechanical, or chemical or materials) engineering even IS. But they even get wrong what it is that software is.

What is produced here is a good deal of software and a *lot* of hardware design - ELECTRICAL engineering. Not cute little robots, not video game consoles - it's stuff you'll never cast your eye upon and wouldn't have any idea what it was, if you did. Within one slice of our business here - communications technology - if you're not familiar, say, with the most recent programmable predistorting retimers and why one would chose TI's components over those from Gennum (or vice versa) for interaction with a particular element from the Avago or Marvell libraries, you're NOT a part of our industry. Application software writers (I can't call them "engineers") for consumer products are NOT part of our industry. Even though little hardware production is done in our region anymore (there *are* many leading-edge "quick-turn" prototyping facilities), this emphasis on divers hardware design interspersed with software design and the supreme difficulty of duplicating its vast variety here is the reason that "Silicon <pick your geographical feature>" inevitably fails to thrive.

Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter et.al. aren't even technology companies at all - they're sales and marketing companies. Calling Twitter a technology company is like calling UPS an automotive company.

Anyone who reads this (an unlikely prospect) should know that while the college-boy dorm room amenities and antics that have become cliche in descriptions of our business aren't unknown here, their prominence is generally brief and their appearance apocryphal. Those work environments are provided by inexperienced, clumsy management that attempts to keep younger workers at their desks for extended periods. Eventually, the enterprise that indulges in this sort of thing either fails, not having recognized that poor quality work is the inevitable result, or sheds the nonsense, having understood that people like to go home to their families at the end of the day.

By the way, Mr. Ryssdal, if you want to make derisive comments about our commercial architecture (a pretty easy target) the proper pejorative is "tilt-up", not "strip mall". And we say "101", never "the 101". That definite article is strictly an LA thing.

RT
Two blocks north of El Camino Real and south of the bayshore,
Santa Clara

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