From: Rohit Khare (email@example.com)
Date: Wed Jan 19 2000 - 02:23:19 PST
[The Walker bio is the best and by far the most endearing :-) -- RK]
January 17, 1999
Saying Goodbye, and Good Riddance to Silicon Valley
By JOHN MARKOFF
MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Until last year, Geoff Goodfellow was a Silicon
Valley Wunderkind, a pioneer in the field of wireless electronic
mail. Now, as a resident of the Czech Republic, he wakes up each day
and gazes from the balcony of his loft over a jumble of rooftops at
the Prague Castle on a nearby hill.
Half a world away from Silicon Valley, Goodfellow has become a member
of a small fraternity of engineers and entrepreneurs who have dropped
out and walked away from ground zero of the Internet economy.
Goodfellow's departure is an exception to the popular notion that
working in Silicon Valley, the world's high-technology capital, is
its own reward. He left with a darker vision of life there and a
disdain for the corrosive human effect of the region's workaholic,
"In the Valley, it's all about power and money and work, work, work,
work, and this expectation among your peers that you're going to do
the next big thing," he said recently. "Eventually I saw that was a
The different path taken by Goodfellow and a handful of others who
have left Silicon Valley is particularly striking, because for the
best and the brightest, dropping out or even retiring early has
become increasingly rare.
Making a huge fortune in a high-flying Internet or semiconductor
stock, which would be a life-changing event for most Americans, has
in Silicon Valley become merely an occasion for, say, buying a new
house or car and then transferring to a new start-up company.
In this former agricultural region, it has become typical to find
"serial entrepreneurs" -- hardware engineers, scientists, marketing
managers and software programmers who often feel that they work not
for a given company but rather for Silicon Valley Inc. Changing jobs
has become as simple as turning into a new driveway when you head for
And for many of these people, each successive job demands an intense
commitment that squeezes out any outside life, whether it is family
or recreation. Like the Apple Macintosh team of the 1980's whose
members wore T-shirts that read "Working 90 hours a week and loving
it," many people who work here now wear this workaholism as a badge
The modern role models are those who have founded a string of
successful companies, like Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics and
Netscape Communications, or Federico Faggin, a former Intel engineer,
co-inventor of its first microprocessor chip and founder of the Zilog
Corporation and Synaptics Inc.
Indeed, the popular Silicon Valley career goal has become graduating
to "corporate angel" status -- wealthy enough to emulate the venture
capitalists who have long been the lifeblood of the Valley.
Entrepreneurs like Andreas Bechtolscheim, a co-founder of Sun
Microsystems who is now a computer designer at Cisco Systems, and
Mark Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, have become start-up
investors while keeping their day jobs.
To find the Valley's most celebrated dropout, by contrast, it is
necessary to reach back more than two decades. Robert J. Widlar, a
legendary chip designer at the National Semiconductor Corporation,
quit and moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in the 1970's, saying he
"didn't like the water" in Silicon Valley. His idyll was cut short in
1991, when, at the age of 53, he died while jogging on a Puerto
It was Steven P. Jobs, a college dropout, who brought to Silicon
Valley the mantra that "the journey is the reward."
Jobs was a co-founder of Apple Computer in 1976. After leaving Apple
in 1985, he founded Next Computer and almost simultaneously bought
Pixar, at the time an ailing supercomputer company.
A decade later, Jobs had transformed Pixar into a digital animation
studio and became a billionaire overnight when he took it public.
Then, in late 1996, he returned to Apple as interim chief executive
and has orchestrated a stunning turnaround.
So it is that, with technologies advancing at the headlong pace known
as Internet time, one accomplishment can often blur into the next.
"When you think of Jean-Paul Sartre's observation that there are no
second acts in life, you realize that it simply doesn't apply in
Silicon Valley," said Fred Hoar, a longtime public relations
executive and a founder of the Band of Angels, a group of
independent private investors in the Valley.
For some people, however, Silicon Valley's rewards come at an
unjustifiable cost. Most of them share a passion for the technology
that sustains the industry, but somehow lose their sense of fun in
this work. They also become alienated from a culture driven by values
they consider shallow.
Following are the stories of three men whose second act was to walk
off the stage.
An Epiphany in Heaven, in a Loft In Beautiful Prague
For Geoff Goodfellow, 42, a tall, thin man with short blond hair,
life after Silicon Valley unfolds far from the world of endless
business meetings, late nights and 90-hour weeks.
As a teen-ager, after discovering the Internet's predecessor, called
the Arpanet, Goodfellow asked for free access to the computers of SRI
International, the Menlo Park research center that helped give birth
to the Internet, and began spending time there, helping to maintain
the SRI computer systems. He became a computer hacker, dropped out of
high school, never to return, and in 1988, from a spare bedroom in
his Menlo Park apartment, started the Radiomail Corporation with the
goal of providing nationwide wireless electronic mail.
But in 1996, after working first as chief executive and then as
chairman, and after a long struggle with his investors, Goodfellow
left Radiomail. Although his shares in the company had not made him
fabulously wealthy, he walked away with enough money to live well.
Working as a consultant, he immediately made plans to start several
new companies, each of which he thought could grow into new
industries related to music and the Internet.
Then, last year, while on vacation, Goodfellow, who is single, made a
brief stop in Prague that changed his life. It was, he said, like
meeting someone and knowing immediately that this was the person he
"When you have found the most beautiful and cultured city on the
planet, it changes your view of the world," he said. He reflected on
his life and work in Silicon Valley, and even though he had a network
of friends there, he sold his home and rented a loft in a city he had
visited for only a few days. "I've arrived in heaven," he said, "and
I didn't have to die first to get here."
Goodfellow's disaffection with life in Silicon Valley had been
building for some time. In 1996 he moved to a loft in San Francisco
and began commuting to the Valley, spending his evenings frequenting
the city's fine restaurants and taking in the underground music scene.
Life in Prague has changed his outlook on many things, he said. "In
the Valley there are these nervous battles for power and money," he
said. "And the hype -- it is a culture that has no culture."
Not that Goodfellow has totally abandoned his old world. He typically
wakes at 6 A.M. and shuffles to his portable computer. By then it is
9 P.M. in Silicon Valley, and he catches up on technology
developments by way of E-mail and a complex set of electronic tools
that monitor the news services.
Still an inveterate news hound, he reads four newspapers each morning
on the Internet and at lunch catches up on two more, The
International Herald Tribune and The Financial Times.
He left Silicon Valley a wealthy man, by Czech standards, and in
Prague he has become a full-time investor, with the booming United
States stock market making him richer. He returns home from lunch by
3:30 each afternoon to track before-hours American trading and then
uses the World Wide Web to do research and to make investments until
leaving at 6 or 7 for dinner. Later each evening, he returns to
monitor the New York market close.
He now calls Prague home, has a new set of mostly Czech friends and
says he is far more at peace with himself.
"If you can imagine life with zero hassles, zero bureaucracy and zero
conflict," he said, "that's the environment I live in."
He still believes that "the journey is the reward," but with a twist.
"That was my goal," he said. "But sometimes when you start a journey
your goal changes in midcourse and the currency in the reward can
change as well."
A Re-evaluation When Happiness Is a Suburban Forest
Steven Edelman is more philosophical than bitter about the intense
world he left behind six years ago.
Having succeeded in two eras of the personal-computer industry,
Edelman lives today in a forest in Beaverton, Ore., a suburb of
Portland. His decision to leave Silicon Valley, after founding and
successfully running a disk-drive and graphics company, was prompted
partly by a desire to get away from the urban bustle. But in a sense,
Edelman, 45, who once had a waist-length ponytail but now favors
short hair, jeans and T-shirts, was dropping out even when he arrived
in the Valley.
For him, as for Goodfellow, computing began as a passion and only
later became a profession.
Edelman, a native of Long Island, graduated from Cornell and then got
into the personal-computer industry on the East Coast in the
mid-70's, when it was still a business for hobbyists. Just as Steve
Jobs had phoned David Packard, then chief executive of
Hewlett-Packard, to ask for parts for the original Apple computer,
Edelman called Faggin to ask him for a microprocessor chip to help
get him started.
His first company, Ithaca Intersystems, sold an early microcomputer
But the hobbyist era of computing was soon over. And as the industry
started growing rapidly, Edelman, fascinated by new design tools for
developing ever more complex semiconductor chips, moved to Silicon
With a small amount of savings to survive on, he spent his days at
the electrical engineering department at Stanford University, often
sitting in on courses on the design of advanced circuits. He was
there so often that Stanford officials mistook him for a junior
professor. After learning that he had no official ties to the
university, they tried to persuade him to become a graduate student,
but ultimately gave up and provided him an office and access to a
computer in exchange for the work he was doing in designing chips.
In early 1984, while he was involved in yet another design project at
Stanford, Apple introduced the Macintosh. "I went to a friend's
house, and we took it apart," he said. "I thought to myself, 'My God,
this machine can be upgraded!' "
The AST Research Corporation was already thriving as a maker of
peripheral equipment for I.B.M.-compatible personal computers, and
Edelman knew there would soon be a similar peripheral market related
to the Macintosh. He became a co-founder of Supermac Inc., and it
grew rapidly by selling components like expansion disks and graphics
adapters for the Mac.
Over the next five years the growth of Supermac made Edelman a
multimillionaire, but it also left him disenchanted about a world
that seemed to have much in common with the power and wealth of New
York and Los Angeles. For him the Valley seemed to be the new
Hollywood, full of stars and with its own pecking order that forced
people to play social games that didn't interest him.
"Silicon Valley had become the kind of place where if you wanted to
be somebody you had to be wildly successful," he said.
When the Macintosh market began to lose ground to Windows and
Intel-based PC's, Edelman's company did not make the leap to the
PC-compatible market and began to shrink, eventually merging with
Radius Inc., another Silicon Valley company. He decided that it was
time to re-evaluate more than just his business. "So many people were
making so much money I found myself wondering how I was doing," he
said. "I began to wonder, 'Is this a good way to spend my life?' "
His answer was no. So he and his wife, Hyun Suh, who is a physician,
moved to the forest near Portland.
He now spends part of his days as an entrepreneurial investor, freely
discusses business ideas with callers and still does some tinkering
with computers. But he does not miss the rat race, or what he sees as
the Silicon Valley idea that your worth is measured by the success of
your last start-up. Instead, he has a life, with lots of time to rub
shoulders with the nondigerati while engaging in activities like
hiking, water-skiing -- in a wetsuit, no matter the season -- and
"Getting away from the Valley," he said, "gave me a fresh
appreciation of the fact that there are a lot of Americans who make
$22,000 a year and they're worth something."
A Distant Freedom Redoubt With Crane in the Swiss Alps
Like Steven Edelman, John Walker, founder of Autodesk Inc., the
software publisher based in San Rafael, Calif., has his roots in the
first personal computers. But eight years ago, he left the country
because he had decided that the prospect of starting another company
A first-generation computer hacker, one who helped create the
personal-computer industry, Walker, 49, was co-founder of a
microcomputer business, Marinchip Systems, in the 1970's. But by 1981
an industry shakeout was under way and Marinchip was running short of
So, in 1982 he and a small group of programmer friends struck on the
idea of creating Autodesk Inc. Their flagship product, Autocad, grew
out a pooled investment of $60,000 and became a general-purpose
drafting and engineering program.
Along the way, he became worried about his weight problem, leading
him to write a book called "The Hacker's Diet: How to Lose Weight and
Hair Through Stress and Poor Nutrition." In the introduction, he
noted that he had gone from 215 pounds to 145. Today he looks the
part of the studious computer researcher, with dark-framed glasses
and a pale complexion.
Autodesk blossomed into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, with
several thousand employees, and it still holds a commanding share of
the market for a variety of design tools used by engineers and
Walker, though, remained involved in the day-to-day management only
through the company's first years, and readily acknowledges now that
he had no particular skill or interest in managing such a large
company. In 1986, a year after the company went public, he stepped
down as chief executive.
Several years later, he also relinquished the role of chairman;
around that time, his Autodesk holdings were worth more than $30
million. In 1991 he left California and took up residence in
Switzerland with his wife, Roxie, and three dogs, two cats, a horse
and an undetermined number of goldfish. They live near Zurich in a
house adjoining a former hydraulics factory that he has converted
into an office-workshop, a rambling space that came with everything
from a generator that could power a small city to an
industrial-strength crane. "Until you have a crane," he said
recently, "you never knew that you needed one."
At first, he tried to run a remote research and development
laboratory for Autodesk from his hydraulics castle, but an effort to
help the company enter the factory design and automation software
field fell short.
As a prolific writer, and with a wide range of technical and
scientific interests, he
has dabbled in a variety of projects. He maintains a Web site
(www.fourmilab.ch) that offers everything from his history of
Autodesk to his diet book (which he says has been downloaded 4.6
million times) to an Internet telephone program called Speak Freely
that he wrote after the Internet took off.
Walker keeps his connections to the original Silicon Valley hacker
community, returning for the annual Hackers Conference, which is
attended by some of the nation's best programmers.
He has also engaged in a wide variety of personal projects, including using the
World Wide Web to test theories of parapsychology. He is not a
believer but takes a scientific interest in this field, with one
current test trying to determine if humans sitting at computers
connected to the Internet can exchange messages through mere thoughts.
Like both Goodfellow and Edelman, he maintains that his distance from
the Valley has given him a freedom he would never have had amid the
intense competition there.
Walker says he does not understand the passion that drives many in
the Valley to start over again and again, whether they are successes
or failures. He still remembers the struggle of starting Autodesk in
the early 1980's and being turned down, he says, by every venture
capitalist in California.
"What surprises me, is the compulsiveness of it," he said. I didn't
find it enjoyable enough that I'd want to do it again."
And what about all those who keep coming back for more? The answer
may be that the Valley is an ego-driven place and that many simply
cannot tear themselves away.
As Paul Saffo, an industry consultant at the Institute for the
Future, a research center in Menlo Park, put it: "There is this
pressure to prove yourself over and over again in Silicon Valley.
People wonder, 'Was it me or was it luck?'"
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