Beaufort News

It’s true. You can take the boy to Silicon Valley, but a bit of Beaufort will go with him

Elliott Friedman with his wife Nicole Mason and son Ellis Mason
Elliott Friedman with his wife Nicole Mason and son Ellis Mason Special to The Island Packet/ The Beaufort Gazette

He’s traded in the McTeer Bridge that led to his native Port Royal for the Golden Gate in San Francisco, but Elliott Friedman has taken a lot of his East Coast upbringing with him to the salty Pacific.

“I’m a 6th-generation Beaufortonian,” said Friedman. “I can tie a bowline, square knot, and figure-eight knot faster than anyone I know with my eyes closed.”

It’s what he does with his eyes open that differentiates him. Discovering a love for computers in middle school — back when the internet as we know it was still in its infancy — Friedman geeked out exploring the far reaches of what was then possible.. Since graduating from Battery Creek High School in 1998 and college several years later, he has put that love for technology to work in Silicon Valley California, a place most of us only read about in Wired Magazine.

Specifically, he has worked for Google for over a decade. Yes, that Google, the same one you’re pulling up now on your phone to verify something. As a member of a five-person team charged with managing the machines that build and test the Chrome web browser, he spends his days ensuring the systems function properly without much human intercession, though it’s probably much more technical and complicated than that.

You simply don’t stay with a Fortune 500 company for 11 years without some kind of discernible talent. He’s been with the tech giant from its early days as the number one search engine through becoming a verb and rival of Microsoft to now being an occasional political target.

He can also confirm that a lot of what you read about the Google work environment is true. A movie theater, full gym with trainers, juice bar, multiple cafes, arcade rooms, slides between floors, napping pods, libraries, 3D printing rooms, virtual reality rooms, coffee baristas, masseuses, and even a private doctor’s office are just a few of the amenities in the San Francisco Google office complex.

“I’m sure if you can imagine it, they’ll try it,” Friedman said.

What’s hard to imagine is that kind of environment in Beaufort.

Though we’re just steps from the Digital Corridor in Charleston, we’re not yet the tech haven that has developed enough for what former Charleston mayor Joe Riley called a “Silicon Harbor.”

We might get some of that 21st century business eventually, but for successful natives like Friedman, Beaufort remains an integral thread in the fabric of memories.

“I think a lot about my life growing up in Beaufort, riding bikes all over Port Royal without anyone really knowing where we were or what we were doing, climbing too-high trees or going out in the rowboat in the salt marsh,” said Friedman. “I think a lot about what my kid will experience growing up in San Francisco, so far from what I knew as a child. He won’t get to know thunderstorms, Spanish moss, or centuries old live oaks here in the Bay Area, that’s for sure, but he does love boiled peanuts.”

Those kind of musings contrast greatly at times with his current reality.

It’s different, obviously, from Beaufort, but not necessarily better. There are certain things the son of former Beaufort County School Board Member Dale Friedman and Dr. Charles Friedman misses.

“The traffic here is beyond terrible,” said Friedman, inevitably comparing the crawl of San Francisco transit to what we call traffic here. “Boundary Street or the bridge opening ... that’s good traffic,” he said. “If that bridge opens, you might miss your appointment, but really it’s a sign to slow down, get out of your car, watch the barge or boat pass and enjoy the place.”

The tech scene has changed San Francisco a lot, creating a very different culture from its origin as a port and trading post. The byproducts are expensive housing and a lack of true diversity. So while Friedman slides from floor-to-floor at the Google offices or takes his wife and child on working vacations around the country, part of him not only takes Beaufort with him but knows his next visit is just around the corner.

“I feel like no matter where my career takes me, Beaufort will always be my home,” said Friedman.

The smell of a 2-stroke outboard in low tide marsh still relaxes him, and along with genetic predisposition has created an affinity for this town that those of us who never left sometimes take for granted.

“I constantly think about how lucky I am to have grown up in Beaufort. I still hold so much of it close — the people, the water, the ecology — it has left a deep and lasting impression on me,” said Friedman.

He’s proven that. You can be 3,000 miles away and still not far from home, and if you don’t believe that kind of sentiment, you can research it.

Just open up Chrome and Google it.