in Geeklife, New York City Life

Why NYC Geeks have a hard time making ‘Sillicon Alley’ boom?

View of Manhattan from Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY - Taken by Gubatron, Aug 2007

There’s been a discussion this week on the New York Tech Meetup mailing list, and this guy’s answer (Allan Benamer) has to be documented somewhere. Check this out.

“…find it difficult to understand why a Stanford can achieve such great town-and-gown synergies that brought the world Yahoo!, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Google, Silicon Graphics, etc., and a Columbia or a Rutgers or a Cornell or a SUNY cannot.”

I’m from the West Coast and got to see the dotcom boom up close. I think it’s not just Stanford but my alma mater, Berkeley, and a host of other great schools on the West Coast like UCLA and Cal-Tech that are also helping out. The truth of the matter is that much of NY Metro’s inherent “nerd power” is sucked up by financial services firms. An engineer being paid upwards of $100k a year to do crappy Oracle SQL calls for some financial services Intranet app is pretty much the average around here. There’s no incentive to innovate as a result. Plus, there’s a cultural problem. If you go on BART, you’ll see people reading programming books all the time. Here, it’s just multiple copies of Kite Runner on the subway, (not that there’s anything wrong with that, that’s why I moved out here.)

The nerd infrastructure is just not supported well either — nerds need Fry’s and great tech book stores like they do in the Bay Area. Here, all we’ve got is J&R, a host of cheesy grey market electronics retailers and Barnes and Noble. It’s hard out here for a nerd. 😉

That said, I would more than welcome whatever energies are poured into a Silicon Alley. I just hope that the infrastructure gets better as a result.

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  1. Amazing article, I liked a lot this part, Thanks Chiguire.

    A great university near an attractive town. Is that all it takes? That was all it took to make the original Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley traces its origins to William Shockley, one of the inventors of the transistor. He did the research that won him the Nobel Prize at Bell Labs, but when he started his own company in 1956 he moved to Palo Alto to do it. At the time that was an odd thing to do. Why did he? Because he had grown up there and remembered how nice it was. Now Palo Alto is suburbia, but then it was a charming college town– a charming college town with perfect weather and San Francisco only an hour away.

    The companies that rule Silicon Valley now are all descended in various ways from Shockley Semiconductor. Shockley was a difficult man, and in 1957 his top people– “the traitorous eight”– left to start a new company, Fairchild Semiconductor. Among them were Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, who went on to found Intel, and Eugene Kleiner, who founded the VC firm Kleiner Perkins. Forty-two years later, Kleiner Perkins funded Google, and the partner responsible for the deal was John Doerr, who came to Silicon Valley in 1974 to work for Intel.

    So although a lot of the newest companies in Silicon Valley don’t make anything out of silicon, there always seem to be multiple links back to Shockley. There’s a lesson here: startups beget startups. People who work for startups start their own. People who get rich from startups fund new ones. I suspect this kind of organic growth is the only way to produce a startup hub, because it’s the only way to grow the expertise you need.

  2. Hey, I’m the guy who wrote that… I used to consult in the financial services industry — it definitely sucks the soul out of everyone involved in it and thus reduces the chance for creative nerdiness to take place in NYC.

    It’s also a matter of space — there’s no existing real estate inventory set aside for startups or techie people. Competing against a financial services firm for office space will always be a losing proposition for tech startups because by our very nature we don’t have money in the early going. The dot com boom in SF took place because of so much cheap office space in the China Basin (which is no longer the case). One great place for NYC to make cheap office space would be the Brooklyn Army Terminal but instead they’re leaving the pigeons to roost in it. Manhattan is dead anyway so why not use all that great waterfront in Brooklyn for killer offices?

    I also find a lot of NY startups to be heavily dominated by the suits — guys who think they can throw money at a problem like growing a community site and just have a bunch of contests and marketing partnerships. It sometimes makes me sick to my stomach seeing these guys as they always show up near the end of a tech boom trying to ride the wave but are barely able to use their e-mail clients. Sigh.

  3. Ha, I bet it was cool finding out you got quoted for a blog post on such a cool blog 😉

    just kidding.

    I have not experienced the west coast except for one week of vacation in San Francisco, would def. love to spend a few months somewhere on Sillicon Valley to see what its all about, I feel like I’d belong there.