Pictures from a Revolution
A photographer captures the essence of Silicon Valley during the late-century tech boom, from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates
In the last decades of the twentieth century, a brilliant eccentric tribe sparked an explosion of innovation that today we know as the digital revolution. For fifteen years I documented the efforts of this tribe, made up of engineers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists as they invented technology that changes human behavior, culture, our very sense of ourselves. Their habitat was Silicon Valley.
Living in their midst as unobtrusively as I could mange, I created a visual record of their everyday lives. They gave us powerful new tools that unleashed our innate creativity and launched economic expansion the scale of which the world had never seen before.
Beneath the vast enterprise and churn, I discovered the joyous, the joyous, primal urge to invent tools that has driving human progress for millennia. I saw something uncontrollable, hungry and wild — something human — that still exists in Silicon Valley today.
Steve Jobs Explaining Ten Year Technology Development Cycles. Sonoma, California, 1986.
Steve giving a history lesson about how technology evolves in ten year wave cycles to his new NeXT team at an off-site meeting. Every few months, Steve and the fledgling company’s employees would travel to a retreat in the country with their families to grapple with myriad technical issues. There he would regularly hold talks to explain his vision for the company and to encourage his brilliant cofounders and employees to participate fully in its realization. Steve planned to ride the next wave by putting the power of a refrigerator-size mainframe computer into a one foot cube at a price affordable to universities, thus “transforming education.” When I asked him what he meant by this, he said he wanted “some kid at Stanford to be able to cure cancer in his dorm room.” Because he absolutely believed this was possible, his whole team did. Behind this noble goal, Steve was also on a quest for redemption and revenge after being forced out at Apple in a humiliating boardroom coup after alienating key board members and his handpicked CEO, John Sculley. Most industry pundits believed NeXT would be a huge and rapid success, as did Steve. Instead, it was the start of a decade of difficult, often bitter struggle.
The Day Ross Perot Gave Steve Jobs $20 Million.
Fremont, California, 1986.
Steve was a consummate showman who understood the power of a compelling setting. This was never more apparent than at this incongruously formal lunch he hosted for Ross Perot and the NeXT board of directors in the middle of the abandoned warehouse he planned to turn into the NeXT factory. He told Perot that they were building the most advanced robotic assembly line in the world and that “no human hands” would be assembling hardware. He predicted that NeXT would be the last billion dollar a year company in Silicon Valley and that they would ship ten thousand computers a month. Perot, who was then championing a movement to reform education in the United States, was blown away by the presentation and invested $20 million, becoming a key board member and giving NeXT a crucial lifeline.
Bill Joy Is Worried about the Future of the Human Race.
Aspen, Colorado, 1998.
Legendary programmer and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy, wrote Berkeley Unix while a student at UC Berkeley and helped the US Defense Department with the TCP/IP stack code that allowed email to travel along the path of least resistance in case of nuclear attack. He then cofounded Sun Microsystems, became a billionaire, husband, and father, and patron of the arts. He also championed and helped finish the code for Java, perhaps Sun Microsystems’ most important legacy. Bill now believes unfettered innovation for its own sake endangers the very existence of the human race. In 2000, Bill published a manifesto in Wired magazine that stunned the technology world by challenging the accepted wisdom of unrestrained development. Triggered in part by meeting noted scientist Ray Kurzweil and hearing his ideas about the Singularity, when computers gain consciousness and we will upload our brains into a hive mind, Bill began forming his thesis. He warned that without thoughtful controls the convergence of our most powerful twenty-first-century technologies — robotics, supercomputers, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering — might destroy the human race. For the last decade, Bill has been on a global hunt for scalable green technology solutions to climate change.
John Sculley Masters His Shyness to Meet the Press.
Fremont, California, 1990.
At the factory in Fremont, Apple CEO John Sculley charms the press. He overcame severe shyness and a stutter to eventually become CEO of Pepsi and was then convinced by Steve Jobs to join Apple in 1983. After forcing Steve out, John grew Apple from $800 million to $8 billion a year in revenue. Despite this incredible achievement, he was often dismissed in the Valley as the man who fired Steve and for being a marketing guy, not an engineer. In fact, he worked hard to find and encourage the best ideas inside the company, such as the Knowledge Navigator, which in 1987 anticipated many aspects of today’s internet, software agents, and the potential of tablet and voice-command technology. At the height of his power, in February 1993, he was seated next to First Lady Hillary Clinton at President Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union address. John knew then that despite outward appearances, Apple was tilting toward chaos, unable to rewrite its operating system and innovate against the threat of Microsoft. Once tech companies have successful cash cows such as the Mac, it becomes inherently more difficult to innovate because it often means killing the cash cow. Apple’s Macintosh was profitable, but its market share was dropping fast due to the growth of Windows. Meanwhile a small team at Apple were exploring a handheld computing device. John’s solution to provide a new revenue stream alongside the Macintosh was to green-light this rebel unit to develop the world’s first personal digital assistant, or PDA. The Newton, as it was called, would be a new type of product for a market that did not yet exist. It was an ambitious gamble. Although the Newton ultimately failed, it validated John’s vision for leading to billions of smart devices and paved the way for Palm Pilot, then iPhone and iPad. Ironically, he was fired in 1993 for refusing to license the Mac OS.
Bill Gates Says No One Should Ever Pay More Than $50 for a Photograph. Laguna Niguel, California, 1992.
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discusses cheap content for the masses and debates with reporters about the long-delayed vaporware upgrade to Windows at the Agenda ’92 Conference, hosted by the elegantly acerbic Stuart Alsop. Alsop showed Gates no mercy during an interview onstage, grilling him on why Windows was so late. Later that year, at the third influential TED conference, Gates was onstage making a presentation about digital content and the cost of photography, saying, “No one should ever pay more than fifty bucks for a photograph.” As Gates explained, he was completing construction of his high tech house in Seattle, whose interiors would feature screens with continuously changing displays of images. Licensing images on the scale he envisioned would be expensive, so he began to think about how to own or control vast archives of images. This led to the idea of forming a stock photography business originally called Continuum, tasked with developing large image libraries for online distribution. Later, not long after initial bad press from the photography trade publications the name was changed to Corbis.
The Newton War Room at Apple Computer.
Cupertino, California, 1993.
Apple programmer Sarah Clark kept her newborn baby with her at work, almost never leaving the building for two years as the team rushed to finish the software. She pulled curtains over her office so colleagues knew when it was naptime or if she was breast-feeding. Her dedication was typical of Apple employees, and management was generally grateful. Flexible hours and other worker friendly modifications were adopted, and John Sculley showed leadership by appointing women to positions of power, unusual in Silicon Valley at that time. What’s not often considered is that whoever writes the code determines how the machine will behave and interact with the user. The implications of this are not often discussed. What if someone other than a 20-something white male geek wrote the code? A different worldview would likely change the priorities of the code writer, and that would likely change the nature of the technology that is so profoundly shaping our behavior and culture.
The Painter David Hockney Rests during the First Photoshop Invitational. Mountain View, California, 1990.
As digital technology grew more powerful, Silicon Valley became an unexpected crossroads of culture. Artists arrived from all over the world, eager to experiment and hang out at happenings such as the TED conference, creating a freeway and office park version of what Paris in the twenties must have felt like. Producer Quincy Jones and musicians Peter Gabriel and Herbie Hancock were early adopters. Graham Nash was so taken he started his own fine art digital printing business. Tom Wolfe had been out to write about Bob Noyce, the coinventor of the integrated circuit, and lots of writers followed, including Steve Jobs’s half sister Mona Simpson. George Lucas was a pioneer in digital film, as was Francis Ford Coppola. The cultural ground was shifting, with the avantgarde gathering to push new digital ideas into the zeitgeist. Here, painter David Hockney, holding one of his beloved dachshunds, attends Russell Brown’s first Adobe Photoshop Invitational, where he learned how to use the first release version of Photoshop, happily smoking in the computer room and playing with his dogs on breaks.
President Clinton Is Really Smart.
Mountain View, California, 1995.
During his reelection campaign, President Bill Clinton attended a fund — raiser thrown by the top CEOs of Silicon Valley. L. John Doerr (center), interacting with Clinton, helped organize the visit at the home of Regis McKenna. During dinner, the CEOs peppered Clinton with questions related to complex technology, trade, and economic issues. Listening patiently, the president smoothly delivered a point-by-point response to each guest in turn, revealing a jaw-‐dropping breadth of knowledge about all the issues, even obscure aspects of encryption technology. Everyone pulled out his checkbook and donated generously to the campaign.
The Mission. Redwood City, California, 1998.
NetObjects CEO and cofounder Samir Arora, who today heads mega-successful Mode Media, delivers a personal and moving talk to motivate his employees prior to a crucial board meeting with his investors. An inspirational leader, Arora was himself inspired by Steve Jobs and came from India to work at Apple as an engineer in 1986. He wrote a white paper with profound insights into the future of computing and rose quickly to work directly for Apple CEO John Sculley, where he helped develop Knowledge Navigator. He left Apple and with influential graphic designer Clement Mok (seated, top left), David Kleinberg (seated, lower left, profile to camera), and Arora’s brother Sal Arora (not pictured), he cofounded NetObjects, which became the first company to create software that allowed anyone to make his or her own web pages. In short order they were a hot startup with a mission to make the internet widely accessible, a smart product idea, decent funding, relatively cheap offices complete with foosball and Ping-Pong tables, and a brilliant, deeply dedicated group working long hours for low pay, with the hope of a big payoff someday for their shares in the company. They also believed in their product completely, unlike the employees of a lot of dot-coms of the era. But the pressure from competition such as Microsoft’s FrontPage, and from their investors to do an IPO, was increasing. Arora’s message to his employees that day: they just had to work even harder than they already were.
Steve Jobs Pretending to Be Human.
Menlo Park, California, 1987.
Steve was not the kind of guy who ever seemed to relax. He was usually focused like a laser on the task at hand. So it was surprising to see Steve kicking this beach ball around at a company picnic. He seemed to be having a good time, but it felt more like a performance designed to encourage the team to relax. He knew well from previous experience that his team needed breaks in order to sustain the forced march that would culminate in shipping the product.
Excerpted from Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985–2000, published Atria Books. Copyright © 2014 by Doug Menuez.