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Picture yourself as one of the Traitorous Eight

A look inside how Bell Labs and Shockley Semiconductor changed the world forever.

gm creators!

Today is day 1️⃣7️⃣ of my 30 day writing challenge.

Yesterday, I gave a breakdown of what's happening with the Reddit API changes and subreddit blackout. I also dived into the history of APIs and other times tech companies have unfairly changed the rules on developers.

I personally think it was one of my better posts and I was happy with the quality of writing :)

Check it out here: "Picture yourself paying $20 million for an API"

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Today's Takeaway💡

You've probably heard of the PayPal Mafia - the group of technologists that built and sold PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion in October 2002. This company recruited young, genius hustlers that went onto change the tech industry in ways that no one could have imagined. Here's just a few of the legends and their contributions:

  • Reid Hoffman - LinkedIn

  • Peter Thiel - Founders Fund, Palantir, early investor in FB

  • Elon Musk - Tesla, SpaceX, NeuraLink, etc.

  • Roelof Botha - Managing partner Sequoia Capital

  • Max Levchin -, Affirm


I was curious about what other kinds of mafias there have been in tech and how they've changed the ecosystem. It's amazing to me how these groups of talented people end up congregating and what the mafia phenomenon can really be attributed to.

Today's more of a brief rundown on two groups that essentially started Silicon Valley: The Bell Labs Mafia & The Traitorous Eight. As cool as the Paypal group is, after reading more about the OGs, I felt a sense of amazement like no other. These guys created the technologies that literally set the foundation for the modern world we live in today. From the development of the transistor to the formation of the first semiconductor company, their impacts are far-reaching, and their influence continues to shape the technological landscape.

Some questions that are top of mind for me after writing this post:

  • What are the mafias we should be paying attention to right now?

  • What's the mafia phenomenon? How does so much high value production come out of one place?

  • How does effective talent recruiting work?

The Idea Factory

Bell Labs, officially known as Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., was created in 1925 as a joint research and development organization by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) and its subsidiary, Western Electric. It was not directly founded by Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone and was one of the co-founders of AT&T, but was named after him.

In just a few decades, the inventions that came out of Bell Labs completely changed the course of human history. This is not an exaggeration by any means. Just take a look at some of the inventions:

  • Transistor - Invented by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, revolutionized electronics and computing, replacing the larger and less reliable vacuum tube. The transistor is considered one of the most important inventions of the 20th century

  • Information Theory: Claude Shannon's groundbreaking work laid the foundation for digital communications and data compression techniques. His ideas are fundamental to the operation of modern networks and the Internet.

  • Solar Cell: Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin, and Calvin Fuller developed the first practical photovoltaic solar cell, a key technology in the harnessing of renewable energy.

  • Laser: Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow conceptualized and developed the laser, leading to revolutions in science, industry, medicine, and entertainment.

  • UNIX Operating System: Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and others developed UNIX, which has strongly influenced subsequent operating systems, including Linux and the BSDs.

  • C Programming Language: Dennis Ritchie created the C programming language, the basis for many later high-level programming languages and a direct predecessor to C++, C#, Objective-C, and others.

  • Digital Signal Processor (DSP): Bell Labs developed digital signal processing chips, which have applications in various digital technologies including modems, mobile phones, and digital televisions.

  • Fiber Optic Cable Systems: Bell Labs' research into optical fiber contributed significantly to the establishment of modern high-speed, long-distance telecommunication networks.

Dec. 23, 1947: Transistor Opens Door to Digital Future | WIRED

This list was basically half my degree plan for Electrical Engineering. I can thank these geniuses for tanking my GPA (especially DSP) 😂 It truly must have been amazing to be working at Bell Labs in the 1950s. The amount of geniuses walking around there is just unfathomable. All of them bouncing ideas, developing the next big thing, and embracing the true spirit of developing zero to one technology.

Bell Labs, aside from their inventions, were indirectly responsible for billions dollars of revenue from companies that alumni started after leaving. However, in my opinion, the most notable was William Shockley, who started Shockley Semiconductor in 1955. This company went on to recruit such high quality talent that it led to another mafia known as the Traitorous Eight.

Traitorous Eight

William Shockley was one of the OGs at Bell Labs helped create the transistor and also won the Nobel Prize in Physics. I went to Wikipedia to check out his bio take a look at his accomplishments.

William Shockley

So, after his productive stint at Bell Labs, Shockley went on to start Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory (aka Shockley Transistor Corporation) in 1955. The company was funded by Beckman Institutes and went on to be one of the pioneering high technology companies in Silicon Valley. Shockley had probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest reputations in the semiconductor space. It was a pretty easy sell for Shockley to convince some of the top Ph.D graduates to join him in his new Mountain View based venture.

However, many claim that one of Shockley's reasons for starting a separate business was because of built up frustration with the Bell Management team. He didn't receive as much credit as he liked for the transistor patents and was passed up for promotion multiple times. This was attributed mainly to Shockley's almost abusive style behavior with colleagues. This was important as it set the tone for what was to come next.

At Shockley, his management style was authoritarian and he often dismissed the ideas of his team members, leading to significant tensions within the company. Furthermore, his shift in focus from silicon-based semiconductors to developing a new type of four-layer diode led to dissatisfaction amongst his team, as they believed silicon-based technologies had far more commercial potential.

After the demand from the 8 leading engineers to replace Shockley as manager was rejected, they decided to leave and start Fairchild Semiconductor. Shockley semiconductor "never recovered from this departure and was purchased by Clevite in 1960".

Traitorous Eight

The traitorous eight:

  1. Julius Blank

  2. Victor Grinich

  3. Jean Hoerni

  4. Eugene Kleiner

  5. Jay Last

  6. Gordon Moore

  7. Robert Noyce

  8. Sheldon Roberts

Fairchild went on to be known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley. The company was essential in paving the way for the development of silicon integrated circuits which have been crucial for pretty much every piece of modern tech we use today. Also, under the leadership of Jean Hoerni, Fairchild developed the planar process which played a key role in the mass-production of microchips.

The company's success spawned numerous numerous spin-off companies, known as "Fairchildren", which laid the foundation for the tech industry in the region:

  1. Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore: These two members of the Traitorous Eight co-founded Intel Corporation in 1968. Intel would go on to become one of the world's leading manufacturers of microprocessors.

  2. Eugene Kleiner: Kleiner co-founded venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Claufield & Byers (now known as KPCB). KPCB has been a major player in the venture capital industry and has funded successful startups like Google and Amazon.

  3. Jean Hoerni: Hoerni founded two semiconductor companies, Intersil and Micro Mask, and also established the Central American Silicon Valley Foundation, a charity that promotes education in Central America.

  4. Charlie Sporck and 7 others: Left Fairchild to form National Semiconductor which became one of the most successful IC manufacturers.

  5. Jerry Sanders: Co-founded Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) which rivals Intel in the microprocessor market.

  6. Don Valentine: Not part of the original traitorous eight, but a very relevant sales operator at Fairchild. He became a venture capitalist and founded Sequoia Capital, which has funded companies like Apple, Cisco, YouTube, and WhatsApp.

That's all for today's post! I wanted to learn about what the actual mafias and their spin-off companies were for today. In another post, I'll dive deeper into how these mafias end up starting.

Currently I'm reading The Founders by Jimmy Soni which is a story about the PayPal Mafia. It's been helping a ton in understanding how these gigachad companies like PayPay even end up forming.

That's all for today's post!

Hope you all have a great Sunday :)

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