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Influx of foreign tech talent may give U.S. an edge, Fallows says

By Gus Ellis and Xiaohuo Cui | 9 Feb 2013

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(Photo: Xiaohuo Cui/ Peninsula Press)

Silicon Valley is unlikely to lose its edge to China and India, journalist and author James Fallows told a gathering of Silicon Valley leaders on Friday. (Photo: Xiaohuo Cui/ Peninsula Press)

Silicon Valley stands firm as the leader of future innovation in the world, and it is unlikely to lose that edge in the wake of fast-growing competitors like China and India, journalist and author James Fallows told a gathering of Silicon Valley leaders on Friday.

Fallows, a well-travelled writer for The Atlantic Monthly, was a keynote speaker at the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network’s “State of the Valley” Conference 2013, held in San Jose, where representatives from technology giants including Google, Cisco and Microsoft, meet once a year to discuss the state of the region.

“California is the America of America. Silicon Valley is the California of California,” Fallows said, using the analogy of a Russian Doll with Silicon Valley  at the core.

The influx of engineers and university talents from around the world has fed the tremendous demand of innovative tech companies in the Valley, he said.

According to the 2013 Index of Silicon Valley, released earlier this week by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, nearly two thirds of Silicon Valley professionals with higher education in science and engineering come from outside of the United States, a number more than twice the national average for similar professions and education levels.

“The lack of hierarchy, the focus on design, the educational focus on engineering, the embracement of failure — the combination is less common than you think,” he told a packed auditorium at Parkside Hall in San Jose. Silicon Valley is still leaps ahead of major competitors in the field of innovation, Fallows said.

Fallows also tamped down the “China fear” among the Silicon Valley crowd in his keynote speech.

Technology-driven economies in other regions outside the United States, notably China and India, are eager to stage Silicon Valley’s successful stories at a large scale. Referring to his experience writing about China’s economic boom for the last thirty years, Fallows said political challenges notably restrict China’s capacity to produce genuine innovation.

Rather than worry about foreign competition, Fallows urged the business and government leaders of the Valley to more closely examine  the challenges posed between politics and the innovative industry “at home.”

Fallows said he was not satisfied with the current level of governance in Silicon Valley, and the audience shared that view. A majority of the audience in  the packed auditorium raised their hands, when the journalist conducted a poll  and asked the crowd how many of them thought California wasn’t functioning well as a state?

In reference to Silicon Valley, and the nation as a whole, Fallows said, “We’ve got no problems except the machinery of our government.”

Read related story: Silicon Valley shouldn’t fear China, Atlantic Monthly writer says

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