Small Town Silicon Valley

One of my first jobs was at a small startup called Neuron Data, a long, long time ago. This came to mind recently when looking at the Thrift whitepaper from Facebook.

The address at the top of the facebook paper reads:

Facebook, 156 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA

That jogged my memory. Sure enough, a little googling and I find historical data:

Contact: Neuron Data, 156 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

I was there when the building was built and we (Neuron Data) moved in (assuming it’s still the same, which it was the last time I was in Palo Alto). Memories come flooding back:

  • driving across country in June with no air conditioning in the car (“We’d be happy to sell you freon, but there’s no place to put it, sir”).
  • really good pastries every morning (having French founders does shape a company)
  • doing design by contract in a version of C enriched with scary longjmp hacks, and generally learning a lot about software engineering in a summer
  • using the old VMS machine to troubleshoot Macintosh rendering code because it was so slow you could see each line being drawn one after the other without having to step through the code
  • probably my first taste of north-american style “bizdev” thanks to Alain Rappaport, a really smart and nice guy who’se now doing medstory.com
  • Losing a huge deal with Cray because Cray required the software to work on black and white highres monitors and our toolkit (Open Interface Toolkit, then renamed OI) had assumed that pixels were colorful (!)
  • watching a movie about apartheid and hearing people talk about East Palo Alto and having a hard time feeling good about the place.
  • expresso and ice cream from the gelato place across the way (the price of which shocked me when I went back later as a poor grad student!)
  • seriously considering staying instead of going back to the east coast, but
  • missing my girlfriend back in Providence, and going back

Anyway, the secret to Facebook’s success is clear: I must have left something there.

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