As I write this, I’m sat on a Boeing 747-400 from SFO to LHR, planning out a decision tree with a million branches for my immediate and long-term future. I’m returning home after attending a job interview which didn’t pan out in the end, determined to find a way to get into the San Francisco Bay Area in the next few months, and stay there.
Filmmakers have Hollywood; financiers have New York City; wine makers have Champagne; hackers have San Francisco. This, of course, is not to say it is impossible to produce code outside of the Bay Area—some wonderful wines come from Bordeaux, Germany and Italy; great films are made in Berlin and Canada; London has a long, strong history of financial innovation. But an economy of agglomeration undeniably exists in San Francisco and its neighbouring towns (Palo Alto, Mountain View, etc.). Every day, apps and websites and gadgets are conceived, designed, managed, built, tested and sold on a small peninsula which can be driven across entirely in little over an hour.
Certainly, the men and women who do this work demand a pretty penny for it. But the capital available to pay them is as abundant as you’d expect, because technological innovation in particular is the art of force multiplication—if you can build something which saves millions of people several minutes each day, why shouldn’t you be rewarded handsomely for it?
Many of the ideas executed upon are silly. If they weren’t, someone else would have thought of them already. Even more of the executions are imperfect. Failure is the median. But success is still the mean.
If you’re a good programmer, there’s nowhere else on Earth where you can rack up as much XP as the Valley. You won’t be paid this much for what seems to be a ‘simple’ job anywhere else, short of working in finance. You certainly can’t rock up anywhere else in the world without any letters after your name and expect a six-figure salary.
The hardware, software and techniques that people are using in San Francisco today are the those everyone else will be using in six months. If you’re looking to build a product, and it fails with the über-early adopter crowd of San Francisco, it probably won’t work elsewhere. If it works in SF, it doesn’t matter if it succeeds elsewhere, because people here have enough money to make you rich anyway.
Even multi-national companies distinguish between their SF workers and foreign counterparts. If you’re working as a Software Engineer at Google in London, you can probably expect to earn (gross) 64% of what your Mountain View-based colleagues make (£45k ~= $70k vs. $110k+), whilst laying out for a cost of living that’s 16–22% higher than someone in the city of San Francisco, and probably paying more taxes too. In ‘real-world’ terms, this means you’re going to be near-unable to save, you’ll have a smaller house/apartment, further away from the centre of town, with fewer labor-saving amenities, and an overall poorer quality of life (including the shitty weather). For exactly the same job.
San Francisco really is the land of opportunity.
Those who know me well know I’ve been strict Paleo for around a year, and weightlifting for about two (although with varying strictness of routine). Another big drive for me in SF is the large number of people doing Paleo, CrossFit, keto, powerlifting and/or Olympic lifting, and even just the general awareness of these phenomena amongst those not doing them. I can get bunless lettuce-wrap burgers without weird looks (or plain ignorance on the part of serving staff). I can talk to other people about squats and deadlifts without blank stares.
My goal in writing this is to both explain and understand my motivations for pursuing San Francisco as a location to live and work. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me—but they don’t have to.
I write this as a 20-year old programmer who has so far made a living out of not listening to ‘good’ advice. I’m scared about my future: I’m not guaranteed a job or a work visa at this stage. But if things don’t work out in the next 6 months, I’ll keep trying, because they might come through in the next 12, or 18, or 24. I have nothing to lose.