Pioneers tell their 'Silicon Valley Stories'

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
“Silicon Valley Stories” panelists include, from left, Chuck Geschke, Donna Dubinsky, Michael S. Malone and Sandra Kurtzig.

One group stood out among the near-capacity crowd that attended the Los Altos History Museum’s “Silicon Valley Stories” panel at Los Altos High School’s Eagle Theater Feb. 11. Alongside the mostly older attendees sat a large contingent of teenagers.

Panelist Michael S. Malone, one of the world’s best-known technology writers, asked if the students were there for a class assignment. One responded that they attended because they love learning.

It was a good thing, because the panelists had much to teach.

In conjunction with the History Museum’s ongoing “Silicon Valley: The Lure & Legends” exhibition, the panel discussion, moderated by former San Jose Mercury News business columnist Mike Cassidy, included software pioneer Sandra Kurtzig, Numenta Inc. CEO Donna Dubinsky, Adobe Systems Inc. co-founder Chuck Geschke and Malone.

As Cassidy noted in his opening remarks, the event was like working as “a Hollywood reporter and being with Brando, De Niro, Streep and Angelina Jolie.”

Topics ranged from why the panelists started their businesses in Silicon Valley to what the future holds for the area.

“(Silicon Valley) is the greatest new-company incubator in the history of the world,” said Malone, founding shareholder of eBay. “The infrastructure is all here.”

Geschke offered his advice on hiring.

“Always hire people smarter than you are, because in the long run, they’ll do your job better than you do, and … you’ll get promoted,” he said. “If you don’t trust the people you’re working with, get out of there.”

Kurtzig, who founded ASK Computer Systems Inc. in the 1970s, addressed women in technology.

“There’s a lot of talk about women sitting at the table and how to go up the corporate road,” she said. “But my feeling is instead of sitting at the table, I’m just going to buy the table.”

Kurtzig touched on the new generation.

“Millennials aren’t looking for careers as much as they’re looking for a lifestyle,” she noted.

Dubinsky, co-inventor of the Palm Pilot, emphasized the importance of persistence.

“If some deal falls apart, do it graciously, do it professionally,” she said. “Make sure that … they would want to work with you again. In the end, the most important trait you can have is resilience.”

Dubinsky weighed in on entrepreneurs looking for new ideas.

“I keep joking with … people in their 20s developing business ideas – we don’t need any more ways to buy food, get rides or date,” she said.

As for Silicon Valley’s future, Malone said, “We’re in a semi-bubble. … My suspicion is that the bubble’s going to start deflating in the second half of this year.”

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