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Why Silicon Valley Won't Be the Green Car Detroit 329

Posted by timothy
from the 300-miles-ought-to-be-enough-for-anybody dept.
thecarchik writes "NPR boldly pronounced, 'The new automobile of the 21st century is likely to benefit from the culture of Silicon Valley, where people are used to taking a chip, a cell or an idea and working on it until it becomes something big.' We've thought about it for a year, and discussed it with many people. And we don't believe it. Silicon Valley is the wrong place to build an auto industry, for three main reasons."
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Why Silicon Valley Won't Be the Green Car Detroit

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  • why would they be expected to build anything else? they'll build the specs and engineer the processes and ship it off to china... business as usual.
  • California Taxes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:39PM (#33979252) Journal

    That's reason number one. That's the last place I'd want to build an industry, not just because of me but also my workers would have to deal with the heavy tax burden.

    Better someplace that has few taxes & doesn't steal (much) money from the workers' paychecks. Like one of the Carolinas.
    .

    >>>Feedback on this comment system?

    Yeah it sucks. And it's slow (CPU intensive). And I can't get back to the classic (plain text) index even though I've un-checked and checked it multiple times.

    • >>>Feedback on this comment system?

      Yeah it sucks. And it's slow (CPU intensive). And I can't get back to the classic (plain text) index even though I've un-checked and checked it multiple times.

      Go to Preferences, then click on "Layout" under "Dynamic Index" and then select "Use Classic Index"

      • BZZT! Still not giving me the classic index!

        • by idontgno (624372)

          Exit and restart your browser.

          No, really. I know it sounds like typical brain-dead "please reboot your computer" tech support script-mongering, but at least for me (on Firefox 3.6.11), that made the difference. Set the UI, as mentioned above. Then exit the browser and restart it.

          Don't know why, but that worked for me. YMMV.

      • >>>click on "Layout" under "Dynamic Index" and then select "Use Classic Index"

        Yeah that's what I meant when I said, "can't get back to the classic (plain text) index even though I've un-checked and checked it multiple times."

    • by mlts (1038732) * on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:11PM (#33979718)

      I would also choose to build cars somewhere else for the following reasons, even not bothering with taxes:

      1: Heavy industry is not popular in CA. I'd encounter NIMBY syndrome everywhere I wanted to place a heavy duty factory.

      2: Detroit has lots of fresh water. Most of California does not. This is a make or break, because if push came to shove, the spigots would be turned off on the factory's water supply so the golf course down the street can water their lawns.

      3: Energy problems. California has brownouts aplenty. I'd either have to have large batteries to make up for the poor power grid there, or move to a place that has more reliable power.

      4: Traffic. I would not be able to move cars out to the rest of the nation and the world as readily as if the plant was located in a less populated region.

      Where would I put a factory? Michigan and Texas both come to mind. Detroit, Abilene, or San Antonio would be ideal spots. From there, I can get vehicles onto ships, I can get supplies from both coasts easily. Texas also has the advantage of being "open for business" all year around with few days of snow or bad weather.

      • by chriso11 (254041)

        Your points aren't very great.

        First, heavy industries are generally heavy polluters. The characteristics of California make it easy for air pollution to hang around rather than disperse. Northern California is still dealing with all the mercury that was dumped all around during the gold rush. Maybe other states like pollution, that's fine by me.

        Second, yes, Ca doesn't have as much water as some states. But the biggest chunk of water usage is for farmers.

        Third, PG&E sucks. But the energy problems you tal

      • by bhcompy (1877290)
        1) Heavy industry is not popular. Correct. 2) No one is having water "brown outs" in CA. Valid concern in So Cal, but water isn't much of a problem in Nor Cal outside of Central Valley farming regions. 3) Major brownouts haven't occurred since we kicked Gray Davis' ass out of office 4) California is the shipping capital of the US. Plenty of consumer traffic, sure, but the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles(ahem, busiest in the US) are the primary destination for imported Asian cars. California is a p
      • Traffic. I would not be able to move cars out to the rest of the nation and the world as readily as if the plant was located in a less populated region.

        Highway traffic is roughly as relevant to this scenario as the price as tomatoes. Big industry doesn't use trucks for long distance movement - it uses trains. And California is very well connected. Less populous regions... aren't.

        Where would I put a factory? Michigan and Texas both come to mind. Detroit, Abilene, or San Antonio would be ideal spot

    • That's reason number one. That's the last place I'd want to build an industry, not just because of me but also my workers would have to deal with the heavy tax burden.

      It would be "the last place" to build an industry because of the "high tax burden" when its not in the top 10 of US states by tax burden, measured either by (tax $)/population or by (tax $)/($ personal income)?

    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      >>>Feedback on this comment system?

      Yeah it sucks. And it's slow (CPU intensive). And I can't get back to the classic (plain text) index even though I've un-checked and checked it multiple times.

      ... and the feedback email link doesn't work. I got rid of the awful disasterous mess by unchecking "Enable Dynamic Discussions" and "Enable Dynamic Discussion Keybindings".

      I don't like the new comment system, and if it becomes permanent I'll stop reading the site. That means loss of advertising eyeballs

    • by careysub (976506)

      TThat's reason number one. That's the last place I'd want to build an industry, not just because of me but also my workers would have to deal with the heavy tax burden. Better someplace that has few taxes & doesn't steal (much) money from the workers' paychecks.

      Yes, the crushing tax burden on the being in the second quintile of per capita taxes. According to the very conservative newspaper The OC Register (http://www.ocregister.com/articles/tax-270147-pay-increases.html?pic=19). California's total tax burden is 12th in total revenues collected per capita. Calculated as a percentage of income (California ranks 7th in income) it is even lower.

      This is not an unreasonable tax burden for a state requiring the infrastructure and education to support a high-tech economy.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      Yeah it sucks. And it's slow (CPU intensive). And I can't get back to the classic (plain text) index even though I've un-checked and checked it multiple times.

      From your use page: Help & preferences -> Discussions -> Vieving -> Slashdot Classic Discussion System.

      Took me a while to figure it out too. Kinda panicked when I thought that I'd be stuck with the new system.

  • Canada! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:43PM (#33979314)

    Come build your car manufacturing plants in Canada, eh? Our workers don't ask for $100 per hour salaries and we got all four seasons* to test your technologies too!

    * warning: the summer-to-winter ratio imay not be uniform.

  • Are they kidding? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:46PM (#33979360) Homepage

    Are they kidding? Silicon Valley already doesn't do a lot of it's hardcore manufacturing. Neither does Detroit anymore.

    It's a globalized world out there now. There's no good reason that the Valley can't be the R&D center for even conventional cars. Nevermind bleeding edge EV cars. They just might not build them in California.

    An electric car would be no different from an iPod in this respect.

    • I know, I kind of looked at the headline and went...

      Why would it anyone think that?

      I should submit an article on why Canada won't be exporting snow.

      • by iammani (1392285)

        Actually they should, when alaska is [slashdot.org], canada should too.

        • I suppose northern canada (away from the lakes) could, but exporting snow that would otherwise melt into the great lakes might break the Great Lakes Compact. Same reason we here in Rochester won't be shipping any water down to Arizona anytime soon.
      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Speaking of Canada: Why isn't there a Phoenix dealership in Texas yet? This is pickup truck country. Our governor should be smiling next to the relevant provincial governor and sending a bunch of those bad boys down here.

        Put charging stations next to all of those West Texas windmills...

    • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:19PM (#33979828)

      Are they kidding? Silicon Valley already doesn't do a lot of it's hardcore manufacturing. Neither does Detroit anymore.

      Detroit doesn't do manufacturing? That would be news to those of us who live in Detroit. Despite all its problems, Detroit still is the beating heart of manufacturing in the US. EVERY automobile company has a presence in Detroit. Every major auto supplier has a presence in Detroit, many headquartered here. There is still heaping gobs of manufacturing jobs throughout Michigan even despite the recent problems. Major defense contractors like General Dynamics as well as lots of biomedical engineering goes on in Detroit. It's also one of the top 5 finance hubs in the US.

      Silicon Valley won't be the Detroit of green cars because Detroit will be almost certainly be the Detroit of green cars. Little known fact: Detroit metro has the FOURTH highest [altiusdirectory.com] amount of high tech employment in the US. Detroit already has huge expertise in building cars, existing infrastructure, tons of engineering talent, idle manufacturing capacity and a work force in need of employment. Michigan is investing huge into battery manufacturing. Silicon Valley will get involved to be sure - especially in the electronics that are going to be an ever more important part of the vehicles. Not to say things are roses in Michigan; they aren't but anyone who thinks Michigan is out of the manufacturing business doesn't understand manufacturing.

      There's no good reason that the Valley can't be the R&D center for even conventional cars.

      Sure there is. The engineering talent and the companies that need it already live elsewhere. Moving to Silicon Valley would require uprooting a lot of existing investments, people to relocate to a place with no particular advantages in technologies specific to automobiles besides electronics and software. There is auto R&D that occurs in California already but Silicon Valley isn't remotely the only place with engineering talent in the US. Could it happen? Sure. Likely? Very very doubtful.

      An electric car would be no different from an iPod in this respect.

      Right, because building iPods makes Apple/HP/etc perfectly suited to get into the auto manufacturing business. No difference whatsoever... [/sarcasm]

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        > Every major auto supplier has a presence in Detroit, many headquartered here

        The operative word here is HEADQUARTERS. It's like how everyone has offices in Walmart's home city despite the fact that all of the factories are actually in CHINA.

        The home office doesn't have to be where the stuff is actually made.

        Acting like it does is really ignorant on NPRs part.

        Detroit globalized like everyone else.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JWSmythe (446288)

      I partially agree. The silicon valley was good at making tech, but it's definitely not an industry town.

      Detroit is still heavily populated by good hard working people, that will work long hard hours for good pay. Unfortunately, the unions made a mess of things. It was advantageous for workers, but not good for the company. Workers received exceedingly high wages, and great benefits. This, along with the corporate greed raised the prices of the product. It became more cost

  • by Scareduck (177470) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:47PM (#33979374) Homepage Journal
    The same problems exist in the energy domain as well. California has steadily been making the state hostile to actual manufacturing, the technical domains (bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science) are only superficially relevant to Silicon Valley's prime skill set (microlithography, electrical engineering), and the business model is way off (what? There's no exit strategy? You mean we have to actually OPERATE THIS THING OVER THE LONG HAUL?).
    • by dwye (1127395)

      the technical domains (bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science) are only superficially relevant to Silicon Valley's prime skill set (microlithography, electrical engineering)

      Materials Science only superficially relevant to microlithography?

      I would point out that none of your S.V. Skill Sets were native to the Valley, but were imported, and were importable because of the presence of Stanford, which is rather more than just a school of microlithography and another of microelectronics engineering.

      OTOH, your other points look good, alas.

    • the technical domains (bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science) are only superficially relevant to Silicon Valley's prime skill set (microlithography, electrical engineering)

      Silicon Valley is pretty close to one of the nation's more significant biotech centers (South San Francisco.) Northern California, generally, is a pretty big area for bioengineering.

  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:48PM (#33979384)

    Although it makes some concessions to the idea, the article ultimately struggles around the idea that where things are prototyped/engineered isn't necessarily where they will be built.

    And I agree, Silicon Valley is a terrible place to build a manufacturing plant. Cost of living is too expensive and you can't reasonably expect to pay factory workers wages that will allow them to compete for housing with programmers and engineers.

    However, the article makes an awful case that engineering around green cars can't/won't happen in Silicon Valley. They point out that Tesla has to work to attract the kind of specialized engineers they need to move out there. But you know what? The point is, you can convince them to move out there. It might cost you, but you can do it if it's important enough. Good luck convincing the best and the brightest that they want to live in Detroit instead, despite a much cheaper cost of living.

    • by pavon (30274) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:08PM (#33979672)

      Slashdot has posted several articles from greencarreports.com (all submitted by thecarchik), many of which have been pretty poor, including the one about cambered tires improving efficiency [slashdot.org] while completely neglecting the fact that it ruins handling, a study showing that hyrid cars don't save enough gas to cover extra cost [slashdot.org] by conveniently only looking at the first 5 year of the cars use.

      I've added them to my ignored links list.

    • They point out that Tesla has to work to attract the kind of specialized engineers they need to move out there.

      And even that is probably a bit fluffed up in terms of being a metric. Tesla works hard to attract the best and the brightest because they want the absolute cream of the crop for their engineers. SpaceX is just as picky with it's engineers. These companies don't shop worldwide because there are no engineers in California. They shop worldwide because they want the smartest sons of bitches money can buy working for them

      If quantity of engineers (non software/electrical) is a problem for any start ups in Ca

    • Good luck convincing the best and the brightest that they want to live in Detroit instead, despite a much cheaper cost of living.

      To use your own logic, "you can convince them to move out there. It might cost you, but you can do it if it's important enough."

      Detroit has a FAR worse reputation than it deserves. Michigan is actually an amazing place to live and much of the manufacturing doesn't actually take place in Detroit itself. The summers are beautiful and the winters have lots of activities for those not afraid to step outside, you are never more than about 80 miles from the coast of one of the Great Lakes, cost of living is rea

  • Where's the No Shit, Sherlock Tag?

  • Silicon Valley has the flashy ones, but companies like Fisker that are pushing the envelope on the industry are expanding in So Cal. Production will almost always be elsewhere, though, since costs here are so ridiculous, especially for union labor.
  • the three reasons (Score:4, Informative)

    by Surt (22457) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:54PM (#33979480) Homepage Journal

    From the article:
    Long cycles, faraway profits

    Wrong kind of engineers

    Painful place to build things

  • Customisation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rough3dg3 (1372837)
    I agree with many of the points made in the article. The one point that got my attention (and then got me thinking) was "These days, it takes $1 billion or more to design, engineer, test, certify, and launch a brand-new vehicle. And that takes roughly five years." My point is that I am eagerly looking forward to the time I can buy a car online with a build specification similar to the options I am offered when I visit Dell's or some other company's website. How long before we get PnP components for cars l
    • My point is that I am eagerly looking forward to the time I can buy a car online with a build specification similar to the options I am offered when I visit Dell's or some other company's website. How long before we get PnP components for cars like we do with computer components?

      Have you actually ever ordered a new car? You might try it, because the auto companies were offering shedloads of options and high customization long before Micheal Dell's parents were a gleam in his grandparent's eyes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by corbettw (214229)

      That would kill the franchise car dealer system, so none of the big automotive players will jump on board this concept. It would take a start-up that doesn't have any entrenched interests in their supply and/or sales chains to make something like this a reality. And considering the costs involved in designing a plant that can handle these kinds of orders, I just don't see a start-up having the necessary cash on hand to pull it off.

      In other words, ain't gonna happen.

  • by Sooner Boomer (96864) <sooner@boomr.gmail@com> on Thursday October 21, 2010 @04:59PM (#33979552) Journal
    Forget Cali, come to Central Oklahoma! Our GM plant closed last year; the facility and knowledgeable manpower are available. Decently low cost of living, decently high wages, right-to-work (not that I'm anti-union). Plenty of inexpensive power (natural gas-fired electrical plants) and good weather. Heck, we even have earthquakes [modernsurvivalblog.com].
  • Imported engineers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:09PM (#33979700) Journal

    TFA is saying that one of the reasons the valley won't manufacture cars is because they'll have to import engineers from elsewhere since the ones already in the place are only qualified in microelectronics and aren't qualified in the heavy duty engineering needed for manufacturing.

    Silicon Valley's already full of imported engineers who were brought in to work as coders. I'm one of them. I don't see why they couldn't import the necessary skills. The valley is a very attractive proposition to someone living in India, or in England as was the case for me.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      The valley is a very attractive proposition to someone living in India, or in England as was the case for me.

      Or, maybe, Detroit. The lie that America doesn't have qualified engineers is corporate propaganda.
    • It is one thing to bring in enough engineers to do design work, or the modest scale production that Tesla currently does.

      It is another thing to bring in the 100's of engineers needed to operate a manufacturing plant of the scale to build even 50,000-100,000 cars per year. The skill set of engineers who have been writing code for many years doesn't translate to production and manufacturing engineering in heavy industry.

      The greatest concentrations of those types of engineers is in communities that already h

  • The NUMMI plant (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:15PM (#33979774) Homepage

    Tesla has the advantage of taking over the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA, a big, successful auto plant shut down for the 2008 recession, when Toyota, for the first time, had to close plants. They're only using a fraction of the plant, but they own all the buildings (although not all the land; they didn't buy all the parking lots). There are plenty of laid-off auto workers living nearby, so a workforce is available.

    The cost differential with China has narrowed. It turns out that once wages in China reach a quarter of the US level, China manufacturing stops being competitive. The transport costs, the delays, and the quality problems make outsourcing manufacturing less attractive. With wages rising in the coastal provinces in China, (and wages dropping in the US) that wage level has been reached in some industries.

    Also, with all the foreclosures, bay area house prices have dropped. Maybe by a factor of 2.

    Operating in Detroit has its own problems. The weather is harsh. Crime is high. Most of the people with competence and ambition moved out when the jobs did.

    Don't worry about the rare earth supply problem. Mountain Pass, California [molycorp.com] is already coming back on line.

    • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:47PM (#33980194)

      Operating in Detroit has its own problems. The weather is harsh. Crime is high. Most of the people with competence and ambition moved out when the jobs did.

      Bullshit. The weather is fine unless you are a huge sissy and in case you didn't know, manufacturing occurs indoors. The workforce and engineering talent ALREADY lives here. Crime is not particularly high in most of Michigan. Since you are obviously ignorant about how things work in Detroit, most of the manufacturing does not take place in high crime areas. Very few companies actually make anything in Detroit proper - everyone moved out to the suburbs LONG ago. Oakland County (the one immediately to the north of Detroit proper) is one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country and one of only 10 or so with a AAA credit rating.

      The dumbest comment though is the last one you made. No one with any competence in Detroit? Spoken like an ignorant jackass who doesn't actually know anything about Detroit or what goes on there. Michigan has the 4th highest amount of high tech employment of any major metro area in the US. The place is absolutely crawling with engineering talent. Might not be as glamorous as microchips and software but make no mistake that there are a LOT of very smart people in Michigan.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by durdur (252098)

      The Bay Area is still hugely expensive to live in, by most measures. Not just housing but many other things are expensive and it is in a high tax state/region. So wages tend to be higher here, too. It is not a low cost place to operate a business. Many local high-tech firms find the advantages of being here outweigh the costs, but these companies also typically have large offshore development centers, so a lot of their labor is non-local.

  • Not so easy. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:16PM (#33979800)

    One of the big advantages Silicon Valley has enjoyed is it's proximity to Asia. And likely it's one of the reasons why Silicon Valley is where it is. They enjoy easier access to the high technology coming out of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and the manufacturing resources of China.

    The automotive industry is an entirely different beast. The technology isn't nearly as concentrated as it might be with computers or consumer electronics. A company could draw on manufacturing, expertise and technology from Europe, Asia and within the United States. So why even bother putting up with the high taxes and regulations present in California? The company could be based anywhere.

    And building a car, especially a green car, is a far more complex undertaking than a lot of people seem to realize. I expect we're going to see a lot of investors burned in ventures that end up not working out. Even Tesla, which has gotten far further than most is struggled. Too many start ups have impractical pie-in-the-sky ambitions. Unrealistically lightweight vehicles with amazing fuel economy that manage, by magic, to meet all crash-worthiness requirements. And they simply don't have the resources to build aerodynamic bodies cheaply and efficiently. I expect that in the end it's going to be the major automakers who will bring practical green cars to the market.

    The big limiting factor is the battery. If someone manages to produce batteries that store far more energy and can be charged quickly it would revolutionize the automotive industry. We wouldn't need hundreds of pounds worth of batteries or hybrid drivetrains and we'd still get a practical 300+ mile range out of these cars.

    • One of the big advantages Silicon Valley has enjoyed is it's proximity to Asia. And likely it's one of the reasons why Silicon Valley is where it is.

      I've never heard that theory before.

      Usually it's attributed to the proximity of Berkeley and Stanford and/or year-round moderate weather conditions that avoid both snow and "you really need air conditioning" heat.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:18PM (#33979822)
    "Painful place to build things". Silicon Valley is a very expensive, over-regulated place to do business. The only advantage it holds for current business is the critical mass of engineers that make it easy to cannibalize talent from other companies. Electric vehicle companies would likely adopt a model similar to Apple, wherein design work is done in-house in the Silicon Valley, but manufacturing is done in Taiwan or China. Also, the high efficiency vehicles of the future won't be 4-wheel cars; the safety standards for motorcycles are far less restrictive than those for automobiles, and any 3-wheel vehicle can be classified as a motorcycle. There are also several full electric motorcycles coming out now (e.g. Zero Motors).

    The "It takes $1 billion and 5 years to launch a new vehicle" is simply bullshit. It make take that long if you do it the way Detroit does it, but history has shown that Detroit is doing it wrong! Modern businesses are no longer the huge vertically integrated monopolies of the early industrial age; it is now possible to buy everything from out of house. "Wrong kind of engineers" is also bullshit -- create a demand for automotive engineers and Stanford and Berkly will train them! Granted, there is a 4-year lag, but the reason there is a Silicon Valley in the first place is because the world-class universities in the area created a pool of world-class engineers. Again, having engineers that are trained to do things "the GM way" is a disadvantage, not an advantage.
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @05:58PM (#33980318) Homepage Journal

    These days, it takes $1 billion or more to design, engineer, test, certify, and launch a brand-new vehicle. And that takes roughly five years.

    How long do you think it takes to make a missile or satellite ? It's something silicon valley has been doing for year. If you want a more mainstream example, how long do you think it takes to make a cell phone from scratch? It's not just a bunch of desks and a few smart coders. It takes industrial design to go through iterations of the device, radio designers to simulate many iterations, and finally it has to be tested by government(s) and by carriers before the phone is finally able to ship. 2 years for this is considered "speed of light", if you have to redesign late in the process it can stretch out further.

    The Kindle took 4 years to develop in secret before it was released, and it's not a very complicated product. There are plenty of businesses in the valley that know that hardware is a long term investment, and that you have to put up a whole lot of capital to make it happen.

  • by lelitsch (31136) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @06:37PM (#33980712)

    Nice polemic, and echoed widely. On the other hand, California leads the entire US by "value added by manufacturing" and on its own dwarfs the entirety of the Southern states the authors hold up as an example. For example, according to the US Census Bureau, California created $254bln in added manufacturing value with 1.3 million workers in 2008, South Carolina: $37bln with 230000 workers. If you crunch the numbers, you'll also see that California produces more value per worker than most other states. And until the meltdown last year, one of the primary car factories in the US was Nuumi in Fremont, CA, actually the Toyota plant Tesla bought.

    Yes, once prices come down and everyone can do it, it'll probably electric car manufacturing will probably move to other states and California will get started on the next thing. But to get this off the ground initially, Silicon Valley is a great spot, because all the expertise you need to debug the process is within a two hour drive.

    And by the way, Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW main factories are in Germany's most expensive areas, very few are in the more depressed parts (although Wolfsburg is really depressing).

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @09:16PM (#33981950) Journal

    The article says:

    Wrong kind of engineers ...

    Silicon Valley may have proficient coders oozing out of every condo complex, but it lacks--and isn't likely to develop--large numbers of engineers with the right mix of automotive mechatronics and high-voltage systems skills.

    But it misses a point: Silicon Valley has the wrong kind of PROGRAMMERS, too. In particular, the valley's levels of software reliability and bug density are far too poor.

    I started my programming career in Southeastern Michigan, and spent 15 of the first 20 years of it in the auto industry, so I know whereof I speak. ANY bit of software written for the auto industry is almost certainly life-critical. Some examples, from my own experience (mainly keeping the nightmare scenarios from happening):

      - A bug in the idle speed control results in a line of cars that tends to stall after a car length or two when accelerating from a stop sign.
      - A bug in the airbag testing software fires a proof-sample airbag while the worker is leaning over it on the test fixture (rather than after he's out of the chamber, the doors are closed, and the alarm has sounded for the required time).
      - A bug in the plant energy management system blacks out all the lights in the factory while the workers are interacting with the still-operating machinery.
      - A bug in the alarm system doesn't signal when the "flame curtain" over one end of the annealing oven fails. With no warning the plant soon fills (starting near the ceiling) with hot, carbon-monixide laden, "reducing atmosphere" gas, poisoning hundreds of workers before reaching lower-explosive-limit at an ignition source and blowing acres of roof into the next county.

    And so on.

    When I moved to Silicon valley I was ASTOUNDED at the low level of software reliability here. Design-for-reliability and even debugging subordinated to "feature velocity". Product shipped with hundreds, or thousands, of bugs. Business models that MONETIZED bugs - by selling contracts to fix them (creating the incentive to ship them for fixing later). And so on. (And open source isn't a cure for this: While it doesn't ship until the original programmer or team is happy with it, it mostly gets its reliability by accelerating the fixes, not by annealing the code into crystalline perfection BEFORE it first ships.)

    Ship a bug in a car's software and you incur the cost of a RECALL.

    At the first place I worked here in the valley one of my colleagues said I was the only guy he'd trust to program his pacemaker. Another said "["Rod"] takes three times as long to write code - but his stuff usually works the first time." (Which is not true: When you do it right - which involves getting the bugs out right away - you can code and debug blazingly fast. I would only deliver when something was finished to my satisfaction - after hundreds of debugging iterations. But my delivery of a completed project would be compared to single iterations of the others' debugging.)

    Thus I gravitated (back) to "the hard side of the force" - moving into chip design. (It's of comparable complexity to a large application these days. And it's about the only function in the valley where Detroit-level reliability is valued: Eliminating a silicon spin is about equivalent to eliminating a recall in cost to the company, but it shows up in time-to-market savings.)

    So while there are some other programmers like me available here, an auto company attempting to staff-up in Silicon Valley won't be looking for the sort of programmer that constitutes the bulk of the Valley's programming culture. (They'll do well to hire from "back home" in the rust belt or people transplanted from there, hardware designers, or programmers of medical, telecom, or MIL products.) Worse, the middle-managers here who administer the programmers are steeped in - actually the creators of - this software-unreliability culture. If the new auto company's personnel execs don't figure this out in time you can imagine the debacle when the product hits market - or the delays and cost during the delicate venture-funded stage as they try to retrofit quality into their firmware - or rip it out and replace it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:36AM (#33983208)

      East Bay:
      Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - Livermore, CA
      Aero Precision Industries - Livermore, CA
      Peregrine Falcon Corporation - Pleasanton, CA
      Alameda Aerospace - Alameda, CA
      Erg Materials & Aerospace Corporation - Berkeley, CA
      Ocellus Inc - Livermore, CA
      Inspace Systems - Oakland, CA
      Braxton Technologies - Pleasanton, CA
      General Dynamics Corporation - San Leandro, CA

      Pennisula:
      L 3 Communications - San Carlos, CA
      Peninsula Avionics, LLC - Mountain View, CA
      Northrop Grumman - Oakland & San Francisco, CA
      Ideal Aerosmith, Inc - Menlo Park, CA

      South Bay:
      Space Systems/Loral - Palo Alta, CA
      Honeywell International - Fremont, CA

      Santa Cruz:
      Lockheed Martin Space Systems - Boulder Creek, CA

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