Thursday, August 25, 2005


Well, this is it! I'm just as scared as you are. Together, we'll get through this. Together.
It seems like most people start off their blogs by explaining why they're starting a blog. Actually, that's what I meant to do, but I think I'll postpone that for the next post. Instead, I'll talk a little bit about my recent move.

Growing up, I really had no concept of what I wanted to do with my life. I suppose that's fairly typical for youngsters, but past the third grade I even stopped fantasizing about wanting to become an astronaut, or a novelist, or a President. In Junior High I had a vague idea that I'd become an electrical engineer, because I was good at science and math, but I had only a foggy idea of what electrical engineers did, and don't recall even wondering whether I'd leave Minnesota or stay put.

I had an epiphany late in my junior year of High School. Appropriately enough, it came from the same teacher who would introduce me to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Although amazingly obvious in retrospect, it felt like divine intervention at the time. You've been programming for over five years. You really enjoy it. You are pretty good at it. Computer programming is a respectable career that pays well. Why not give it a shot? Out went the electrical engineer, in came the computer scientist.

(I promise this has something to do with my move. This is as good a place as any to warn that my personal writing tends to ramble and circle around a point rather than face it head-on. Context is king. I emulate Joyce and Stephenson, not Hemingway and Carver. By the time I actually reach my point, I'm sometimes bored and don't give it the space it deserves. I apologize. If this irritates you, this blog probably isn't the place for you. Track me down in person, where I am always reticent, or get a friend to read this blog and summarize it for you.)

As I shifted from considering programming as a hobby to considering it a way of life, I became increasingly enthusiastic about the potential of this career. I had already devoured Stephen Levy's excellent book Hackers, and through this and other literature I had formed an idealized image of programmers as intelligent, driven, highly principled individuals who operated in a meritocracy and were determined to bring about an open society. Better living through electronics. I embraced the romantic image of the programmer/hacker as rebel/creator, an artist who resists poisonous systems of autocracy to realize their pure vision of The Program.

(Topics for future posts, filed under Nostalgia: My 8th grade report on Computers, the conflict between my self-image and my behavior, and why programming temporarily turned me into a Libertarian.)

Even as I made my decision, I knew that the one part most people would find attractive was the one I could least count on: the money. In the mid-nineties, everyone was trying to "get into computers," and study after study breathlessly announced how the US would not be producing enough skilled programmers for future needs. To me, it was obvious what would happen: there would be a huge crush of people trying to get CS degrees, schools would happily take them all on, and the market would be glutted with too many candidates. In other words, what had previously happened with the law field would repeat itself.

Of course, history never repeats itself. I was right to be concerned about the coming collapse, just wrong as to the cause. But I digress.

The money didn't grab me, because I knew it wouldn't always be there, and by the time I graduated the millionaire-making days would be gone. What held me was the description of these environments, and more particularly, the Silicon Valley ethos. These were people so committed to their mission, they slept on the office floor for days on end and sacrificed their health to finish the task. Management valued them so much that they supplied every material need: cheetos, Dr. Pepper, foosball. The same programmers would roll out of the office to attend EFF rallies - they weren't drones, they were passionate advocates who expressed themselves best through their code.

I wasn't 100% sold on the Valley. I knew from visiting that it was one of the most enjoyable spots in the States, but I was also drawn to the stunning beauty of the Rockies, the urban bustle of Boston, the comforting familiarity of Chicago and the Twin Cities. Still, wherever I went, I knew I'd be happiest with the spirit of Silicon Valley, the work-hard/play-hard ethic that ensured I'd be surrounded by talented, passionate people who loved coding as much as I did.

Well, my career took a bit of a detour. Most of you know the story, and for the rest, I'll post about it later. When Fate gave me the chance, I decided to reach for that brass ring and make it out here.

And I touched it!

In so many ways, this really feels like a dream come true. For the first time in my life, I've initiated a move with a destination that I had dreamed of before hand. (Wash U doesn't count - I loved the university, not the city.) It's been a little frightening, and I've had that voice which whispers, "It can't really be that good. You've been exaggerating. You'll find that all places are more or less the same, your life won't change just because you've moved."

Granted, I've only been here a week, but I'm ready to call that voice wrong. The move itself went quite smoothly, which helps. (The details may or may not show up in another post.) I explored the city a bit after I arrived, and went for a hike the first weekend. My heart soared. I don't have a great eye for natural beauty, but even I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety and force of nature on display. Having been trapped in the flatlands most of my life, a little piece of me sings every time I get on the freeway and see the Santa Clara mountain range rising up. I can spend any amount of time outside and not get sticky and miserable... it's something to enjoy, not to endure. Open the windows up, take a deep breath. I can already feel it starting to change my life, in ways that can only be good.

The people have been nice, too. The checkout clerk at Albertsons cheerfully and spontaneously struck up a conversation with me this evening, sharing some tips once she learned I was a transplant. Even the folks at the DMV were helpful. I feel like Midwesterners may be more polite, but the people around San Jose are just as friendly.

And the job has been going well. Once again, I've only been there a week, but my initial impressions are positive. Even in a post-boom environment, they have that magical element that has been missing from my previous jobs. They care about what they're working on, and they're talented, but at the same time they seem plugged in to the broader issues of the electronic society. These are people who know about the broadcast flag, and privacy issues, and enjoy a good Intel-versus-AMD grudge match. I'm still in my shy stage there, but I already know I have a great deal in common with these folks.

So, consider this my one-week update on the move. I'm not exactly settled in yet (the furniture arrives tomorrow), but I am where I want to be. This is the first time since graduation that I've seriously thought about buying a house (well, in this market, a condo), because this is the first place I've been where it's part of my goal to still be here a decade from now. That is doing wonders for my mind. I still have work to do - I need to focus more on BREW, and figure out what the work/life balance is here - but I'm confident that I will find satisfaction.

So don't call me fat!

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