Moving to California

Apologies for the long absence from this blog but the past few months were a complete whirlwind.

As someone who loves technology and the change that it has the potential to bring to the world, I have always longed to move to Silicon Valley. It is the heart of technological innovation in America. The other major tech areas have their pluses and minuses (some I know from experience and others from what I have heard):
– NYC: “silicon alley” has a great alternative tech scene but it is a) small and b) ensconced in one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the country.
– Boston: Great scene but small. Focused on biotech.
– South Florida: very scattered tech scene (and I searched). There might be too many distractions in south beach. 🙂
– Northern Virginia tech corridor: I worked in “nova” for nearly three years in various positions – legal and Wimax strategy for Sprint/Nextel, corporate development (m&a) and project management for Neustar. I went to nearly all the major tech events hosted and, frankly, it is a small scene populated with companies mostly focused on government work, which is an absolutely great business plan but did not particularly interest me (and I don’t have a security clearance). Unless I went to highly focused events in dc proper, it was really difficult to meet young people looking to change the world. Instead, most events (especially in nova) are populated by more senior managers wearing suits. This is simply a very different mindset from what I knew happened in more dynamic tech cities. Maybe it is the government influence or simply the more conservative culture but I did not feel that it was super conducive to the mindset I was searching to find in tech. Sadly, the last great tech company to come out of nova is probably aol and that was over ten years ago. Heck, aol doesn’t even keep it’s headquarters in nova anymore. Note that livingsocial and opower are hopefully beginning to change the dynamics.

As part of any major life change, I believe it is important to gather as much information as possible. I spoke with numerous colleagues, friends, and mentors. The people I knew in San Francisco said: “if you want to do tech, move out here even if you do not have an offer. Companies in the bay area won’t want to hire you until you are out here since it highlights your commitment.” my mentors said, “you have a great job in nova, don’t make any drastic moves (like quitting) until you have secured a new job. It is much easier to be hired from a position of strength then if you are unemployed. Even if it was true that you quit, people will wonder about why you left and how you left. Plus, did you notice that unemployment is at nearly 10%?!” However, it was the words of an older and wiser technology startup CEO (based in dc) that stuck with me the most: “if you want to do banking, you go to NYC and those are the people you will spend time hanging out with. If you want to be in politics, you live in dc and those will be your friends. If you want to do tech, you move to San Francisco.” While this clearly oversimplifies the situation, it is generally true.

Despite trying pretty hard in dc, I had essentially no friends who worked directly in technology (except at my one company). While i absolutely love my friends in dc, they are either lawyers, working for NGOs, or in the government. As friends, they are amazing but as business colleagues, our worlds were different. I decided it was time try and make the move out West.

Note that I am the guy who, when i first visited silicon valley thought it was the coolest place on earth. My eyes were literally coming out of my head like a kid in a candy store. Or, put another way, silicon valley is like Disney world to me. Ive read and dreamed about it and now it was time to see what i could do to make it there.

I started looking for jobs and interviewing in earnest. I called everyone I knew who lived or knew people at companies in the valley. I was lucky and ended up having Google and Facebook fly me out to their headquarters for interviews. I had phone and all day in-person interviews with a number of other pretty awesome companies (they will remain nameless for now). However, the company that ended up as the best fit, which also happens to be a company that I now believe is one of the best companies in the valley that no one knows about is Clearwell Systems.

I’ll write more about Clearwell at a later date but suffice it to say that it quickky became apparent they were the best fit for me so I had to say no to a few other very interesting options. Clearwell moved fast and I appreciated that – from last phone interview to HQ visit and the CEO interview to offer, acceptance, giving notice to Neustar and moving to California to start in my new position was all of three weeks. Their speed was a breath of fresh air compared to my previous experiences.

Once i moved, almost everyone I have met is in tech. I know the CEOs of four awesome startups and meeting more all the time. None of them are over thirty (and note that, as nearly 30 myself, older and wiser executives are generally great.  But I also tend to find it pretty awesome that Silicon Valley financiers trust very very young people to run their own successful companies). Ive become friends with vcs at some major firms who are investing in game changing tech. I work at a company that is changing its field (e-discovery, btw).

In short, while leaving friends, family, and a great job is not easy, following a dream is what life is all about (versus doing what is comfortable). I am ecstatic with my decision and where i landed. With two months under my belt, I am slowly starting to have time for this blog and hope to update it more often. If you are ever in a similar life situaution or have questions about tech in sf, don’t hesitate to contact me.

P.s. Please forgive spelling errors and the lack of links – I am writing this on my iPad while in-flight! Google – thanks for the free wireless and delta, thanks for providing the wireless connection (and to gogo for building a business around wifi in the sky)!

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