Friday, May 29, 2009

small city vs big city

People seem to forget that Shockley went to death valley because there was absolutely nothing there and you could get all the basics dirt cheap. The nutcases that started the silicon revolution did that in barns and garages and of those in the cheapest they could find. The shockley five went to start Intel in the neighbourhood and thus Silicon Valley was born.

If I where building a startup in the US today, I'd seriously consider Detroit. You can buy houses for 500$ right now in Detroit and infrastructure is just good enough to live. You could spent years there on the most minimal VC and since Detroit is so super-boring now the team actually would have a personal interest in concentrating on the thing their building.

Problem is, and all jokes about single engineers aside, that means the spouse has to find something viable in that location as well. Some professions are pretty portable, others aren't. But it's not just about where you can lure a single person.

Plus, if you lose your job, suddenly you're in Toledo where there's not that many other companies. At least in the Bay Area, you know you have multiple options to switch to should you want to. Without having to sell your house which no one wants or needs to buy. (Admittedly this is a chicken-and-egg problem; if enough companies move to Toledo or wherever, this goes away.)

My wife & I left silicon valley about 5 years ago at the tail-end of the dot-com bust. I had a GREAT time there, aside from the worthless options and 80-hour work weeks. We thought it was time to start a family, and wanted a bigger, less-expensive house, no traffic, slower quality of life. We were willing to trade a premium salary for it.


Turns out that when you're in a smaller town, you have NO OTHER employment options. What happens if you don't like your little tech company? uh, you're screwed. In Silicon Valley you always had a network three deep that could get you a fun, interesting job in a little bit. You had options. A backup plan. In smaller towns you're running without a safety net. If you leave the relocated tech-company, you've got the small-town mindset and businesses. I see plenty of craigslist ads that read, "must have 5 years networking experience, cisco preferred. Be able to build and administer our 50-person network. References required. $10/hr, contract only." I'm seriously NOT kidding.

I wish I could completely rewind my experience and still be in silicon valley. Higher rents, more traffic, silly housing prices and all.

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