Moving to New York

Posted: January 25, 2006 at 11:11 pm in journal, nyc

That’s right. Crazy as it sounds, I’m going to move to New York. I’m still somewhat in disbelief myself. Here’s how it happened.

Four or five years ago, I found this guy on the web who wrote about software development and software management and called himself Joel on Software. His ideas made a lot of sense to me (treat your people well, keep management simple, stay out of the way of productive coding). I became a disciple, quoting his essays to my managers and trying to learn from what he had to say. But he was in New York City, and his company was only hiring top-notch software developers that were described as coding “animals”. Since I mostly do software because I’m good at it and it pays well, I didn’t think that description fit me, so I never applied to work at his company. But I kept on reading his columns and daydreamed about someday working at a company that was run along those principles.

In a separate storyline, it was five years ago that I sang at Carnegie Hall. I stayed over the following weekend, and had an absolute blast exploring New York with some friends of mine. We had bagels at Zabar’s, hit a jazz club in Greenwich Village, wandered through Central Park, etc. And I started daydreaming about someday getting to know New York better, maybe spending a year or two living in New York.

Last spring, I decided I was never going to get the chance to live in New York for an extended period of time, so I spent a three week vacation there. I sublet an apartment in the East Village, and walked all over the place visiting museums, going to shows and restaurants, etc. It was a blast. I’d kind of been hoping that three weeks would get New York out of my system and make me feel like “Okay, now I’ve done New York – time to do something else”, but instead I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface. But three weeks had already been stretching how long a vacation could be, and I couldn’t really do that every year.

Meanwhile, I’d steadily been growing more disillusioned with being a software engineer. I could do it, and do it well, but it wasn’t my passion. I wasn’t really sure what my passion was, although bad management certainly seemed to raise my ire. I started to explore the idea of moving into management myself – I had the technical chops to have the respect of technical teams, but could also communicate effectively to my less technical colleagues. And I started to understand how hard good management was. But getting onto the management track is tricky, especially coming from a technical background. Most companies will not hire a manager that does not have management experience (or an MBA), so I had to find a company that would hire me as a technical person, but give me the opportunity to gain management experience.

At the end of October, I happened to read Joel’s post where he announced that he was looking to hire “the next generation of management” at his company. He didn’t care whether applicants had previous management experience or not. He preferred a technical background. Wow. I had to apply. So I spent a few days working with friends to polish up a cover letter and resume, and sent it off.

And then I mostly forgot about it. I mean, sure, I thought I would be a good fit. But something like 300,000 people read Joel’s writings on the web. And a couple hundred people apply for every job opening at his company. So I knew my chances were statistically slim. But I kept it in the back of my mind as a daydream through the next month and a half – “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to work for Joel in New York?” I almost didn’t want to hear an answer because that would mean I would have to stop daydreaming and confront reality.

In mid-December, I got a phone call from the 212 area code. New York. Yikes. “Are you still interested in the position?” “Yes.” “Do you have time to speak with Joel this week?” “Um, yes!” I did an hour-long phone interview with Joel later that week – we chatted about management, about various projects I’d been involved with over the past several years, etc. And at the end, he invited me out to New York for an in-person interview. We couldn’t squeeze it in before the holidays, so they flew me out in the first week of January.

It was great. They hired a car to pick me up from the airport. They put me up in a fantastic hotel across from the New York Public Library. The interview was a lot of fun – the questions were interesting, and I enjoyed meeting the different people at the company. And, at the end of the day, I got an offer.

Yowza.

Suddenly, I was presented with the opportunity to fulfill several of my daydreams at once. I could work with Joel! I could live in New York! I could move onto a management track! I’d get to join an early-stage startup! (they’re still less than ten people, but looking to grow)

It was disconcerting, to say the least. I’ve settled into my life in the Bay Area over the past ten (!) years. I have friends I adore, and a variety of social groups with whom to do stuff, from the chorus to ultimate frisbee. I’ve got a burgeoning professional network. I bought a condo four years ago. I bought a new car last summer. I know my place here. And I’m going to trade this life in for some ill-defined fantasy?

But the lure of New York was too much to deny. I have no idea how things are going to work out. But this way I’ll at least have found out whether I can convert those dreams into reality, rather than always thinking that the grass must be greener somewhere else. I may return in a couple years to the Bay Area with my tail between the legs, but it’ll have been worth it just to know once and for all.

Wrap-up comments:

  • I’m planning to move at the end of February or the beginning of March, depending on how quickly I deal with the mountain of logistics.
  • There will be a going away party as soon as I figure out what the heck I’m doing.
  • Yes, I’ve already been told that I need to rent a place with crash space for visitors.
  • I’d appreciate hearing about friends and interesting people in New York.
  • I’m sure I’ll make it back to the Bay Area at least once or twice a year, just like the rest of my non-California-based friends who have visited regularly over the past ten years. The move is a little less scary because I’ve already demonstrated that I keep in touch with my good friends no matter where they end up.
  • Dude, I’ll be able to spend weekends in Boston! Or in Ithaca visiting Jofish!
  • People have asked me whether I’m excited, and I’m not quite yet. But I think that’s because it’s not real yet. I don’t think it’ll be really real until I’m on the plane to New York.

I think that’s it. Crazy!

8 Responses to “Moving to New York”

  1. Rebar Says:

    Congratulations! Are you gonna pass through Ohio on your way there?

  2. Rachel Says:

    noooo… just when I meet one of the cooler folks in the Bay Area he decides to move away… nooooo! But seriously, I understand what you’re doing – you gotta follow your gut, your dreams, and your heart…you must ‘cultivate your garden’, as Voltaire once wrote. And it’s NYC – I’d be there in a heartbeat if given a chance – no need to sell me on that city!

    Anyway I hope you keep your blog updated – it will be fun to read all your adventures in the Big Apple…

  3. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Social butterfly Says:

    [...] Moving to New York [...]

  4. Jason Says:

    Yay Eric! I’m sure you’ll love living in NYC. Smart of you to move there right before the weather gets nice. I hope your work is inspirational.

  5. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Paradox of Career Choice || May || 2007 Says:

    [...] In today’s world of knowledge workers, if you have a college education (and admittedly the access to such an education is still restricted), you have a plethora of options available to you. You’re not restricted culturally – there’s no expectation that you will do what your parents did. You’re not restricted economically – research has shown that $40,000 a year is the point past which salary becomes a way of keeping score rather than satisfying basic needs, and most college-educated workers will be making at least that. You’re not restricted geographically any more – it’s absurdly easy to pick up and move across the country for a new experience. Most of us are members of the Creative Class now. [...]

  6. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Introductions || April || 2008 Says:

    [...] this in mind, I moved to New York two years ago to join a Software Management Training Program at Fog Creek Software, and I am [...]

  7. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || California, here I come || August || 2008 Says:

    [...] that’s the plan. While I’m sad to be leaving New York, I went back and re-read my moving to New York post from two and a half years ago, and I think I have gotten what I wanted to out of my New York [...]

  8. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || The world is small. Except when it isn’t. || September || 2009 Says:

    […] from challenging our beliefs – it makes it more difficult to grow. Part of the reason I moved to New York was that I felt like I was in a rut in the Bay Area, where my world had gotten too small, so it was […]

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