It was the fall of 2011, I was in my college dorm room, and I was on the phone with someone 3,000 miles away having the worst interview of my life. “This is supposed to be one of the best places to work in the America,” I thought to myself as I struggled to hear the lifeless, oppressed sounding voice on the other end of the line describe their job in the most boring way possible and how they didn’t care much about where they lived. This combine with the incredible cost of living that came with all of these places was heartbreaking.
So began my relationship with America’s mainstream tech “scene.” I went through this same experience again and again with nearly every “hot” tech company in the America. Sometimes flying all the way across the country for an interview, only to be very disappointed. Eventually I found work at a startup, thinking the work culture and level of community involvement would be a better fit for me. Sadly, I was almost always working on projects I just could not feel excited about. I could dig into the technology for excitement, but at the end of the day I still felt unfulfilled by my work. I spent hours making things I never saw have an impact, and felt entirely unengaged with the community I lived in everyday.
Finally something changed. Enter Philadelphia.
How I wound up here is a long personal story to save for another time, but I give full credit to my wonderful partner for enabling me to take a huge leap of faith.
Here’s why decided to stay: much to even my suprise, for a young tech worker like myself, Philadelphia is far greater than the many other places I considered moving, and any place I’ve ever lived. Here are just a few of the reasons why.
The tech community
This comes first because it took me years to understand, and it’s behind why I was unhappy with my job for so long. The tech community in Philadelphia cares about Philadelphia. Companies and people support each other and work to improve the city as a whole.
When I go to a tech meetup I hear about ways people are trying to creatively solve the city’s problems, not create the next billion dollar sell-out app. I can see the impact of my work and the work of those around me. Take a look at codeforphilly.org or check out the work of almost any of the companies based here and you’ll see what I mean. Also, it was this community that led me to the best job I’ve ever had.
Cost vs. Quality of life
As a young person, living in this city is truly affordable. I can live in a nice apartment in a beautiful safe part of downtown for about 20% less than my crappy college dorm room in central virginia cost me. There are hundreds of restaurants and bars I can actually afford. I don’t need a car. I can even pick up groceries for less money than anywhere I’ve ever been.
Biking, walking, and public transportation
This city is crazy old, older than the country itself, basically, it wasn’t designed around the automobile. The small streets are not only great for walking and biking, but you never have to cross 8 lanes of traffic or walk more than a mile to be somewhere interesting. Want to go to any of the outlying towns? You can take a train for a few dollars. Want to go to NYC? You can be there in an hour.
This city actually has more bars and Restaurants than San Fran, from classic dives to new adventurous places opening almost every week. Most are very affordable, locally owned, have amazing food, and you can walk to them in less than 15 minutes. There are many local breweries, as well as bars specializing in craft beer. Also, the whole b.y.o.b. mom-and-pop restaurant thing is just magic.
Things are getting better all the time.
Despite the problems arising from being post-industrial, and in state with a large rural/urban split, like underperforming city schools, and poverty, this place works to get better all the time. The people aren’t running away from the issues, they are facing them together. The tech population here is growing all the time with many available jobs in addition to a supportive community. In fact the city is experiencing a population increase and cultural renaissance not seen in decades, and you can get deeply involved with even a little time and care.
I’m only brushing the surface, but if you are disillusioned by the “top-40” tech scene, give Philly a try. I’ll be your friend when you get here.