Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chuanqi Shen: A President

Fred Terman is the former President of Stanford University and widely credited to be the Father of Silicon Valley. Many of the Terman's contributions to Stanford is tied to his contributions to Silicon Valley. In this blog post, I would like to talk about how Silicon Valley was developed, and how that allowed Stanford to become a top engineering school.

When people talk about the origins of Silicon Valley, they will probably think it has something to do with silicon chips, as the name Silicon Valley implies. But the origin of Silicon Valley actually stretches all the way back to the World War II era. Before the war, military research was mainly done in the military labs. During the war, the federal government started giving schools like as MIT, Harvard, Columbia and Caltech huge amounts of money to perform military research, and that helped tremendously in developing the engineering schools in these institutions. Stanford, however, was not considered an engineering powerhouse at that time. Therefore, the school received almost no money from the federal government. Terman, however, wanted to change the situation. He started a lab that did research on microwaves, and was able to get the first grant from the Office of Naval Research in 1946. By 1950, Stanford Engineering had progressed to be able to rival MIT.

The 1950s was the start of the Cold War, and the Cold War was actually the main impetus that push Silicon Valley forward. During this period, Terman focused Stanford's resources on electronics intelligence and signal intelligence, as the military dearly sought after technology in this field. In the 1960s, the military, wanting to track the Soviet radars, also commissioned the construction of the Stanford Dish to eavesdrop on the Soviet Tall King radars using radio waves reflected from the moon.  

But Terman did not want Stanford to merely create military products; he wanted Stanford to perform advanced engineering research as well. To do so, he encouraged students to create start-ups and professors to consult for companies. He also allowed Stanford's intellectual properties to be licensed. Such ideas were unprecedented at the time, and it allowed a "Microwave Valley" (remember that at that time microwaves and signals were the focus of Stanford) to flourish, and introduce a culture and atmosphere that we recognize in Silicon Valley today.

The actual Silicon Valley as we know it today probably started when William Shockley built the first chip company in the area. However, it is important to realize that before that before this event, Stanford and the "Microwave Valley" was heavily focused on military research, and was funded by the military. It was only much later that the funding shifted to the venture capitalists. However, it is important to realize how Terman in these early years helped to congregate a community of engineers together to conduct high-end research, and how he instilled the entrepreneurial  spirit into the area through his pioneering efforts.  

For more information, check out this link (start from page 24): 

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