Last week I got back from a semi-long trip out to the San Francisco bay area. The reasons for the trip were entirely personal, but I still took the opportunity to meet up with a few old friends from Atlanta technology world and soak in the local culture. There were a few things that really struck me on this trip.
In the the Atlanta startup scene, the Bay Area is synonymous with "startup." There are more than just startups, but technology holds an outsized influence in the area. In the Southeast, one is used to billboards for fast foot, Jesus, and the next gun show. The 101 is lined with ads for Python Developers, SASS products, and technology security companies. Well all except for the one advertising the Tattoo and Beer Expo. Even the professionals that do not work for technology firms seem to exist to support technology firms by acting as their lawyers, accountants, or other specialized functions.
Another was just how much sprawl there is. Anybody who thinks that Atlanta's sprawl is detrimental to its startup culture has clearly never been to Silicon Valley. Google's campus alone makes an Alpharetta office park feel cozy and urban. There are vast distances and heavy traffic between the epicenters of San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Jose, not to mention the areas across the bay, such as Oakland and Berkley. The BART and better support for cycles does make things a little easier, but in most areas the final miles will still have to be by car. It is true that there are entire office parks dedicated to technology companies, but these are still suburban office parks surrounded by parking lots.
Living is also unimaginably expensive out there. A 2 bedroom house in Mountain View can cost $1.2 million. Along with that come high state taxes, high sales taxes, high property taxes, high permit costs, higher food prices, higher gas prices, high... well you get my drift. There are some great opportunities for engineers out there, but that $200k salary does not look as great when it means downgrading the house and cars.
I think this is why companies in the valley are so focused on exits. The high cost of living eats the entire paycheck, leaving the employee with only the options in his company as a savings vehicle. Unless your company goes big and gets sold for a high valuation, buying a house and maybe even retiring might be out of reach. A large part of me wants to live out there. The weather is better and there are fewer bugs. There are many great employers for technology talent and some fantastic cycling roads. But Atlanta has a lot of the latter too, and for the former, there's AC.
An engineer in Atlanta has far greater control over their financial future. Salaries in this industry are pretty decent, but the cost of living is below the national average. That's a lot of margin to use in buying nice toys, a decent place to live, and, most importantly, saving. What's the point of great weather and fantastic cycling roads if you're perpetually chained to your laptop, trying to create the next big thing?
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