The Hidden History of How the Government Kick-Started Silicon Valley
Margaret O’Mara, author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, explains why it’s time to move past the tech sector’s creator myths
Margaret O’Mara remembers working as a staff member at the Clinton White House in the early 1990s when she watched in amazement as a colleague in the Department of Health and Human Services sent an email to his son at college. It was the first time she’d seen someone send an electronic message, and it was “very uncommon, especially in D.C. political circles,” she tells OneZero.
Now a tech historian at the University of Washington — she began her academic career at Stanford in 2002, first as a fellow and then teaching — O’Mara dedicates her time to studying the intersection of tech and U.S. politics, and looking at the internet through a historical lens. Her latest book, The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, re-examines the self-serving genesis tales around tech’s biggest breakthroughs, dispelling the myth that entrepreneurs alone are responsible for the great tech innovations of our time. In this wide-ranging work, O’Mara delves into the history of the Valley, from the 1930s when David Packard built the foundation for what became Hewlett-Packard (HP), to our modern, always-connected society, exploring the important figures, policies, and global events that changed the course of tech history.
OneZero spoke with O’Mara to discuss how Silicon Valley was born and why she thinks big tech companies like Facebook should be treated like the Standard Oil monopoly of the 1920s.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.