When the “Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else Can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World” hit the bookshelves earlier this year, The Harker School was honored to be included in a chapter about the competitive advantage of being raised in the area.
Written by locally based entrepreneur and author Deborah Perry Piscione, the now national bestseller (published on April 2 by Palgrave-Macmillan) offers an inside look at Silicon Valley’s history and uniquely innovative culture, exploring how the region may hold the key to revitalizing global prosperity.
Harker is profiled in the book, along with the some of the area’s leading companies, tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The school’s section appears in chapter 12, which is titled “The Bench,” and includes quotes from interviews with both Jennifer Gargano, Harker’s assistant head of school for academic affairs, and Anita Chetty, an upper school biology teacher and science department chair.
In her book, Perry Piscione noted that Harker was labeled as “The It School for the Next Einsteins” by the San Jose Mercury News, partly based on the number of science winners the school can claim. Indeed, Harker consistently produces semifinalists and finalists in the Siemens Competition and the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science competition.
Gargano and Chetty attributed the “special sauce” behind Harker’s success to its student body, who they called uniquely motivated to learn and help improve the world. Harker News Online recently caught up with Perry Piscione at Litquake, a local literary event featuring more than 40 popular and upcoming authors. Piscione had just returned from a European book tour and was one of several Litquake speakers asked to appear at special “In Conversation” salons for in-depth discussions during the event, held at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. The other two noted authors included Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, and Jane Smiley.
During her talk, she explained that in Silicon Valley there is not “one way” of doing things. “Overseas and on the East Coast there is a hunger for knowledge about this place,” said Perry Piscione, who, even before writing her book, was known for her work as a media commentator and public speaker. Perry Piscione is also the co-founder and CEO of Desha Productions, Inc., a multimedia company that owns and operates Alley to the Valley (a networking site for influential career women) and BettyConfidential (an online women’s magazine). Additionally, she is co-founder of Chump Genius, an educational gaming company for kids, whose two main characters are modeled after her twin sons. Moreover, she is the co-author of the book “Unfinished Business: The 10 Most Important Issues Women Face Today.” Before moving to Silicon Valley, Perry Piscione called Washington, D.C. – where she served as a staffer in the U.S. Congress and the White House – home.
While there, she also worked as a media commentator for CNN, MSNBC and FOX News, and as a guest lecturer at American University. The East Coast transplant said she relocated to the Los Altos Hills for a job opportunity her husband, Dino, had as a retail executive.
She conceded that at first she felt somewhat lost upon her arrival here, yet soon settled in and discovered that “there’s something in the air” that brings people in Silicon Valley together. “It matters only if you are smart; it’s not about where you came from. It’s like Oz out here; there is an openness and collaborative feeling,” she explained. Still, she conceded, Silicon Valley is not a perfect place: women are still not found in as strong positions as men, and there is also a dearth of African-American and Hispanic individuals. Meanwhile, elderly people living in the high tech area often feel alienated, and that they have nothing to contribute.
“We have a long way to go,” she said, “but there are organizations working to help change the conversation.” Jane Ganahl, Litquake co-founder, said of choosing Perry Piscione to talk at the literary event: “I was looking for someone with a newish book who could speak to both the present and past of Silicon Valley, and Deborah seemed perfect for that. Her book was a big bestseller, and she is highly thought of in the nonfiction world.” Among the audience applauding Perry Piscione following her discussion were her husband and three children, twin boys Drake and Dominick, and daughter Dayne Alexandria.
The children are now all students at Harker, as after researching the school for her book Perry Piscione decided to enroll them at the lower school. The twins attend grade 3 and their sister is in kindergarten. “We’ve heard her talk a lot of times!” enthused Drake, adding that he is really enjoying being a student at Harker. According to Perry Piscione, transitioning her children to Harker was seamless and made easier by “a like-minded parent community, who are engaged in their children’s lives on many levels.” She added that it was spending time at Singularity University, a learning institution located inside the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley, that helped fully persuade her to become a part of the Harker community.
“Singularity University brings together the world’s leading scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs, and explores the future of science and technology. As I learned more about where the future lies, particularly as we will see a great shift in a 21st century workforce, I thought about my children and how we were going to best prepare them,” she said.
Perry Piscione said her next book will focus on risk management, the key to innovation. According to her, while America as a country has become more risk adverse, Silicon Valley has not followed suit. “Out here no idea is crazy … Anything is possible … You can dream big and find someone to back you … Nobody does risk better than Silicon Valley!” she said.