I came to San Francisco from the East Coast as somewhat of a 15th-century war bride, screaming “I’ll never love you!” and flailing my limbs. How could I love a place where people wear shoes with separated toes, prefer soggy bagels and scream obscenities at me if I won’t make eye contact with them on the bus?
Still, I feel the SF vs NYC debate has long been blown out of proportion. Silicon Valley is the seat of innovation! The center of the technology world! New York City is a haven for product thinkers who understand making things better than stodgy engineers! New York City is the center of the world world!
In my two years as a Bay Area resident, I’ve watched myself slowly yield. I guess it is okay to converse freely with strangers, and that I can bring my dog to work. A part of me still yearns for New York City—the Bay seems to value honesty above all, while in the East Coast, there is some love for a good show.
That’s not to say New York is disingenuous. It is to say that it often realizes that a little showmanship is necessary to a delightful product. And herein lies the coastal divide. It’s not a division of roles (designed products vs. engineered products) or a matter of greed/altruism, as I’ve seen suggested. It’s the definition of the hustle. The New York, Show em what you’ve Got, and the San Francisco, Here is what I Have. Build it and they will come.
Silicon Valley’s dismissal of the Show can be somewhat of a blessing—I don’t have to worry about slipping down the stairs in high heels or if my heavy cat-eye liner is running. Why presentation is so relaxed here is perhaps an issue of density. In New York, standing out as an individual human being is a feat. Everyone is trying to cut their teeth, and many are trying to cut them where you stand. While we’re far from that overflow here, the Bay is reaching that critical mass with the slew of startups trying to make it.
Smart companies realize that having a voice that cuts through to your audience isn’t a matter of ‘look at me, look at me’. It’s a matter of politeness. While I think people are generally open minded and curious, I also don’t think they have the time or attention to learn about everything that clicks onto their radar. Putting on a show isn’t a matter of hoodwinking—it’s a matter of communication.
Though every day was a physical struggle, I felt it was easier to live in New York. The show is like a big NYC secret that everyone shares. Here, I am constantly explaining, constantly validating, constantly fighting to stay at my peak metaphysical fitness. On a wider level, I feel there is so much work to be done here. Engineering is embracing experience in an unprecedented way, as society is embracing nerd culture. Plus, on a personal level, I feel it’s good for me. The struggle is my own and I meet just enough adversity to question and assess my position.
People ask me if I miss New York. The answer has changed from, “SO much! I go back often to charge my batteries,” to, “Of course, but I have to be here.”