SILICON VALLEY – 1971
“So what’s this meeting going to be about?” Seth asked from the middle of the conference room table.
“Not sure, but I think it’ll be something good,” Gavin answered from the other side of the table. About a dozen other employees were sitting around the table or milling about the conference room. A couple of pictures of computer mainframes were hanging on the otherwise bare white walls. A single window on the back wall looked out onto a parking lot.
“How do you figure?”
“A lot of changes in the industry, and a lot more players. It’s not just Fairchild and Texas Instruments anymore,” Gavin surmised. “My guess is that this meeting is going to be about how we’re going to adapt and compete as the semiconductor field continues to grow.”
“We’re not at that level,” Shirley reminded from down the table. “We’re relative newcomers. Takes time to build up your cache.”
“Most of the companies in this field are newcomers,” Gavin replied. “It’s a new frontier and we’re growing along with it, and we can only go up. They’re probably going to retrain us for something new,” he added positively.
“Could be,” Dale agreed. “Integrated circuits are improving all the time.” He paced thoughtfully. “Thanks to Bill Shockley moving out here to set up his business we’re ahead of the curve. The factories back east are going to have to catch up with us.”
“Don’t get me started on Shockley,” Gavin complained, “The man is a bastard.”
“A bastard with a Nobel Prize,” Walt said from one end of the table.
“Be that as it may,” Dale continued, “out with the old and in with the new.”
“And just as I was getting used to my workplace,” Seth said wistfully.
“Like Dale said, it’s the nature of this business,” Walt reminded from one end of the table. He leaned back in his chair. “Less than decade ago this was an apricot orchard, now we’re on the cutting edge of technology and defense. And what we do is good for America.”
“So long as we put it to good use,” Dale added.
“It’ll be helpful for humanity if nothing else,” Gavin said.
“We’ve got to help ourselves first,” Walt insisted. “I don’t mind saying that, and I don’t care if it’s out of fashion. My boy has been treated like a pariah since he’s come back from Southeast Asia and that ain’t right.” He looked across the table unapologetically.
“At least he made it back home alive,” Seth said.
No one said anything for a long moment. A tension began to float over the room.
“So I went to an A’s game the other night,” Gavin said finally. “They got this kid named Vida Blue, southpaw, jeez he can throw. He must of struck out at least ten or twelve batters!”
“I keep forgetting there’s another team in the Bay Area now,” Seth remarked as the unease dissipated.
“At least they don’t have to play at the ‘Stick,” Dale added.
“My god, that place is so windy,” Shirley said. “My husband took me to a game there once, I thought I was going to blow away like a leaf.”
“Mays would have broken Babe Ruth’s home run record by now if it wasn’t for all that wind,” Gavin went on.
“Who decided to put a city up there anyway?” Shirley wondered. “Weather is much better down here.”
“And you don’t have to be a mountain climber to get around town,” Gavin said.
“Not to gripe, but how long do we have to wait?” Olivia interjected as she moved closer to the conversation. “I need to finish my pile of work.”
“Same here,” Shirley said. “I don’t want to have to work overtime, I have to get to the store.”
“This may be worth waiting for,” Gavin advised. “Could be a new advancement in the field. We’re now at the point where operating systems now have hundreds of kilobytes, some even a thousand. That increases the possibilities of what can be achieved.”
“Well we got to keep up with all those advances,” Seth said, “don’t want to fall behind there.” “I feel that we are at the front of a revolution,” Gavin proclaimed.
“I think we’ve had enough revolution,” Shirley said. “Stability would be nice.” Some nodded in agreement.
“This will be a new revolution,” Gavin promised, “based on technology. It’ll be more like a renaissance,” he said brightly as he looked around the table, “a point of positive change that makes life better for everyone so we can leave all our old troubles behind.”
“You sound like an adman,” Walt kidded. “That’s the department you should be working in.”
“Anything I can do to help the company,” Gavin said humbly.
“Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Dale warned. “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen, we don’t know what they discuss behind closed doors. Let’s just wait and see.” The room became silent and contemplative. A couple of people shifted about. Someone sat down at the table.
“Well we do know this,” Gavin anticipated, “we’re at the root of an industry is only going to grow.”
“Yeah, the industry is going to grow as everything inside of the computer shrinks,” Lee said. He was leaning against the wall.
“And as that happens, computers are going to be everywhere,” Gavin pointed out, “not just in big government and big business. In ten years that every mom and pop store will have a computer.”
“Sure, if they can afford it,” Olivia remarked.
“So is that what this meeting is going to be about? Getting our product everywhere?” Seth asked.
“That’ll probably increase our workload,” Shirley said.
“But don’t you see the bigger picture?” Gavin emphasized. “I’ll bet in a decade or so every small business will be using a computer for accounting, payroll, record keeping, they’ll be indispensable. And every home will have one as well. That’s job security for years to come.”
“So maybe that means we’re all getting raises,” Shirley said hopefully.
“I’m just happy to be working in a growing field, because I don’t want to move away from here,” Seth resolved. “Too much snow back from where I’m from. The weather here, on the other hand, is perfect.”
“Yeah, we’re spoiled,” Lee said obliquely.
“A job is a job as far as I’m concerned,” Walt stated. “No different than the packing sheds I used to work in when I was in high school. That business also used to have a future around here.”
“I can see computers in the workplace, but home computers as well?” Olivia asked. “What can they do that a calculator or typewriter can’t do?”
“Maybe by that time they’ll be used for communication,” Dale predicted.
“We already have the telephone for that,” Shirley said.
“I don’t know about you guys but I’m excited to be working here,” Gavin declared. “I used to read and watch science fiction when I was growing up, and now I’m living it.”
“And getting paid for it,” Walt reminded.
“Best of both worlds,” Dale added. Everyone looked around in agreement.
“Now I’m starting to look forward to this meeting,” Seth said.
“Maybe they want our input for the company party,” Olivia said humorously.
“They’re going to take us all to the Wagon Wheel for drinks,” Lee joked further.
“You know, I heard about this new advancement in the integrated circuit field,” Gavin imparted, “some kind of super circuit.”
“I heard the same rumor,” Walt said offhandedly.
“Serious, some chip with thousands of tiny little transistors and capacitors. Imagine the possibilities,” Gavin mused.
“Doesn’t necessarily translate into more jobs,” Dale reminded. “The more on a chip the less assembly that’ll need to be done. Advancements can make certain jobs obsolete.”
“Ah, you’re a killjoy,” Seth said.
An employee near the door looked out into the corridor “I think I hear them coming.” Everyone still standing went to the nearest chair and sat around the table.
One of the managers, a middle aged man in a short sleeves and a necktie, walked in briskly followed by a secretary carrying some files. They stood at the head of the table. “Good afternoon,” the manager began cheerily. “How are you all doing?” Everyone said they were fine or nodded. “Good, good,” he responded. His mood then appeared to become more serious. “So,” he began didactically, “as we all know this is an industry based upon advancements. Time was industrial advances were seen over the course of years, decades. Now changes happen from year to year. The newest of these changes is a very important advancement in the semiconductor field. One of our newer competitors has created the first completely integrated circuit that contains all microprocessing functions on one single silicon chip.” Everyone looked to each other interestedly. “Though it isn’t available to the public just yet, the board attended a demonstration and saw what this new central processing unit can do, and they were quite impressed. So we had a discussion and concluded that this will cause a refocusing in the industry for even smaller computers and mainframes, and we’re going to have to change along with it.” Everyone looked to each other curiously.
“We do anticipate an immediate drop off for us, so we’re going to have to restructure our workplace to keep up with these new advancements. Part of this means paring down all our departments and combining some of them to make ourselves leaner and more nimble within our field.
“Now let me say we appreciate all the work you have done for us. Without your effort, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So it was with a heavy heart that we made the decision that we did.” The manager nodded to his secretary, and she started handing out envelopes to everyone. “We regret to tell you that we’re going to have to lay you all off. But we have included a severance with your last paycheck.” The crestfallen former employees accepted the envelopes automatically. “You see, in the beginning of any new industry, there are a lot of booms and busts before things even out. Technology is a volatile thing. It never sits still, and this industry has seen its share of fierce competition, mavericks leaving established companies to stake their own claim, new companies branching away from old companies, lawsuits and countersuits over who invented what. But I know as things start to stabilize you will all be working again soon. And we’ll give all of you good references.” He smiled at everyone again. The secretary handed out the last of the paychecks and returned to the manager’s side. “Well, good luck,” he said positively and left followed by the secretary. The newly former employees looked to each other stunned and silent. “Well, shit,” Walt bemoaned. “I just bought a new boat.”
* * * * * * *
Everyone quietly left the building, some carrying personal possessions.
“So now what?” Seth asked.
“Well I’m going straight to the unemployment office to file my claim,” Dale decided. “Don’t know when I’ll be working again.”
“I heard the recession is over,” Gavin added hopefully. “Maybe it won’t take so long to find work.”
“It’s still a drag,” Seth said morosely. “I kinda feel like a sap.” Everyone began to fan out across the parking lot. All around laid a checkerboard of old farmland and new office building, strip malls, and tract houses.
“Anybody know who’s hiring?” Olivia asked.
“Well I’m going to try to get a job with whoever made that super circuit,” Lee said.
©2015 Robert Kirkendall