It Doesn’t Work Without Hardware – Scenes from HardwareCon
Roopinder Tara posted on April 29, 2019 |
Hardware startups make their pitch in the Silicon Valley.

The Computer Museum in Mountain View California is across the world from the computer’s birthplace. Charles Babbage, credited as the “father of computing,” came up with the concept of the first digital programmable computer in England in the early 19th century. The wickedly complicated mechanism wasn’t built until after his death. Before that he met Ada Lovelace when she was just 17, starting a collaboration that would spawn the first programming language. But that’s another story.

HardwareCon, by Hardware Massive, was held in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California.
HardwareCon, by Hardware Massive, was held in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California.

Cue scene of HardwareCon, the Computer History Museum commemorates the birth of the computer with banners and odes to both Charles and Ada. We then jump to the first electrical computer, the ENIAC—only on the other side of the continent—at the University of Pennsylvania, the leadup to the mainframe computer and IBM.

Where today’s modern computing is said to have started is the personal computer. Credit goes to Apple, now with headquarters Cupertino, only a stone’s throw from the museum. Founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are both properly glorified. Missing, however, is Microsoft. Neither Bill Gates or Steve Balmer (so many Steves!) appear on the museum’s wall of fame.

Did they run out of room? The Computer Museum leaves out notable computer pioneers like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and many others from its Hall of Fellows.
Did they run out of room? The Computer Museum leaves out notable computer pioneers like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and many others from its Hall of Fellows.

The museum was originally at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), makers of the VAX minicomputer. It’s current site was once the headquarters of Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), makers of the most sought after workstations for computer graphics. Both companies succumbed to the personal computer.

The donation of the former SGI building is not to be taken lightly. Real estate in Mountain View, home of Google, is in a superheated real estate market that will shock a Noogler. Yes, that is really what they call a new Googler. If you are moving your family to Mountain View, be prepared to pay $2 million for a three-bedroom, two-bath home in a good neighborhood.

Life Without the Computer (Shudder)

“We cannot live without the computer,” said a speaker at HardwareCon, being held at the museum, who went on to suggest that what was once a tool and a help to mankind has now become indispensable to our very existence.

We could dismiss this statement as hyperbole, considering the venue, but we should pause to reflect.

Have you left home without your iPhone? No matter what, you have to go back to get it. My brain is in that iPhone, I hear. All memory, too. Can you even remember your friends’ phone number. The phone (computer) does that. My appointments are stored there. If it were not for its reminders, I would miss half of them. I’d rather forget my wallet or car keys… You can replace those.

If Martians were to see us walking our dogs—respectfully behind them picking up their feces—they would wonder who the master was. Likewise, who is in charge, us or our computers/phones?

Perhaps the speaker is right. All around the museum, Silicon Valley and Bay Area, heads are bowed in rapt attention to their computers (phones) and not each other. They are not just indispensable, they may have become our masters.

The Money Is on AI

The second gold rush in San Francisco is well underway. Computing as we know it may have started with the ENIAC in the University of Pennsylvania over 70 years ago and continued with the personal computer and the software to run it, but now it’s all about artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud, venture capital (VC) funding and initial public offerings (IPOs), riches that chase the next big thing. The last big thing here in Silicon Valley, a cluster of small cities around and including San Jose, made for the Internet bubble. While the bubble burst, it appears to have made way for AI, which now seems to be in every startup pitch or every VC’s question as in, “Yes, but does it have AI?”

Despite its allure, AI, like software, needs to live in hardware. Programmers, data scientists and AI gurus command princely ransoms. “They make an average of $250,000 at some of these companies,” is heard on Caltrain on the way to HardwareCon.

Andrew Grove, CEO of Intel, is credited for wryly remarking, “Whatever. They still need something they can run on,” after having to listen to praise after praise for the success of software and the Internet.

Why Should Hardware Startups Come to HardwareCon?

If you are developing hardware and have a pitch for investors, do it at HardwareCon. Beth Rogozinski and her business partner, Greg Fisher, formed Hardware Massive and have held HardwareCon for six years. The conference is always in the heart of Silicon Valley. Down the street from the Computer Museum, HardwareCon’s 2019 venue, is Googleplex, Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) headquarters. Having a startup pitch fest there makes it very convenient for VCs and other investors to attend. Some of the startups have come from as far as the Philippines to stand on tech’s hallowed ground. As startups compete for a $50,000 grand prize, they also have eyes on startup seeking companies in attendance, including Avnet, ANSYS and Altair—and that’s just the As.

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