Why I picked NYC over Silicon Valley

New York City, taken from a terrace on 15th looking south towards the Freedom Tower.

After spending two summers interning in the Bay Area, and talking it up that whole time, I decided to transfer to New York City for full time. Here's some of the rationale behind my decision.

First and above all, my now-wife (also a software eng, same company) and I realized that we'd spent our whole time in college rushing to get out and into industry. While we had some fun with Knight Hacks and Tech Knights, the bulk of our time was spent getting out as quickly as possible. But during my final internship, I really started to realize just how much time I had in life, in my career, and how silly it was to feel like I needed to be making an entrance into Hooli.XYZ by the time I'm 23. That's not to say I won't try, but utlimately we both realized that we had plenty of time to move to the Bay in the future if our careers led us there, and it was worthwhile to take some time to do something fun and different.

But that being said, there were a number of things that had began to irk me during my second summer in the 'Valley that made NYC seem a bit refreshing:

Infrastructure and Traffic

The biggest one was the infrastructure. For a place so data driven, so fixated on rapid prototyping, the 101, Caltrain, and BART couldn't align worse with that goal. The fact it's the norm that the place that adopted Soylent so people could save time eating has an average commute of over an hour a day is absurd.

For the 101, the shear volume of cars combined with the fact it's pretty much the only road you can use to drive anywhere is further maimed by broken ramp signals, forced zipper merges between roads going 55 and roads going 20, and a severe lack of HOV exits that repeatedly force the carpoolers and company shuttle buses to lane change all the way across traffic to get to their exits.

That's okay, automobiles kinda suck anyway, so let's just use public transit. That was my life my first summer there, and I ultimately didn't go far because of situations like this where you pay $6 and an hour of time to go 9 miles. Okay, I know, I'm cherry picking. But it was about a two hour trip to get from my place in South Bay to the Mission in San Francisco by train, which wasn't helped by the fact that BART and Caltrain could never do a timed transfer properly. You get off one train only to see your transfer speed away. Pointless. I'm sure this is much better if you live in San Francisco, of course, so this really isn't an apples-to-oranges comparison. But I clearly have some pent up feelings about this, ok?

Biking infra was meh, but it's a bit meh here in NYC too. Both places are working on it, so I'll abstain from commenting on that. But I was able to completely ditch my car when I moved to NYC and pay a flat $120/mo for ultimated public transit, so that's pretty cool. And it's pretty fast, though technically we're cheating thanks to how little land Manhattan actually occupies.

Tech, tech everywhere!

At very, I thought it was cool that there was so much tech out there. But after my wife and I passed the "api.ai" building on the 101, she told me she'd seen enough. My tipping point was when I was doing homework in a Starbucks and the table next to me was circlejerking about how Tesla was going to solve fully autonomous driving via software updates. I love tech, I really do. But after my serious burn out last year [‡], I needed a break.

Also, San Francisco was the one place I've felt ashamed of where I work. I would never wear my company backpack and would hide my badge in my pocket when outside. It always felt awkward when my Uber driver realized where I was going. Maybe that was in my head. But no where else have I tried to pretend that I'm the kind of intern that makes coffee and files paperwork.

Things I like about NYC

  1. The tech scene is reasonable. It's there when you need it, but not in your face all the time.
  2. Public transit works well. Ditched my car, happy to leave it behind.
  3. Data driven, somewhat. NYC has a huge open data portal and you can run queries with a JSON API. Useful for nagging on politicians.
  4. There's a whole lot to do that isn't tech. History, art, sightseeing, night scene, food, you name it, it's probably here.
  5. Trains.
  6. There's no where in the USA quite like NYC, and certainly not like Manhattan. If you want different, for better or worse, this is the place to be.

Things I miss from the Bay

  1. The sheer number of job opportunities.
  2. The weather.
  3. In-N-Out. Seriously, can we get one of those out here???

I really do have some emotional attachment to the Bay. It was the first place I went on my own to work, and it has an incredible amount of history to it related to the development of the modern computer. But unfortunately, there's much work to do regionally and culturally before I can say with a straight face that it's a pleasant place to be. Maybe I'll settle down there some day. But for now, I'm enjoying a journey that feels completely different from the rest of my life.

Animal style fries from In-N-Out

‡: When I was interning at Facebook, I tried to do it all. Maintain open source, work 10 hour days, put in more time on the weekends to finish my project faster. I kept getting less and less done and felt like I had to work even harder. In retrospect I realize what an idiot I was. Ended up quiting my job when I got back to school and started working from home. Took over a year before I felt like I could truly work at normal levels again. Don't be me.