Geek Of The Week: William Shockley

Geek Of The Week: William Shockley

Over the past decade, we’ve featured several famous Silicon Valley icons as GOTWs. Among them are Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Eugene Kleiner. All three of these geeks have become ubiquitous in the world of microprocessors, but there was a time when all three of them worked for this week’s GOTW, William Shockley.

Shockley earned a bachelor’s degree from Caltech in 1932 and a PhD from MIT in 1936. He went to work for the US Government during WWII and did extensive research on radar and depth charge systems. He even prepared a report for the War Department that led them to make the decision to drop the atomic bomb. After the war, Shockley went to work for Bell Labs and was involved in the development of the transistor. He started his own company, Shockley Semiconductor, in 1956.

Many say Shockley Semiconductor put the ’silicon’ in Silicon Valley. The Mountain View-based company started manufacturing transistors in the mid-1950s making it the first technology company in this region. Shockley was also working on an electronic component known as the Shockley Diode. It was revolutionary technology for the time, and thus was secretive, even within the company. This caused an uprising and 8 young Shockley employees left the company in 1957. The group formed Fairchild Semiconductor and the rest is geek history. Among them were Noyce, Moore, and Kleiner. Shockley later dubbed them The Traitorous 8.

For his contributions to science and electronics, Shockley received a Nation Medal of Merit in 1946, the Comstock Prize in 1953, a Nobel Prize in 1956, and the Holley Medal in 1963. He was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Medal of Honor in 1980. Shockley passed away in 1989, at the age of 79, from prostate cancer. His contributions to the field of Technology have not been forgotten.

About the Author

avatar KALE: A geek who works in the IT field and lives in Dallas, TX. He is also a music geek who has played in several local bands. Previous to his IT career, Kale worked as a photojournalist. He brings technical advice and artistic counterpoint to the podcast.