The folks in Silicon Valley were just waking up when word of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were being reported on local TV and radio stations. Like the rest of the world, we were stunned and heartbroken and felt helpless.
Very few firms in Silicon Valley have offices on Wall Street or near the Pentagon so local connections are limited. However, thousands of Silicon Valley executives fly the routes from Boston, Washington Dulles and Newark N.J., to the West Coast often and most of the public high-tech companies have friends and associates on Wall Street.
In times like this, we all look for the personal links to those directly affected and as an industry we have lost key executives in past airline crashes.
The most notable was Don Estridge, the IBM executive who fathered the original IBM PC, died in the Delta crash in Dallas in 1985. As of now, it appears our industry lost two key executives.
Daniel L. Lewin, the co-founder and CTO of Akamai Technologies, was on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles — one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Akamai is a content distribution company dedicated to speeding up Net traffic and is based in Boston's high-tech region.
Also on that flight was CFO of MRV Communications, Edmund Glazer. MRV Communications is a network infrastructure company based in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles.
Frantic Search for Information
I happened to be at a semiconductor conference in the L.A. area when I heard the news and was heading to the airport to fly back to San Jose. Of course, with all flights canceled, many of us from Silicon Valley put together about 10 car pools and spent most of Tuesday driving back to San Jose glued to news radio stations the entire time.
Since this is the first major disaster of this type in the Internet and information age, technology played a very important role in relating the news and speeding up the role of communications. Radio and TV became the main communication vehicle but the Internet added a third critical link to real-time news and information.
However, during the first hours following the attack, demand for news over the Net became so high that the access to information was reduced to a crawl. Interestingly, e-mail links worked flawlessly and many people around the world used e-mail to check on the safety of loved ones.
Also, cell phones appear to have provided vital clues as to what happened on the doomed planes as several people onboard dialed loved ones or emergency personnel to report the hijacking as it was happening. There have also been reports of people buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers using their cell phones to call for help.
Silicon Valley Remembers Uneasy Time
Although Tuesday's attack took place on the other side of the country, Silicon Valley and the surrounding areas are keenly aware of their vulnerability to similar types of attacks.
In our area specifically, San Francisco acted swiftly to evacuate its tallest buildings deemed potential targets for a similar attack. San Jose — the heart of Silicon Valley — has no skyscrapers but some buildings taller than 15 stories were evacuated as a precautionary measure until all flights were grounded.
During the Cold War, we were told that Silicon Valley was one of the main targets of some of the eastern European countries should we ever go to war with them and that caused all of the big firms in Silicon Valley to add major security forces.