Harrison Harnisch
Blog About
1 December 2015
Categories Farewell

SJC -> ORD (Farewell Silicon Valley)

It’s been a hell of a (nearly) 4 years living here in the heart of Silicon Valley. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazingly talented people at both large companies and startups. I have no regrets moving here. I’m one of those midwesterners you hear about migrating west to look for gold. Except the gold for me wasn’t necessarily money, I was looking for a guarantee. I was after experience of building a company.

In early 2010 there where a few companies in the midwest scattered about building web apps like we think of today. I was fresh out of school and either didn’t know where to look or didn’t have enough experience to get a job at these places. So I took the best software engineering job I could find to pay the bills while I looked westward. I started out writing firmware and designing hardware for an embedded GPS receiver, eventually building an in-house version of something that looked a lot like TravisCI for embedded hardware. It was the continuous integration and testing that first got me noticed, and helped me get my foot in the door in the Valley.

The interviews where pretty brutal, most of them had 7-8 interviews 45 minutes a piece doing whiteboard coding and brain teasers.

I had interviews lined up with a few of the big ones like Google and Apple, as well as a handful of startups. The interviews where pretty brutal, most of them had 7-8 interviews 45 minutes a piece doing whiteboard coding and brain teasers. Exhausting, but I had been preparing for weeks and had been practicing whiteboard coding in Python. I landed my first gig at Catalog Spree (acq. by Quotient) as a Python developer building out a Django app. I ended up with some solid full stack web development experience, and a handful of great friends that I’ve kept in touch with over the last few years.

After that, I spent some time at Apple (which was more secure that my job that required clearance), during which I picked up Meteor. It only took building a couple small apps before realizing it’s potential. I started using it for my other projects and hackathons, and before long I was going to all the Meteor meetups and using it for work projects. I ended up meeting Tim Haines and Phil Cockfield through the Meteor community - which led me to Respondly. I learned a lot about what it takes to start and run a company from the ground up. I talked to customers (current and prospective), I did product management, I did infrastructure and ops, I did full stack web development. So many hats and never a day without learning something new. I think I learned more in 1.5 years than the previous 10 years. It was like startup boot camp!

… you’ll quickly find out the people here are mostly transplants. These are the lifeblood of each an every company and they came from somewhere else.

This brings me to now, today, when I look at what the Bay Area was when I moved here and how much it’s changed. In reality it hasn’t even been that long, but things move so quickly here it’s as if time doesn’t matter. There’s tens of thousands of jobs and an on-demand service for nearly everything. There’s actual self driving cars. The area has also become more bike friendly and public transit has gotten better. But it’s not just all good stuff. When I first moved here it was possible to live in a place where your rent was 30-40% of your monthly income. Now you’re looking at 45-55% of your monthly income or sharing a bedroom or living with a 1+ hour commute. It’s still probably worth it if you’re starting out and can get into a Google, Apple, Facebook. But here’s the thing, if you ask around you’ll quickly find out the people here are mostly transplants. These are the lifeblood of each an every company and they came from somewhere else. I’m certain that the rising cost of living has had an impact on the volume of talent pouring into the area. Talented people are everywhere and through observation and anecdotal evidence I think more of them are staying put (in some cases moving back). The obvious effect is that other tech hubs are now getting their chance - Seatle, Chicago, Portland, Austin and New York (yes there are others too!). Talent is becoming more decentralized, much like the systems they’re building.

I’ve decided it’s time for me to move back to Chicago and help an already growing startup community. Take some of the great stuff I’ve learned here and not only apply it, but teach others. I’m super excited to be joining Signal in a couple weeks and helping them solve big hairy engineering problems. So goodbye for now, I’m sure I’ll be back at some point - it might just be to visit, or it might even be to raise money to work on some other big hairy problem. Who knows!

If you live in the Chicago area and want to chat I’d love to meet up! Get in touch with me on twitter - https://twitter.com/hjharnis