I’ve just spent three weeks in the United States. I went there because I wanted to take an important trip and take some time off, but mostly because I wanted to visit a specific area that has become for many (including me) a “mythical land.”
So, somewhat suddenly, I made up my mind, booked the flight, various hotels and a car, and after a month and a half I boarded a plane headed directly to San Francisco, California. I was finally going to visit the United States and Silicon Valley.
I planned visits to see various HQ, such as that of Facebook (thanks Arjuna!), of Googleplex (thanks Diego!), and of the coolest coworking space, Galvanize (thanks Paolo!) I also got to tour the headquarters of LinkedIn, Apple, Tesla, Evernote and others (for example, Survey Monkey, Issuu, and Optimizely), as well as Zappos in Las Vegas and Snapchat in Los Angeles.
However, what really impacted me the most were the “nostal-geek” locations.
Here are the four lessons that I bring back home with me and that I think are worth sharing.
This is the garage where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created Apple. Here the first Apple I were born, computers profoundly diverse from the ones we know today. They “simply” consisted of motherboards filled with electricity, connected to a keyboard and screen.
The beginning of the era of the microcomputer, which officially started in 1976, is enclosed inside there, in a garage in the Californian suburbs. In that year, about 200 Apple I models were sold.
A garage where they worked without air conditioning and without much light, a space certainly not “professional” or “corporate,” in the middle of Los Altos, a suburbanzone of the city. This is where they received clients and investors.
I was there for about an hour.
Just taking it all in, bewildered at the normality of the location and the street itself.
There’s nothing. Absolutely nothing.
A street where only a couple of cars pass in an afternoon.
Key learning: excellence can rise from absolute normality. Place, context and environment aren’t important. They’re only boxes: it’s the people who fill and give meaning to these boxes with their ideas, energy, courage and consistency.
The general Facebook neighborhood is thrilling, even if it’s in the middle of a quite swampy area (they’re not exactly swamps, but rather salt marshes.)
The headquarters are inside the ex campus of Sun Microsystems. The campus is very cool: a small ecosystem, consisting of various services, themed restaurants, outdoor cafés, open space offices, places to eat and socialize, dry-cleaners and pop-up shops. One interesting fact: a company nursery still doesn’t exist: after all, only after 10 years of Facebook is the average age becoming one in which one has children or is thinking about having them – if Facebook’s HR is reading this, here’s an idea that’ll please parents and future parents 😉 At the intersection of the campus entrance and the main road lies the famous thumbs-up sign. It’s a mandatory landmark for those who visit the campus, or for those who simply drive by and come upon the Facebook headquarters.
Not everyone who takes the iconic photo knows, however, that the Facebook sign was created on the backside of the original Sun Microsystem sign.
Sun Microsystem was one of the most famous software and semiconductor production companies. I think that most people know the company for having created and introduced the programming language Java.
For over five years now, the logo with the sun has still been on the backside of the Facebook sign. It sends a message, simple but strong.
Sun Microsystem was bought by Oracle (they beat IBM to the negotiations) and was then absorbed, losing its culture and its identity. However, Sun certainly was able to save its assets and the majority of its jobs.
This operation erased all that Sun had built in thirty years, as well as its reputation as one of the leaders in its sector. This operation is known as anything but a victory: an honorable withdrawalat most, one that saved just the savable of the company.
Key learning: it doesn’t matter how big or important you are. Every day you’re on trial, and you have to show just how much you’re worth. Success is built day by day, every single day.
The visit to the Computer History Museum is a mandatory stop for every geek worthy of respect. But it’s not only for geeks. Finally! The answer to the question that every one of us has asked at least once during our years at school: “But what’s the purpose of math?”
The museum is a voyage through the history of mathematics, the basis of all the technology that enriches our lives today and tomorrow. I believe an organized virtual trip for all kids about to start middle school should be “required” (we would all have had higher grades in arithmetic – or at least I would have!)
Technological and Italian patriotic finds randomly crop up during the museum visit, like the legendary Olivetti P101, considered the first personal computer in history, launched in 1965. Don’t forget Federico Faggin, considered the father of microprocessors for his work at Intel (after having had some experience with the previous model, Olivetti P101.)
However, what astounded me the most was the discovery that, once upon a time, computers weren’t machines. They were humans.
Work That Evolves is a real thing: the fear of the new, of the future, of evolution and of change, instigated by the fear of computers and of machines that “steal our jobs.”
As they say in Italy, from Machiavelli on “history repeats itself.”
However, Machiavelli attributed great importance to man’s so-called human virtue, since it’s the source of man’s capacity to be able to dominate the course ofevents using previous experiences from the past.
Discovering that computers were once humans substituted by machines is certainly a frightening idea.
That is, until you look behind the scenes. In fact, those that lose their jobs as human computers could evolve and become programmers: the people that program the actual computers. It has become one of the best jobs in the world.
Today no one dreams of becoming the best human calculator in the world.
But to be the best programmer? Yes, it’s many people’s dream.
Key learning: we shouldn’t fear change, but rather, we should encourage it. Evolution opens up incredible opportunities that should be seized.
That which absolutely impacted me the most was Steve Job’s other garage, less famous but no less important.
This is where William R. Hewlett and David Packard founded HP. This garage in Palo Alto is also on a very normal residential street: lots of American houses with a garden and a driveway that leads to up to the garage. Garages in wood, others in brick.
This garage has a characteristic that makes it different from all the others.
Here is where HP was founded in 1938, a time when nothing of what we know today as Silicon Valley existed. Digital wasn’t around during World War II.
David and William followed the advice of their Stanford professor, Federick Terman, who pushed the students towards their path of opening their own company in California, instead of entering an already successful large company on the East Coast.
William and David’s choice contributed in a key way to the birth of the ecosystem that would eventually become the famous Silicon Valley.
Behind the sliding doors we didn’t see, through which the two entered and started working for some giant company in Boston, New York or Atlanta: the world could have been very different – and maybe much less digital, but surely with no HP and a less famous and legendary Silicon Valley.
Key learning: the easiest and safest path isn’t always the one that leads to the greatest success. Sowing an uncultivated but fertile terrain with sacrifice can produce extraordinary fruit.
I was curious to take this trip to see how much it would change me.
After all, each one of us is the sum of our experiences and of what we’ve gone through during our lives, and a trip allows us to collect many experiences and concentrated stimulus in a short period of time.
For me, it’s impossible not to link what I’ve experienced with what all that we’re doing at Caffeina.
Together, with more than 50 people, we’re trying to slice out a role for us in our communities of creatives, of developers and of digital marketers. But also our community on a larger scale: Italy. The country in which we live, in which we grew up, and of which has given us a rich culture and a historical heritage.
They key word is Building.
Building a healthy company, capable of generating profit and jobs, and of offering high quality services with added value. Four years ago we were working as sub-contractors on simple projects. Today, we are partners with multinational leaders in diverse industries, with whom we work on numerous communication and digital innovation projects.
All this has allowed us to build a Caffeina capable of growing and strengthening itself. Caffeina’s transformation has begun to draw talent from all over Italy and from abroad. We’re inviting them to come to Parma and to Italy to work with us.
(A parentheses to say thanks.)
I want to cut out some space from this post for an important parenthesis to say thanks.
Today more than 50 people work with us. We all have the same healthy ambition to continue to grow, and to confirm that doing a job we like is good for us.
In 2012 there was none of this. I’m curious to see what we’ll be doing in 2020.
PS: Do you want to join us at Caffeina? Take a look here.