Part of the Silicon Valley died this week when National Semiconductor got bought by Texas Instruments. It was another box checked off on the long slow autopsy of the golden era of semiconductors, an era begun in the 1950s when companies starting supplanting fruit orchards in the Santa Clara Valley; when National fled the East Coast for Santa Clara to be where the action was.
For generations, National invented and grew, and the communities around it benefited when National paid taxes that helped build roads, schools and sewer systems, employed thousands who built communities and nurtured schools and spawned and supported local businesses. Nearby a similar story: Intel, AMD, Linear, and so on down the storied honor roll of Silicon Valley pioneers.
Even as National seemed to peak in the 1990s; even as it wobbled through the Gil Amelio regime (what the heck was that all about??) and tried going toe to toe with Intel (Brian Halla eventually saw the light on the strategic error), the company and its people were always a cornerstone of the Valley.
And they had fun. Bernie Cole writes about faux charges up San Juan Hill; Paul Rako has a fantastic look back at National and Valley history, through the eyes of the late Bob Widlar (two of the outstanding photos in that post tell you exactly what Widlar would think of the merger).
It’s all washing away now in a warm shower of billions of dollars from the Texans. There will be optimistic talk in the coming months about synergy and strengths and mutual dependencies, of scalability and leverage and every other vacuous, meaningless messaging mantra you can conceive of.
The words will fade as hundreds of jobs fall, like cherry blossoms, and 1152 Kifer Road becomes a satellite office rather than a power center. Don’t be surprised in five years if you drive past it and it looks just like Motorola SPS’s old power center on North 56th St. in Phoenix—today, a gleaming… white… and completely empty reminder of a vanished time. There, too, the operations moved south to Texas.
Back to the Valley. Last year, MicroSemi, an aggressively expanding analog house, snapped up Actel, one of the Valley’s FPGA pioneers. Lots of talk about minimal redundancies and so on, but scores of people have lost their jobs and those remaining are being pressured to move south, to Southern California, to the headquarters of the winning team, to the… Not-Silicon Valley.
So, we mourn the dead.
And then we move on.
We move on because, in the distant warm memories of a fading few, families packed picnics and piled into old trucks and station wagons and rattled up Mt. Hamilton or into the Santa Cruz Mountains at springtime to marvel at the impossibly vast vista of blossoming fruit trees carpeting the Valley below.
Replaced by vast tangled freeways and thousands of bland buildings stamped out by armies of architects and builders who, long before, abandoned the notion of excelling at their craft.
We move on because what replaced the farms was an economy of unimaginable innovation, wealth, optimism and embrace of creative destruction… an economy of National, Intel, AMD and, later, Xilinx, Altera, Actel, Linear and scores more.
We move on because of the same creative destruction that companies like National feasted on in their youth; we move on because the Valley will always be the cradle of innovation. After the silicon guys came the systems guys; now, the software guys—Google. Facebook. Twitter. They all stand on the shoulders of National Semiconductor and other Silicon Valley pioneers.
Mourn the dead, and raise your glass.
The Valley is dead. Long live the Valley.