SILICON VALLEY appears on no map, but this former California prune patch, an hourâ€™s drive south of San Francisco, is the heartland of an electronics revolution that may prove as far-reaching as the industrial revolution of the 19th century.
It is a place where fast fortunes are made, corporate head-hunting is profitable sport, and seven-day workweeks send cutting-edge technology tumbling over itself in its competitive rush to the marketplace.
Not surprisingly, flyingâ€”fast, challenging, and riskyâ€”is a sport that appeals powerfully to Silicon Valley men such as Bob Noyce, who snatches every chance to fly his twin-engine Turbo Commander to Aspen to ski, to his Intel plant in Phoenix, or just to wheel in the sky around Silicon Valley.
At age 54, he is one of the grand old men of an industry so young that its pioneers are scarcely in their 50s, yet so powerful that it is fast becoming known as the oil business of the eighties. Noyce had a key role in inventing the integrated circuit, the tiny computer chip that is the brains and basic building block of virtually all of todayâ€™s electronic equipment, providing the quantum leap that created much of the wealth that spreads below his wings in a golden tide of purring Mercedes-Benzes and half-million-dollar homes in the hills. From the air the valley itself, with its grid of roads and rectangular buildings, has taken on the look of an integrated circuit.
Fifty years ago it was a landscape of orchards supplying half of the worldâ€™s dried prunes. Even through the sixties, it bloomed with plums, pears, apricots, and cherries, one of the nationâ€™s most bountiful agricultural regions. Today only 13,000 acres of orchards survive out of an original 100,000. By the late 1960s, as industry surpassed agriculture as Santa Clara Countyâ€™s economic base, buildings of the valleyâ€™s many semiconductor companies were beginning to fill the region from Palo Alto to San Jose, named in 1980 as the nationâ€™s fastest growing city.