A Degree from San Francisco
I do not live in San Francisco, although have dreamed of doing so for a while. One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from people about pursuing my dreams is to move over to San Francisco — the startup capital of the world. Yet there are so many people who complain about the variety of issues the city has — housing, cleanliness, living costs — which appear to make it a very difficult city in which to live. Some people will live in SF for their entire life, but I think that we are going to start to see more people who see SF as an experience and a chapter in their life, rather than their permanent place of residence.
Indeed, the SF Bay Area is unrivaled in terms of the startup community, culture of paying it forward and failing, and the general atmosphere which attracts the world’s greatest innovators in startups and technology. I believe that moving to SF will provide me with a lot of value, both in my career, and in my personal life. SF has a vast amount of opportunities for software engineers, founders, and more to accelerate their career or company, which are unavailable elsewhere in the world. They also offer a variety of different ways in which you can grow on a personal level — namely through the culture and sense of ambition. Most people in tech would agree that SF is the place to be in the world if you want to start a startup, or participate in the ecosystem as an employee at one of these companies.
I read a Tweet a few days ago from Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad, who said that over the long-term, cities like SF will be recognized more as colleges. Rather than seeing SF as the place where you would spend the rest of your life, we will start to see people move to SF for a few years to experience the culture, and then use what they have learned to expand their impact elsewhere. SF is one big class where you can learn how to treat failure, how to be an effective contributor, how to manage ambition and risk, among many other different things — the city is just like a college.
As aforementioned, SF is not without its problems. The rising cost of living is pushing out a large amount of people who are still interested in experiencing the culture, and indeed discourages more people from moving due to their inability to manage projected expenses and living costs. SF has a lot of complicated problems which are outside of the purview of this essay, but suffice to say that these problems greatly impact how we see living in SF. These problems mean that people are less inclined to stay in SF — perhaps they cannot afford to stay, are not interested in the intense startup culture anymore, or something else.
SF is a place where the most ambitious people in the world come together to build great things and make an impact. In SF, there are a variety of opportunities for both acquiring knowledge — in terms of employment, startups, subverting cultural norms in general, et cetera — and for networking. Because all of these great people are in the same city, it is very easy for anyone to expand their network and cultivate a set of connections which can help them in the long-term. However, you don’t need to stay in SF for the rest of your life to continue to realize these benefits. The atmosphere in SF is unlike any other, and the lessons you will learn in terms of company building and personal growth are immensely valuable. Those lessons can continue to be used if you move outside SF. Your network will still continue to serve you even if you leave SF (many SF companies are pursuing long-distance communication ideas as well!). SF will be a four-year or so experience for people to embrace the culture and learn more about what works in startups and technology. Then they will move on to another city which is both more affordable, and also benefits from a different culture which the person could experience.
There will be no new Silicon Valley, I don’t think. Rather, a large amount of cities across the U.S. will become bigger startup hubs, built on the knowledge people learned when living in SF. People will move to SF, then move to smaller cities like Boulder, Salt Lake City, and Austin, which have lower living expenses, but still have a startup community. These places also have a unique culture from which people can benefit. If you spent your life in SF, you would be surrounded by the same cultures. However, moving to another city allows you to use the knowledge you learned about SF culture and embrace the local culture of a new area. Many people are starting to prefer moving to smaller cities after they have reached a certain level of success in SF — there is no need for them to be there anymore.
I still think it is important for people to move to SF and experience the culture, even if it is only for a few months. Although I am yet to move to SF, it has been one of my life goals because of all of the opportunities it presents for both personal and professional growth. However, I do not see myself as someone who would live in SF forever — there are other cultures which you can experience. I think that working in SF tech will have a similar effect that working in New York City finance has on one’s career. If an employer sees you have worked for an NYC-based finance company, your chances of being employed are much greater. You have likely experienced a diverse range of problems and have acquired great insights into finance which could be used to assist another business outside of NYC. The same thing will likely happen with SF: you go there for a few years and start a company or join an existing one, and use that on your resume to level up your game among other candidates in other cities.