On Moving to the NYC Tech Scene

Feb. 6, 2013, 1:28 p.m.

I moved to NYC from Ann Arbor, Michigan in June 2012. After living here for almost 3/4 of a year, it feels like a good time to write down some of my experiences with the transition.

The following is a grab-bag of observations.

Don't Expect Corporate Loyalty (startups are corporations too)

I moved to New York to work for an ad-tech startup. After only three months I quit. I left for a variety of reasons, and went on to greener pastures. When leave I was presented with plenty of words implying that I should feel guilty about leaving a company so quickly, especially after I had interned with them and had a good relationship with many people there.

One month later I got a call from a friend. The ad-tech startup had just laid off a huge portion of its employees, including many of my friends there, with zero notice. If I had stayed I would have been among those without jobs.

I don’t feel bad about leaving.

There is a huge demand for talented developers

There are so many startups and larger companies in ny looking for developer talent, it’s incredible. This map shows just some of the publicly listed jobs. A talented developer shouldn’t have a hard time finding work, provided that they know how to talk to people and find out about the opportunities. And that is a skill that you need to have.

There are a million (and more) meetups

Upon moving here I really didn’t know many people. In an attempt to remedy that I turned to meetup as a way to find people with similar interests. It is really overwhelming how many meetup groups there are in the city, and many of them cover intriguing topics.

The problem is that going to meetups tends to lead to a few things that are less than desirable. First, you meet people who are trying to “network”, and not those who are just trying to learn things or meet other interesting people. Second, if you spend a lot of time going to meetups, you spend a lot less time doing things that are actually productive.

Meetups with a startup-y topic can be like support groups for entrepreneurs.

Being in the tech scene doesn’t mean you are technical

Many are entrepreneurs. Or hustlers. Or growth hackers. Don’t expect technical sounding events to be full of technically proficient folks. The New York Tech Meetup is a good example for this. Though its topic is “Tech”, it is very entrepreneurial, and as such attracts a lot of people looking to create, run, or finance companies,in addition to the engineers and designers.

You'll overhear people talking about programming

Our culture is starting to fetishize programming (or the ability to program, I’m not sure which yet). For some reason people seem to have started thinking of it as an intrinsically good thing. Most people I know who actually know how to code see it as what it is - a tool for creating things.

Because of this it is almost always non-professionals that are overheard talking about programming. More like second-week code academy members that don’t want to go through the trouble of finding an engineer to hire (because that is hard).

There are lots of cool startups, and there are lots of successful startups. The overlap isn't huge.

A lot of ny tech is in advertising and finance. That’s fine and expected since the city has its roots there. There seem to be relatively few startups outside of this space that are also successful.

A few examples that I can think of are tumblr, foursquare, squarespace, and etsy. There’s at least an order of magnitude more in the advertising / finance world.

Hackathons are marketing events

What is suprising about this isn’t that hackathons are marketing events, it’s that people don’t seem to realize that hackathons are marketing events.

A week or two ago there was this outcry about the Campbell's Soup hackathon. Really? How did it take people this long to realize that these events are put on by companies, and companies tend not to be altruistic.

Theres nothing wrong with this. Some people really like hackathons, they get to have fun and meet people. Why does it matter if its at a marketing event?

Something I have a bit more of a problem with is when people use similar events to get people to design things for them for free (looking at you nyc phone booth challenge).

People are social climbers, even in tech

This is one that I didn’t get to experience in the midwest. Instead of desiring to be recognized for their work, a person may just desire to be recognized. I guess this one can just be filed under unfortunate human social behaviors.

A lot of startups are bullshit

Given the large startup scene in ny, it follows that there must be a lot of venture capital floating around the city. Given this, some startups get funded that are really vapor and never should have received funding (and wouldn’t have in a setting with less available capital, or in a different economic period). While Ann Arbor didn’t have a huge startup scene, this forced those that were there to be very aware of their products and finances, and create actually viable companies.

On a positive note

The community is full of amazing and talented people. I don’t want this list to sound too negative, it’s just that there are a lot of distractions. I wish the stuff above would go away, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it here. The city is great and offers so many things in addition to its booming tech industry. Just learn to ignore those things. I’ve met the most creative people through my work here, and I wouldn’t give that up. Don’t get discouraged.