An Allegory of Two Valleys

A young engineer gets off the boat in Skagway. He is bright eyed and eager to find his fortune. Drawn to these hills by the siren call of gold. He has heard that a young man, of good vigor, can easily find his destiny here.

Stumbling off the dock he sets out in search of where the money is to be made. Sitting on a bench watching the ships come and go he sees an old grizzled man. Looking like someone who has been here a while, our engineer sits down next to him and asks “So where do I go to make my fortune”.

The man smiles, chuckles a bit and then leans in to say “In the valley.”

“But which valley? From where I sit I can see two valleys leaving town.”

The old man sighs. “Well that’s the question, isn’t it”, leans back and begins his tale.

“Off to left there, you’ll see Cupertino Valley. That is where we first found gold. Even after three years of steady mining there still seems to be tons of it left. In the early days, striking it rich was easy. You could just walk around picking up big nuggets straight off the ground.”

“News quickly spread of the money to be had and soon everyone with ambition was here. At first this wasn’t so bad. The first few ships attracted some of the best prospectors in the world. Truly skilled craftsman who could do things never before seen. They paved the way for the rest of us. They designed tools and techniques that would change prospecting forever.”

“The trouble started when the next few ships arrived carrying with them just about every kind of person you could imagine. Everyone wanted to stake their claim, and everyone expected to get rich. The valley was flooded with prospectors. While there were still many keeping to the old methods, before long there were charlatans and cheats too.”

“The Mayor of Cupertino Valley stepped in and started imposing all manner of rules and restrictions. He wasn’t perfect. I’ve heard all kinds of tales of good, honest, hardworking craftsman getting caught up in the crossfire. But, if you ask me, he has done a good job of trying to keep mining in the valley honest and fair.”

“Not too long afterwards the mayors of the other valleys, seeing what was happening in Cupertino, brought in every which kind of surveyor, doodlebugger, and mountebank to find gold of there own. Most of these efforts didn’t go far. The efforts in Redmond, Sunnyvale, and Waterloo valleys showed some promise, but so far I’ve yet to hear of anyone really making it big there.”

“Things got interesting when the Mayor of Mountain View, that valley there to the right, entered the picture. Well funded and having some of the smartest people on staff he took a different approach. Rather than trying to copy the success in Cupertino Valley directly, he took a different tack.”

“In Cupertino you get most of your gold directly from the ground, then pay a tax on your findings. The Mayor of Mountain View, however, had already made his fortune by farming. He was the undisputed king of farming, and he knew how to get gold from his grains. So rather than having his prospectors mine directly for gold he instead encouraged them to put there efforts into clearing the ground and turning it into open fields for planting. You see, the business of farming is all about volume, the more land you clear the more money you make.”

“Now a few prospectors there have found gold while digging up the ground, and they have done pretty well with it. But most people have found their success by following the Mayor’s lead and farming. The problem with prospecting in Mountain View is that all the farming activity means that it is very difficult to make progress in building a mine. Everyone is expecting you to farm, so you just don’t have the same support for digging.”

“The Mayor of Mountain View also capitalized on the times when the sheriffs in Cupertino were a bit to harsh in their establishment of law-and-order by promoting themselves as the free, safe place to set up shop. Unencumbered by the rules over in Cupertino, Mountain View is a bit more dangerous to live in. Anything goes. Which means that all kinds of interesting things have been done there. But that has come at the cost of security. I wouldn’t spend to much time up in that valley without looking over your shoulder and checking for your wallet.”

“I’ve heard there is a new sheriff up there, though. He appeared overnight and seems poised bring some order to the valley. Calls himself Seattle. From what I’ve heard he is taking a page out of what worked in Cupertino and seeing if it can work in Mountain View. But he is taking it farther than the Mayor of Cupertino ever did. He imposes tough restrictions, harsh policies and generally makes things difficult for the smaller prospecting operations. I’ve heard he has helped a lot of guys do some good mining, which is a hard thing up in Mountain View, but at a pretty high price.”

“I’ve heard of a few people who work in both valleys but mostly they don’t get along. We even had to build two saloons in town — Infinite Loop and The Amphitheatre — just to keep the peace. The two groups are forever getting into fights, arguing over which valley is best.”

“I, myself, have never really gotten into all that. I’ve worked in both valleys and make a good living in each. The thing is, if your goal is income you can do well in both places. But I’ll warn you. I’ve seen more than a few young prospectors like yourself try spread themselves between both valleys and ended up a ‘Jack of all Trades, but a master of none’. The people who seem to do really well, focus on one or the other. It takes a different kind of person to be good at mining compared to farming. But once you’re an expert in either, you’ll do quite well.”

“Now, if you ask me — and I believe you did. Where should you go to make your fortune?

“Like I said, I’ve done well in both valleys. I’ve had my run-ins with the sheriff in Cupertino. But, I’ve also had the Mayor of Cupertino reward my best mining with praise and attention. I’ve done more farming than seems possible, grown millions and millions of stalks of grain. But, these days I spend most of my time up in Cupertino. Things just feel right to me when I’m there.”

“In the end it is a question of taste and style. You need to need to decide how you want to make your living. You’ll make it differently in either place, but you can certainly make it. Set a goal, define what success means to you and then go for it. But, don’t spend too much time down at the saloons debating with the zealots. Half the people there have never even left town to start working, the other half have experiences unique to themselves which are unlikely to apply to you. Get into the hills, work hard, and you’ll do fine.”

Our young engineer thanks the old man for his time. Looks up towards the hills. Picks up a pick-ax and heads off to the hills. Walking past the saloons. He has work to do.

David Smith