History of Silicon Valley `Nerds' PBS Documentary Traces the Rise of Their `Accidental Empires'

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ITS TITLE is "Triumph of the Nerds," and what a triumph it is.

The full name of the three-hour PBS documentary is "Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires in Silicon Valley" (7 p.m. Wednesday on Channel 9), and its stars are Bill Gates, Steven Jobs and other multimillionaire or billionaire travelers on the information superhighway.

Valley historian Bob Cringely, who wrote and hosted the show, maintains a whimsical attitude toward the big-money events, as demonstrated by titles of each hour segment.

The first hour, "Impressing Their Friends," is a flashback to the mid-1970s, when a bunch of computer drudges "with limited social skills" began creating a new industry, at least partly to win acceptance from their contemporaries.

"Riding the Bear" heralds the arrival of the PC era in the 1980s, with the big-business pressures that drove some of the pioneers to other fields of endeavor. It includes closeups of Jobs, cofounder of Apple, and Gates, the Microsoft mogul.

Finally, "Great Artists Steal" brings the PC revolution to the present and speculates on future changes that could create a whole new breed of computer nerds.

Cringely, who lives in Burlingame, not far from the computer industry's Silicon Valley home in the suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose, has the credentials for this long-range view of computer history. He started in the business in 1977, two years after its founding. After working - overseas, he had enrolled at Stanford University in a Ph.D. program.

"I discovered that it was an expensive place to live, and I needed to earn money," he recalled. "I began doing work for computer companies that were starting up. I was the 12th employee at Apple."

Cringely wrote software, helped devise marketing campaigns and performed other duties for several companies, noting "Everybody did everything in those days." After earning his degree, he taught for a few years, then became a consultant for the industry and a gossip columnist - for Info World trade publication. …