Aftermath of Invention of Transistor and William Shockley
It was not clear whether Bell Labs knew the gravity of the invention they did in 1947. This is a very interesting question which is a bit hard to find a unique answer. I say so because; it is not Bell Labs which is experiencing the real fruits of transistor. Until the invention of transistor there was no place in the earth which had the generous of Bell Labs. After the invention of transistor, did Bell Labs loose the generousness it had? This would be a fascinating question to answer.
Though William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain were the members of the team which invented the transistor, some part of the credit should go to the Head of Research – Mervin Kelly at that time. He was the person who pushed this team to start the research in 1945. Formation of the research team was a real radical move where he ignored most of the senior researchers and giving the leadership to William Shockley who was a young and energetic physicist at that time. Kelly did not put physicists with physicists, chemists with chemists, engineers with engineers, etc. He made up the team more diverse by including people with diverse backgrounds which ultimately became the reason for the success in 1947.
It is said that transistor research team was an intensively collaborative group. William Shockley has done a great job in leading the team as a co-leader. He has supported all the norms and values of Bell Labs during the period between 1945 – 1947. This was the era where there were no cubicles. All the managers were practicing open door policy where anyone could approach anyone at anytime. William Shockley was also practicing these things while engaging with the research.
After the invention Bardeen and Brattain started further development of the device. They were able to come up with an improved version of the transistor – point contact transistor. William Shockley did not like this advancement made by his subordinates. He felt jealous about it. This jealousy leads him to develop the junction transistor. This shows that even though he felt jealous, he liked the idea of improving the transistor. But this act of William Shockley was something against the norms and values of Bell Labs at that time. One of the norms at Bell Labs at that time was not to compete even with subordinates you manage. Mervin Kelly was the prime example for this. Though he encouraged the set of youngsters to come up with a solution to solve the issues faced by telecommunication switching system, he knew that the thing that he spent majority of his life developing would become irrelevant once William Shockley’s team come up with a solution. He knew that Vacuum Tubes would become irrelevant. But he had that great quality of looking at the success of his subordinates and celebrating it with them while giving the credit. But unfortunately or fortunately (This is a dilemma) William Shockley did not have that.
When Jon Gertner interviewed the Nobel Prize Winner Phil Anderson, he has said that William Shockley could never be forgiven for the transgression William Shockley made. William Shockley’s jealousy made Bardeen quit Bell Labs and move to Illinois to become a Professor. Brattain did not quit Bell Labs. But he never took up assignments with William Shockley. The most generous research team of 20th century broke apart due to the unacceptable behaviour of William Shockley.
After the incident William Shockley stuck in a middle management position. Mervin Kelly never expected the once an intensively collaborative team to broke apart as it happened. He was disappointed by the behaviour of William Shockley. Kelly realized that William Shockley is never going to succeed in managing people. He decided to get the contribution of greatest abilities and phenomenal intellect of William Shockley to projects which William Shockley could play a part as a team member.
But William Shockley had other ideas. He wanted to move up the management ladder. Due to lack of advancement he got frustrated. He took a decision in 1955 and quit Bell Labs and New Jersey. He moved to Santa Clara valley, California where he decided to put up his own company. He set up “Shockley Semiconductors” in nearby Mountain View in 1956. Initially he tried to hire some of his former workers from Bell Labs, but none of them wanted to leave the east coast, then the center of most high-tech research. Instead, he assembled a team of young scientists and engineers.
Later the area which William Shockley set up his own company became home for companies which changed the direction of whole human civilization. The place where William Shockley put up his company is now known as “SILICON VALLEY”, which is the home for Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. With time passes Bell Labs started to lose its grip as the premier center for technological innovation and R&D. Most tech people started to come to silicon valley and “Mushroom Effect of Entrepreneurship” made silicon valley the premier center for technological innovation and R&D in the world. Silicon Valley still holds that crown.