The information technology revolution may have spread around the globe but there are still some areas that are more IT friendly than most.
A decade ago people were talking about the death of distance, and how the internet would make physical geography irrelevant. This has not come to pass; there are still places around the world that are hubs of technology just as there are for air travel, product manufacturing or natural resource exploitation.
This was a tough list to compile. The number one choice was obvious but the rest of it was a hard fought battle. Shaun's insistance on one area of the north eastern US was matched by my determination to see Bletchley recognised. We're a tight team here but it nearly came to blows.
So if you think there are areas that we've missed the comment section is there for you. Personally I'd have liked to see the Cambridge area of the UK make the list, but it was eclipsed by its namesake.
Honourable mention - Bletchley Park
|Bletchley Park (Station X), the birthplace of computer encryption technologies
Bletchley Park, or Station X as it was known in the Second World War, gets a mention because it's where it all began.
It was the birthplace of computer encryption technologies, location to one of the earliest programmable computers and was the home to the great Alan Turing, a pivotal figure in the development of computer software.
The irony is that until the 1970s virtually no-one knew it existed, since it was so secret during the war and the workers all kept their mouths shut. By chance I was lucky enough to meet one of the people who worked there during the war in the 1990s and listened enthralled, not just by the tales of the code breaking days but also at the quiet heroism of the woman telling me about it.
Although it's been neglected of late a visit to Bletchley is still a memorable experience for a computer enthusiast. It's got a real sense of history about it and one almost expects to turn a corner and bump into Tommy Flowers carrying a handful of electronics for Colossus or see Turing sitting on a bench doing the Daily Telegraph crossword.Shaun Nichols:
It is great to see all the work and money that is finally being put into restoring Bletchley Park.
Even to us folks over here in the colonies, the facility holds a special place due to the awesome amount of technological achievement that it generated in such a short amount of time. Not only were many technologies we see today pioneered at the facility, but its work during World War II is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.
The computing industry is by its nature very quick to move forward and discard the seemingly "obsolete" things. This is what makes Bletchley Park so special, it is one of the few truly historical IT locations. Though there may not be any billion-dollar companies or commercially successful devices emerging from within its walls, Bletchley Park definitely deserves to be named as a computing hotspot.Honourable mention- Seattle
|Microsoft Main Campus, Redmond, Washington
: The emerald city gets relegated to an honourable mention because really, only one name springs to mind when you think of technology in the Seattle area; Microsoft.
Granted, Microsoft is the biggest name in the technology business and its own campus in Redmond employs a city's worth of people, but the company's dominance of the city keeps Seattle out of the top ten.
That said, Microsoft's presence has also created a small ecosystem of analysts and partner developers in the Seattle area. And the contributions Starbuck's has made to the lives of developers and IT workers around the world might just make them an honorary technology company.Iain Thomson:
OK, Microsoft is the top dog in Seattle, but only because Seattle Computer Products put them there.
Back when Microsoft was just a small company they got the contract to produce the operating system for IBM's new PC buy buying an operating system called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) from a small firm in the city. The rest is, as they say, history.
Maybe it's the constant rain that keeps people indoors and coding, or the coffee fetish in the city (want to feel like a freak in Seattle? Ask for tea) but the city deserves its spot on the list.10. Boston
|Building 10 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) [image source: Wikipedia]
: Boston may be the home to tea-throwing revolutionaries but it also contains Cambridge, home to both Harvard and MIT.
The Cambridge area has educated and inspired some of the finest minds in IT, including the founders of Intel,Microsoft, Texas Instruments, 3Com and Qualcomm. Harvard and MIT are both at the pinnacle of educational excellence and it shows in the alumni. Once at college the minds of students can be enriched by some of the best educators on the palnet and it's no surprise that scarely a year goes by without a Harvard or MIT alumni getting a Nobel prize.
Sadly however, there's one thing they don't teach their students is how to shut up about it. If you ever meet someone who went to Harvard and doesn't manage to slip it into the conversation treasure them, for they are a very rare person indeed.Shaun Nichols
: Us free-thinking beanbag chair-loving, t-shirt to work-wearing, hippy geek types over here on the west coast may like to "shift paradigms" and whatnot, but most of the stuff that allows Silicon Valley geeks to develop their wares was either invented or perfected back those stuffy insititutions of "higher learning" back on the East Coast.
As Iain notes, those schools do have a history or staying on you like a bad tattoo you woke up with after spring break. It seems that it's just about impossible to mention Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates without noting that they went to Harvard.
And just about every prominent researcher to come out of MIT seems to keep that status as a sort of title. On the other hand, who remembers or even cares about what colleges Larry Ellison or Steve Wozniak went to? (Illinois and UC Berkeley, in case you were wondering.)9. Romania
|Romania, home to a generation of programmers
: All of Eastern Europe seems to be teeming with talented software developers, and nowhere is that the case more than Romania. But why?
Last year I was speaking with an executive from a Romanian security firm about the abundance of programming talent in his home country. He said that much of it dates back to the country's days within the Soviet Bloc. Under the Ceausescu regime, college students were basically forced to choose between majoring in computer science or finance.
Furthermore, trade embargoes forced the country to develop much of its own technology. The result was a generation of savvy programmers seasoned in writing and working with large, complex programs.
Of course, this hasn't entirely been a good thing for the world. A glut of programming talent makes fertile ground for cybercrime, particularly in a region still struggling to emerge economically from the ruins of communist rule. As such, Romania has also built up a reputation as a hotspot for malware writers and other online criminals.
Even that, however, has brought some good. With the talented hackers have come some very smart security researchers. Romanian developers have often taken the forefront in such things as heuristics and vulnerability detection.Iain Thomson
: When Microsoft decided to get into the antivirus industry who did it buy? A Romanian company.
As Shaun has pointed out Ceausescu's edicts forced many Romanians into the IT sector, and the results have been mixed. On the one hand there are plenty of Romanians who have left the country to become leading figures in the IT industry. On the other hand there's a lot of malware coming out of this little state.
Romania is a perfect storm of malware. It has lots of good coders, a fairly well wired society and local corruption, which allows malware kingpins to live in peace. You can't expect a local police chief to enforce the law when he's being paid fifty times his government salary to look the other way.8. Fort Meade, Maryland
|Fort Meade, Maryland, home to the National Security Agency
: Fort Meade isn't a name that springs to mind at first but I wanted it on the list because it contains the headquarters of the top guns of IT – the National Security Agency (NSA).
The NSA (or No Such Agency as it is sometimes known for its secretive nature) is the computer and intelligence arm of the US military and routinely scoops the best and the brightest to work within its organization. It has been responsible for intelligence gathering since the early 1950s but the computing era has seen it expand exponentially, to the extent that it is now around four times as large as the CIA.
The NSA is also better than Santa, in that it really can tell if you've been bad or good. It's the US hub of the ECHELON intelligence gathering system, which can monitor pretty much any phone call, fax or email on the planet, something that causes concern elsewhere in the world and is a boon to writers of popular fiction.
It also helps to develop encryption standards such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) that are used by all of us. It also funds academic research, although this has caused some problems as it occasionally asks some researchers to bury their results if they stumble across something potentially disruptive. Shaun Nichols
: More than anything else, the government's needs for newer and better technology have fostered the growth of the IT industry in the US. It's why many of the country's top technological centres are often built around major military facilities or government research centres.
The government likes to employ the best and brightest for its research and development, and after leaving those same researchers and developers often put the knowledge they have acquired to use in the private sector.
The famous Xerox Palo Alto Research Center got many of its top minds from nearby government research facilities, and technological hubs in places like Denver Colorado were largely formed by companies that were either contracting or working directly for the government and/or military.
Many people like to say that the people behind next big wave of IT innovations will come from MIT and Stanford, but it is just as likely that they will come out of the NSA offices in Fort Meade. In fact, one can put forward a pretty strong case that Facebook already ripping off ECHELON with some of its latest features.7. Finland
|Geek heaven? Helsinki at night.
: Okay, so the weather may be terrible and the food not much better, but Finland has still carved out a niche as one of the better places to be a geek. Sweden has beautiful women women, Norway has death metal bands and Finland has computer geeks. Scandinavia is divided up much like a high school cafeteria in that sense.
First off, it's the home to one of the kings of all geekdom, Mr. Linus Torvalds. The Linux creator shares a homeland with mobile phone titan Nokia and aptly-named security software vendor F-Secure. All in all, an impressive collection of computing talent from a country better-known for skiing and hockey players.Iain Thomson
: Oh Shaun, trust me, the stereotypes aren't true. There are plenty of ugly women in Sweden, Norway has spawned some excellent, quiet, music like the Kings of Convenience and there are people in Finland who aren't geeks.
Nevertheless Finland has proven a generator of IT innovation that far outweighs its population or size. Part of this is due to the fact that education is largely free there, so the populace is highly skilled and technically very switched on.
Far more, I think, is down to the character of the Finns. After being robbed, raped and pillaged by almost every country in Europe the Finns are very independent. They have their own industries and a walk down the high street in Helsinki is refreshingly free from chain stores found in most of the West.
It came as no surprise that Linux was developed in Finland, nor that the world's most successful mobile phone company comes from there. This is a land that says “Helvetti” to rules and makes them up as they go along, and I admire them tremendously for that.6. Zhongguancun, China
|Zhongguancun Science and Technology Park, Beijing
: In the late 1970s relations between China and the US were on the up and a Chinese man, Chen Chunxian, was invited to visit the US on a cultural exchange. During his visit he saw Silicon Valley and was so impressed he decided to do something similar at home.
The result is Zhongguancun, a city that has only existed for half a century but is already the hub of China's IT industry. Zhongguancun, or to give it its proper name "Beijing High-Technology Industry Development Experimental Zone," is built around seven technology hubs and is home to companies like Lenovo and Baidu as well as Western imports. Microsoft is building its Chinese headquarters there for example.
Anyone who thinks China is still a communist country is kidding themselves. Sure, the leadership can reminisce about the Long March but China's youth are more capitalist than anyone else on the planet and they are very, very good at it. As we move from the American century to the Chinese one Zhongguancun is a sign of things to come.Shaun Nichols
: For all the talk about the manufacturing musclepower posessed by China, there is also a very formidable high-tech sector emerging. One of the reasons for this is also why China is gaining a sizable amount of infamy with foreign vendors- authorities pay very little attention to intellectual property rights. Markets carry a bounty of pirated software and products which are often blatant knockoffs of more expensive products.
This has improved in recent years, with the Chinese government agreeing to step up enforcement of laws against copyright violation, but it is still something that has in the past and could in the future sour many technology firms from jumping wholeheartedly into China.
The other thing which will be interesting to watch is the government's handling of censorship. Free speech and access to information is one of the keys to innovation, and with more and more software switching to the internet-based model, the "Great Firewall" in China could soon go from being a human rights issue to a major hindrance to the growth of the country's IT sector.5. San Francisco
|San Francisco, home to companies such as Salesforce.com and Craigslist
: When we were coming up with this list I joked that San Francisco should be considered a separate region from Silicon Valley if only because companies from the valley actually turn a profit at some point. The differences between the two areas, however, are distinct and have become more apparent in recent years.
On the surface, it seems like San Francisco is sort of the mouthpiece for Silicon Valley; a place where the reporters and PR staff are kept so that they don't bother the engineers down in Palo Alto and Cupertino.
In reality, San Francisco has a technology sector all its own, one which blossomed with the rise of the "Web 2.0" era. Because an internet-based service doesn't require a large lab or factory space, startups were able to move from garages to small offices and apartments.
Today, companies such as Salesforce.com and Craigslist maintain their headquarters in San Francisco, while web sites such as Twitter have taken up residence in the trendy South of Market neighbourhood and made the former warehouse district the new hot place to find a start-up.Iain Thomson
: When I first came to this city over a decade ago South of Market was slum territory, with burnt out cars and warehouse raves abounding. Today it's one of the most trendy areas of the city and that's solely down to IT.
Silicon Valley is where you go to start up a business that needs lots of space to grow. San Francisco is where you come if you're a small services startup with low headcount that wants somewhere with good coffee and the best sushi this side of the Pacific.
Shaun and I may have had a giggle about the loss-making side of the business but the fact remains that online is king here. San Francisco is without a doubt the most wired city in America and it shows.
Our local paper, the Chronicle, looks destined for the scrap heap because Craigslist has stolen a lot of its revenues, suggest going out for a meal and everyone reaches for their iPhone or Wi-Fi device to find the best place and I've seen homeless people cadging electricity to power up a laptop. The city is the heart of IT innovation, even if Silicon Valley is the soul.4. Japan
|Aerial view of Yokohama, Japan
: When it comes to consumer electronics there's nowhere that beats the sheer inventiveness of Japan.
A walk through the streets of Tokyo, Osaka or Yokohama and you'll see shops stuffed to the gills with every gadget you can imagine and a few you can't. It's geek heaven and any technology enthusiast paying a visit must exercise considerable restrain or face angry calls from the bank manager.
Part of this inventiveness comes from research, with over $1bn spent annually. The returns on this investment have been stunning. Japan leads the world in robotics, green technology, intelligent software and consumer electronics.
If I have one complaint about the Japanese IT market it's that they keep so much of it to themselves. I've had plenty of cases of being wowed by some new gadget (the last one being a laptop the size of a hardback book that ran Vista with grunt to spare) only to be told that you can only get them in Japan. Start exporting, please!Shaun Nichols
: The next time someone jokingly asked you where their robot butler wristwatch computers are, say that they're most likely entertaining a group of teenagers at some storefront in Tokyo.
Not only is the consumer electronics industry much bigger in Japan, it is also far more advanced in a number of areas such as gaming consoles and smartphones. Take the iPhone, for example: when consumers in Europe and North America were queuing up to get their hands on the device and raving over all of its features, analysts were worried that the Apple phone would be too " primitive" and short on features to really make a dent in the Japanese market.
To see the numerous consumer electronics areas in which Japan stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world, one only has to look at the gadget blogs. So often the coolest stuff on the gadget sites is from Japan, and almost just as often, those products are not being exported because the Japanese manufacturers are convinced that western countries are so far behind the times that we wouldn't even know what to do with these things.
It seems that if you want to see what the future of the consumer electronics industry in the rest of the world will look like, you only have to look at what was hot in Japan five or six years ago.3. Bangalore
|Bangalore, the Indian Silicon Valley
Iain Thomson: Bangalore has been an important city in India for centuries but over the last 25 years it has built up an IT industry that has given it the nickname of the Indian Silicon Valley.
The city accounts for more than a third of all IT jobs in the country and is home to some of the biggest names in worldwide technology. It has also spawned local start-ups that are now so successful that they are buying up the IT infrastructure of bankrupted Western companies.
The city's IT business is proof of the value of targeted government and business development plans. Clusters of firms set up for business in 'clusters', like Electronics City and Whitefield, and students are encouraged to train in IT to provide a workforce.
But it's not just IT workers who have benefited. The growth in the IT industry employs millions directly and indirectly and has helped the Indian economy by bringing in billions in revenue. Maybe in the years to come Bangalore billionaires will lie by their pools and talk about the good old days, as happens today in California.
Shaun Nichols: The wave of IT outsourcing which has taken place in recent years has no doubt made Bangalore unpopular with those in other cities who have lost their jobs, but it's impossible to deny that Bangalore has taken its places as one of the world's top computing hotspots.
The companies are often able to benefit from having a large crop of employees to choose from, extensive support from the government and a relatively low cost of living in comparison with other countries. This has created a sort of perfect storm for the growth of Bangalore's IT industry.
As Iain touched on, it will be interesting to see what will happen as the IT industry within Bangalore matures. Will it foster huge crops of startups like Silicon Valley does, or will large companies rise up and dominate the tech sector?
|Taiwan's '101' building
Shaun Nichols: The small, crowded island off the coast of China has become nearly synonymous with high-tech. In a region that is rich with big names in both consumer technology, enterprise technology and semiconductors, Taiwan has been established as a centre for all three.
Among the big names calling Taiwan home are Asus and Acer, as well as semiconductor firm TSMC.
Arguably, no other country or region in the world is as dependent on the IT industry for its economic well-being. This became even more apparent last week when the government of Taiwan stepped in to prop up the country's ailing DRAM memory chip businesses.
Iain Thomson: Taiwan produces around 80 per cent of the world's laptops and a significant proportion of other computer components. The country is a mainstay of the IT industry, which is both a good and bad thing.
On the plus side it has enabled the country to grow its economy at high rates for nearly three decades. On the bad side the pollution's terrible and one day China is going to take the place over and then we'll all be in trouble.
Too much of the IT industry's productive capacity is tied up in this tiny island state. China refers to the state as its own and one day will exert its control over the area, and to be frank there's nothing anyone can do about it.
The US might talk big about protecting Taiwan's sovereignty but when it comes to the crunch trying to fight the Red Army 2,000 miles from home soil isn't a rational notion. We will lose one of the most important computing environments and China will gain a valuable asset. It's happened before, look at Hong Kong for example.
1. Silicon Valley
|Silicon Valley, still the world's #1 tech hotspot?
: The unquestioned capital of the IT world, the stretch of land encompassing San Jose and San Mateo county has become home to so many companies that it is now simply referred to as "Silicon Valley."
This list of companies headquartered in the Valley is absurd, but let's go ahead and rattle off a few: HP, Sun, Oracle, Apple, Cisco, Google, Yahoo, Intel, McAfee, Symantec, AMD, eBay. The list just goes on and on.
The history of Silicon Valley reads much like the history of computing itself. From the garage where Hewlett and Packard first joined up, to the house where two guys named Steve started building computer kits named after a piece of fruit, to the fabled labs at Xerox PARC and even the dormitories at Stanford University that housed the likes of Jerry Yang and Sergey Brin, the area is crawling with high-tech historical landmarks.
The reasons put forward for the rise of Silicon Valley are numerous. Some point to the proximity of Stanford and UC Berkeley, which combine with the Livermore and Ames research labs to churn out a river of engineering and programming talent. Others note the relatively cheap real estate and liberal Northern California culture with helping to foster ambitious startups and crazy ideas.
Regardless of the reason, there's pretty much no debate as to what the world's top technology hot spot is.Iain Thomson
: OK, we're biased, we do live here after all. But the fact remains that if you want to find the greatest area of technical innovation you head to North California.
Like it or not the Silicon Valley area has been central to the development of the IT industry for nearly fifty years. Shaun's point about the intellectual quality of local education is well made but I think there's something more primeval at play here.
California is an odd place, a dysfunctional hodgepodge of cultures and climate. In culture terms it is the kind of place that inspires people with money to take a punt at a seemingly dumb idea. If something like Facebook, which has yet to make a profit, can be valued at billions by the locals then there's an engine for growth that was willing to take a punt at IT.
But there's also the climate. Two of the greatest cities in America are found here but it's also one of the most geologically unstable areas in the world. Everyone's waiting for the big one, and while this makes some more safety conscious (I got an email when I came here detailing where the emergency supplies were in case of an earthquake) it inspires others to acts of quiet lunacy, or as it's known; the American Way.
People here really do believe that if you build it they will come. It's the kind of madcap thinking that has been proved right too often to be ignored. It's the idea place for venture capital to get strong, and the rewards have been great.