California Livin'

posted Jun 02, 2007

This post is basically a diary entry about being in California and how it's going out here for me. Y'all are free to read it, 'cause it's all bloggy and all, but I'll keep it out of the RSS but for this snippet.

The mystique of Silicon Valley to a computer nerd like me hasn't got a parallel to anything else I can think of. For over a decade now, I've been on the Internet. I've been studying computing and programming, often with other people online. ("Online, nobody knows you're a Michigander.") I've read a lot of news about the industry, I've read about the conferences, I've read about the companies, and I've read about the people. Of course, Silicon Valley keeps coming up, and I keep hearing the same place-names over and over again: San Francisco, Palo Alto, Cupertino, San Jose, Mountain View, and so on. But it's always been at a remove, "through a mirror darkly", four to five hours away on a plane and three timezones away.

It is very strange to drive around and see all these things that I've read so much about for so long that they passed beyond reality. El Camino Real, Moffet Field (hey the Mythbusters were there! I guess maybe they're real too...), and an endless stream of headquarters or large facilities of companies I've live with for years and years: nVidia, Apple, Verisign (and their rather ostentatious fountain out front; looks even sillier in full sun), and more.

The closest analogy is the deja-vu like quality of feeling like you've walked into one of your dreams. Not in a especially "good" or "bad" way, it's just very surreal. Perhaps it'd be like stepping outside one day and finding out your favorite fictional television show is actually true and happening right outside, like meeting the Friends (for real, not the actors) or seeing the Mythbusters busting a myth in your front yard.

I'm adapting to the sleep relatively well; as I write this it's 2:49a.m. in my native time zone and I'm still up and feeling like it's about 1a.m. or so, so I'm not fully adapted, but I'm getting there fast. 1 What really got screwed up was my meal schedule. Fortunately, it's manifested more as not really being hungry when I should be, which is preferable to being starving at inappropriate times. I've had to actually choose to eat something, lest I end up with a bad headache or something later.

By far the weirdest thing is... not having my own car! The company is putting me up in a furnished apartment (cross a 2-bedroom apartment with a hotel, and you've got a good sense of what that's like, not bad, but very institutional), and having a roommate isn't that big a shock; it's not having a spouse, but it's not entirely dissimilar either, of course. Not being mobile is hard though. Getting a $20 from an ATM, then getting it broken so I have vending machine change has been a multi-day project.

The flora is also not what I expected. I've been in Michigan (every available square inch is covered in something green) and the desert (very splotchy, and the desert wants you to bleed), and the Bay Area is somewhat closer to the latter than I expected. The plants aren't as hard, spiky, and evil as the desert, but the coverage of non-irrigated areas is splotchy like the desert, and the plants just have a different quality.

The traffic here is not as bad as I was expecting, though I've been told that's more because the other guys who were in this apartment before me have worked out good routes that avoid the biggest highways, where the gridlock is as bad as you'd expect. Living where I live and working where I work is a very OK commute.

I've been told that the apartment/hotel I'm in is $3500 a month for two bedrooms, 1200 square feet (though it feels smaller, perhaps because I haven't been in the other bedroom), two bathrooms. Yow. It's nothing special; it gets Comcast digital cable for that price and there are TVs in every room (although only the main room gets the digital box), but that's about the only "premium" thing here.

Another aspect that has surprised me is the "cost of living" issues. You hear about how bad it is out here, and while I knew a lot of that was housing, I expected the food and other such things would be more expensive too. It's not; food is pretty much the same here as it is in Michigan. The "cost of living" is almost entirely in housing, from what I can see. If you can con, err, convince somebody to pay your housing costs you're in fine economic shape. Of course, that wouldn't normally be an option...

Other food differences don't surprise me. I got bitten by how hot the Thai food I ordered was when I asked for "medium", but I knew enough to know better, I just wasn't thinking about the difference between "California medium spicy" and "Michigan medium spicy". 1 I've been to Texas and Arizona, so no excuses. One nice touch that my wife would love is that where southern Texas and Arizona are prepared to put salsa on anything, this area of California seems ready to put guacamole on anything. Subway has it as one of the ingredients you can add to any sub, like bacon.

I'm enjoying the job; of course I can't talk too much about the details, but I'm definitely comfortable with the job. It's going to adequately challenge me and provide growth opportunities, and I'm liking the culture. Even as the company has grown, it's managed to retain the environment where things happen in some reasonable amount of time. This is a lot like my previous jobs; I've never worked in highly structured environments, I've always had to direct myself a lot, a situation I thrive in, and this is no different. I'd say the "startup culture shock" for me is roughly zero; every significant job I've had is like this. I'm still not entirely settled in and hooked up, but I'm moving fast and I have high hopes I'll be "over the hump" by the time I leave.

I'm not sure what I'm doing over the weekend, because it turns out I failed to get permission to drive the company-provided cars so I'm still sort of stuck riding around at the whim of other people. (It turns out I need to not just sign an agreement, but have a driving background check done by the insurance company, something that wasn't likely to happen soon at 6pm PST on a Friday. Oops. Should have asked sooner.) Even if I just chill out this weekend I can't say I'd be too upset; I've got some pictures I can take and some projects that I wouldn't mind spending some time on, and I'm sure somebody will come up with something interesting. We're at least going to catch a movie.

I miss home, for reasons both obvious and surprising (I wouldn't have guessed how much being a perma-passenger sucks), but all in all I'm pretty content here.


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