Napkin Sketches

By the early 80s all the wild mustard fields weregone. Tree orchards on both sides of interstate 237 disappeared. The fruit stands were engulfed by the widening freeway as agriculture gave way to technology.

The Silicon Valley was establishing a new high-tech corridor. You could see the industrial transformation carving into the landscape. You could feel the spirit of innovation in the air. Companies establish businesses here to tap into that high tech spirit. The Silicon Valley was like a gold mine of high tech. Those were exciting times.  

Looking for work in the 80s was easy. The United States government was in an arms race with Russia and the Silicon Valley was booming. President Reagan's Star Wars agenda was the big buzz around town. Companies were racing to meet the need for new technology to out do the Russians. Almost all the companies hiring were in some way supporting a government contracted program.

Happy Hours

New hires coming on as interns and university graduates fresh out of school were recruited from around the nation and abroad. Head hunters (recruiters) from job shops (employment agencies) would hunt down prospective graduates with the right skills to fill company employment needs. Soon the Silicon Valley was flooded with yuppies (young urban professionals) new to California and the country. Competition between companies bidding for government contracts was fierce.

New friends working long hours was the norm. Coworkers often congregated after work for a few drinks to unwind. Sooner or later work topics would pop up with new ideas discussed at the table and it wouldn't take long before someone pulled out a pen and started sketching on a napkin. I swear during those happy hours many young minds with fresh ideas and you could morphically imagine new partnerships forming and companies developing from those napkin sketches.

Appetizers were free at the happy hour clubs as long as you buy a drink or two. I had some young coworker friends just out of college and from out of state case out the clubs for free appetizers every day of the week. That was dinner on a budget every night.

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The Internet was in it's infancy and online social networking wasn't there yet so the happy hour was a popular way to network and find leads with others to find out about which companies are hiring. Headhunters and contractors (skilled worker) would mingle and discuss terms for new jobs. Contractors were like hired guns, were paid well and expected to produce results.

Loose Lips Sinks Ships

Security was another thing. There was an incident when workers from rival companies were standing at tables in close proximity and a worker at one of the tables was ease dropping on the conversation at the other table. He noticed they were talking about a project that his company was going after as well.

The workers were having a good time getting a little tipsy and started talking about work. Ideas were being sketched on napkins as they talked about the project. A lot of working hours went into research to develop a prototype and thousands of dollars were spent. This was the risk taken in a do or die situation for the division of the company responsible for bidding on the contract. As the group of the other company went home for the evening they left a napkin sketch with drawings of their project on the table.

Further down the road when it was time for the companies to present their proposals to the government one company was so far ahead of the other and always had something better then what the other company had produced. Every angle that company aimed for was cut off and counter proposed with something more advanced. The company couldn't compete and it was obvious which company was going to win the bid. As the project was funded to the winning company, the losing company had to layoff people while the winning company started hiring new employee. All because of a napkin sketch.

A company can live and die by a Napkin Sketch, I know this scenario all so well because I was a victim of layoffs during the 80s. The Silicon Valley has no loyalty to anyone. You can work hard, give it your best, and as soon as things go sour layoffs are imminent. Large companies took advantage of how easy it was to clean house when they needed to.