synthetic zero

August 4th, 2010

Adgrok writes in “New York will always be a tech backwater“:

Every yuppie I knew in New York worked as either a Wall Street guy, a lawyer, or an agent of some sort. Basically, there were all subtly screwing someone else for a living.

As an academic exile, my passport to this foreign world was my then live-in girlfriend, an embodiment of her socioeconomic cohort: Bryn Mawr School for Girls, followed by Harvard, followed by med school. This was a person who could open the Sunday Styles weddings section2, instantly identify a half-dozen couples, and rattle off the juicy gossip dating back to their time at Eliot House.

At cocktail parties with these people, the “ambitious ass-kickers” Paul Graham thinks will save the New York tech scene, the second question you’re asked is inevitably what do you do? And so begins the not-so-subtle binning of you into your social echelon, more ritualistic and damning than any Japanese business card exchange ceremony:

+2 for working at Goldman Sachs
-1 for being a quant rather than a banker or trader
-1 for living on the Lower East Side
-2 for not being Ivy League
+/- 1 for being Gentile (depends on the cocktail party).

And you’re socially in the red at that point. The rest of the conversation is as vacuous as interstellar space.

I’m from the West Coast. I went to Harvard, but I moved back to the West Coast after graduating, living in the Bay Area, LA, San Diego, and Portland (my favorite city of all). But I finally moved to New York for the change of pace, for the different lifestyle, for the art scene, for the challenge of living in a difficult-to-live place. I’ve lived here for eight years now, have never worked for a bank or financial services company, and for the most part, while I have met, know, and think many folks working for financial services companies are perfectly fine people, I think they’re more or less wasting their lives doing things which are simultaneously boring and unproductive. I am, in other words, a West Coast snob. I think building things is more worthwhile than skimming off the top of the economy. I think hustling is a waste of time and life. You only live once. I have no interest whatsoever in appearing in the Sunday Styles wedding section and I have to say if I ever met anyone remotely interested in that I would run, not walk, the other direction as fast as I could.

But you know what? There are a lot of other people like me here. They are either tired of working for banks or they never took a bank job. They want to build things, too. If all you did when you lived here was work as a quant, no wonder you have a skewed view of what people are into here. I’ve worked for nonprofits, also staffed to the gills with Ivy Leaguers who want to build things and make the world a better place. I’ve worked for startups here too.

Yes, Silicon Alley is probably never going to rival the Valley. But there is a vibrant culture of smart, dedicated builders here who couldn’t care less about the vaporware culture of the financial services world, who want to make a difference, who want to build things and have fun. And frankly, Silicon Alley folks, for whatever reason, seem to be a bit healthier, and more female, than the equivalent crowds in the Valley. Don’t know why, but it’s just an observation.

Quality of life in New York is way less than the Bay Area, yes. Food on the West Coast (not just SF — LA and Portland have superior food in my opinion than New York, too) is far better overall. Produce is better. But there is a real tech culture here and it is not going to disappear.

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4 responses to this post:
  1. Antonio says:

    Thanks for responding.

    I actually miss New York as well. My post is actually a love letter to New York, in a tough love sort of way.

    At heart though, California has this Brave New World property to it (i.e. filled with ambitious arrivistes with big ideas) that New York maybe lost three generations of immigrants ago.

    I secretly hope I lose my bet so I can move back….

    August 4th, 2010 at 10:57 am
  2. mitsu says:

    Well, for better or worse, I don’t think you’re going to lose your bet — but that doesn’t mean New York is as bleak as I think you might make it out to be. I mean, I grew up on the West Coast, I certainly know exactly what you mean. It feels new, it feels alive, growing, active (not only the Bay Area). But the fact is, things tend to slosh around the country; ideas, culture, etc., it moves along with the people. There are lots of people moving to New York from the West, bringing that same energy and enthusiasm. When I first moved here eight years ago there were a lot of ideas, ways of doing things, etc., that were clearly new to a lot of folks I met here — but that’s not the case any longer. I no longer have to explain flat, horizontal management to folks, at least much less so than I did when I first moved here. People get it. Even in the financial services industry, there’s a growing awareness that they aren’t at the pinnacle of society, that the tech industry and the way things are done on the West Coast in fact generates things, builds things, in a way the financial services industry doesn’t. Sure, the culture of the Sunday Styles wedding section is still alive and well, but I’m just saying the alternative is growing at a shockingly fast rate.

    If you just come to visit a NY Tech Meetup you’d see what I mean. The energy is vibrant, electric; the last one I went to in July was huge, packed. Not a sclerotic suit anywhere to be seen. It’s still not the size of the Bay Area tech scene and probably never will be, but it is real and larger than you’d think.

    August 4th, 2010 at 11:11 am
  3. Magda says:

    This makes me want to go to California/West Coast in a much stronger way than ever before.

    Thank you.

    August 7th, 2010 at 6:20 am
  4. synthetic zero archive says:

    [...] It is happening here, of course, already, and it is a trend I hope only accelerates (as I noted in another post). permalink | [...]

    August 23rd, 2010 at 4:15 pm

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