To The Five Boroughs

August 28, 2012

Lots of people have asked me why I moved back to New York and how I’m finding working in tech here. The second question is usually a lead-in to the NYC vs Silicon Valley debate, which is so tired at this point that I’ll fast forward to the conclusion: the Bay Area is where tech is at. Startups are thriving in NYC, but tech isn’t the primary sector that keeps the city thrumming.

And that’s how I like it:


The whole industry feels like a startup and we’re all in this together.

Last month, I showed some one the Made in NYC list, to which he said: “Why do NYC startups all have chips on their shoulders?”. Well… one man’s chip on the shoulder is another’s sense of solidarity. It wasn’t too long ago that there wasn’t much of a tech scene in NYC, and I bet it’s partly because of this spirit that there is one today. I’ve found the Bay Area community to be collaborative and excellent — but here the sense of tightness and mutual hunger and us vs. them is something special, and possibly transient.

Other people live here!

One of the things that irked me about San Francisco was how every coffee shop was a sea of startup T-shirts, sticker-covered Macs and conversations about funding/pivots/isn’t-it-awful-how-hacker-news-is-mainstreaming. Yes, I have startup T-shirts and stickers on my Mac and have been known to bandy about words like pivot tackily. No, I am not awesome to be around in large doses. It’s a relief to be in New York City around people who are not like me, without trying very hard (and to hear how they think about tech: “You put a filter on your photo? And then what?”). It makes me better at my work because it makes me think harder about what matters — or doesn’t — outside my world.

Yes there are real operational factors to consider. I’ve heard and can believe that it’s harder to find the right engineers and there’s comparatively less access to capital for certain types of non-consumer tech.

For me, it boils down to the answer to the first question: I moved back to New York because this city makes me happy.

My first job out of school had me working pretty late most days. On late nights/early mornings I’d take a cab home and throw myself in the backseat, exhausted and usually frustrated. The cruise through the half-asleep-but-never-sleeping city was always calming and blissful; whenever the cab turned off onto Avenue A and I saw the lights on in the Odessa diner my heart would spill over with joy. A few hours later, I’d roll out of bed and take the subway back to work with mixed feelings about some things, but absolute certainty in the bracing crush of morning that I was lucky to be able to live in a city tuned to exactly the same frequency as I am.

I gave it up and moved to San Francisco. I don’t regret it, but now that I’m back it feels like coming in from the cold and gradually getting the feeling back in my fingertips.

When I hear about great startups which aren’t based in tech hubs, I think: the founders must have found their bliss in Des Moines, or Kuala Lumpur, or wherever they are, and, for now, it must outweigh “operational factors”. And I root for them immediately, because I think if they are tuned to the right frequency they must be operating at the top of their game. And I hope that there are enough of them in their cities with chips on their shoulders to over time bring the mountain to Mohamad.

New York City is my bliss, and I’m back.