Silicon Valley is its own world ("the Valley"), with its own language (geek speak) and its own commerce (ludicrous options grants). That's why many people I know would rather try to eat a gallon of soup with a fork than invest in tech stocks.

But forsaking all tech stocks can be a recipe for subpar returns. Consider Cisco Systems. This tech pioneer, which specializes in the once-esoteric business of networking equipment, delivered mind-blowing returns for early investors. You could have become one of the winners had you done some homework.

Yes, you could have
What homework? Trade magazines such as Network World were a great source of information when tech investments were taking off. Had you been a reader of that particular publication in 1994, you would have learned that Cisco products were helping build the digital communications backbone of the Canadian government. In 1996, you would have learned that Ryder was depending on a Cisco-powered network to keep its trucks in top working condition. And in 1997, you would have learned that Cisco employees loved their jobs so much that they were happily working 60 or more hours per week.

At the same time, had you checked Cisco's annual reports, you would have seen outrageous sales growth:


Total sales

Growth (YOY)


$1.3 billion



$2.2 billion



$4.4 billion



$6.5 billion


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Investors who seized the momentum in 1994 have seen their original positions increase 12 times in value. But those who waited till January 1997 are sitting on close to a 300% gain today, which is approximately double the market's return over the same period.

What about today?
It's tempting to say that the dot-com bubble was a unique time of massive growth and that those days are gone, never to return. But I think that's crazy. Plenty of great tech stocks are available today, and some even look like Cisco did in 1995.

How to find them? Try the same trade magazines that worked back in the day. What you're looking for are technologies that corporate chief information officers (CIOs) are willing to spend big money on. A quick search of "spending priorities" at trade magazine CIO Insight brought forth this article, which says that spending for data storage is on the rise.

Screening for opportunities in this industry isn't too difficult. Here's a list of candidates ranked by three-year revenue growth:


3-Year Revenue CAGR

Network Appliance (NASDAQ:NTAP)






Western Digital (NYSE:WDC)


Seagate Technology (NYSE:STX)




Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Could any of these stocks help you to make millions from thousands? I've held shares of Seagate for 18 months and I'm still holding. I'm convinced that Seagate will be the top dog in PC and portable hard drives for years.

But that doesn't make Seagate a Rule Breaker. Of this group, Network Appliance strikes me as the most rebellious. Why? It's an innovator. Before "NetApp," few had ever heard of network-attached storage, which gathers disks into a cohesive, networked whole for storing information. Billions are spent on this technology today, and NetApp, which has seen rising returns on capital in every year since 2002, continues to be a key beneficiary.

Make millions in tech
Learning about the technology industry isn't easy, but the rewards of study can be huge. That's why we devote significant time and energy searching for stocks like NetApp at Rule Breakers. We think hunting for the next big technological breakthroughs will lead to the highest possible returns.

If you'd like to join us at Rule Breakers, we offer a free 30-day trial. Take us up on our offer, and you'll have free access to all our picks and research, with no obligation to subscribe, for a full month. Click here for more information.

This article was originally published on July 15, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Seagate at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a rebel with a cause.