From the look of it, you wouldn't think that Intel co-founder Robert Noyce was bound for glory.
"The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley" by Leslie Berlin is the first full-fledged biography of Noyce--and in a lot of ways, it's long overdue.
Noyce was one of the key figures at Shockley Semiconductor and later at Fairchild Semiconductor, two companies that helped launch the electronics industry and plant its center of gravity in Northern California.
As a scientist, he came up with a way of proving whether tunneling--a then-theoretical principle of quantum mechanics--existed. He never tested the idea. Leo Esaki pursued his own research on the subject and got the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for it.
Noyce (along with Jay Hoerni and others) devised a version of the integrated circuit. Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments came out with one first, but the version Noyce came up with became the basis for the chip industry. Had Noyce not died in 1990, many believe he would have shared the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics with Kilby.
But just as important, the book underscores Noyce's role in establishing one of the two principal archetypes of the electronics industry: the Smiling Salesman.
The Smiling Salesman school of thought emanates from the belief that life, by and large, really should be enjoyed. Newfound wealth is best used by buying private helicopters and going on ski vacations. Current problems will lead to future opportunities. Employees will exceed expectations when given interesting problems and left alone.
"The people that are supervising it (a project) are more dependent on their ability to judge people than they are dependent on their ability to judge the work that is going on," Noyce said in 1965.
This optimistic outlook, which Noyce helped forge, percolates throughout the industry and has become both a legacy and a driving force of it. Job-hopping and/or starting your own company, for instance, are looked at as legitimate, if not admired, ways to move up in the world.
But in the 1950s, when Noyce and others left Shockley to start Fairchild, that wasn't the case. Founder William Shockley (the model
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas. He has worked as an attorney, travel writer and sidewalk hawker for a time share resort, among other occupations.
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