God and Silicon Valley: The Journey Begins

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The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand
as in what direction we are moving.1
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

God and Silicon Valley! The two don’t seem to fit, do they?

Tucked up against the rolling coastal foothills of Northern California, Silicon Valley is a hotbed of startups and thriving tech businesses with venture capital companies flocking to invest. It is the global center of technology where innovation and entrepreneurship flourish, and where fortunes are made. Venture capitalists and technology wizards form the perfect marriage of limitless money and bountiful creativity. Together they start companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook that change the way people work and live. Innovation, technology, and wealth are idolized. Self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and pursuit of success reign.

Although there is no clear geographical area which defines Silicon Valley,2 traditionally Santa Clara County, including the cities of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Palo Alto, form its heart.

Over the years, high-tech companies have popped up north, south, east, and west of those cities. Recently, San Francisco has become part of the tech boom, not only with companies opening in the city, but many young workers living and commuting south to work at high-tech firms. Far more than a grouping of Bay Area cities, “Silicon Valley is not a location. It is a mindset,” says LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.3

The blog Entrepreneurial Insights reinforces this message: “Silicon Valley embodies more than a place with specific climates, latitude, and longitude. It is a mindset—a state of mind that places high value on innovation, on collaboration and competition, on failures and continued experiment-tation.”4

Silicon Valley’s beautiful weather, entrepreneurial infrastructure, and seemingly relaxed atmosphere draw people. But the culture is hardly laidback. People work hard—sometimes 50, 60, and 70 hours per week to meet development deadlines, release innovative products, and drive sales. Salaries are high in Silicon Valley. The median household income in Santa Clara County, for example, is over $90,000 versus $53,000 in the U.S. as a whole.5

But Silicon Valley is an expensive place to live.

The City of Los Altos in Santa Clara County, population approximately 30,000, tops the list of the priciest four-bedroom, two-bath houses in the U.S. at nearly $2 million. Compare that to the average U.S. house value of $217,000. Eight of the ten cities and towns with the most expensive housing prices are in the San Francisco Bay Area.6

Although a fortunate few get rich quickly as stock options mature, many Silicon Valley residents work hard simply to make ends meet. For young millionaires, technology workers pursuing their dreams of riches, and service workers supporting the area’s infrastructure, there is barely time for serious relationships, vacations, and leisurely home-cooked meals with friends and family.

So where does God fit in?

To a great extent He doesn’t. The George Barna Group, a highly regarded research firm on cultural and religious trends, indicates in a 2013 study of people in the greater San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area that the percentage of what it called “Highly Christianized” people is 58% lower than people in the U.S. at large, and church attendance is 30% lower.7

Steve Clifford, senior pastor of Westgate Church in San Jose, acknowledges that Silicon Valley is a hard place to do church. “Unfortunately, we are better known for what we are against, than what we are for… Any church starts out in Silicon Valley at a deficit. We are held in suspect.”

John Ortberg, author of several books and senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC), notes: “This area is made up of smart skeptics.” Silicon Valley is a stimulating and intellectual culture. Many are alumni of fine universities like Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. “At the same time,” Ortberg adds, “many of the highly educated have not considered Christianity, while others grew up as Christians but walked away from the church.”

The Silicon Valley lifestyle can leave residents busy, financially stretched, and skeptical, with little time or interest in God. But that is not the whole story. God is penetrating hard-hearted souls in Silicon Valley.

I am one example.

I was far from God when I came to Silicon Valley in 1979 to join a start-up. If asked, I would have said that I believed in God. If pressed, I would have called myself a Christian. But I had little sense of God and certainly did not practice faith. I did not attend church, did not read the Bible, and didn’t even know the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I even thought that religious people were a little weird. Faith was of little concern for me. I had recently married and was embarking on a new career in an exciting new industry. Business, family, and staying in good physical shape were my priorities.

But I did find God in Silicon Valley. God wasn’t an innovative technology, wealth, a big house, or success. He was Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, who we read about in the Bible. I describe my journey to faith in more detail in the chapter Hollow Success.
As a leader of technology companies for 35 years, I have had a front-row seat in Silicon Valley. I have participated in the revolution in personal computing in the 1980s, the growth in networking and communications in the early 1990s, the explosion in Internet usage in the late 1990s and 2000s, and the recent growth in social networking. Not only have I worked at companies involved in these areas, I have also had the opportunity to get to know Silicon Valley leaders engaged in these businesses who are also passionate followers of Christ.

This book is about how God is working in the lives of people in Silicon Valley—entrepreneurs, leaders of major companies, innovators in non-profit start-ups, scientists, and technologists.

Why is any of this important?

It is important because the way Silicon Valley goes, so goes the world. As the world’s innovation leader for nearly a half century, Silicon Valley transforms the way people think, work, and live.

Could Silicon Valley be at the early stages of a spiritual revival? Possibly. There is evidence pointing in that direction.

Pastors like Clifford, Ortberg, and many others attract thousands of worshippers every Sunday. I count more than a dozen churches in the Bay Area with 1,500 or more worshippers each week. Church planters like bestselling author and pastor, Francis Chan, have come to the Bay Area. An organization called Transforming the Bay with Christ (TBC), formed by VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger, plans to facilitate the planting of over 1,000 churches in the Bay Area before 2024.

Longtime CEO Tom Steipp says, “I see thousands of points of light rather than a single bonfire—churches, para- church organizations, and businessmen and women all working in different areas, but all seeking God’s will and doing his work.” Dave Lomas, entrepreneurial pastor of Reality Church in San Francisco—a church that in only five years has grown to 1,500 weekly attendees, most of whom are under 35 years old—comments that a minister friend told him that he has not seen such a movement of God in his 17 years of pastoring in San Francisco. New churches are opening, Christian entrepreneurs are building their companies to glorify God, prominent Silicon Valley business executives and venture capitalists put their faith at the center of their work. God is transforming lives.

Although it is sociologically interesting to consider the possibility of a Christian revival in Silicon Valley, it is more important to consider the lessons each of us can learn as we examine the lives and spiritual journeys of Silicon Valley leaders. How did they get beyond the trappings of financial and business success to find God? How did they overcome personal struggle and even tragedy to come to know Christ? How did they reconcile faith and reason and the compatibility of faith and science? And how did they discover meaning, purpose, and a calling for their lives?

In Matthew 19:26 in the Bible, when Jesus was asked by the rich ruler how he could gain eternal life, Jesus answered, “…with God all things are possible.” God is doing the seemingly impossible in Silicon Valley—changing the hearts and attitudes of the rich and successful, and those desperately pursuing riches, power, and prestige. Having a tradition of disrupting the status quo with technology, Silicon Valley may be poised to challenge its perception as a wasteland of faith as well.

This book is about people finding God in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time, and in unlikely ways. God seems to work that way. The book is about God’s transformative power—how He changes the lives of people who are open to His presence and gets the attention of those who are not.

In this book, I have grouped the Silicon Valley leaders’ journeys of faith thematically into four sections: Faith and Success; Reason, Science, and Faith; Struggle, Adversity, and Faith; and A Higher Calling. In the final chapter, Concluding Thoughts, I provide ideas and suggestions for you, the reader, to consider.

It is my hope that no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, you will consider the transformative power of God as displayed in the stories in this book—how He disrupts our intellectual assumptions, offers new meaning to success, turns tragedy into a blessing, and gives us meaning, purpose, and often a new calling.

Everyone I know has questions about God and faith—long-time followers of Christ, agnostics, and even atheists. We often gain insight when we hear people’s stories. We can argue about philosophy and theology, but cannot argue with someone’s experience.
In putting together this book, I interviewed over 80 Silicon Valley leaders. Their names were not changed and their permission was given for inclusion in this book. Some people I interviewed were reluctant to have their stories published because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They agreed to do so when I pointed out that although the story is about them, it is far more about how God is working in them and through their lives.

Collectively, God’s story is powerful. It is transformative. We gain insight into God’s character—His desire for us to know Him, His help in times of trouble, His steadfast willingness to meet us where we are, and most importantly His love for us.

Enjoy the journeys of faith in this book and consider the potential power of God in your own life.


  1. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/4140
  2. With high tech companies and workers expanding across the San Francisco Area, I use the terms Silicon Valley and the Bay Area interchangeably when talking about the region, but generally use the term Silicon Valley when discussing technology related subjects.
  3. “Reid Hoffman, Mr. LinkedIn,” FT Magazine, March 17, 2012 — http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/df0f609c-6e31-11e1-baa5-00144feab49a.html#axzz38Jd2mePx
  4. “Startup Hubs Around the World: Silicon Valley,” Entrepreneurial Insights” blog, June 28, 2014 — http://www.entrepreneurial-insights.com/startup-hubs-around-world-silicon-valley/
  5. United States Census Bureau, 2010.
  6. Caldwell Banker Home Listing Report 2014 — http://blog.coldwellbanker.com/hlr-2014/
  7. Barna Reports—Cities “San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose: A Profile of Residents in the Greater San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Area”


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