I sat right next to the CEO in my first job, and not because I was his executive assistant. I was in marketing and it just so happened that when I started that’s where the open desk was. I was working for a web development company during the dot-com boom when marchFIRST was still a sensation. There was no Drupal or Joomla. Building a website was a necessity and a mystery.
My knowledge of tech sector, and the origin of its culture, was about as sophisticated as our clients’ understanding of how to build a website. I had never heard of Robert Noyce, one of the eight defectors from Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory who went on to co-invent an efficient integrated circuit by using silicon instead of germanium as his counterpart at Texas Instruments, Jake Kilby, did. I didn’t know that not only did Robert Noyce put his scientific mind to work co-founding two companies, Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, but that it was he who pioneered Silicon Valley’s egalitarian corporate culture.
Robert Noyce grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, the son of a Congregational minister. Social climbing wasn’t encouraged and neither was operating outside of social norms. Tom Wolfe wrote about Grinnell, “It was one of the last towns in America that people back east would have figured to become the starting point of a bolt into the future that would create the very substructure, the electronic grid, of life in the year 2000 and beyond.”
Though Noyce’s interests and ambitions were not limited by expectations. He acted as the leading man in a soap opera shown on an Iowa station, was a diver on Grinnell’s swimming team, played the oboe, and was the only physics student at Grinnell College interested in the new miniature experimental transistor his professor, Grant Gale, managed to get from Bell Laboratories.
By leaving Shockley Semiconductor he wrote his own rules again, leaving a stable job to be an entrepreneur when the expectation was employment for life at the same place you started. Leaving something stable for the unknown wasn’t done. So by the time he started giving young engineers autonomy over their own projects at Fairchild Semiconductor he had gotten good at doing what wasn’t done.
Noyce gave his employees what he wanted himself – the freedom to explore. His employees went on to start their own companies, collectively referred to as Fairchildern, and the method of management he embodied went with them.
Be more unconventional. You may just not only create a fulfilling life for yourself, but shift a trend and make room for fulfillment for those who follow.