Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rebecca's Question for Keith Raffel

You grew up in Silicon Valley. How’s it changed from when you were a kid?

Rebecca, you’re going to make me sound like an old geezer, but here goes. When I was a boy, Silicon Valley was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Two-thirds of the country’s apricots were grown here and San Jose, now the country’s tenth largest city, was a sleepy canning town. Where I grew up in Palo Alto, people didn’t lock their doors. I went to Palo Alto High School with the children of janitors and schoolteachers as well as the Hewlett and Packard kids. My parents bought their first house here in 1960 for less than $30,000.

Thanks to Stanford and the engineers it turned out, Silicon Valley took root here. The orchards of my youth filled with cherry and apricot trees have been replaced by tilt-up buildings filled with software engineers and MBAs. Has there ever been anywhere on earth where more wealth was created faster? Intel, Apple, Google, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Facebook all started and grew up here. Even today, one-third of all the venture capital invested in this country finds its way to Silicon Valley.

My kids go to Palo Alto High, just as I did. When it comes to diversity, there are no more children of janitors and school teachers at the school. With all the money flowing here and being made here, everything is ridiculously expensive. Zillow.com says that house of my parents is now worth 50 times what it was 50 years ago. On the other hand, my kids are growing up in a town far more diverse in another way. When I was a teen, the school was over 95% white. Today the school is filled with the kids of parents who were born in Taiwan, China, India, Israel, the UK, France, and Germany. Just as wannabe movie stars go to LA, those who want to make it big in the high tech world come here. Well over half of new start-ups in the Valley are founded by someone born outside the United States, most often in China or India.

I do miss the olden days. I wish we didn’t lock our doors anymore. I wish my kids would be able to afford a house here some day. But I like being where the action is. I wouldn’t turn back the clock. When it comes to high tech, I live at ground zero. A great place to start a company or to set a thriller.

Cheers, Keith

As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Keith!

If it is any consolation, the movie theater where I had my first kiss (in Berlin) is now a museum. A museum. I felt a hundred years old when I visited.

Your post made me want a good apricot. And not just for the fiber. :)

Shane Gericke said...

Keith, I remember your area from our family driving vacations back in the 1960s. Dad got a lot of vacation as a cop--the pay sucked, but the benefits were great--so we'd spend five or six weeks on the road. A lot of California was as you describe the Silicon Valley back then, as I recall--pastoral, trending to rural.

My own Naperville developed for much the same reason. For 100 years it was a sleepy little farm town along the RR tracks. Then, AT&T and Amoco (now Alcatel-Lucent and BP, after their mergers and name changes) built their research labs here because the land was so cheap. Boom! My wife Jerrle got a job at AT&T, and we've been here ever since, with me driving to Chicago (32 miles away) every day to work at the newspaper, but now working at home on the books.

Amazing how rapidly the tech industry can change an entire local culture.

Thanks for sharing the memories.

Shane Gericke said...

... and Rebecca, why was your first kiss in Berlin? Was your family living there at the time? Or are you from there originally?

Keith Raffel said...

Rebecca, what movie was playing? Enquiring minds want to know. Thanks, Shane for the memories. Neat stuff was going on at the Stanford Linear Accelerator as you drove by.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Shane: I just travel around for exotic kisses... No, I was an exchange student.

Keith: The movie was BACK TO THE FUTURE, which is clearly ironic now.

Kelli: Before you ask, he did not have a mullet.

Jen Forbus said...

OMG, Rebecca, you made me spit soda..."he did not have a mullet"! Too funny. I remember seeing BACK TO THE FUTURE, too.

I was born in a tiny little house that was across the street from a forested area. Today, the forest is all gone and there are houses in place of it. I guess the phenomenan is happening everywhere...or almost everywhere.

Shane Gericke said...

Noooooo, not the mullet again ... aggghghghghghh ... I thought I'd chopped them up and buried them deep but they're baaack ...

Shane Gericke said...

Oooh, exotic kisses. I'd travel for those too, but nobody will have me ...

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hey Keith, congrats on the big launch tonight!